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- Success and building good habits come down to working toward a new, healthier identity.
- That’s according to productivity expert James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits.”
- Clear recommends asking yourself “What would a healthy person do?” when you’re making a decision between, say, walking and driving.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve already made a mental list of ways to be healthier in 2019. Key items: drink more water, exercise daily, have better sleep hygiene.
Given my performance record, I’ll likely do a great job with these behaviors for a few weeks, before falling off the wagon and straight into a pile of soda, sloth, and staying up late.
So this year, I’m trying something different. I’m admitting that I – the person writing these words – can’t hack it and I’m becoming someone else instead. Allow me to introduce… Healthy Me.
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I borrowed this strategy from James Clear’s “Atomic Habits,” a book that is essentially about tricking yourself into developing good habits and breaking bad ones. In one of the early chapters, Clear writes that the best way to start good habits is to work on changing your identity.
One woman Clear mentions successfully lost weight by constantly asking herself: “What would a healthy person do?” for example, when she was deciding between walking and taking a cab.
Clear writes that “the more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior.” That’s true whether you’re writing one page a day to be a “writer” or working out a few times a week to be an “athlete” (to borrow examples from Clear).
Each time you write or work out or whatever it is you’re trying to do, you “prove” to yourself that you are indeed this different person, Clear says. “New identities require new evidence.”
Clear’s insights reminded me of a 2012 study I reported on, which found that telling yourself “I can’t” – as in “I can’t eat brownies” – doesn’t work nearly as well as telling yourself “I don’t.” That is to say, you can better resist temptation by making the desired behavior a part of your core, consistent identity.
Most importantly, don’t expect the identity shift to happen overnight. I know I’ll be cutting myself some slack when Healthy Me gets (temporarily!) subsumed by Regular Me.
In Clear’s poetic phrasing: “We change bit by bit, day by day, habit by habit. We are continually undergoing microevolutions of the self.”