I have long been fascinated with habits and self-improvement. One of my main drivers in life is basically to constantly get better at the things that are most important to me and to find the best way to achieve such improvement through good habits.
One thing I’ve learned about motivation is that it rarely lasts. For example, I have found that one of the best ways to motivate myself to get out for a run multiple times a week, even in the dark of winter, is to enter a competition.
I’m a very competitive person, so if I know I’m going to run in a race in a few weeks time, especially if it’s against a friend, then I find it highly motivating to get out for runs and improve my time – knowing that it will help me achieve a good result on the big day.
The problem is after the competition is over, my motivation usually drops and I may keep running once a week or I may not, it’s just hard to keep it up long-term. So what’s the solution?
What I’ve found massively helpful at various points in time is to have a “default” mode or mindset, what this means is that for decisions such as “will I go for a run on the weekend?” or “will I eat healthily while I’m out for dinner?”, I choose a default option, then if there’s any doubt I go with that rather than the “easy” option.
What this also does is make it easier to have a day off if there’s a good reason, but not let it spiral into dropping good habits and adopting bad ones.
This works for business too, you can choose to be a professional person, or someone who constantly learns new things, or someone who is always on time.
If it sounds simple, it’s because it is – it’s like making a permanent choice, rather than making lots of little ones every time, but you don’t beat yourself up about it if you break it every now and then.
I recently went away for a long weekend to relax and reset, and whilst away I began re-reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. One key principle this book talks about, which was a great reminder to me and really fits perfectly with my default mode way of working is about choosing your identity.
The book discusses the fact that everyone has goals and many people have the same ones, but why then do some reach them and not others? Goals can be great in some circumstances, but they are usually short-term and it’s hard to make them last.
What many successful people do rather than choose a goal, is choose an identity, and once you’ve chosen your identity then you begin to think like that person would and take actions associated with it as a result.
As an example, I want to be fit and healthy, I’m sure most of us do, but I have struggled to keep up with the required long-term habits to make this a reality.
So what I decided to do recently was to change that part of my identity to a fit and healthy person who goes to our (recently set up) home gym at 6.15am every weekday morning.
This is a subtle but important difference to setting myself the goal of going to the home gym at 6.15am every weekday morning (if I did things this way I’d have to constantly motivate myself and if I missed one I would feel guilt).
I’ve been doing this for three weeks now and it’s worked really well for me. What it means is that by default I have my alarm set for 6am in the week and get up to go for a workout in the gym without thinking about it.
There have been a couple of times when I’ve been out for dinner or something and ended up going to bed late – in which case I turned the alarm off and slept till 7am. But I didn’t feel guilty, I just went back to default and got up at 6am the next day, because that is now part of my identity.
It has other great knock-on effects too because I’m also finding I go to bed earlier now, am mostly making healthier eating choices and am drinking less alcohol in the week.
I’m excited to see where this takes me and to introduce other new positive aspects to my identity and make more good choices by default. Have you thought about your identity and what aspects of it you’d like to change?
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