Last week I wrote about how writer’s blog is a problem of identity. This week, I wanted to tie habit formation back into the equation, because in the end, writer’s block is a problem characterized by lack of writing. And by now, we all know that if you want to be a writer, then you ought to write. The problem is that you may have not found an answer to how to form a habit.
This week I wanted to spice things up a little bit, however, and bring in some expert advice from around the net to illustrate the issue of identity. The point I want to make is to illustrate how our sense of identity sabotages our attempts at habit formation.
Before we go any further into the relationship between habit formation and identity, however, I find that we need to define identity. To understand what I mean by identity, I thought I would share a book review by Maria Popova from BrainPickings.org.
1. The genesis of habit formation is in the story you tell yourself
Our sense of identity is one of the most prized possessions a human being can have and yet it costs nothing to create. Or is it really free?
Do you own a Louis Vuitton purse? If you do, congratulations, you belong to a small percentage of the population who values brand name recognition. On the other hand, if you’re stingy like I am, you may identify with a desire to be frugal and to spend only on what is necessary to get the most bang from your buck.
The point is that, if you take a step back from the idea of owning expensive purses and being frugal you will find that there is a story behind your behavior. That story, my friend, is your sense of identity.
“Stories make us human and learning to reframe our interpretations of reality is key to our experience of life” – Maria Popova.
Read more on identity and the stories we tell ourselves over at BrainPickings.org.
Now that we know that identity is made up by the stories we tell ourselves about our world, how do we harness the power of identity to make the most of habit formation? Surely developing habits is more complex than that…
2. Fake it ‘til you make it
Like I said last week, my identity was so committed to failure that becoming a successful writer was in direct conflict with the identity I was so accustomed to—hence my writer’s block. This made me wonder how many other people are suffering the same identity crises.
The good news is that you can fake it ‘til you make it. Becoming a successful writer is no more than an act of “being a successful writer”. Yes, you read that right. Becoming a successful writer simply means to act the way a successful writer would act.
“The best results will always come from not focusing on the end goal or result (I want to be fit) but instead by focusing on embracing and internalizing the process itself (I want to be the kind of person who trains regularly and eats right)” – Adam Wik.
Read more on Adam Wik’s take on how to become the person who you want to become over at RoadToEpic.com.
3. The power of group membership on habit formation
An interesting article by Etienne Toussaint explores the role of social habits in the creation of identities. Sort of like reverse-engineering identity through habit formation. As someone who identifies with the human potential movement I have come to understand the power of habits in reaching one’s greatest potential. But what Etienne is arguing is that our habits can also define our identity.
This is certainly true. I call myself a writer because I write after all and a swimmer calls him or herself a swimmer because he or she swims.
It seems as though our identity and habit formation formula can move in both directions. You can either fake it ‘til you make it as Adam Wik writes, or you can define your identity through specific behaviors. In the end, identity is still inevitably married to developing habits and habit formation psychology.
“Movements grow beyond communities of friends and acquaintances when individuals can recognize an identity that they believe in and want to embrace” – Etienne Toussaint.
Read more on Etienne’s blog.
4. It is all in the small wins
I’m all about living life from the inside out, and that is exactly what James Clear’s blog post is all about. According to James, the way to successfully instill a new habit is to win small—an important fact he cannot emphasize enough.
James argues that instead of focusing on the end result, breaking down the goal can actually help you align with the identity you desire. For example, instead of having a goal to become a writer, you can instead focus on becoming someone who writes 500 words daily.
The idea here is to understand the identity of a person who accomplishes whatever goal you want to accomplish.
Want to be a writer? What does a writer do?
Want to lose weight? What does someone who loses weight do?
“Build the habit now. The results can come later” – James Clear.
Read more over at James’ blog.
5. The true weight of identity change to support habit formation
Something about the human brain just loves quantifiable data. That is exactly what Buster Benson provides over at his blog: a way to quantify the shift in your identity as you progress from one identity into another.
Just like James Clear, Buster breaks down the goals he wants to accomplish into bite-sized pieces and then takes action. To him, identity change is no laughing matter and can be as heavy as of 1,000 kiloslogs. In the end, the idea of identity and falling in love with the process of something comes up once again.
“The goal is not to just run a marathon, it’s to become a marathoner” – Buster Benson.
Read more over at Medium.com.
6. The difference between “can’t” vs “don’t”
Of course, it goes without saying that breaking habits and habit formation are two completely different monsters with several underlying archetypal similarities—identity being one of them. But it turns out that language also plays an important role in shaping our identity.
For example, in a study conducted in the Journal of Consumer Research, individuals who identify with a certain identity (i.e. I am a vegetarian and so I don’t mean) were more likely to not eat meat than those who did not subscribe to a specific identity and used instead “can’t” (i.e. I can’t eat meat). Sounds like a total DUH moment, but the implications are far larger than you can imagine.
For example, watching too much TV has been a habit I have tried to break but have been unable to. By changing the way I think of myself I can actually much easily break the behavior. I.e. instead of thinking “I can’t watch TV,” you can think “I am someone who watches no more than five hours of TV/week.”
“By slowly ratcheting up what you don’t do, you invest in a new identity through your record of successfully dropping bad habits from your life. It may start small, but over time, it adds up to a whole new you” – Nir Eyal.
Read more over at Nir Eyal’s website, NirAndFar.com.
7. Breaking bad habits is a matter of changing who you believe you are
The problem of identity also becomes apparent when we are trying to break bad or unwanted habits. In her blog post, Gretchen Rubin explores the conflict that exists when it is time to let go of an outdated identity that is not serving our highest good.
This is actually what happened with my own example with writer’s block. Writer’s block was serving as a way to keep me stuck in my identity of a person who plays small—because god forbid I became a successful writer. As I said at the beginning of this blog post, identity can sometimes be our most prized possession after all.
“The more aware we are of a clash between the identity we have and the habits we seek, the more we can shape our actions to reflect our true values” – Gretchen Rubin.
Read more over at GretchenRubin.com.
As always, thank you for reading! I am looking forward to seeing you here next week!
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