Minnow Park

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How to Change Your Identities

This is my second post in a series about what I've learned from the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, and how I've applied it to my life. If you want to catch up, here’s Part 1.

New identities require new evidence. It is a simple two-step process:

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

I love this advice that Clear gives, because it isn’t what I thought identity change was: sitting in front of a mirror and repeating “I’m lovable” until I believe it. Rather, this advice is actionable and quantifiable. It’s about deciding who I want to be and how can prove it to myself to become that person. It does the opposite of a mantra, and get’s me out of my head and pushes me to act.

It’s happened before, like when I decided to become a freelance photographer. My belief about security and stability didn’t suddenly change. It started with me carrying my camera around and taking photos every day, then it was putting my work out there consistently for people to see. I met a friend who saw the potential in me and mentored me to be a wedding photographer. I slowly started to book my own work and eventually do it full time. During the end of the first few years I remember saying, “I can’t believe I pulled it off again. I did another year of this crazy dream of mine.” As the next year began, I would have this deep anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to do it again and would have to go get a “real job.”

It took 5-7 years of freelancing to realize that this may be something I can do, but I still wasn’t sure if it was sustainable. It wasn’t until this year, my tenth year of freelancing, that I don’t feel like an imposter. I must have done something right if I’m still doing this a decade later. In took those small wins compounding over time for me to learn that I’m not as risk averse as I was taught to be.

When it comes to getting healthier, I’ve decided that it would not be about losing weight to calm my insecurities or to receive validation. This is what I was thinking about when I mentioned sitting in front of a mirror and saying “I’m lovable.” But I want to be healthier so that I can do my work better. Many contemporary creatives I respect use physical exercise to clear their minds and to build up the endurance to sustain the hard work it takes create something meaningful. For example, James Clear lifts weights, Ryan Holiday, Haruki Murakami, and Malcolm Gladwell run, and Robert Greene swims. Doing this kind of work is hard and I want my body to support me, not hold me back.

So right now, my small wins are to become more flexible and mobile with my body. I lifted weights for years but neglected stretching and mobility. Before I injure myself I want to fill in those gaps. I started training with someone to help me with that and will share about that soon. My other small win is to cook more at home and eat cleaner, healthier foods. Even in the last few weeks, I’ve felt myself thinking less about my appearance and more about my health holistically.

When it comes to being more creative, I decided the person I want to become is a writer. All the people I named above are writers. A great teacher and now friend, Sean McCabe was the one who taught me the benefits of writing. He believes that whatever creative endeavor you want to pursue, it all starts with writing. Writing allows you to have a clear mind. It helps you organize your thoughts and express them clearly. It’s not that I want to become an author, but I do want to be a writer.

So my small win now is to wake up each morning and the first thing I do is to sit and write. I journal three pages by hand in a composition notebook, and then write really bad first drafts, or edit the really bad first drafts. It’s been happening most days, and there’s a momentum building. It’s led to posting onto this blog more consistently than I have been in. years. I'm going to be starting a newsletter in March, and my big goal is to start a podcast this year. And it all starts with writing.

“Whatever your identity is right now, you only believe it because you have proof of it. Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.

To be honest right now, the vote count for the person I want to become is really low. I cringe every time I say I want to become a writer. There are so many great writers that I admire, how can I say I want to be one of them? I want to become healthier, but right now if I bent down I can’t touch my toes.

But that’s the point. Because after the millions of images I’ve taken, and the many shoots I’ve been a part of, I have proven to myself that I am a photographer. There are many photographers that are better and more accomplished than I am, but still no one can tell me other wise. I may not have had a “real job” and my parents may still not understand how I make a living, but here I am doing it for ten years.

Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done… Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

The beliefs I’ve been taught don’t have to define me. Instead I can decide for myself who I want to be and just push ahead 1% each day. And so if behind every system of actions there’s a system of beliefs, the next post is the systems of actions or habits I’ve put together to start counting the votes.