“Why don’t you just try X for 30 days and see if your life gets better?
Today, roughly two-thirds of the population will make New Year’s resolutions. The most common resolutions:
- Eat healthier
- Get more exercise
- Save money
- Take better care of ourselves
- Read more
- Make new friends
- Learn a new skill / hobby
Looking at this in the context of having recently read James Clear’s Atomic Habits, he makes a really interesting point that these kinds of improvements require tackling three aspects of the problem: identity, systems and goals.
For example, instead of resolving to eat better, we might resolve to become vegetarian. This is adopting a new identity that shapes the kind of food choices we make into healthier alternatives. You could also make it smaller, and maybe adopt an identity as a “water-drinker”.
You can extend these to the other resolutions. Instead of resolving to exercise more, decide to become a runner. Instead of saving money, you could become a person that pays cash or pays your entire credit card bill every month.
Identity feeds into systems. If you are going to become vegetarian, will you eat dairy and eggs? If you will occasionally eat meat, say during Thanksgiving, how often will you need to eat a vegetarian diet to think of yourself as vegetarian? What does a healthy vegetarian diet look like?
Same goes for running. How many miles and how many days per week do you need to run to think of yourself as a runner?
These, in turn, lead to goals. If you run sporadically, then setting a consistent schedule will result in more exercise, just as consistently eating vegetarian will result in eating better.
Goals have the problem that life gets in the way, and we give up on them. If your goal is to run a marathon, you cannot continue if you get injured or develop a cold that prevents you from following a training program. If you think of yourself as a runner, being sick is only a momentary set-back. But, the minute you know you can run again, you need to start. Otherwise, you aren’t proving to yourself your identity that you are a runner.
The start of a new year is an excellent time to think through the kind of person you want to be and the identities you want to adopt. But, the beginning of the month, of the week or each new day are good times to start trying to be a different, better person too.
Don’t let the inevitable failures that life throws in the way of each of us stop you from pursuing being the kind of person you want to be. The question isn’t whether you always eat healthier, but whether, in the main, you are eating better than you were before. You need to have systems and goals in place to get feedback on your progress, and you need to build in flexibility to change course. Do, evaluate, and do it differently. The goal is to be the person you want and not the number of miles you ran in a given week, that’s just the feedback.