Yesterday, I wrote about feeling overwhelmed. And I
foolishly promised mentioned I was going to talk about creating new habits through identity.
I manage feeling overwhelmed with to-do lists, which I compulsively sort, sequence and follow. Reviewing what needs to be done and in what order is a big part of who I am–a practical, no-nonsense, no-drama get-it-done personality.
What does this have to do with identity? Part of my identity is that I hate being late, feeling rushed, and forgetting things. It’s a straight line from that to actions I take–pack my suitcase and messenger bag the night before, even if I’m not leaving first thing in the morning.
Starting a new habit really focuses on doing something new along with something you do regularly. If you want to take a multi-vitamin every morning, you put the pill bottle next to your coffee cup. When you pour your coffee, you’ll see the bottle, and take the vitamin.
Getting rid of an old habit is a lot harder. In my case, it was getting control of my sugar addiction. Eating sweets was, for decades, a way of rewarding myself, comforting myself, relaxing from a hard day. Then I needed to get rid of them. Not for a day, or a week, or the time it takes to finish a diet, but forever.
My identity was completely tied up with eating sweets. I thought of myself as someone who loves food, but really loves dessert. Giving it up was carving away part of my identity. If I wanted to get rid of sweets, I had to think of myself differently. I started with thinking of myself as someone who wanted to feel better. To be healthier.
For a while, in my earlier life, I kept kosher. I didn’t eat pork or shellfish and I didn’t eat any milk products at a meal where meat was served. I didn’t argue about it. It was who I was. I never said, “I can’t eat that,” I said, “I don’t eat that.” There is a huge difference. Don’t was part of my identity, and a deliberate choice I made. But I did not need to make it over and over every day. I didn’t have to choose or decide every day. I kept kosher, I didn’t eat certain foods. It was my identity. (Later, I chose not to keep kosher any longer, and the way I thought of myself changed. But that’s another story.)
In other words, for as long as I held the identity, I didn’t eat certain things. In my head it was not “until I change my identity,” it was forever.
When I gave up added sugar, artificial sugars and everything that used sugar as a flavor, I chose an identity. It was the diabetic who was going to control her blood sugars through diet. If I take a pill, I depend on the pill to do the work, and I’ll start to cheat. If my identity depends on knowing I don’t eat sweets anymore, it’s an easier choice for me. (I am not recommending this for all diabetics, I’m using it as an example of how to get rid of a bad habit.)
In my head, sugar is off the list of what I eat. Forever. If they invent a cure for diabetes in five years, I can reconsider. Right now, in my head, not eating sugar is forever.
It’s much easier to do this one item at a time. Easing into getting rid of a habit worked for me. I didn’t give up everything all at once. I started with added sugar. I then added artificial sugars (yes, even Stevia) because the artificial sugar made me want the sweeter taste. Then I gave up sodas. I made sure I felt comfortable with each step, but the day I gave it up (and wrote it down in my journal), it was forever. I didn’t dream about the day I could “have it back,” because I wanted to give it up. And once it was gone, it was an accomplishment. Yes, I still miss cinnamon rolls and ice cream, but given the choice, I don’t want them in my life again.
My identity as a diet-controlled diabetic becomes a habit, and one I want to encourage. When you see yourself as someone different, you become that person because it is the person you want to be, not because you have to be.
—-Quinn McDonald still dreams about freshly-baked bread, but she doesn’t eat it, even in her dreams.