I’m reading a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s a best seller – perhaps you’ve read it too. If not, it’s all about the power of making small changes in your daily habits in order to make big changes in your life. I’ve long been a believer in that, but I really like his approach to how to do it.
One of his concepts that intrigues me is the idea that our habits are created by our identity and conversely our identity is created by our habits. For example, someone who runs marathons probably thinks of themselves as an athlete. So they behave like an athlete. They have a consistent running schedule and they do other behaviors that support that activity and that belief system, like eat a supportive diet, weight train and stretch. They see themselves as an athlete, they behave like an athlete, and their behavior reinforces their self-image.
Conversely someone who believes that they are lazy will make excuses and find reasons not to exercise in order to support their beliefs. So, if we want to change, one of the first things that we have to do is become aware of the conscious or unconscious beliefs that are driving us and then make the effort to change those things that we believe about ourselves. And then we have to decide who it is that we want to be and start behaving in the way that that person would behave. The thinking changes the behavior and the behavior changes the thinking.
He gives the example of someone that he knew who lost 100 pounds. Every time she made a choice that had to do with weight loss, she asked herself “What would a healthy person do?” And then that’s how she behaved. Would a healthy person eat that ice cream? Would a healthy person go to the gym? She did the things a healthy person would do and then she became a healthy person.
I used to be the kind of person who would stay up late and then hit the snooze button over and over again in the morning. I would scramble out of bed, rush out the door and get a really stressed out start to the day. And I hated it. I felt rushed and like I had no self-control or discipline, which made me feel badly about myself. Once I got to the office, it took a long time for me to settle in because I was so emotionally scattered. But I seemed like I couldn’t stop it. Before bed, I would swear I was going to get up when the alarm went off, but morning came, and I hit the snooze over and over…
Then I got a job where I had to arrive at 7:30 a.m., which was just ridiculously early to me. Since I had to get up so ridiculously early anyway, I built in time to sit quietly, journal and drink my coffee before I started getting ready. The new habit started with a new job that changed my morning routine. I started having a quiet, calm start to the day and really enjoying that. I changed my identity from a person who couldn’t stop hitting the snooze button to an early riser who got a calm start to the day. For years I was an early riser, and it became part of the way I saw myself. I don’t get up so early anymore, but I do still have the habit of a calm start to the day.
I also had the idea that a change had to be big or it wasn’t worth doing. The fact though, is that every little decision we make impacts us long term. The little day to day decisions probably mean more than the big ones.
In Part 2, I’ll share more of his ideas for creating those small habits that make big changes. In the meantime, what sorts of things do you want to change? Are you aware of the identity force behind why you do those things? Share in the comments!