We are fast edging towards the end of January! How are your new year's resolutions going so far?
Imagine with me for a moment that its New Year's Eve 2019 and you are reflecting back on this year. You realise that you have made serious headway on some big life goals. Things that you have wanted to achieve for a really long time.
The beginning of a new year always gives me a little thrill. I am one of those people who loves the idea of a fresh start. It's not that I want to start from scratch, but I love taking a moment to reflect on the blessings and challenges of the past year and looking ahead to new beginnings. I like to think about who I have become this year and who I want to become in the year to come.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about constantly overhauling my identity and becoming someone completely different, or radically changing my hair, I did enough of that as a teenager. What I’m talking about is slowly building on what I believe I’m capable of, and then proving it to myself, often in the midst of flurries of self-doubt. Think of it like climbing a mountain. When you’re in the midst of a steep climb, your head is down and your mind is focussed on the next step. You wonder if you are actually going to make it to the next peak. But every now and then you come to a little plateau where you can stop, catch your breath, admire the view, and look out at how far you have come. Then when its time, you can look to what is ahead and plan the next bit of your climb.
I love this quote by Annie Dillard, she says “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.”
I also believe that how we spend our lives is how we create ourselves. One aspect of my identity is that I am an occupational therapist. As occupational therapists we believe that the ability to carry out our day to day occupations (from brushing our teeth, to baking a cake to running a corporation) is essential for our physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. We also believe that by doing what we do, we are shaping our identities.
Dr Ann Wilcock, an occupational therapist, explains in her theory of doing being, becoming, that it is through what we do, that we become who we are. As we do, we become more competent, we then reflect on who we are. She later elaborated on this theory to include a component of belonging. Those occupations that are important to us often occur in the context of a group who have similar interests and this also help us find our identity in belonging.
Let's look at an example. If you begin by developing an interest in beat boxing/ photography/dog grooming (Insert interest here), when you first start out you are not great. You can’t call yourself a beat boxer but it is something that you do. Then something magic happens and all that doing and practise leads to competence, and one day someone asks you what you do and you find yourself answering “I’m a beat boxer.” You have assumed that identity. Chances are, especially in this connected world, you have also started reaching out to other beat boxers who share your passion. Before you know it you belong to an international community.
Its when our doing takes regular shape by becoming a habit that we really begin to grow. I recently finished a book by James Clear called Atomic Habits. Clear says “the ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say 'I’m the type of person who wants this.' Its very different to say 'I’m the type of person who is this.'”
I have seen this play out time and time again in the world of recovery from addiction. In the rehabs where I worked, clients were asked to introduce themselves as “A gratefully recovering alcoholic/addict/ people pleaser” This was drummed in over and over. And sure enough over time, I watched with wonder as people who may once have described themselves as "junkies," took on the identity of recovery. They began to believe who they were, and then their habits fell in line with this.
As someone who has spent more than a decade working in the field of addiction, and as someone who is constantly in a fight with herself to do what I say I want to do, I have developed a strong interest in the science of habits. “Atomic habits”, and “The power of habit” by Charles Duhigg, have been two of the best books I’ve read on this subject.
The premise of “Atomic habits” is that by making tiny, incremental changes in our habits, we alter the course of our destiny. Clear says that “habits are the compound interest of self-improvement” and explains “If you get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done”
One of the sections of the book that really rang true for me is a chapter on how our habits shape our identity and our identity shapes our habits. Research tells us that as much as 40 percent of our behaviour is habit driven, so if we can get our habits in line with our life goals we have a good shot of becoming who we want to be. Once we become that person, we are more likely to carry on with those beneficial habits because they are in line with who we believe ourselves to be.
So my question for you this year is: who do you want to be? And my next question is what are you going to do to become that person?
They key here is that becoming takes time and consistency.
Here is a five step process to help you get started
1. Select no more than three identities you want to assume this year
A writer, a fitness fanatic, a theologian.
2. What do you need to do to assume that identity?
Write! Exercise! Study the bible!
3. Now figure out the how when and where.
An implementation intention answers the questions how, when, and where will I do the doing. The key here is that to be consistent you need to be realistic. Start small and work your way up rather than overwhelming yourself with unrealistic goals and giving up. You also increase your likelihood of success by keeping the time and place where you carry out your intentions consistent.
4. Don't break the chain
Now get on with it! nd each day you did what you do, record it. Put a cross on a calendar, move a paper clip from the "to do" jar to the "done" jar, use a tracker app.
5. Evaluate if it's working
If you are not consistently carrying out your implemntation intention, halve it until you have proved to yourself you can do it three days in a row. So instead of write for an hour, change your intention to: At 8 o clock each week-day morning I will be at my desk, where I will write for half an hour. If that still isn't working halve it again until it does!
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.