I write a lot about developing an ideal image of who you want to be and then “living up” to that image. It’s one of the core principles behind creating meaningful and sustainable change in your life. The problem with this idea is that sometimes it’s difficult to live in a way that supports this new and improved self image because it’s different from who you currently are. If it weren’t then it wouldn’t be effective in driving personal change.
One of the reasons why this is difficult is that most of our decisions in life are habitual. These decisions are on autopilot after years of pre-programmed reactions to various life events. They were developed without much thought or planning, and they make up a large percentage of our behavior! Our unconscious habits are like an anchor that weighs us down and prevent us from stepping out of our comfort zone.
And that’s the problem with a big idea like changing your self image and living up to it. It’s good in theory, but it doesn’t address the underlying issues with how to change your behavior and overcome your habits.
That’s because developing a new self image or vision for your life is a strategy. Strategies are absolutely necessary for tackling tough problems, but they aren’t good enough. You need to be able to take the strategy and find practical ways to implement it. That’s where tactics come into play.
What tactics can you use to achieve your ideal self image?
There are a lot of useful tactics, but I’m only going to discuss 2 today, I like to call them ‘Third Person Decision Making’ and ‘Pre-programmed Decisions’. These methods will help you to get over the initial hurdle of not completely identifying with the new self image you’ve created for yourself. They work like this.
Each day we face is filled with an unimaginable amount of choices. Because there are so many choices, we have to make a majority of them out of ritual or habit. That’s why habits exist, to make decision making more efficient.
Just think about waking up in the morning. Everyday when you wake up, that day is a blank slate. Even if you have a job, you could theoretically choose not to show up or to show up late. Most of us have the habit of going to work on time. But on a smaller scale, there are the decisions you make on how to spend your time before you go to work. Are you going to spend the morning getting ready? Are you going to go to the gym? Are you going to take a shower? Because there are so many options and a finite amount of time, we develop routines.
If you want to change things in your life, you need to shake up your habits and routines since they make up such a large portion of your behavior. You need to have routines that are consistent with your idea of who you want to become, your ideal self image.
These new ‘routines’ are what I mean by Pre-programmed decisions. It’s like giving yourself a head start by making decisions ahead of time and implanting them into your life.
So how do you do this?
1. Identify 1 or 2 routines that are congruent with your new self image. To do this, you need to visualize the person you want to become. Visualize the change you want in your life. What does this person look like? How do they behave that is different that how you currently behave? What do they do differently? How does the change look when it’s implemented? Once you’ve got a good idea of this, identify some habits or routines that you want to implant in your life.
2. Schedule them into you day with triggers and reminders. It’s so easy to get caught up in whatever life throws at you. That’s why it’s crucial to schedule these new routines and make them a priority. Figure out the time of day or week that makes the most sense for these routines and hold yourself accountable to doing them for at least a month. To make it easier, try to identify triggers in your life that signal to you that you should be doing your routine. Triggers are events that happen every day that you can use to signal yourself to do something. One simple trigger is waking up. Another is taking your lunch break. Another is finishing a meal. If this isn’t enough to hold you to the new routine, consider setting up reminders for yourself. Maybe you setup an electronic reminder in your phone to go to the gym or maybe you write out your new routine on a post it note and put it somewhere that you will see everyday. Try new ways to remind yourself until you find one that works.
3. Identify the routines that need to go to make room for the new ones. This is as simple as it sounds, but it’s necessary if you already feel like your too busy. There’s only 24 hours in a day and you are currently using them all, what will you get rid of to make room? Maybe it’s less TV or maybe it’s less sleep. You have to decide what’s most congruent with your new self image.
Third-Person Decision Making
What about the rest of the day? How can you make the tough decisions in life that you can’t program ahead of time?
Here’s two examples of what I’m talking about. Let’s say you go to work and you’re confronted with a tough decision to make on how to handle something with your boss. How do you decide what to do? Or let’s say it’s the weekend and you are trying to decide how to spend your time. If you’re like me, you tend to analyze the decision from your own point of view, the first person.
The problem with this is that we are trying to improve ourselves because we aren’t currently living up to our ideal self image. Given this, how can we expect ourselves to make the right decisions? We can’t, because our new values aren’t programmed into the core of who we are.
For this, I like to use Third-Person Decision Making, which is actually a very simple technique. It involves stepping outside of the situation and looking at it from a third person perspective: the third person being your ideal vision for yourself. It’s really a 2 step process.
1. Become conscious of the decisions with leverage. This is a time-consuming tactic for decision making compared to taking action out of habit. For this reason, it’s important to be able to identify when to use it. Some decisions have significantly more impact on our lives and the lives of those around us. These are your decisions of leverage. You get a greater total impact from this one decision than you do from 10 smaller decisions. For example, in personal finance, there’s way more leverage in deciding how you will invest your money than there is in trying to save a couple dollars on batteries. Often times, these opportunities are wasted because we aren’t paying attention. This is why step 1 is raising your awareness and getting better at identifying the important decisions in your life. So start paying attention and when you find yourself in a position where you don’t know what to do, ask yourself whether or not it’s a high leverage decision. If it isn’t, moving past it and don’t worry about it. If it is, go to step 2.
2. Put yourself into the shoes of your ideal vision of yourself. Remove yourself from the situation and ask what this ideal you would do. It’s that easy. Remind yourself of what you want your values to be and start making decisions based on those new values. How do you really want to act in these tough situations? A lot of times this will lead you to to make the tougher, more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding choice.
If you haven’t already done so, start to develop a vision for who you want to be. Think about the values you want to have and what you want to accomplish with your life. How do you want to behave in different situations? What kind of person do you want to be?
Once you have this, use the two tactics about to make this vision a reality.
That’s it for today. I hope you enjoyed reading and more so, I hope that these tactics will be as beneficial for you as they have been for me.
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