Habits and Identity
Habits matter because they help you become the person you want to be. James Clear
If you’ve followed my posts for a while, you may know that I am a huge fan of habits and routines. I know it sounds boring, but actually, the opposite is true, or at least that’s how I feel about it: By “automating” a lot of mundane things in life, I give myself the freedom of structure—space to grow, to feel excited about new things, and to focus on what really matters.
One of the best and most effective things the right habits (right as in right for you, of course!) can do is help you become the person you want to be. Just think about it this way: You are what you do, and the more often you do something, the more important it is to who you truly are.
That’s not necessarily a popular construct. Most of us spend a lot of time on stuff we don’t want to define us. And pretty much all of us have some lofty ideas about ourselves while half of the time, our actions don’t reflect those. One of my ideas about myself, for instance, is that I am happiest on ice-skates. Which is kind of true: Whenever I go ice-skating, I am indeed very, very happy. But it is also true that I hardly ever go—usually only once or twice a year.
One of the key things I learned during my coaching training was:
If you don’t make room for it in your average week, you won’t make room for it in your life.
So really, that happy little princess on skates is a remnant of my past that evidently has no room in my present. If I want to make it part of my future, I will have to make it part of my regular life and not only go once a year and then indulge in the fantasy—or memory—for another eleven months. Because as happy as ice-skating makes me, the illusion does not have the power to do the trick. And I bet it’s the same for you, right?
So if my example resonated with you and you have your own happiness thing you don’t do regularly anymore, be honest with yourself and answer the tough question first:
Do I really want to make room for this in my life or is it just a past self-image I am keeping alive?
If your answer is that you just like to think of yourself as a person who is into whatever-your-thing-is, just as I like to think of myself as this graceful person on skates, it’s time to cut the excuses. Own it that your busy life is not the reason why you’re not going swimming or dancing or to concerts anymore. It may have caused you to stop, but the reason why you’re not going anymore is because it’s not important enough to you these days. It’s your decision to make time for something in your life or not. If you decide not to do it, let it go. Continue to enjoy it as an occasional pastime, but that’s it.
However, if you really feel that this thing that makes you happy is so much part of you that you want it back in your life, you’ll have to act. And that’s where the habit comes in. It means to make it regular, easy, and attractive—according to James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits (a book I absolutely love!).
Let’s go back to my ice-skating example: To make it a habit, I would have to start by setting a regular date and/or time to go to an ice-skating rink—let’s say a certain morning every week that I mark on my calendar. To make it easy, I would choose Friday because that’s the day when I don’t take meetings or consults, so doing something that brings me joy first thing in the morning would be doable without stressing me out, or ending my week on this positive note in the afternoon could be a nice little ritual.
Most importantly, though, how could I make it so attractive that I would actually go? I’d need my own skates for sure. There’s a bit of a stereotype that Germans are pretty gear-obsessed, and I feel the draw to have the perfect gear too whenever I get into a new activity. Having my own pair of old-school white figure-skating shoes would be a game-changer. Plus, I could make a deal with myself that if I went every Friday for a certain period of time, I would join a class or hire a trainer to re-learn all the pirouettes and jumps I used to be able to do. Again, private training is something I consider an amazing luxury, so this outlook would make the whole endeavor even more attractive.
That’s an approach you can apply to pretty much any habit you want to build and it will help a lot—provided that you are honest with your own motivations and don’t try to make them match your idea of the perfect you.
But speaking of your idea of the perfect you, one last thing is crucial to establishing successful habits. You may want to ask yourself the following questions as well:
Does this habit help me become the person I want to be? What would I be doing if I already were this person? What do people do who are that “type of person”?
If the habit you want to build does not align with your general goals and values, your idea of who you want to be, chances are you’ll have a hard time sticking to it. If the habit matches these, on the other hand, you have a much higher chance of succeeding. And you can improve your odds even further by surrounding yourself with people who are the way you want to be.
Easy example here: Let’s say you want to be a non-smoker or non-drinker. I am deliberately not saying ex-smoker or ex-drinker, because for me that implies being haunted by cravings, a totally unattractive prospect. So when I quit the nicotine and alcohol, I looked at people who didn’t smoke or drink. How did they behave when going out? What did they do when others stepped outside to smoke? What did they order? That type of thing.
I am not saying that you should dump your old friends, but you’ll also want to spend plenty of time around people who are the way you want to be. The fact that the change you are trying to make has always or long been a habit for them gives you the perfect role model—and by imitating their behavior until it has become natural for you too, you are on the most successful way to building the identity-defining habit yourself.
If you want some support in your journey to build new habits and make efficient changes, let’s talk! You can send me a message or schedule a free 30-minute consult through my website to let me know what exactly you’re struggling with and we can explore how I could help you succeed.