I got nicknamed “The Mask” while I was in college by a friend of mine as I had the knack of replicating someone’s else’s skills in sports in a short amount of time. I thought the name was “cool” and never realized what I was doing until a year later.
Months later, while researching online about behavior design and various models of motivation. I came across Oyserman’s (2007) Identity based model of motivation. If I have triggered your OCD of needing more information about this, you can check out her site here. What I was doing was building Identity Based habits. Now, the key to building lasting habits is creating a new Identity first. Your current behaviors simply put are a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is – consider a mirror image of the type of person you believe you are either consciously or subconsciously.
Let’s understand what are Identity Based Habits?
Essentially all of your decisions and thoughts arise out of processes that begin unconsciously. In other words, while it may feel like you consciously decided to have a cup of green tea this morning in reality that decision was made well before you were aware of it by a long chain of neurological and causative factors. This is possible because regions of the brain you were not consciously aware of fired well before they had the ‘conscious decision’ to do what they were going to do.
Alright, if that shook you up, now you might ask –
WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH BUILDING HABITS?
Well what that demonstrates is that whether you like it or not, your decisions and behaviors really are largely if not entirely dictated by factors that exist outside of or independent of your conscious mind. In other words if you’re trying to form a new habit by sheer willpower alone, you’re already setting yourself up in a losing battle – or at least a battle over which you have very little control over the outcome.
Rather than just throw the dice and hope you roll high enough to form the habit (some D&D player somewhere is reading this and nodding), using identity based habits lets you rig the dice in your favor.
An identity based habit is formed by acting like the person you want to be until you actually become them. So, for example, if you’re currently overweight and want to get into the habit of lifting weights three times per week you would begin to think of yourself as ‘a weightlifter’ or maybe ‘an athlete’ – at the very least as ‘a fit person’.
The closest analogy I can give it to you to make sense of this is
….FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT
By this analogy, I certainly don’t mean you just keep visualizing that you can do stuff and don’t have a list of action steps :-P. I argue that when behavior is identity infused, engaging in the behavior carries a positive tone to it. To change your behavior you need to start believing new things about yourself. So, for example, if you’re currently overweight and want to get into the habit of lifting weights three times per week you would begin to think of yourself as ‘a weightlifter’ or maybe ‘an athlete’ – at the very least as ‘a fit person’.
Imagine how we typically set goals. We begin by saying “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get stronger”. If you are lucky to have mentors like I do, they might say, “That’s great, but you should be more specific”.
So, when my trainer asked me, I replied “I want to lose 1 Kilo in the next 2 months”.
Now goals like these are centered around our performance or our appearance. But, these goals aren’t habits. If you are already doing a behavior then these goals can help you drive forward. To start a new behavior, it helps to start with a identity based goal.
THE MASK RECIPE
- Decide the type of person you want to be.
- Prove it to yourself with small wins.
P.S I cannot emphasize how vital it is to start with incredibly small steps. The goal is not to get results at first, the goal is to become the type of person who can achieve those things. The goal is to get yourself a set of mental frameworks to form a fail proof system around yourself.
Example: Imagine Rocky from the movie series. Now, you don’t need to have an insider who lets you in early every morning to practice your jabs like Stallone did.
My invitation to you is to develop an identity of a fit person who works out consistently, and then move on to performance and appearance later.
“START SMALL AND TRUST THAT THE RESULTS WILL COME AS YOU DEVELOP A NEW IDENTITY”
Want to become a writer?
Identity: Become the type of person who writes 1000 words every day.
Small Win: Write 100 words each day before you go to bed this week.
Want to become a speed reader?
Identity: Become the type of person who uses spreeder everyday.
Small Win: Spreeder should be the first thing you open when you access your computer to practice one paragraph each day this week.
Want to become stronger?
Identity: Become like Rocky (This works for me) who never misses his daily workouts.
Small Win: Do push-ups for 3 days a week alternatively
Want to be a better son/daughter?
Identity: Become the type of person who always stays in touch
Small Win: Call up your mum / dad every Sunday.
Want to learn a new language?
Identity: Become the type of person who uses duolingo everyday
Small Win: Do one lesson each day for a week.
You might notice, for some examples I have used a tech/app that lets you learn skills. This is again a tweak of mine. 😀
In my experience, when you want to become better at something, proving your identity to yourself is far more important than getting amazing results. This is especially true at first.You can even try watching motivational videos like these. You will feel great for a couple of days. Hell! You may even workout intense crazy like a monkey on steroids for a week but you will end up burning out. You can’t rely on being motivated. You have to become the type of person you want to be, and that starts with proving the new identity you have assumed to yourself.
What the mask hack does to you is => rigs the system by changing the environment, background causes and subconscious neurological factors that determine our choices before we are aware of them.
This works because in the end it doesn’t really matter if you believe it, as long as you pretend well enough to do the things the person you want to be would do, then eventually you’ll wake up one morning as that person. Using the above as an example, if you pretend like you’re the person who learns languages easily and do all the things that you imagine that kind of person would do (study up on target languages, read news in those languages, watch movies in those languages, etc.) then eventually you’ll have done so much of that you will actually be the kind of person who does those things – see how that works?
The other good way to ease into it is by using small wins as ways to prove to yourself that you can actually be the person you want to be.
Put simply, you’re making it hard to lose by playing a winnable game.
So whose identities will you absorb into your MASK today? 🙂