The Resilient Lawyer – Becoming Habitually Resilient

In one of the articles in my resilience series, I wrote about the importance of being intentional about developing our resilience.  If you were like I used to be and have no specific resilience practices currently in place, you are probably asking yourself “Where do I even begin?” and “If I begin, will I have what it takes to continue doing it?”  Take yourself back to any New Year’s Eve and think of the number of resolutions you made for the following year.  Did you start any?  Did you start one or some but then they fell by the wayside?  I am sure we have all been in that boat.  

Recently, I read Atomic Habits, by James Clear (Random House LLC, 2018: New York), and it became clear (no pun intended) to me why I never succeeded in following through on my New Year’s Eve resolutions. Let me give you an example.  One year, I made a resolution to become physically fit.  So, I tried to implement the habit of starting to jog outside in January.  I soon discovered, however, how painful jogging outside in Canada at that time of year was and my new “habit” died only a few weeks in.

So, why did my habit die?  Clear states that one of the reasons why we have difficulty in changing our habits is that we try to change the wrong thing.  What does Clear mean about trying to change the wrong thing?

In my example, when I set my resolution I focused on the outcome of my resolution – becoming physically fit.  I then picked a new “habit” to help accomplish that – i.e. jogging outdoors.   So, to accomplish what I wanted, I relied on what Clear refers to as an “outcome-based” habit.  However, as Clear points out, it is more difficult for us to succeed with “outcome-based” habits than it does with “identity-based” habits.  

What then is an “identity-based” habit?  In my example, the difference was subtle, but important. My outcome-based habit was to become physically fit.  However, my identity at the time of setting my resolution was that of being someone who was not physically fit.  In his book, Clear states that: “Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last.”  In essence, since jogging was incongruent with my identity as being someone who was not physically fit, my habit of jogging was simply not going to last.       

If you read the fourth article in my resilience series, you will have learned that I am now physically fit.  In fact, you can see me at the gym at least 5-6 times a week.  Why was I able to succeed where I first failed?  The simple answer to my question is that, without really knowing it at the time, I changed my identity.  I stopped identifying myself as the guy who was unfit and was trying to become fit and started identifying myself as the guy who was going to be able to keep up with his kids for a long time.  So, what does that guy do?  He engages in behavior that is congruent with that identity, which for me meant working out regularly and eating healthy.  I was no longer trying to become fit; I was just being fit. Every day.

So, if you want to improve your chances of success in developing resilience habits that stick, you first have to identify yourself as someone who is already resilient, rather than as someone who wants to become resilient.  What does someone who is already resilient do?  They engage in behaviours that are congruent with their identity such as exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, unplugging, and meditating.  

I know that changes in identity/mindset are extremely difficult – despite what we may think consciously, our subconscious is generally a much harder customer to convince.  After all, it has spent years crafting your current identity and then putting very effective habits in place to keep it that way.  One thing that has worked for me in changing my identity/mindset is to set an intention or state an affirmation each morning as to how I want to be that day – such as “I intend to be kind today” or “I am a kind person”.  By setting a deliberate intention, it forces my subconscious to focus on kindness throughout the day and this inevitably comes out in my behaviour – even when I’m not paying attention.  It’s sort of like when you decide you want to buy a particular model of a car and, suddenly, you start noticing that car on the road all of the time.  Don’t just take my word for it though; try setting a simple, easy to accomplish, intention in the morning as to how you want to show up during the day, and then before you go to bed, think back to see if it came through at all.