If you're also struggling to stick to your new habits, try focusing on the person you want to be – rather than the things you want to do.
It's the fourth week of January, when new year's resolutions fall off a cliff faster than a bunch of lemmings being pushed by a camera crew. How are yours going? I've been working on my new stand-up show every day – with the help of some strong accountability buddies – but I was too busy to publish a blog post last week.1 And my secondary resolutions, which I didn't write about, are more or less on life support: I'm not noting down my ideas every day (completed six times), I'm not practicing the piano regularly (completed four times), and I'm not exercising or eating healthily (I'm literally drinking a hot chocolate as I write this).
1 But that's okay: I'm going to follow the advice I wrote down and keep going anyway. So here we are!
I'm currently reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, which – as you might expect – is filled with good advice about sticking to new habits. My favourite idea so far is the difference between an outcome-based approach and an identity-based approach, which I'd never really thought about before. To explain this, he describes how you can change yourself on three levels:
Changing your outcomes. This level is about changing your results, which often involves setting goals. For example: I am going to write and perform the best show I can at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.
Changing your processes. This level is about changing your habits or routines. For example: I am going to work on my stand-up show for ten minutes every day.
Changing your identity. This level is about changing what you believe about yourself. For example: I can fit writing and comedy around a day job, without waiting until I'm full-time to make stuff happen.
We're usually drawn to the outcome-based approach: we start with an ideal result (e.g. I'm going to run a marathon), in order to change who we are (e.g. I am a fit and healthy person). But James suggests that it's better to do this the other way round: we should decide who we want to be first – an identity-based approach – in order to change what we do.
“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. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this... true behaviour change is identity change.”
As he later describes, this is the difference between a smoker refusing a cigarette because they're trying to quit, and one who refuses because they're not a smoker.
So I'm going to try this with my other habits. I am a writer and comedian, so I need to note down my ideas. I am a pianist, so I need to practice. I am a healthy, active person, so... I'm going to skip the marshmallows on my hot chocolate? (Baby steps.)
What's in a name?
I guess I understood this idea on some level, because that's why I named this blog eleventhirtyist: I wanted to invent a term for someone who does things before they're ready, and embraces the fact that they're not a full-time writer. (Also: all of the good names were already taken.) It motivates me to do what writing I can do, even if it's only ten minutes after work. And more importantly, it helps me eliminate my excuses. I probably spent too much of my twenties thinking 'I'm going to be a writer someday', which made it way too easy to excuse the days, weeks and months when I wasn't working towards that dream. But now I know I'm a writer now.2
So who do you want to be?
2 That said, this is a truly terrible sentence.