Always be yourself, unless you can be batman
We all want to be better — fitter, healthier, more skilled, more successful, a more likeable person etc. The trouble is, we rarely stick to the habits it takes to get there.
Most people focus on outcome-based goals like “I want to lose weight” or “I want to run a marathon”. But these are superficial changes. The path to building lasting habits is actually changing your identity. Meaning, if you change the type of person that you believe that you are, then it’s easier to change your actions.
Embody your Hero
A key ingredient for living an inspired, Zesty Life is to find role models that we can emulate and people who help us find ourselves in the process. When we identify role models that do the things that we aspire to do well, we can take leaps towards major growth.
Self-beliefs drive your long-term behavior and you are the sum of your habits. You can attempt to change behaviour such as going to the gym or eating healthy, but if you don’t shift your underlying identity, it’s nearly impossible to stick with long-term changes.
To apply this method of shifting your identity, let’s decide you want to lose weight and run a marathon. It mustn’t just be about the end result; of being thinner and completing the marathon. What you really need to do is embody the archetype of a runner—When you slip on your running shoes each day, you embody the identity of a runner. When you start to hang out with other runners, you embody the identity of a runner. When you train each day, you embody the identity of an athlete. When you read running blogs, you embody the identity of a runner. When you choose food that fuels your sport, you embody the identity of an athlete.
The more you integrate the models of behaviour that match your “ideal identity”, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behaviour.
When I decided to cut alcohol out of my life, it wasn’t that I had a problem. And it probably wouldn’t be very detrimental to have a few beers once or twice a week. My decision was based on my desire to adopt the identity of a healthy athlete. Athletes value performance and growth, optimal health, mental readiness, and they’re always seeking to gain an edge. Alcohol doesn’t contribute to these values, therefore it’s incongruent with my hero identity.
Who’s your hero? Is there someone who’s story and persona ignites a fire inside you? How can you take action to mimic your hero? You may investigate what their daily routine looks like and emulate their values such as positive outlook, courage, kindness, persistence, self-confidence and compassion.
Motivation is what causes you to act, whether it is getting a glass of water to curb your thirst or brushing your teeth to avoid bad breath. However, motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. In other words, motivation doesn’t come from deciding to do something, it comes from taking action, making progress towards our goals and making mistakes — here we discover who we are (our identity) and what is important to us.
Human beings love challenges, but only if they’re not too hard, and not too easy. It’s gotta be juuuuust right! Activities that are below your skill level are boring. Activities that are way beyond your skill level are discouraging. Activities that are right on the edge of success and failure are incredibly motivating to our little caveman brains.
I have a mountain bike analogy (yay!)
Becoming addicted to mountain biking is easy because it has the perfect opportunity for a Goldilocks balance. When you’re riding, you’re able to find that razors edge between challenge and progress. You choose a trail that spurs your skill level, and each trail feature you come across gives you the opportunity to feel rewarded. There is a constant challenge/reward scenario that increases motivation, and your desire to stay engaged and keep progressing.
Creating the habit
We often underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. We convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action, but in reality habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Habits multiply the same way money multiplies through compound interest; you might notice little difference each day, but looking back over time, you’re progress will become increasingly evident.
Who are you?
All of our habits patch together to create sense of self-identity. Your life is essentially the sum of your habits. What you spend time thinking about and doing each day becomes the fabric of your being.
Success and crushing your goals starts with defining your values and building your identity. When you understand what you stand for and who you want to be, you’ll give yourself a jump-start to inspiration, clarity, energy, motivation, boundaries and purpose in your life.
When you feel unhappy, unhealthy, unmotivated or unfulfilled, more often than not, this is because your values have not been met or more likely, your values are unclear. There’s no instant-fix solution for your problems, but there is a place to start, and that is spending time uncovering your values and finding the hero persona that’s right for you.
Make your desired habit convenient
eg: Leave healthy food on the counter, shop at the farmer’s market, leave your workout clothes by the door etc.
Make your bad habits inconvenient
eg: Don’t buy junkfood, hide unhealthy foods/alcohol at the back of your fridge or in cupboards, don’t have a TV in your bedroom, don’t follow bad influencers on social media etc.
Socialize with people who participate in your desired habit
Eg: Join a running group, spend more time with healthy friends, follow healthy social media influencers, read or podcast topics about your desired habit, socialize with hero-like people etc.
*Recommended reading: James Clear’s book Atomic Habits,