Updated: May 9
How many of you used a mirror this morning to get ready? Did you use a mirror to comb or brush your hair? To shave? What if your mirror didn’t show you what was actually happening, but showed a distorted view, like a carnival mirror? Or — worse — what if, instead of being a purely reflective mirror, it was really a programmable screen able to show you a completely fabricated view of yourself? How difficult would your task then be? How much longer would it have taken you to be successful? Or would you still be trying to get ready?
You and I have a mirror inside. We carry it around every moment of every day. We use it constantly to give us feedback on everything we are doing and saying. We change our thoughts, beliefs, actions, and habits based on the picture we see in our mirror. This mirror can even influence our physical and mental capabilities — to release or limit them. Can you believe that? This mirror is called by various names, but one of the most common is the self-image. It is a significant part of our identity.
Our identity is key to changing habits and making good habits last. Author James Clear, in his groundbreaking book, Atomic Habits, explains the powerful connection between habits and identity. Our habits shape and mold our identity — someone who develops a habit of regularly running, for example, provides evidence to her identity that she is a runner. Her identity as a runner is strengthened each time she performs an action, or habit, that agrees with it. Conversely, it is weakened each time she skips her daily run and enjoys Netflix and a burrito instead. On the other hand, identity shapes our habits. The most basic part of our brain, sometimes referred to as the lizard brain, is tasked with functions that protect us and perpetuate the human species. It controls the fight/flight response, breathing, heartbeat, sex drive, and physical hunger. This part of our brain also has a unique trait. As part of its attempt to “protect” us, it not only seeks to prevent harm to the physical self, but the perceived self as well. It uses all of its persuasive power to protect our identity. If we try to take actions that are not in harmony with our self-image, the lizard brain will push us to change those actions until we are back in harmony — or until we decide to consciously change the image we hold of ourselves. Whichever version of ourself we hold in our internal mirror, that is the version of us that we feel constantly impelled to move toward. The downside of this is that when we try to effect massive change in our lives, the lizard brain fights us and makes each step in the right direction difficult. However, conversely, when we can change the identity picture we hold inside, our lizard brain will push us to adopt and keep the new set of habits that fulfills that new picture. In chapter two of Atomic Habits, the author states it best: “Behavior that is incongruent with the self [identity] will not last.” Transformational change, then, is no longer a fierce and grueling battle of willpower, but becomes a daring journey to change the self-image. Once that is underway, the habits take strong hold and provide the momentum and evidence for the new identity. Change become easier and enjoyable, rather than miserable.
Now that you know this secret of your Powerful Heritage, what will you choose to become?