Embracing a lifestyle change (in a different way)
Embracing a lifestyle change is tough: from adopting a new habit to dealing with a unique life situation or embracing a chronic condition.
I recently came across the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, which brings a special and interesting way of approaching a lifestyle change.
He writes that to adopt a new lifestyle change; there are three levels to approach it: one more superficial level that is defined by the outcome that we want to attain, like losing weight, becoming more physically active, or dealing better with emotions. A deeper level involves focusing on the process of achieving that change, like joining a fitness class, adopting a new way of eating or starting a meditation practice. Finally, the deepest level is to change our identity, related to what we want to accomplish.
Let me explain this a little bit. The outcome is about what you get, the process is about what you do, and identity is about what you believe. He writes that the ultimate motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity.
Most people focus on the outcome and the process when deciding to change. However, I find that changing our beliefs about whom we want to become (identity) about the desired change is a more powerful way to change.
Let's say we want to lose weight. The outer level is the goal; the outcome I want to accomplish is the what, like losing weight and then defining exactly the amount we want. The next level is how I am going to do it and where are the things I need to do to accomplish this specific goal. For example, joining Weight Watchers or eating different or eating less or whatever you feel is right for you, a plan that you believe you are confident to follow.
But then the most inner and transformative level to me is to target to change your belief regarding the desired change, in this example, the way you eat. At this level, an identity question is needed whenever you approach food: “what would be the way of eating for a slim person? Then you act: what you eat and how much.
How do we embrace change through identity change?
When we want to change things in life that are difficult, like living with heavy emotional patterns, a new life situation like a divorce, or the loss of someone we care about, it requires a significant amount of self-reflection about the person we want to become. Once you define the belief you want to adopt, you go back to the question: Am I acting in a way that relates to that belief? Who is the type of person that achieves the outcome I want?
I feel that his approach of paying attention right at the point of contact with life about how our beliefs shape our actions is a way of meditation: A deep observation of life. It goes beyond thinking about how it feels in your body and your gut/heart. Identity-based changes require determination, work, and an environment of silence and nonreactivity.
I feel that true lifestyle change is identity change: if you want something to stick with you, it must be part of who you are. This principle is powerful as it applies to everything: you’re eating, your physical activity, your relationships …everything.
Our habits are the way we embody our identity. At the same time, when we change our beliefs about a particular action, our behavior (repeated action) will follow until it becomes automatic, and a new habit will be born.
Our lifestyle does not change at the snap of a finger, but bit by bit, by small repetitive changes that change our self-image (our identity).
In my search for ways to deal with how it is to live and achieve with uncertainty and problems in my own life and in the life of my patients that deal with chronic conditions, I find this approach very powerful, and that is the reason why I want to share it with you.
I hope this helps you as it helped me and stirred your mind, as it did mine, into this approach to change lifestyle (the way we live our lives). It may impact how we embrace change and living conditions, including disease, and create a way to achieve contentment and balance, which is the essence of health.
See you next month