I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.
Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative.
My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.)
Here, I talk about the Strategy of Identity.
A great example of the importance of this strategy comes writer James Agree. In a letter I read in Letters of James Agee to Father Flye, he wrote, after he'd been told that he really needed to cut back on his drinking and smoking:
I am depressed because whether I am to live a very short time or relatively longer time depends…on whether or not I can learn to be the kind of person I am not and have always detested.
And indeed, Agee didn’t cut back on the drinking and smoking, and died of a heart attack, at age 45, in a taxi on his way to see a doctor. Agee liked to drink and smoke, certainly — but he also considered himself that kind of person. So to change his habits, he had both to stop drinking and smoking, and also “learn to be the kind of person he was not.” But, he wrote, he detests that kind of person! No wonder it was hard for him to change. Change meant fundamentally altering himself to become the kind of person he’d always detested.
To change a habit, we have to face that kind of conflict.
Another key point about the Strategy of Identity: for you Rebels out there (or people who work with Rebels), this strategy is one of the most effective strategies for Rebels.
Rebels generally have a tough time accepting the constraints imposed by habits, but because they place great value on being true to themselves, they embrace a habit if they view it as an essential aspect of their identity.
For instance, a Rebel might want to be a respected leader. The identity of “leader” might help him to choose to keep habits—such as showing up on time or going to unnecessary meetings—that would otherwise chafe. He will choose to behave this way.
I have to admit, I'd been researching and thinking about habits for a long time before I grasped the significance of the Strategy of Identity. It's very, very important.