Identity-based Habits: A Stress-Free Way To Fulfil Your Dreams

You can be who you want to be.

You have to first say it. Before you say it to the world you have to say it to yourself.

Once you say it you need to act on it.

Your action need not be big but consistency helps.

Small consistent action helps your mind believe that you are who you say you are. Slowly this becomes your new identity. When you identify yourself as a new person you find it easy to take actions like that person.

Let me share an example.

Writer at work

You want to be a writer. You are early in your journey. The best thing you can do for yourself is to say that you are a writer. Next logical step is to do what a writer does. A writer writes. You decide to write regularly. You choose to write about your journey and struggles as an entrepreneur. You read somewhere that 1000 words a day can make you a good writer in 1000 days. You decide to do that. You do that for a week investing long hours every day. After a week you are exhausted and stop.

Then your belief that you are writer kicks in. You start again with 50 words a day because a friend who understands the power of small habits suggested so. This time you keep going for a month. This solidifies your belief that you are a writer. As you continue writing you realize it is hard to stop at 50 words every day. So go up to 100, 200, 300, 500 and even 1000 words on some days. With time you get better. One of your blog posts is picked up a large publication and goes viral.

Later that day, you see 5 different emails from publishing agents offering to work with you on a book deal. You are excited, elated and the happiest you have been in a long time. You liked one agent and start working with her. You get a book deal with a high advance couple of months into your work together. You starting working overtime, lose almost all contact with the outside world, and become frustrated with how long and tedious the process it. You almost give up. But a close friend and your editor keep you on track. With their help, you gather your courage and somehow turn your manuscript right at the deadline.

You sleep for 21 hours straight only getting up for a bathroom break. Now, you start dreaming of a month-long vacation. You editor think otherwise. She tells you that her team thinks that your book can become big and needs a bigger launch that usual. She puts you in touch with a top publicist.

You reluctantly get started and start working with the publicist. Next 6 months go in a blink and then comes the eve of the launch day. You are anxious, nervous and excited all at the same time. You are hardly able to sleep that night. You wake up to a call on your phone. You look at the alarm clock. It’s 11am already. You didn’t know when you dozed off. You don’t even look at the screen and pick up the phone thinking it would be your editor or publicist calling to share some good news. No, it’s not them. It’s a feedback call from the hotel you stayed at during your out of town trip six months back.

You put the phone down and pick it up again to open Amazon app. Even though your bladder is telling you to go to the bathroom you resist and scroll down fanatically to go to your rankings on the book’s listing page. You can’t believe what you are seeing. Your book is #19 on all of Amazon. Even before the thought sinks in and you realize that you are a bestselling author – your publicist calls you. You pick up. She is shouting with joy. “We did it!”, she said. You know what she means. You take a deep breath. She reminds you to be in her office to head out for interviews she planned for that evening. You put the phone down.

Your thoughts race back to that eventful day 3 years back when you told yourself that you are a writer; and the subsequent journey that started with you believing that you actually are.

This is an oversimplified account of what has happened in the lives of many best selling authors. It happens in the real world all the time. Each year new authors come in the public eye from nowhere and do it.

It all starts with believing that you are who you want to be. This can work in sports, business, school, art, or music.

If you are a young parent reading this, I urge you to support the dreams of your kids. Kids need the practice to embrace their belief. If your kid is a budding musician you should look into the research done by Professor Gary McPherson at the University of Illinois. He suggests that identity plays an important role in the growth of a child’s prowess in music. With that taken care, the parents’ role is key in a child becoming an accomplished musician.

Here is what he said about Mozart.

“If you think about Mozart, at the time, children didn’t travel much,” he said. “But by an early age, Mozart had traveled to about 80 towns, performed for royalty and undertaken literally thousands of hours of practice – something that is unheard of even today. He also had a father who was willing to spend hours each day teaching his very young son, which meant that by the age of 8 or 9, Mozart had probably accumulated as much learning and practice as many students who are entering specialist music courses in today’s universities. He’d just packed it into a much shorter amount of time.”

Practice firms up the belief and establishes your identity related to what you practice in your mind,

There are two simple steps if you want to emulate it.

  1. Embrace the identity of who you want to be (who is the type of person that could get what you want?)
  2. Then take consistent action whatever small to help you believe in your new identity

Small Wins First: Finding Joy As You Build New Habits

It is important to find joy in what you do. If you love exercising it is easy to be fit. If you love painting it is easy to be an artist. But if you want to acquire a new habit then it may not be fun at first. So you need to make the change gradual.

To be the writer who writes 1000 words a day, you first need to be the writer who writers every day. Even if it is 50 words. Small win first is the key here.

With small wins under your belt, it becomes easier as times passes to embrace your new identity.

Identity-based Habits to Compliment Goal Achievement

Goal setting is an important premise in personal development.

If goal setting is your destination, then small daily wins to create a relevant habit are the fuel that takes you to that destination. Habits are made of daily action. Identity-based habits multiply the effect of those actions. This plays out inside our mind but reflects in results we see outside.

Compared this [Goal focused action] ?

My goal is to be a writer that’s why I need to write every day.

To this [Identity-based habit], ?

I am a writer that’s why I write every day OR I am the kind of person who writes every day.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Goal: Lose 30 pounds

  • Small win: 3 mins walk
  • Identity-based habit to make it a reality: I am the kind of person, who walks briskly every day

Goal: Write a book

  • Small win: 3 mins walk
  • Identity-based habit to make it a reality: I am a writer and I write every day

Goal: Be an ace student

  • Small win: read one page ahead of coursework every day
  • Identity-based habit to make it a reality: I am a student who is ahead on coursework always

Goal: Grow your network

  • Small win: Connect one new person a week
  • Identity-based habits to make it a reality: I am a relationship magnet who is always connecting

Goal: Become Financially Free

  • Small wins: Save 1% of what you earn
  • Identity-based habit to make it a reality: I am the kind of who saves before spending

You Choose!

You have the choice of who you want to be. Ignore the identities imposed by the world on you and embrace the identity of who you want to be. You can be anyone. The process is simple.

[Replace writer below with who you want to be]

  • Decide who you want to be. (A writer)
  • Embrace the identity of that person (Say I am a writer)
  • Take the action that person takes (Write every day)
  • Say you are the person who does what it takes (I write because I am a writer)
  • Be at it.

I wasn’t a writer for a long time. Until I was.

What changed? I took action. I told everyone I am a writer until the belief firmed inside my mind. Now it comes naturally. And, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Long before I became a published author.

Who will you become this year?

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