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Sometimes, it’s hard to change our behavior and our habits until our identity changes. For instance, if a person identifies as the life and soul of the party, but also wants to cut back on their drinking, they may experience some confusion, inner conflict, and resistance to change – they may even unconsciously sabotage themselves despite their best intentions. Likewise for someone who identifies as a workaholic, but then becomes a parent and wants to work reasonable hours in order to spend more time with their family. Or the person who identifies as a foodie or gourmand, but then decides that they want to live a healthier lifestyle. Or someone who identifies as a couch potato, but then experiences a health crisis and then wants to make some changes. Or the self-professed shopaholic who runs into some financial troubles and needs to stick to a budget. Or the chocaholic we all know so well, who wants to get their eating under control.
For all of these people, their identity is incompatible with the change in habits that they want to make. You see, there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy which makes us likely to act according to what we believe ourselves to be. If I define myself as someone who takes care of my health and also enjoys the occasional piece of chocolate – rather than as a chocoholic – this will change my choices if I keep this shift in mind. On the other hand, if I define myself as someone who hates vegetables, it’s going to be very hard for me to change the way I eat. Or if I define myself as someone who hates to exercise, it’s going to be hard for me to do any kind of exercise on a consistent basis.
Giving up a part of our identity can be painful and difficult, but sometimes it’s necessary in order for us to be able to change our longstanding patterns of behavior. We may need to grieve that part of ourselves and our lives. What makes it easier is taking on a new identity that we can feel excited and curious about. The more aware we are of a contradiction between the identity we have and the behavior change that we seek, the more we can transform our habits to reflect what we truly believe in and what we deeply desire.
This process of self-reevaluation is about realizing that a healthy behavior is an important part of who we are, who we want to be, and where we want to be in life. It’s about reconsidering who we consider ourselves to be. Our sense of identity can make it easier or harder to behave in a way that honors our aspirations.
“It takes courage…to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” ― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” ― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“You find out who you are by figuring out who and what you’re not.” ― Kelly Cutrone, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You
“It is when you lose sight of yourself, that you lose your way. To keep your truth in sight you must keep yourself in sight and the world to you should be a mirror to reflect to you your image; the world should be a mirror that you reflect upon.” ― C. JoyBell C.
“We make such messes in this life, both accidently and on purpose. But wiping the surface clean doesn’t really make anything any neater. It just masks what is below. It’s only when you really dig down deep, go underground that you can see who you really are.” ― Sarah Dessen
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With your continued health in mind,
Doreen Lerner, Ph.D.
Director, Institute for Lifelong Weight Management
Creator, The Full Mind Weigh® to Lifelong Weight Management
The Institute for Lifelong Weight Management provides education and training. The Full Mind Weigh® is strictly an educational program and is not a substitute for medical or psychological evaluation or treatment. If you think you may be suffering from an eating disorder, please consult with a qualified mental health professional who is trained to evaluate and treat eating disorders.