Want to make a drastic change? Make it part of your identity. Say you want to eat more vegetables, and you believe eating a vegetarian diet is a good way to do that. You can either choose to:
- Be a vegetarian, or
- Eat vegetarian (mostly/when you remember/when you're prepared/when you're not hangry)
If you choose to be a vegetarian, then the rules are quite simple. No meat. When faced with the prospect of eating meat, you have an easy out: "No, I'm vegetarian."
You may find you go on to surround yourself with other vegetarians who reinforce your commitment to this new identity. You tell your meat-eating friends and family and they start automatically catering to you - the vegetarian - at their events.
If you choose to eat vegetarian, the rules are, well, up for negotiation.
You go to a friend's place for dinner, and only eat the vegetables. Your friend asks you if you're vegetarian, and you say; "no, not really, I'm just trying to eat more vegetables." Everyone is talking about how good the food is. You're enticed by the smell, you have to remind yourself that you're eating more vegetables at the moment, what are the rules in social situations? and so on.
This idea is echoed in the habit building literature, the more decisions you have to make, the harder it is to stick to changes.
By contrast, when you make something part of your identity, you increase the stakes. You might be worried about what your new vegetarian friends think of you if you stop eating vegetarian. You might be proud of, and relatively attached to your achievement of going vegetarian. You're emotionally invested and don't want to let go of that sense of achievement.
If drastic changes are easier to make when they become part of your identity, it follows that the hardest changes to make are ones that risk your identity.
Our identity encompasses the core aspects of who we are, our beliefs, values, habits, and self-perception. It forms the foundation of our sense of self and provides a sense of stability and familiarity.
Risking our identity means venturing into uncertain and uncharted territory, where we may face rejection from others. It requires vulnerability, a stepping away from the familiar patterns and roles we have established.
Sometimes these are the most-needed changes. Sometimes this is a sign to re-evaluate where we're going. When change feels hard, consider what parts of your identity are tied to not changing. And if those things are worth giving up.