Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
– Albert Einstein
I love this quote; it speaks to an essential human truth. We want to be different, yet change is hard. In 2016, the self-help market was estimated to be worth $9.9 billion dollars. That’s a significant financial investment made by people interested in transformation. How do we become who we want to be instead of staying mired in a pool of unrealized ambition? We all struggle to change the habits that don’t serve us; and the first step in changing habits is cultivating awareness. Questioning helps to clarify the path we need to tread. Who am I? Where am I currently? Who do I want to be? What is working well for me, and what is keeping me stuck?
When you want to become healthier, write a book, or accomplish any goal, you have to think about each action as a shift toward the new identity you want to inhabit. You are required to become aware of your beliefs about yourself and to make changes that improve and bolster your identity. Habits can be good or bad, they happen in tiny increments. Each small change compounds over time, often without effort or notice. Conscious transformation requires intention and purpose. Ultimately, when we have built different systems, we feel differently about ourselves as a result.
Here’s a personal example. For much of my life I never thought of myself as athletic. I loved to dance, hike, and be outside, but the idea that I was athletic was laughable. In my 20s, I was friends with people who were into biking. I bought a bike to keep up. Then, because my friends were doing it, and to save money, I started biking to work everyday. My job was a 30 minute bike ride away at the top of a very long hill. That first ride to work was sweaty, scary, and exhausting. Slowly, I picked up tips and tricks from more experienced bikers and eventually learned to love my commute. After a while, I began to think of myself as a biker. This was a shift. I had a new belief about myself. Then I decided to try jogging. I figured, I’m a cyclist, I can run too. At some point after that, I began to think of myself as athletic. This happened imperceptibly over time through tiny, incremental changes.
In essence, humans always want to feel different. We tend to look forward to what we hope will feel easier, or backward to memories imbued with emotion. The pursuit of the desire to feel something else is what becomes a habit; each habit is a constant search for state change.
So instead of endless lists of tasks you want to accomplish, think about who you want to be. Rather than “I’m going to exercise more,” get in touch with what’s your driving force behind that task. For example, “I want to be healthier because I want to feel more comfortable in my skin.” Only then, when you have both your backstory and a clearer path towards the life you want to inhabit, can you get focused on the details that are required to take you there.
One quick tip: people who seem to have loads of self-discipline, don’t. They are better at setting themselves up for success, making good habits easier to achieve. Take, for instance, people who exercise regularly. They make it easy, accessible, and satisfying. Regular exercisers pay attention to what time of day works best for them, schedule exercise into their days, and reward themselves for a job well done.
I’ve used exercise here as an example, but it’s true for whatever ails you. Lasting change occurs in minuscule events overtime. So take some time this week to think about who you want to be, and over the next few weeks I’ll take a deeper dive to look at some ideas, tips, and tricks you can use to guide yourself towards that goal of living your best life.