When you Change Your Identity, Habit Change Is Easy
May 12, 2021
Here’s a small mental quiz.
- Do you have a friend or a family member who use to be 15 to 20 Kilos overweight who has magically transformed into a lean, fit person?
- Do you know any past colleague or workmate who was a competent executive just like you but who has now become a very successful entrepreneur?
- Can you remember anyone from your friends’ circle who was an unassuming average joe who has gone through a radical personality shift to become an extreme athlete running marathons every other weekend?
I know at least five people in each category. I have had the good fortune and opportunity to ask them how they managed to transform themselves so radically.
Every one of them has a back story that is unique and inspirational. That said, there is one common feature that holds true for all of them.
Their transformation did not happen because they worked at doing some incremental stuff every day. The shift occurred because, at a fundamental level, they all changed into someone new. They became a new identity, a new personality.
The friend who lost the 20 kgs told me the change happened in an instant. One day he woke up thinking , I want to be healthy without any medical issues when I am sixty. Click. Some switch went off inside. Overnight he began eating healthy, working out. He also did something extraordinary. He went to a store and bought himself a suit two sizes smaller, confident in his mind that it would fit him perfectly in a few months.
The friend who became an extreme athlete told me he did not plan to become an extreme athlete. He just wanted to be a runner, and with that thought, he started running every day. Running became his identity, and he did not have to struggle with any willpower issues to run. He just enjoyed running because of how he saw himself- as a runner.
The entrepreneur friend told me that he could no longer see himself working for someone. He did not become an entrepreneur to earn money. He wanted to be on his own creating something, and it did not matter whether he would go on to become commercially successful or not. He saw himself as someone who worked for himself and no one else.
Identity is about what you believe. Transformation happens when you undergo an identity shift. You are no longer the person you were before because you are now the person you envision yourself to be in the future. For all of my friends, they changed because of the way they saw themselves in the future- a fit person, a runner, self-employed.
Behaviors Follow Your Identity
Your story about who you are and how you see yourself is generally directly correlated with how you perform in the world. How you see yourself is how you act.
Our actions are always congruent to the person we are. And if we try to behave in a manner that is not congruent with our present identity, it will not work. We will always falter to our old ways.
You may want to be very wealthy, but if you are the kind of person who consumes more than what you create, you will always spend more than what you earn. You want better health, but if you are a happy-go-lucky person who is always looking for comfort over hard work, you will struggle.
Your habits will not change if you don’t change the underlying self-image you have about yourself. When you change the way you view yourself, you change your identity.
So, for all my friends, their actions and habits became aligned to how they saw themselves in the future.
A Question You can Ask yourself.
In the past, many of the things I wanted to do were all a reaction to something. A colleague lost weight; I also want to lose weight. A friend became a social entrepreneur. I also want to do something similar.
I kept attempting stuff and giving up because I did not know what my true motivation was.
Speaking with all these amazing friends, I have devised a mental model to figure out if my motivations are real or not.
I ask myself this question.
“This particular thing I want to do, can I see myself doing it consistently for the rest of my life?”
If the answer is affirmative, it tells me that I genuinely want this to be a part of my identity in the future. If the answer is negative, it means that my desire is just a fad, and I am not serious about doing this long term.
This question has saved me from futile attempts at long-distance running, becoming an active investor, and a social entrepreneur. These pursuits did not fit in with the identity of who I saw myself to be in the future. They were just whims, activated by seeing someone else.