Part 1 covered the WHY, part 2 covers the HOW.
We’ve all been there. Time to make a change. January 1st rolls around, the gyms fill up… and by February all the people who were so committed to getting fit and healthy a month ago, vanish. All of the people who vowed to quit smoking are back to their pack-a-day habit. And guess what? They’ll be back at it again this time 2017.
The few people who are successful with carrying out their New Year’s Resolutions to the point they become a habit follow a simple (but difficult) 3 step pattern for truly changing their lives.
I’m going to use the example of quitting smoking because it’s easy to understand and for consistency’s sake, but this can be applied to anything whether it be getting up early, getting better grades, exercising more, competence in general, work performance, and many many other parts of life.
The first stage is intellectual. Most people know and understand on an intellectual level what they have to do or change in their lives to get what they want. For people who smoke, they know intellectually that cigarettes are bad for them, it’s not a secret. People who want to be successful KNOW that they’ve got to get up early, stay up late, surround themselves with the right people, and work extremely hard. So why do smokers continue to light up, knowing that every cigarette shortens their time on this earth? Why do would-be entrepreneurs stick to talking about their ideas and refuse to take action, even though they must act to be successful? The fact is that just knowing what you need to do is almost never enough to inflict real and habitual change.
Imagine for a moment that you are a smoker and a father. You’ve been a smoker most of your life and one day your beautiful 8 year old daughter comes up to you and says, “We learned in school today that smoking could kill you. Why do you smoke? Don’t you want to be able to walk me down the aisle at my wedding?”. What a gut wrenching moment for a loving father. I would bet that any smoker in that situation would right then and there decide to throw their cigarettes away because their love for their daughter and the emotion that she invoked would propel them to make a change. The second stage in change is emotional pressure. Whether it’s disgust with yourself, love for your family, or anything in between, having both an intellectual understanding of what you need to do and the emotional inspiration
Emotional inspiration is great for getting you started.
Now imagine that our new “non-smoker” dad has been off cigarettes for 14 days. While at work, a coworker offers him a cigarette. His face twists in agony as he politely declines, saying, “No thanks, I’m trying to quit.” He may have won this round, but the reason so many smokers go back to smoking is that they can’t keep that emotion that inspired the change with them all the time. In a moment of weakness and in the absence of the emotion that inspired them to throw the cigarettes away, the smoker will always go back to smoking. The new found healthy eater will always go back to junk food. We’ve all been there. This is the failed New Year’s Resolution. In the emotion of the moment, and while the fear of having wasted another year overwhelms you, you make a decision to change. Until February when you give up and go back to the old you. Rinse and repeat. Every year. Most people stall out here.
But you’re almost there.
Here’s the secret.
What if the non-smoking dad had said “No thanks, I don’t smoke.” instead of “I’m trying to quit.”?
This is not a simple semantic difference. It’s subtle, but there is a HUGE difference in intent, even though both phrases really mean the same thing.
These seemingly similar statements highlight the third and final step in making a change – Identity Shift. The identity shift stage is much quieter and less “inspirational” than the emotion stage, but it is far more powerful if you are trying to make a change in your habits or routine.
Simply put, the smoker who says “I’m trying to quit.” IDENTIFIES as a smoker who is trying to quit smoking, while the person who says “I don’t smoke.” has SHIFTED their identity to that of a non-smoker. They just don’t smoke. They aren’t trying to quit, they aren’t even a former smoker. They decided that they are a non-smoker, and that is that. The ex-smoker has made the mental shift and is now a non-smoker.
Runners find it easy to get up and run, because they identify as “runners”.
Musicians practice and play music every day because they identify as musicians.
Athletes go to the gym and work out because they see themselves as an athlete.
Lazy people sit around and watch TV and eat Cheetos all day because they identify as lazy.
To inflict true change in your life you have to have an identity shift. This is not some “The Secret” bullshit. It’s fucking hard to make a change — but it can be done when you make the decision to change your identity.