Change the Person You Are by Changing Things You Do


IF YOU think you’re perfect, then continue to allow those delusions of self-grandeur work for you. It’s been proven that what scientists call the self-enhancement bias is necessary to avoid falling into the pits of despair. This bias is very much like the optimism bias. The kind of thinking that allows smokers to believe they’ll escape cancer and millennials to start new businesses despite statistics warning otherwise.

In spite of nature, though — or perhaps because of nature — sometimes no amount of delusions can stop us from realizing that something about our habits or personality or worldview just isn’t working anymore. You might even try to make a change for the better — but, just like anyone a beating heart and red blood, you know what it feels like to attempt to set new habits in motion. Whether it’s somehow tricking our hands to take out the garbage or parcel out recyclables, or to cut sugar out from our diets, why do we find changing our habits to be so difficult? Even the idea of change is met with catastrophic warning bells.

It might have to do with the way we perceive change in the long-term and the short-term. Generally, human society has come to value speed and efficiency above all else. Things that are fast are good; things that aren’t are obsolete or not worth the time and effort. Who wants to wait for a letter in the mail when an e-mail or a text would be a hundred times quicker? Instant gratification is king, and his kingdom is vast. But some things can’t be accomplished over e-mail; they inherently need time to come into being. Which is why so many people seem to fail at making changes — their desire for the change doesn’t outweigh the need for instant gratification that has become so deep-rooted within them. We have to find a slightly different way to look at why we struggle so deeply to change that which we consciously decide to change about ourselves.

Some specialists in human behavior believe that the key to changing our habits is to focus on our identity-based habits — those habits we have and actions we take that are a direct reflection of the people we are and the people we perceive ourselves to be. Do you smoke cigarettes? Then you’re a smoker — that’s part of your identity. Changing those identity-based habits is a better approach to seeing lasting results because they’re rooted deeper in our psyches than performance-based or appearance-based habits, which have more to do with the way the world perceives us and can thus fluctuate.

And it’s not as complicated as getting a si-fi movie brain transplant either. Making changes to your identity and your habits really consists of deciding to make an effort to change. This has also been referred to as “habit disruption.” Say you want to be healthier and lose a few pounds — but you go to happy hour every day and down a few drinks and eat a slice of pizza. The only thing you do to reach that goal is talk about. To make it actually happen, you need to do things: accept that you might need to make some changes, like going to the gym of a few of those evenings instead, and envision yourself as a new person. You have to believe that your are a person who likes to exercise, one who doesn’t skip a workout because it is important to you and your self-perception. And if you can master that crucial step, keeping up with the habit is going to stick a lot faster.

Strangely, as difficult as changing your mind is, it is also that simple. There’s a mixture of resolve and consistency that building or changing a habit takes, and this is usually the stage where people experience some sort of fear or self-sabotaging behaviors. Yes, it’s much easier to not try selling your homemade pillowcases on Etsy than it is to do so. But then you’re not selling your pillowcases. Ignore the part where you’re not an “artist” or a “businesswoman” and just accept that if you feel the urge to be, maybe you actually are. And then believe that about yourself. And then take action.

Here’s the last thing… don’t worry about seeing results quite yet, because no matter how resolved you are, most things don’t turn around overnight. Identities aren’t built in a day, after all. But if you become the person who’s trying regardless, eventually they will.

Image Credit: Joe Nalven

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