Especially around the New Year, people are assessing their lives and wishing it was different. Whether it be better health, a better job, being a better spouse, etc., we all want to be different. We all want to improve and create better futures for ourselves. So, we start trying to change our habits, or add new ones. Some people start going to the gym, others try eating healthier, and others start spending more time with loved ones. Whatever it is that we want to change, we start doing it at some ineffective and unsustainable pace. However, much of the time we lose motivation and fall right back into our old self; we are the same person just a year older.
The problem is your identity. It hasn’t changed. You are still the same person you were yesterday, and a new year doesn’t change that. It turns out that what you believe about yourself is the mechanism for change and sustainability into your desired identity.
Your identity is your self-perception. It is all your feelings, thoughts, expectations, habits, schedules, roles, beliefs, and what you think of other people’s perceptions of you; all of this rolled up into a dynamic, complicated map of who you are. These beliefs tell you who you are and how you should act, and they fix you into the current version of yourself.
Our identity is shaped by the hundreds of things we do each day. Our mind pieces together every action as evidence of who we are. This “evidence” is then used to either confirm or deny our identity. For example, if you already make it a priority to work out every day, you probably believe yourself to be a healthy and fit person, or someone who values health and fitness. Your actions will tend to be what you think a “fit person” would do. Self-perception is a review of who you are and how you normally act, so you can make future decisions easier.
Take a minute to assess your identity. What do you think about yourself? How do you feel about what you are doing right now? Why do you do the things you do? What is essential to your life? Seriously, who do you think you are?
How does understanding identity help you become the person you could be? Essentially, because you can choose your identity, and that is immensely powerful. You can choose who you want to be in the future, and start changing your habits to be that person. Each time you perform an action, or start a new habit, you can use it as evidence towards your identity. Over time, this can result in dramatic changes in your life. Small habits, consistently performed, build evidence for your new identity.
To use the fitness example from above, if you want to be healthy and fit, start one habit that a “fit person” would do. Make it crucial to complete this habit as often as you can. It could be something as simple as having one healthy meal per day, or maybe making it to the gym every day. The habit is not as important as the evidence for the identity it provides you with. As this habit becomes more engrained into your daily routine, you will connect more with the person you would like to be and slowly add more small habits.
Over time, these small habits will lead to more and greater habits, and this collection of habits becomes the backbone of your identity. Each small habit is like a sculptor chipping away at a block of marble. A few strokes of hammer and chisel may not produce much change, but consistent and careful work, day after day, can lead to a masterpiece. And just like a masterpiece that came from a block of ordinary marble, you can create a life that is beautiful, fulfilling, and meaningful.
Creating your identity requires focused effort, it requires paying attention to our habits, both big and small. This can be difficult, especially at the beginning, when habits can be hard to start. Start small, and focus on consistency. Start small, so that you can gain momentum, a sense of accomplishment, and build habits sustainably. You can celebrate the small wins and use them to fuel you when good habits become difficult. Focus on consistency, because you are what you repeatedly do. By consistently providing the evidence of your desired identity to yourself, you strengthen your trajectory towards who you should be.
We all have hopes and dreams for our lives, there are things we would like to be and accomplish. It is probably foolish to believe that we can do or be everything we would like. However, we can focus on what is most important to us, and purposely form an identity to accomplish what is so crucial. The key is choosing. Choose exactly who you want to be, and make course corrections as you pursue that identity wholeheartedly. Start thinking about what you want your identity to be, how that person acts, and why you want to be that person. Then take action, build small habits consistently, and be everything you could be.
Thanks for reading.
Move better. Move happier. Move meaningfully.