I can’t get enough of this concept of habits. Just in case you missed the first blog post in this series, most of the information this month comes from a book called “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. This book is amazing. And here is my favorite concept of all.
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you do the thought work and define yourself as a healthy eater. You want to be healthy, shed your excess weight, stop some of your medications, set a good example for your kids, etc. You decide that as part of making that all happen, you will be a healthy eater. Great. Now, as we mentioned before, this process isn’t a caterpillar into butterfly, fireworks and congratulations type of change. It’s gradual, small and repetitive. It’s an identity shift. You shift your habits – one by one.
However, I’m a realist and I know that over the course of shifting that identity, there are going to be moments that you act contrary to your identity. You might have a slice of cake at your husband’s birthday party or a glass of champagne at your best friend’s wedding. A few little inconsistencies don’t break your entire identity. Why? Because the rest of the time you identify as a healthy eater.
Let’s’ make it visual. Every time you eat something (multiple times every day), you get to cast a vote as to whether or not you are a healthy eater. Two boxes, one for “healthy” votes and one for “unhealthy” votes.
Every time you choose to perform a bad habit, it’s a vote for that identity. The good news is that you don’t need to be perfect. In any election, there are going to be votes for both sides. You don’t need a unanimous vote to win an election; you just need a majority.
However, since none of us know when our endpoint is, we don’t know when the votes are going to be read. What if the vote counters pulled your votes today and sorted them into “healthy” and “unhealthy” piles. Which would win? Do you have a majority win right now? What if they pulled the votes next week? Can you make enough “healthy” votes to balance out years of “unhealthy” ones? If you keep dumping a few votes every day into the “unhealthy” box, are you ever going to win the election?
It doesn’t matter if you cast a few votes for a bad behavior – as long as there are lots of good ones to balance it out. Your goal is simply to win the majority of the time.
It is a simple two-step process:
- Decide the type of person you want to be
- Prove it to yourself with small wins
Most people know what kind of results they want: to lose weight or become less anxious or to get in shape. That’s fine. Start there and work backward from the results you want to the type of person who could get those results. Ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?” For example, “Who is the type of person who could lose forty pounds and keep it off?” It’s probably someone who is consistent and eats healthy. Now your focus shifts from being forty pounds lighter (outcome-based) to being the type of person who is consistent and eats healthy (identity-based).
Building better habits isn’t about littering your day with life hacks. It’s about building habits that eventually get you where you want to be. It’s about casting votes all day long for or against yourself.
Hopefully, I’ve given you lots to think about this month! If you want to learn more, check out the book, “Atomic Habits” and see what you can do for yourself! Until next month (can you believe it’s almost March already?)
be strong – be healthy – be happy
Courtney Younglove, M.D.