This unexpected lockdown presented us with such unfamiliar experiences where there was so much unknown. It is natural to let good habits fall by the wayside when anxiety, fear, and anger are prevalent. These are not flourishing grounds to maintain and build good habits but, on the contrary, good ones will slide. For example, working with a trainer may no longer be possible, you may find yourself writing less, overeating, smoking, or spending too much time on the phone.
I received a newsletter from a financial advisor in Colorado. I have never met or invested with him. His usual Saturday emails have classical music recommendations. In his last one, he included an article he wrote about rebuilding good habits after the lockdown.
I jumped at the opportunity of improving my habits and acquiring more good ones. As Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “The purpose of life is the improvement of life: to live, to live well, to live better. “ The investment advisor based his advice on a book he read called Atomic Habits by James Clear. Atomic is defined as an atom, small units filled with energy. Habits are defined as automatic response.
I bought the book to study the techniques step-by-step and here are a few lessons I want to share:
There are three layers to changing habits. The first layer, the most superficial, is setting goals. Goals don’t determine success or failure. Athletes may have the same goals, their success or failure is determined by the systems they use. Goals set direction. We should enjoy the journey more than the destination.
Second layer: Systems which create an environment and process that help meet our goals. For me, I wanted to write more in the lockdown. But my habit was to write in a coffeeshop which was now closed. I had to create a place to write in my home. I built a bookcase with a moveable table and created the right environment. I was not sure about the time to write. Should I write first or after breakfast with my husband? Should I walk first? etc.
I am in the process of finding out my rhythm. What I found helpful is to stack one good habit on top of another. As an example, I finish my writing, and then I take a walk.
Third layer is one’s identity. Self-image is one’s world view. The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior. In Latin, essentias is being. Identiden means repeating. Your identity is literally your repeated being. Systems are what you do. Outcomes are what you get. Identity is what you believe. You can completely rewrite your identity (ie. The perception of who you are.)
How you do this is by setting goals, designing systems, and faking your new identity until you make it. As an example, a rabbi who was 350 pounds could barely walk up a flight of stairs was told to fake it by telling himself he is a healthy person. Once he embraced the persona of a healthy person, he started losing weight. It was easier for him to convince himself he was indeed a healthy person, as his weight dropped to 280 pounds to 250 then to 200. In other words, worship the identity you want and then it will manifest.
Another example cited was when two persons were offered a cigarette. One said, “No, I try not to smoke.” The second one said, “I am not a smoker.” From the answers you will know the one with the identity of not a smoker is more likely to succeed.
Most recently, my identity was as a real estate broker helping clients find their homes. Today I am getting a new identity. I am a writer. I feel more like a person who is trying to quit smoking than the one who does not smoke, still faking it a bit but in the process of affirming my new identity.
We need to protect our good habits and not take them for granted. This is a good time to treasure and forge new ones.