In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear wrote “For most of my adult life, I didn’t consider myself a writer. If you went to ask any of my high school teachers or college professors, they would tell you I was an average writer at best: certainly not a standout. When I began my writing career, I published a new article every Monday and Thursday for the first few years. As the evidence grew, so did my identity as a writer. I didn’t start out a writer. I became one through my habits.”
I’ve always been goal-orientated. I’m the girl who carefully considers her new years’ resolutions so they are measurable and actionable.
The paragraph above has changed my thinking. Instead of being goal focused, I should focus on my habits. Maybe I haven’t achieved goals because I have been too focused on the achievement part. Maybe I need to focus on the path instead.
We’ve all heard this before. Focus on the journey and not the destination. It’s not a new concept. I’ve always thought by focusing on my goals, I was focusing on the journey to get to the goal. The difference here is you’re not focused on an unknown journey, you’re changing daily habits to change your identity. That, to me, is more profound then simply focusing on “the journey.”
My current daily habits include taking care of my children, working, sometimes exercising, always watching tv, sometimes writing and occasionally playing guitar. It most always includes drinking a glass of wine. My identity, if you look at my habits, is a working mother who drinks wine and dabbles in other hobbies. That doesn’t impress me and certainly isn’t how I want to be identified.
By changing what I do every day, even in a small way, I can shape my identity to be whatever I want it to be. This realization means that we can do anything we want to do. We just need to do it each day, chip away at it and eventually that will become part of our identities.
This thinking makes it seem as if anything is possible. The real problem is identifying who we want to be. Sure, we can change our habits but changing them futilely doesn’t make sense.
Throughout my life, I’ve written. When I was a child, I wrote fictional story after fictional story. I’d watch a movie and it would inspire me to write my own movie script. As I grew older, I continued writing albeit inconsistently. Usually, I’d write in my journal at tough points in my life. Over the past couple years, I have written more. I’m not the best writer but I now make it a point to write several times a week. I have hopes of publishing a book one day but instead of focusing on that, I am focused on writing.
There are other things I want to be identified as just as there are other things I want to focus on. It’s essential I make time to chip away at these things so that they become my identity.
The funny thing is you don’t realize when the shift has happened. I grew up unathletic. I was close to failing gym a couple times though I don’t know how that’s possible. I blamed asthma. I was an unathletic chubby kid. In my 20s, I started going to the gym. While living abroad for work, I became a cardio queen. I’d spend hours on cardio machines. I had nothing else to do after work. When I moved back to the US and settled down, aforementioned cardio queen became a runner, then a cross fitter, and then a body builder. I’ve now been exercising fairly consistently for over 10 years. Being fit is part of my identity. And it’s not part of it because I woke up this way, it’s part of it because I have spent years working on establishing the habit.
“Identity was partly heritage partly upbringing but mostly the choices you make in life.” – Patricia Biggs
The choices we make are responsible for shaping us into the people we become. Joe Rogan started his podcast by having friends as guests. Despite not having many views, he continued because he enjoyed it. He has said that maintaining a consistent schedule early on was important in the podcast’s growth. Being the highest paid podcaster in 2019, it’s clear he is extremely successful. Yet when he hosted Fear Factor, there was no one that could have predicted where he would be today. His consistency with podcasting made him a successful podcaster.
Another example is Evan Hafer, founder and CEO of the Black Rifle Coffee Company. If there’s anyone that’s proof of habits changing identities, it’s him. While at war, Evan found time to make freshly ground coffee. He continued to make coffee after his return, in his garage. This consistency combined with his veteran identity resulted in the Black Rifle Coffee Company.
Chieh Huang, cofounder of Boxed, was unemployed at 30 working in his parents garage. He changed his habits to focus on growing his business idea with 3 others and is now the CEO of a company valued at $600 million. This example is particularly close to me as Chieh and I went to school together. While there was no way anyone knew he would be so successful, he has always been a good person and continues to do great things at Boxed for his employees. By consistent habits and staying true to his core beliefs, he’s been able to shape his identity into a compassionate successful businessman.
We all have the ability to shape our identities. By changing our habits, we can change ourselves. We can change how people see us. And most importantly, we can change how we see ourselves. That is so profound that it has taken me a while to comprehend. I’ve always felt my identity was outside of my control. But it’s not, and it’s time I take it back.
“We don’t know who we are until we see what we can do.” – Martha Grimes
If, like me, you’re still evaluating who it is you want to be, know that this evolves over time. What you focus on today doesn’t have to be what you focus on tomorrow. Try something new, see if you like it, keep doing it and see what you become.