This might seem like a no brainer to some of you or something that has been totally obvious for your lifetime. But this is like *mind blown* new thinking for me. I did not think this up in the shower…although I wish I did because I would be the best selling author like James Clear, the dude who wrote Atomic Habits. I enjoy listening to Podcasts and I have really been enjoying Rich Rolls podcast as of late. On a recent episode, he had James on who was talking about his new book “Atomic Habits” and something he said sparked a lightbulb. I don’t know what it was but I knew I needed to read the book. So I picked it up and started reading casually only to realize that I needed to read this thing like a textbook. This was some DEEP shit. You should see the pages of my book- pencil notes of ah-ha moments, highlighter everywhere, dog eared pages. He helped me connect the dots between my habits, my identity, and my amazing ability to make BIG changes all at once that never last.
“True behavior change is identity change.”
In the smallest of nutshells Atomic Habits focus on small changes to what you do everyday that add up to big, meaningful changes. Changes in our systems makes habits good habits obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. When if comes to real change, you have to change your identity. To make lasting change I need to identify as a healthy person. James defines identity as “literally your ‘repeated beingness'”. Ok…so I want to identify as a healthy person…what the hell do healthy people do repeatedly to be a healthy person? Thankfully I have people in my family and my life who I think are healthy. My grandparents are freaking Benjamin Buttons and while having been alive for 84 and 86 years, they present very few 80’s issues. Both were recently diagnosed with cancer- which is a human scourge not an age thing, and their doctors were blown away at their health. I was in the room with my grandpa after he was diagnosed with cancer and a doctor walked in, looked and him and then left the room. He came back in a few minutes later and apologized for leaving so abruptly before; he was confused because my grandpa’s chart said he was 86 but because my grandpa looks to be in his 60’s the doctor assumed he had the wrong room. I can’t make this stuff up. My parents are healthy and active, my sister is a super fit PCT hiker, my friends are fierce…so I have some excellent real-life healthy examples to look to when trying to figure out what the hell they do every day for me to identify then as a healthy person. So I took an inventory- I literally made a list of all of of the things and habits I believe these people do to BE healthy. My question to myself was: Who is the type of person that would be healthy? What are these people doing to be healthy? Here is what I came up with: A healthy person eats whole fruits and veggies every day, drinks lots of water, takes vitamins, makes more healthy choices than unhealthy choices daily, is active most days, knows their “numbers” (weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, ect.), meditates and reflects on their progress, health and choices, does not eat a lot of sugar or carbs, they track what they eat, they eat real food with minimal processing, they home cook, they do something different when a craving strikes (take a walk, read, be active, becomes mindful about their craving), eat slow so they can stop when they are full, they have a lot of fun often, and sometimes they have some wine or Gin and Tonics and dont feel bad about it.
At first I thought this list was ridiculous…who does ALL of this shit every day. But then I really thought about it…it’s not going to take ONE thing to make me a healthy person nor does it take healthy people one thing to make them healthy. I didn’t acquire all of this weight in one day and I sure as hell won’t banish it in one day. Healthy people do quite a few things every day, every week, every month, every year, every decade to remain healthy. If I want this to be my identity, then I need to do these things repeatedly. AUUGHHHH. FINE. Knowing that I am super amazing at making 1000 changes all at the same time and then nothing changing, I knew I needed to pace myself. So I condensed this list to 12 things and I started tracking those 12 things. I was not going to beat myself up over not hitting all 12 things every day, but I needed to know where I was starting from. I made myself a tracker in my Bullet Journal and started tracking. You can’t measure what you don’t track. And there is an even more important reason for tracking habits…I need EVIDENCE that I am becoming a healthy person. By tracking healthy habits, I can see some evidence that I am a healthy person.
The second chapter of Atomic Habits is all about how our habits shape our identities. In the book, James talks about the three layers of behavioral change and how these layers are connected and dependent yet independent. To change a behavior, you need to change three things: outcomes, processes, and identity. Outcomes are all about your results and what your get out of an action or behavior. Processes are about your habits and systems…they are about what you do to achieve your desired outcome. Identity is about your beliefs and judgements about yourself and others. To make lasting change, you need to start with your identify, then work to create your systems and habits that align to your desired identity. This will create the results or outcome that you wanted because you have aligned what you believe about yourself to your actions and systems. Ok…so if I want to identify as a healthy person, I need to know what a healthy person does and then do those things. OK…check…I got that. But how will I know when I have become a healthy person? It’s all about the votes. This is the part that totally clicked for me…finally something my brain understands when it comes to lasting change.
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identify. This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity…you dont need a unanimous vote to win an election; you just need a majority...Your goal is simply to win the majority of the time…New identities require new evidence.”“Atomic Habits”, James Clear
OMFG. *MIND BLOWN* OMFG. I think I have read and re-read this section 20 times now because it is just so unreal to me. I do NOT need to be perfect…I need enough evidence to show that I am a healthy person a majority of the time. A MAJORITY! OMFG. A healthy person DOES eat sugar…a healthy person DOES have a glass of wine with dinner. A healthy person is active MOST days. A healthy person DOES eat out every now and then. So if I am tracking my votes, I will see the direction my identify is moving. If I am casting more votes for a healthy identity, I am moving in that direction. If I am casting more votes for my current identity, then I am not making meaningful change. HOLY SHIT. For some reason, I needed Mr. James Clear to give me permission to be imperfect and fuck up sometimes and still identify as “healthy”. I think I have shook myself awake. So I started “tallying”my votes.
You can see the 12 habits I am tracking that I believe support my healthy identity. As you can see, getting in 100 oz of water has been a REAL struggle…as has my ability to switch up my cravings. I am also still getting used to the idea of tracking multiple times a day because lets be real…who stops and reflects on their day THIS much? So…have I cast a majority of my votes for my healthy identify? It’s a DEAD HEAT. Today is the 11th so I am not counting today because the day’s not over yet 🙂 So there are 120 little boxes…meaning 60 completed boxes is a 50/50 split. I have EXACTLY 60 boxes blacked out. Some boxes are halfsies…meaning I got in my fruit or my veg but not both. But looking at this data has me noticing some things: only during my 30/10 days have I been so aware of my “numbers”, I am not drinking as much water as I thought I was, I am crushing my vitamins and food tracking. I know this for sure, NONE of this information or knowledge would have been possible before because this was not in my realm of identity possibilities. I also know that I stepped on the Weight Watchers (WW) scale last night 6.2 pounds lighter than last week. So last week, I casted quite a few votes for my healthy identity. And that is quite a few more than I have casted in the last year.
Man…I am spent. This shit makes my brain hurt. But the more I can speak and write and think about all this identity stuff the more it sticks in my brain. This is why teachers are so smart. They are constantly interacting with the same material in so many different ways that they really do become masters of content and content delivery. Take a science teacher for example. They study the connection between cells and DNA by reading textbooks, articles and curriculum. They watch video after video looking for the *perfect* one to show their kids. They travel the world attending conferences and spend their “Teacher In-Service” days reviewing and previewing the newest DNA curriculum that has incorporated the newest science so that company can say they have the most updated offerings out there. They become so intimately aware of their content that it just becomes them. Trust me on this one…anyone who knows me will tell you that I can connect anything to something historic in one sentence. But I LIVE FOR this kind of shit. I love learning and the feeling of becoming intimately aware of something new. I will become intimately aware of identity change and habits so I can have a new identity…so that I can become a healthy person.
Progress requires unlearning. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs and to upgrade and expand your identity…Habits can help you achieve all of these things, but fundamentally they are not about having something. They are about becoming someone.“Atomic Habits”, James Clear