how do we practice change in a sustainable way?

(note: some of the quotes have been italicized/bolded by me, to emphasize the point i’m trying to make)

i’ve been trying to work out what i’m going to write about today. considering i’m working on a piece about routine and habit change, i figure that would make the most sense (you know, to make life a bit easier for myself).

i started reading Atomic Habits yesterday, a book by James Clear. it’s a book i’ve been familiar with for years, but for whatever reason, up until now, i wasn’t ready to receive its lessons.

i want to begin with the beginning part of the book, which makes the point, “True behavior change is identity change.”

this reminded me of a friend who’s been trying to get a hang on her drinking, and a comment she made to me about what’s been helping her — she mentioned working with her therapist to get to a place of no longer thinking of herself as a “drinker.”

Clear uses a similar example with smoking — the difference between being offered a cigarette and saying, “i’m trying to quit.” vs “i don’t smoke.” in the first response, you’re still a smoker; in the second one, you’re not.

which brings us to another point he makes: “Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.”

any of us engaging with self-improvement is aware of the power of self-talk. the way that we talk to ourselves, the way that we think about ourselves, in so many ways shapes the way we interact with the world around us. when we decide we’re “bad” at something, we often stop trying to improve at it. (on a grand scale, this could be applied to how girls relate to math)

i was having a conversation with an ex yesterday and caught myself saying things i no longer feel comfortable co-signing like, “i’m super insecure, i’m super petty,” etc. learning how to reframe these is a continuous practice — being able to honor what has felt true in the past without making it definitive of my present/future self.

in this early section of the book, Clear emphasizes, “it’s important to let your values, principles, and identity drive the loop rather than your results. The focus should always be on becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome.”

he makes the point that most of us have been trained to approach habit change with an emphasis on outcome, such as i want to run the marathon, i want to lose 10 pounds, i want to become a morning person, i want to stop smoking, i want to eat less sugar, etc.

one of his examples is having the goal/desire to write a book:
“‘Who is the type of person who could write a book?’ It’s probably someone who is consistent and reliable. Now your focus shifts from writing a book (outcome-based) to being the type of person who is consistent and reliable (identity-based).”

here, James provides a clear differentiation between an identity-based versus an outcome-based approach to change — it becomes about the qualities of the type of person you want to become.

this has honestly been revelatory to me (specifically as someone who wants to write a book). it also makes total sense for long-term change, right?

it reminds me of my own life and eating habits. as a kid, i grew up eating TV dinners, lunchables, and drinking Dr. Pepper as though it was water (i honestly have very few memories drinking water as a kid).

as i got older and realized that was not the ideal eating structure, i started relating to food differently. i shifted to being someone who wanted to eat foods that made me feel good, who cooked for myself, who ate vegetables and fresh foods.

so despite spending so many years in the routine/habit of eating crappy foods, nowadays, i’m not even tempted by them — they simply don’t seem relevant to the person i am today.

(also, zero shade to anyone’s eating habits — i’m not here to be self-righteous about how i live my life.)

so James makes the point that before we dive into the habits we want to change, we need to first decide who we want to be, which means asking ourselves questions along the lines of:
* What do I want to stand for?
* What are my principles and values?
* Who do I wish to become?

it’s strange how hard it can be to answer questions that appear so simple.

here are my own attempts at answering these questions:
* What do I want to stand for? love, service, care, justice, equity
* What are my principles and values? care for the Earth, care for each other, interconnectedness and interdependence, presence, rigorous honesty
* Who do I wish to become? a writer, good to my body, a better friend/lover/daughter/sister, a healer, steward of the earth, activist, changemaker, nomad

which brings us to the final quote from James (for now): “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”

i have a morning writing practice because i wish to embody being a writer. i do my best to eat vegetables every day and move my body so i can practice being someone who tends to my body.

i’m reminded time and again of the difference between holding knowledge in my head and practicing embodying it. the difference between liking the idea of self-love and the practice of looking myself in the mirror and saying, “i love you.”

i mean, if knowledge was enough, those of us into self-improvement would be perfect by now.

it’s putting the knowledge into practice that makes it real, tangible.

anyway, i’m sure i’ll get into the actual minutiae of habit change as i continue to read the book. in the meantime, let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

also, as someone who has tried to practice perfectionism for most of my life, please don’t internalize any of this as me telling you you need to “work harder” to become the person you want to be.

if i can offer any sort of insight into my own experience with change, it’s that moving from love and care for self is the most sustainable way to do it.

and sometimes we’re simply in survival mode, sometimes that is more than enough. i mean, from november to january, that was me. fuck change, i could barely get by. i was trying to keep my head above water, to make it from day to day. so ya know, let’s keep perspective on the ebb and flow of life.

anyway, i love y’all, and i’m grateful to be on this journey together. ❤ ❤ ❤

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