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2021-12-11

Quality Habit-Formation: It's Like Casting a Vote on My Desired Identity


I rarely read the same book multiple times, and in 2021, Atomic Habits was one of them. (Actually, it was an Audible version narrated directly by the author (!))

Frankly speaking, the best part of the book for me is NOT about "How to create (remove) good (bad) habits", which consists of 4 principles—Making it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying; my experience below tells me I have no issue in forming and sustaining new habits, as long as it brings a clear benefit to my life.

Yes, the point is in the meaning and purpose of individual habits. In fact, I intentionally stopped (as opposed to just forgetting) some of the habits simply because I felt "I'm done" for no reasons.

Why identity matters

In Atomic Habits, I value a statement that having a strong identity is the core of habit formation most. In particular, the importance of our own identity and its relationship to habits become clear when we undergo a thinking process as follows:

  1. Identify defines what types of person I want to be.
  2. There is a set of actions and behaviors such a type of person commonly demonstrates.
  3. Habits I need to form are derived from the behavioral patterns.

One example in the book is that, if I want to run constantly e.g., for losing weight, an identity "I am a runner" becomes stronger encouragement to myself than an explicit target such as "I will run three times a week" and "I will lose 5kg of body weight next year". I like the simple idea; we sometimes over-strategize action plans, but a clear and strong identity should naturally tell us what to do in practice.

Ultimately, every single action associated with a habit can be seen as casting a vote on our desired identity. For me, this foundational motivation sounds critical to make the habits meaningful in a true sense, and the essential habits could last longer and be more impactful as part of life-time vision.

With that in mind, let's do a thought experiment based on the insightful idea.

"What are my identities?"

This is an interesting question that also reminds me the discussion about "Why Your Job Title Matters"; describing myself succinctly is not easy, but the "labels" eventually illustrate a lot about you both positively and negatively. For this reason, I'm consciously treating my bio, and the latest one as of writing is:

Takuya Kitazawa is a product developer, minimalistic traveler, ultralight hiker & runner, and craft beer enthusiast.

Here, I have a strong confidence that "product developer", "minimalist", "traveler", and "hiker & runner" are my identities that stay as a core of my life, at least over the last and next few years1.

Secondly, a follow-up question would be: "What kind of characteristics does a well-established __IDENTITY__ show?"2

In my perspective, a well-established "traveler", for example, is someone who is:

  • thinking & acting globally;
  • enjoying randomness in life;
  • self-expressive;
  • open-minded;
  • a system thinker;
  • a risk taker;
  • having strong curiosity;
  • optimistic.

Finding own essential habits

Finally, I can easily expand the characteristics to habits that strengthen my "traveler" identity.

identity-as-a-traveler

For instance, since I believe a self-expressive person verbalizes their thoughts a lot and meets a wide variety of people on a regular basis, a potential habit would be journaling and/or attending meet-ups. Or, I expect those who are open-minded (risk taker / willing to accept randomness, at the same time) to keep trying something new throughout their life, so exploring a new restaurant every weekend could be a habit fitting to the desire.

The top-down approach to creating a personalized list of habits gives us a good opportunity not only to make new/existing habits more meaningful but to rethink what the most important thing for my life is.

Last but not least, a table below is the (intermediate) thoughts about my identities and essential habits. My actual journey towards habit-formation begins from here.

Identity Characteristics Potential habits
Traveler Think & act globally, randomness in life, self-expressive, open-minded, system thinker, risk taker, curiosity, optimistic Get to know a new person every month, (audio) journaling every day, experience/learn one new thing every month, visit one place I've never gone every week(end)
Product developer User-centric, constantly learn/write/build a lot, deeply care about negative & positive externalities of their outputs Secure a couple of hours every morning for learning/writing/building, write code every day, brainstorm 3 new ideas every week, publicize at least one new thing I created every month, write a blog article every week
Minimalist Value local, purchase less, mindful about myself/others/nature, maintain simplicity, be flexible Stop multi-tasking (e.g., watching or listening while eating), meditate every day, donate/discard one belonging before making a new purchase, go to a local restaurant once a month, do self-reflection daily
Runner & hiker Regularly do a workout, eat well, have the strong trunk (core) of the body, sleep well, keep pushing own limitation Limiting the frequency of "unhealthy" eating/drinking e.g., twice a week, going to bed no later than 10pm and waking up at 5am, tracking workout logs (e.g., time, reps, pace), run a race once a year, record and maintain body weight throughout a year, run mid/long-distance (>10k) once a week

These are still work-in-progress ideas, but, as part of fleshing out 2021 annual review and 2022 resolution, I'd like to spend more time this month on thinking deeply about my own identity and key habits I need.

1. "Craft beer enthusiast" is a bit too specific as an identity, but it could be a part of "traveler". As mentioned in Atomic Habits, the loss of identity is a risk, and it's important to leave room for future adjustment. If my health didn't allow me to take alcohol, what should I do?
2. It should be noticed that we see many stereotypes to answer the question, but it is okay as long as you are thinking about yourself. Just be mindful not to directly apply/force these stereotypes to any particular third person.

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  See also

2022-02-04
"Definition of Done"
2021-12-26
My 2021 Annual Review: A Year of Divergence (And Slowly Started Converging)
2021-11-06
I Tried Audio Journaling for 30 Days

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Last updated: 2022-08-06

  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa is a freelance software developer, minimalistic traveler, ultralight hiker & runner, and craft beer enthusiast. While my area of specialty is in data & AI ethics and machine learning productization, I have worked full-stack throughout the career e.g., as a frontend/backend engineer, OSS developer, technical evangelist, solution architect, data scientist, and product manager. You can find what I am doing lately at my "now" page, and your inquiry is always welcome at [email protected], including comments on my blog posts.

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Opinions are my own and do not represent the views of organizations I am/was belonging to.

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