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  • Writer's pictureHargun Sachdev

Identity And Habits: How You Describe Yourself Is Powerful

I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear and it was perspective-building

Think of five words/labels to describe yourself. The point is not to sound unique or cool but to think of how you’d describe yourself to both, a group of children and well, maybe senior citizens. For me? I’m a:

  1. Writer

  2. Bookworm

  3. Feminist

  4. Korean-everything enthusiast

  5. Capricorn // INFJ

Why labels are important

I struggled for a LONG time to ward away all sorts of labels that people insisted that I attach with me – whether a ‘rebel’ or ‘crazy’. So for a while I thought all labels are evil and we should completely do away with them. But I was wrong.

Labels are important because they give us an identity – the words that we choose to describe ourselves with are powerful. They give us, not just a sense of purpose, but also let us relate with others. But most importantly, they guide us to do the kind of things that would make our life and ourselves be closer to the best version – to the version we’ve always dreamed of.

Also, if you don’t decide for yourself which labels you identify with, people will insist upon sticking misjudged labels onto your personality and that can mess with your brain over time.

Your identity shapes your habits (and vice versa)

I knew the importance of having a solid identity but reading Atomic Habits put it in a sharper perspective.

In the book, James Clear talks about how when we choose to identify ourselves with something, say a writer, we will want to carry out actions and tasks that stick to that identity. Who is a writer? Well, a person who simply writes!

So, basically, someone who wrote one popular book in their life and then never wrote a word again isn’t as much of a writer as someone who who’s been writing on their blog weekly for 10 years. Identity is in the doing.

Your identity is literally your ‘repeated beingness’. Whatever your identity is right now, you only believe it because you have proof of it. If you go to church every Sunday for twenty years, you have evidence that you are religious. If you study biology for one hour every night, you have evidence that you are studious. If you go to the gym even when it’s snowing, you have the evidence that you’re committed to fitness. The more evidence you have for a belief, the more strongly you will believe it.

Each habit is a vote for the person you wish to become

He goes on to explain that once you pick a central habit that reflects well on this identity of yours, you’re automatically motivated to pick other habits that agree with this identity too. And that it’s all these habits that really shape who you are and what kind of life you live.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. Each habit not only gets results but also teaches you something far more important: to trust yourself. You start to believe you can actually accomplish these things. When the votes mount up and the evidence begins to change, the story you tell yourself begins to change as well.

Don’t be rigid about your identity


A lot of the conflict I faced as a teenager was because I was so contradictory in what I did and what I wanted because I was exploring a lot and yet I was tightly holding on to a few previously true identities.

My sister loves using this quote and I don’t know where it’s from but it’s smart – Strong values loosely held.

I’ve seen so many people struggle with their career or even the food they eat because they don’t let themselves try or like new things. They are so afraid that if they do that, they will no longer be that person. And they are probably right but is that such a bad thing?

Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.

Use the past tense

When changing your habits and trying to adopt new ones, be mindful of the language you use to describe yourself. For instance, I used to be the person who would stay up all night. So, I am acknowledging that yes, that’s who I was but not who I am anymore.

The more I say it, the more I believe it, the stronger I will be in my pursuit to sleep on time. I will not schedule late night plans or receive a call at 12 am from a friend I know will want to talk for hours. I will follow a basic night routine and set my alarm for the next morning.

I believe language is so much more powerful than we give it credit for because it’s also a way of training our brain. How we talk about ourselves but also how we talk to ourselves.

Final words

Let me know what is your current identity and what’s the future identity you’d like. For me, I want to be that person who speaks Korean fluently, does cartwheels, and writes heartfelt books.

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