This week, I wanted to share with you a concept. This has helped me in developing a lot of great habits lately and I will definitely be using it more in the future. I wanted to unpack this idea and show you how it can be used to develop a habit. For me, it has worked better than tracking successful vs unsuccessful days, the x-effect, apps and programs. This for me worked and no doubt will work again.
First things first.
I’m the realest! Wait, no.
First things first, let me share a quote with you. It is from Tony Robbins, and I feel like I’m paraphrasing because I now can not find it anywhere. I have heard it may appear in his book “Awaken The Giant Within”. I have seen it elsewhere in similar words to how I remember it. But, I digress. Ahem.
“The strongest force in human psychology is the need to be congruent with how you identify yourself”.
When we actually explore this a little, it becomes clear how powerful the idea behind this quote really can be.
What’s he on about?
So, what is Tony talking about? Basically, you are way more likely to act in accordance with you think you are, what you think you are, than if you have to convince or force yourself to do something in the hopes of becoming someone or something else eventually. If you identify as an entrepreneur, it may be easier to get yourself to moonlight and get your work done. If you identify as a drug addict, guess what’s likely in store for you?
Now I am not going to be so bold as to say you can cure addiction with what I propose a little later on, but the way you identify yourself has a lot of weight in what you do. It has helped a lot of people and psychologist Erich Fromm has written a great book “To Have or To be?” that touches on a similar topic in the way that people often overlook the value of ‘being’ someone rather than having material things.
Back to Mr Robbins though. What does it mean to identify as someone? Well, I will try and give a few examples. They’re cliche but get the point across.
Think of a kid who is being bullied. If other people call him names, insult him, taunt him, it’s going to be a tough time for that kid, no doubt. But the real damage will be done if he starts believing them. If the voice inside his head joins in, if he identifies as that fat loser or that nerd with no friends, that’s what is going to have an affect on him.
If you’re trying to give up smoking and someone offers you a cigarette. That’s going to be hard to turn down. You are, after all, a smoker. Sure you’re trying to quit, but as of right now, you smoke honey. But, if instead of identifying as a smoker, the voice in your head says “No no, you don’t smoke anymore”, then you will be more likely to turn down the invite. Why would someone who doesn’t smoke accept?
Smoking is of course a tricky one, as there’s an actual chemical addiction, but the point is the same. Trying to give up the diet of burgers and pizza? “I don’t eat burgers or pizza anymore” will work much better as a self narrative than “I am trying to give up fast food.”
The words “I am…” are powerful. Think about feelings. “I am sad” is going to see you in a slump for a good little while before you start feeling better. Nothing to do but put up with it. You ARE sad. But if you change the wording slightly… “I feel sad.” There goes any sense of permanence of that emotion. It gives you a starting point as well. You can now take a better look at what’s causing you to feel that way and what you can do about it.
“I am fat” is a very loaded statement. It has negative connotations and not many people say this sentence proudly. It doesn’t exactly spark a fire in your belly to change. However, “I have a bit of fat on my body” changes things again. Now, you have disassociated yourself with the fat mentally. You can now start to work out how you’re going to lower the amount you have.
The most recent time this has worked for me is in terms of drinking. I tried telling myself and others that I’m trying to stop drinking alcohol and soft drinks. I was never a big consumer of either of these, but decided to stop anyway. It didn’t work though. One drink here and there was easily justified in my mind because “it’s only one” as far as I knew, I was still technically a drinker. If I’m trying to give something up, I must still be doing it.
So I tried my newfound method. “I only drink water now”. Boom. Instant results. If I were trying to sell you something, my God would this sound scammy. But I have no product, there is no buy-in here. I genuinely found almost instant success with this. Have not had another drink since. It’s actually easy now. I drank soft drink here and there, coffee frequently and alcohol once a month. Now, water only.
What’s actually going on here?
Sounds stupid really, doesn’t it? At least on the surface. You aren’t actually telling yourself to stop anything though. You’re telling yourself you already have. Why does it work though?
Your inner voice is the only one that matters. Telling yourself negative things about yourself, telling yourself why you can’t do something or will fail at something, they hold you back. We want to fit in with our own narrative about ourselves. If we think of ourselves as happy, we will be happy. If we think we are avid gym-goers, we aren’t going to skip leg day! That’s what others do, not us.
There have been numerous studies on the power of thinking of something and then realising that effect in real life. A study done even back in 1989 by Lori Ansbach demonstrated that basketballers who trained purely mentally and those that trained physically and mentally actually displayed significant statistical improvements compared to those of a control group. The power of the mind is no secret to anyone anymore.
Where to from here?
The idea that a lot of people go to when trying to develop a new habit (or get rid of a bad one) is to track it. A tick for the good days, a cross for the bad ones. Maybe they recite a daily affirmation to themselves. They might even opt for the classic rubber band on the wrist. These can sometimes work, but if you have tried any of these before, you know it’s far from a sure thing. It might work or it might not.
What I propose is that instead of trying to convince yourself you need to start working out, or stop binge eating, you instead change your mindset. You change your beliefs about yourself. You don’t eat fast food anymore. That’s just who you are. You’re one of those dedicated, disciplined people that doesn’t go to Maccas anymore. You just don’t do it. Next time you’re presented with an opportunity to do so, it would be weird for you to eat it, as that’s not who you are anymore.
Tell yourself “I am…” or “I do this or that” or “I don’t do this anymore”. You will very likely see results. I did not have any routine for this. I didn’t recite this to myself every morning or anything. I simply, when thirsty or ordering a drink or going out or anything to do with drinking a liquid, would tell myself that I am a water drinker. I wouldn’t say to myself “come on, we’re trying to stop drinking”. That leaves room for doubt. It’s vague, it’s not definite and importantly, it implies that I still do.
I have had great success with this approach and have used it for a number of positive changes now. Give it a shot. Maybe it doesn’t work, but maybe, it literally changes you. After all, you are a person who wants to make a positive change… right?
Mr Jack Oats