Here’s an interesting look at new year’s resolutions: Stick to Your Goals This Year by Using Identity-Based Habits. The idea is that most resolutions are appearance-based or performance-based (consider “I want to lose 20 pounds” or “I want to do more yoga”). Most people start off highly motivated but then lose momentum and don’t succeed at their goals. What this author, James Clear, recommends is that you focus not on changing your appearance or your performance, but that you set goals that change your identity. In essence, you become the kind of person who can accomplish what you want to do.
For example, if you have a goal of wanting to do more yoga, you might start off strong by getting to the yoga studio or the gym twice a week. But then life catches up with you, you get a cold, you miss a few sessions, and then despite your good intentions, you realize you haven’t done any yoga in a month. But “do more yoga” is a performance-based goal, which you fulfill by performing the task of showing up at class repeatedly. Consider instead an identity-based goal: something like “I want to be the kind of person who really cares about yoga”. Then you could start with small steps, like doing a sun salutation every morning. Once you’ve made that a part of your daily habits, you start to see yourself as a person whose yoga really matters to her, and you can branch out to larger yoga-related goals.
You could even try “I want to be a yoga teacher” (or, “I want to be a yoga teacher again”). Before my teacher training, I had an image in my head of what a yoga teacher is like, and that person was not me. Because I enrolled in a training program which required a significant investment of time and money, I felt like I was committed, and I began to put in my own time to make sure I got the most out of my investment. I practiced yoga and pranayama and meditation every day, read books about yoga, wrote this blog. The constant practice shaped me, and more importantly shaped my concept of myself, from “yoga-enjoying person” to “real actual yoga teacher”. I began to see myself differently, which only drove my yoga practice further as I became someone who not only wanted more but was capable of more. This example is a little extreme and beyond the scope of a new year’s resolution, but thinking about identity this way is just really interesting.
Recently I’ve started to become very invested in motherhood – I see myself as a mother first, and I’ve lost some of that concept of myself as a competent, confident yoga teacher. What do I need to do to rebuild that part of my identity? A regular yoga practice of some sort will have to be one of the first things I work on, but I also have to remember that a yoga teacher takes care of herself too (and, for example, doesn’t force herself to get up early to practice if the baby kept her up all night). Even just keeping up with this blog more often reminds me that I’m a yoga teacher. There are plenty of little ways I can start reinforcing my yoga identity again. Once I reconstruct my basic idea of myself as a yoga teacher, then I’ll be the kind of person who can accomplish even more: teaching a regular weekly class again, preparing and teaching a special workshop, maybe even planning the yoga and writing retreat that Heather and I have dreamed of. But that’s the long term – little steps first!