Identity, Habits, Goals and Resolutions.
Towards the end of December and leading up to New Year’s Day many people reflect on
the past year and then start thinking about resolutions for the next year. Like most I have done this in the past and also observed some of the anti resolution comments that seem to come from two opposite camps. Those that just can’t be bothered in life and those who advocate that our behaviours should be all year round qualities that we exhibit, or something along those lines.
New Year is a good natural time to reflect on such things, just like a birthday or other significant life event. It’s good to take stock of life and especially be grateful for what we have rather than moan at what we don’t! Take time to think a little about who we are as people, what we do, are we content in life and how we contribute to society.
This year all of this coincided with some thinking about habit formation. James Clear - author of Atomic Habits - says that, when thinking about forming a new habit, it’s best to start by reflecting on your identity. Who are you? This is easier said than done for a lot of people but something I do regularly with my coaching clients. For me knowing “who I am” is one of the most important things to be clear on in life, because this is the essence of what makes us content, fulfilled and happy (personally don’t like using the word happy in this context as I feel it has too transient a meaning in modern life). And of course this also happens to be one of the hardest things to articulate to other people. Most of us will struggle to answer that question without automatically thinking of “what we do” as the answer, at least in part if not the whole. If I asked you “who are you?” in a social setting you’d probably answer first with your name and then select one of two other bits of info: who you’re with or what you do. Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said “Hi, I’m Peter, Jess’s husband”. (No guesses as to who’s the social one in our marriage!) What else would I say? What would you say? It’s not easy because it’s what we’re accustomed/conditioned to. If, on the other hand I simply said “Hi, I’m Peter” you can almost guarantee that the next question will ask either who I’m with or what do I do.
Just pause for a second and think about who you are…
Thinking about this is not so easy is it? For me I go to two things. First and foremost I think about my values and secondly my beliefs. Values being the things that are most important to me like family, honesty, integrity, generosity etc. and beliefs being the things that are true and more matter of fact - the sun rises daily, gravity is a thing, the sky is blue, the grass is green, global warming is real, etc. Values and beliefs can overlap/interchange depending on how important they are to you. For example, I used to believe global warming was true - a belief - now it is a value of mine to be responsible for the planet in a more meaningful way which is expressed in behaviours of recycling, using less electricity, only buying electricity from sustainable sources, using less disposable items, buying less stuff, being more thrifty and so on.
Coming back to the thinking of new year resolutions and setting goals, and how this all relates… I am good at setting goals and making resolutions. My biennial cycle of weight fluctuation is one of the main themes for me over the years. For decades I have fluctuated 20lbs up, down and back up again. I engage in a programme of exercise and often enter a real stretch goal event. The year I turned 50 I entered a half Ironman triathlon and took 7 hours to haul my 20lb lighter butt around the course. Swim (1.2 miles/1.9km) and cycle (56 miles/90km) were fine, the run (13.1 miles/21km), however, was hell! I had never run a half marathon distance, let alone doing it after 4 hours of swimming and cycling. To use the word run is an exaggeration. I jogged about 70% and walked the rest. Nevertheless I was chuffed to have completed it and raised a lot of money for Pancreatic Cancer research. Goal achieved! In fact I was so chuffed that exercise then ceased to be a part of life for a good while and a year later I was probably back to my heaviest. Ugh!
2014: Cotswold 113 Triathlon 1983 Welsh Champions
Therein lies the problem with goal setting. What happens when you achieve the goal? Everything is geared to that achievement, which is not a bad thing in itself, there is just no sustainability. You then are back to square one motivationally. So now I have a new approach. Rather than setting a goal I have taken time to reflect on my values and who I want to be (identity). An important value for me has always been to be fit and healthy. During my school years I was into every sport and loved them all. My school had a great basketball team and we won the national championships every year. (Yes I am No 12) I was really fit and lean. This was taken away from me when I joined a Christian Cult (yes that’s correct) in London as a student at 19. It filled up my time with so many activities and meetings that after studying there was no time for sport. So I gradually put on the pounds and headed to obesity on the BMI scale, where I’ve been sat most of my adult life.
Part of my wellness now is walking and hiking, especially up hills and mountains. Hence the name of my coaching practice Well Man Walking. So this year I have decided part of my identity is “to be someone who exercises every day” (for a minimum of 20 minutes). With January done I have exercised, anywhere from 29 minutes to 236 minutes, every day. Not a day missed. I have formed and new habit to the point that when I wake up each morning the thought is not “will I exercise today” but “when will I exercise today?” OK so I am only 33 days in to this streak, but this is already by far the longest streak of doing at least half an hour of exercise every day. I feel great and an obvious upside is that I have also lost 4lbs without being on a diet.
Finally, here’s another value - accountability. By putting this out there you are witnesses to this new identity I have adopted and my new habit of daily exercise. Updates will follow - I am my own experiment on this journey of “Identity over Goals”.
(If you feel you could benefit from some coaching help, please contact me for a chat.)