“If information were the answer, we‘d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” – Derek Sivers
I was re-listening to a Tim Ferris podcast which featured the guest, Derek Sivers. He created CDBaby in the 90’s, sold it for a few million, has some Ted talks, and all and all tells a remarkable story of how he started and how he got to where he is now, while sharing some terrific tips and pieces of advice along the way. But this quote during the interview really struck a chord with me.
We almost all know that we should eat healthier (we even know what that actually means and looks like). We should exercise (there are a gazillion different ways and many will actually work). We know we either drink too much alcohol or eat too much chocolate, or can’t stay away from the potato chips. And yet, there we are doing it anyways, or not doing it, and not seeing results or being the person we wish we were or could be.
Ironically, there is also a boatload of information about habit formation. Creating new habits, replacing old ones, why we will often – even when doing well with a new regime – experience what psychologists call an “extinction,” where we seem to have a massive reversion to the old destructive habit.
So, science is figuring out the psychological tricks that can help us defeat that pesky sub-conscious mind that seems to derail us at every turn. Yet why are people still not billionaires with perfect abs?
This is where NLP practitioners (the most famous one being Tony Robbins) will talk about state of mind or being in the right emotional state. This is good, and they’re on the right track with this. There is a huge difference between knowing you should get off the couch and being in a state where you take action, and actually getting off the couch; being a mover and shaker; a doer and not just a bystander. But I think it takes more than just being in a resourceful state, or energetic state. This gets you started, for sure. But how can we avoid the ‘extinction?’ The reversion to the old way? “Falling off the bike,” so to speak?
If you are really serious about exercising, training, getting in shape, eating better…. It has to be part of your identity. You have to literally decide to be that which you want to become. People who hit the gym regularly do so because it is who they are; it has become a part of how they identify themselves. This is actually where ego is useful. Their ego will no longer support the idea of not doing these things. An athlete will identify themselves as that of the sport they do. They don’t row – they’re rowers. He doesn’t play soccer – he’s a footballer. I don’t play rugby. (Well okay, I do…) but – I’m a rugby player. She doesn’t practice kung fu – she’s a martial artist. Having this be their identity has huge implications for how they behave to the point of dictating their behaviors.
You may not play a sport and I don’t want to get into the identity crisis issues that can come from when you retire from some of these sports. But the point here is that while you don’t have to be a martial artist, you can decide to identify yourself as someone who is strong and fit. Someone who could handle themselves in a sticky situation, or be counted on when it comes to helping your friend move that damn piano.
Creating this identity, pretending to be ‘super-human,’ or an action hero (James Bond) will help dictate the type of behaviors which will help you first become, then protect, that identity.
I’ll finish this post with a fun little experiment: I want you, for a minute, to simply think about raising your hand up like we were in school. Just think about it. Imagine it moving up over your head, imagine the shoulder muscle contracting, feel your back stretch as your hand goes higher up. Just think about it…
Now, actually do it.
It feels different. There was less thought and you just moved. It is that same idea with making a lifestyle change. We can think about it all we want, but ultimately… Move.