Change your habits, not yourself

Bumped into this wonderful piece by Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. Highly recommend that you read the whole article but I wanted to highlight and curate what struck out for me.

Most of us who feel stuck in certain habits are stuck because we’re emotionally embedded in unhealthy behaviors. A smoker doesn’t just smoke cigarettes. They develop a whole identity around smoking. It alters their social life, their eating and sleeping habits, how they see themselves and others. They become “the smoker” to their friends and family. They develop a relationship with cigarettes the same way you and I develop a relationship with a pet or a favorite toy.

When someone decides to “change” themselves and quit smoking, they are essentially attempting to “change” their entire identity—all of the relationships, habits, and assumptions that have gone into X years of doing a singular thing. No wonder they fail.

The trick to quitting smoking (or to changing any habit) is to recognize that your identity—that elaborate mental framework you devised in your mind and labeled “me”—doesn’t actually exist. It is arbitrary. It is a facade. And it can be raised or dropped at will. You are not a smoker. You are a person who chooses to smoke. You are not a night person. You are a person who chooses to be active at night and sleep through the morning. You are not unproductive. You are a person who currently chooses to do things that do not feel useful. You are not unloveable. You are a person who currently feels unloved.

And changing these actions is as simple as… changing your actions. One action at a time. Forget labeling it. Forget social accountability (in fact, research has found that sharing goals with others can often backfire). Forget making a big hoo-ha-ha about who you are or what you are or what the fucking Pope thinks about you.

Because he doesn’t. And neither do most of the rest of us. And neither do you, for that matter. Your identity is this made up thing that you’re emotionally attached to. It’s a mirage in the desert. A ketchup bottle in an empty fridge. And the quickest way to change yourself is to realize that there’s no real self to change.

Bottomline: instead of trying to change yourself or your identity focus on changing a habit, one action at a time.