At a certain level, we’re nothing more than the collection of our habits.
Whether we’re aware of them or not, the patterns of our repeated behavior are what shape our lives.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
And as James Clear shares in Atomic Habits, “the word identity was originally derived from the Latin words essentitas, which means being, and, identidem, which means repeatedly.”
Put them together, and our identities are our “repeated beingness.”
So, again…at a certain level, we’re nothing more than a collection of our habits.
And here’s why this matters so much…
Life, and the world around us, is always changing. And when they change, they feed us new data.
When data comes in that something needs to change—whether “out there” in the world, or “in here” within ourselves—the most reliable solution comes back to changing our behavior.
If we’re unconscious about the habits that are running our life, it becomes a lot harder to change our behavior when we want to. It feels all messy, chaotic, and inconsistent.
But if we know our habits, it becomes a lot easier to change our behavior to reach new goals.
The general process looks like this:
1 – We do something. Or, a habit of ours continues operating.
2 – We get data about the results of that action. Maybe we realize this habit isn’t serving us. Or maybe we become aware that we were contributing to something—either positively or negatively—that we weren’t aware of.
3 – We decide what to do with that data.
- If it’s positive data—like noticing how much better we are to others when we care for our sleep hygiene—we’d be wise to keep doing that thing.
- But if it’s negative data—like recognizing we were ignoring a challenge that, as a result, is negatively impacting others—we’d be wise to change our approach.
4 – We change, or reinforce, our behavior.
But each piece of that process has barriers:
- Step 1 requires that we’re aware of the habits of our behavior. Without that, we simply can’t change them.
- Step 2 requires making the connection between how our behaviors make us—and others—feel.
- Step 3 requires a level of personal agency. A commitment to doing—and being—better, to ourselves and to others.
- And step 4 requires an understanding of how habits are formed. Which gives us guidance into actually changing our behavior.
Which is how we get stuck. Both as individuals, and as a society. (If an individual is the sum of its habits, the society is a sum of the habits of all its individuals.)
If we want to change the world, starting by changing ourselves…we’d be wise to start by taking stock of our habits.
There’s a really simple exercise for this, called 100 Habits.
It’s (almost ridiculously) simple. But it’s an equally powerful way to shine a very bright light of awareness on the current state of your habits.
Fair warning, this can take a bit of time. I first heard of this exercise through my teammate and dear friend, Michael Balchan, who got it from Brian (our founder @ Optimize). And it was one of those things that sat on the back-burner of my To-Do list for far longer than I’d like to admit. But about a year ago, I completed it for the first time. And I found it tremendously useful.
The exercise goes like this:
1 – Grab a piece of paper and a pen. And block off some time on your calendar—about an hour. (Trust me, it’s worth it!)
2 – Write a numbered list of 100 habits that currently operate in your life. We’ll use the framing of an If-Then Algorithm to make this easier. “If X happens, Then Y happens.”
- If I wake up, then I drink the Nalgene of water next to my bed.
- If I’ve just finished meditating, then I do my morning journaling.
- If I’m in a tense situation, then I bring attention to my breathing—breathing deeply to activate my parasympathetic nervous system.
- If I’m eating a meal, then I share what I’m grateful for with whomever I’m eating.
This exercise tends to be pretty easy for the first 20-30 habits. Then it gets tougher as we’re forced to dig a little bit deeper. When I first did this, I found that I caught a second wind, and had no troubles at all getting to the 100 mark.
To surface both beneficial and detrimental habits, you might scan for “Where am I intentional?” and “Where am I impulsive?”
Once you’ve noted all 100 habits, continue on and…
3 – Note the Top 10 habits that are most positively contributing to your wellbeing. Celebrate them! And make a commitment to yourself to reinforce them. (Or, potentially expand on them and make them a bigger part of your life.)
4 – Note the Top 10 habits that are most negatively contributing to your wellbeing. Note them without judging them. Actually…celebrate the heck out of the fact that you’ve just brought some clear, mindful awareness to these habits. When we find that we have habits which aren’t aligned with our values and priorities, we get to change them. Noticing that is a huge gift! And we get to repurpose alllllllll of the life force we were giving to these things and aim it at something more fulfilling.
Here’s a photo I took just after completing this exercise the first time around. But I’m thinking I’m due to re-visit it for another round!
Who are you being these days?
What habits are running the show of your life behind-the-scenes?
Care to bring some brighter awareness to them?
Here’s to you, starting with awareness, and changing your habits so we can change the world together.
Big hugs + high-fives,