“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit. “ — Aristotle
Welcome to 2019!
If you’re like most people, you wish to form new habits, and burn the bad ones. New Year’s Resolutions can provide some with excitement and hope, whereas for others they might be left feeling overwhelmed, and anxious.
Either way, almost all of us want to change something. We want to improve our lives. We want to reduce stress, increase happiness, find more freedom, and become healthier than ever.
Looking at those around you, you might find people creating new goals, coming up with strategies to achieve them, and taking action on them everyday. Unique goals. Unique strategies. Unique action.
Everyone has their own means of accomplishing a task. This is important to understand because there is no single, true method that applies to everyone. All there really is, is the principles behind the means, and whichever one applies best to a particular person.
However, when talking about these goals, outcomes, strategies, and means, most of us don’t focus on one of the most important aspects of undergoing any form of change:
Understanding your identity.
Who you are, what you stand for, and the type of person you are trying to become dictate a lot about how successful you will be in accomplishing your goals.
When someone says, “I am not good at meal prepping,” they are making a statement about who they are, and that makes it very hard to change their behaviour. This is what’s known as a fixed mindset. Having a fixed mindset means that a person views particular traits such as intelligence, ability, and talent as being built-in, innate, and unchangeable.
The person that makes the resolution to lose 50 pounds this year must not only build the skill of meal prepping, now they must first overcome thinking that they are the type of person who is not good at meal prepping. And believe it or not — overcoming your identity and your own worldview to change for the better, is extremely difficult.
Let’s go deeper. How about someone that says, “I am fat, and pathetic. I can’t accomplish anything. No matter what I start, I can never finish. I never see things to the end.”
This person’s self talk is a lot more deep, visceral, and personal. Every choice they make that honours a healthier body, is met by a voice that try’s to pull them back to the identity they most often reflect on.
“Who you are, what you stand for, and the type of person you are trying to become dictate a lot about how successful you will be in accomplishing your goals.”
So where are we supposed to start?
Sometimes just taking action — any action — is the spark that creates meaningful change to take place. But in terms of goal setting, and habit building, I recommend one place.
Mindset. Specifically, identity.
This is instead of focusing on which diet we should follow, the fad exercise program, or which supplement will help our abs burst out. This type of thinking is called, “mowing the lawn when the house is on fire.”
Mindset is the foundation to everything.
What you think, you become.
The Placebo Effect is not something I will not talk about today. But understand this: It is not something science needs to overcome. It is quite literally one of the most magical and powerful documented effects in scientific research.
We must embrace it, and use it’s power.
Identity First, Habits Second
Step One: Decide the person you want to be.
One of the most effective ways to change is to focus on who you want to become, not what you want to achieve. Identity, and our beliefs of who we are govern the habits we make every single day.
Grab a pen and paper, and spend five minutes writing down as many strengths that you have. If you can’t think of any, ask your close family and friends to help you out. Trust me on this, you have strengths.
A short strength list may look something like this: Organized, dedicated, giving, hard working.
Now, this person would want to turn this into an identity statement:
“I am the type of person who works hard, stays dedicated, keeps organized, and shares with others.”
Notice that this identity statement isn’t made up of words such as athlete, coach, manager, chef, etc. You are trying to identify with your true strengths, not a label for what you do. By doing so, you shift yourself into a growth mindset. Your identity becomes more adaptable and fluid.
Note: This is one way how identity crises can form. What happens to the “athlete” who gets paralyzed and can no longer walk? Most of their life, they associated their sense of self with an “athlete.” No longer feeling that they are an “athlete,” who are they? These sorts may become depressed, and saddened that they no longer know who they are. In reality, they still have the same mental skills and framework of an “athlete,” and can capitalize on these strengths, and turn their situation into a garden of opportunity.
So now, we move onto the next part.
Step Two: Prove it to yourself with small wins.
Your identity emerges from your perspective, and grows stronger through your habits.
This is a bit of a backward thought process, as most of us believe that we need a goal, and then we will be happy because we achieved the goal.
Instead, begin by starting with your identity, and working on taking a small action every day that honours your identity. That way you reinforce the behaviours that your future self would take.
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.” — James Clear
Thus, if you are trying to lose weight and get healthy, a helpful question to ask yourself repeatedly everyday is:
“What would a healthy person do?”
Because from now on, you must identify as the person that is becoming healthy.
Or using the example from step one: “What would an organized, dedicated, hard working, and giving person do in this scenario?”
Three great mantra’s to reinforce your small daily actions are:
“One percent better, everyday.” — Marginal improvements made every single day, yields exponentially massive returns on investment in the future. Especially when you apply this to every area of your life. For every behaviour you do, ask yourself, “How can I make this one percent better?”
“Progress, not perfection.” — There will never be a “perfect” time to start. That time is now. Think of the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”
“Standardize before you optimize.” — You can’t change what you aren’t practicing. This is like when I mentioned the idea of mowing your lawn when the house your is on fire. You have to make a habit, and work on it repeatedly before you can try to make it better.
What to Do Next?
- Start by addressing your true identity — the traits that make up who you are. They should be teachable, and able to grow over time through your awareness, and effort.
- Next, focus on taking small actions everyday, in as many areas as you see fit. These actions should be in honour of your identity statement. Ask yourself frequently, “What would this type of person do in the situation?” Use the daily mantras throughout your day to help you stay the course.
- Want to read more into forming new habits? I highly suggest reading the book, Atomic Habits by James Clear. It is by far one of the best books on habits I have ever read, and it was the catalyst for this post.
Thank you for reading my article. I hope you found it helpful or at least thought-provoking. If this post did help you, consider sharing it with someone you think it would help too.