Beautiful Between

living fully in the now & not yet

This simple truth will make you who you want to be

Our shiny, new year tarnishes quickly, doesn’t it? The ball drop and midnight celebration seems so long ago now. By now, more than half of those who made New Year’s Resolutions have quit. There must be a secret that keeps the select few going.

That’s why we’re spending the month looking at who we want to be instead of what we want to do.

Last week, we talked about how to become who we want to be. I shared 8 steps that help me grow into the person I dream of being. But one of those steps is the secret to becoming who we want to be.

Behave until you become.

In other words, make it a practice. Don’t pretend. Don’t be fake. For the love of all that’s good and holy, be your true and genuine self.

All the while, practice becoming your future self. And the best way to practice is to create habits.

Even the words are intricately connected: a habit is a practice, a custom, a way of doing things. And a practice is a habit; the two cannot escape each other.

How am I spending my life?

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard’s brilliant quote rings in my ears morning and night. “What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing,” she says.

If Annie Dillard’s right, that we spend our lives day-by-day, then the secret to becoming who we want to be is wrapped in commonplace habits. Those practices have the power to shape our identities.

The hard truth is that I don’t always live consistently with my values. Sure, I do my best to show integrity and purpose in the “big areas”.

But what about the every day, unseen moments? What do my countless, tiny habits say about who I am?

I want to look back on a life well-spent and say, “I was exactly who I said I was, and I didn’t waste my life.” Here are some things I’ve learned about habits that are helping me get there.

Don’t rely on willpower.

I’ve believed the lie that if something is important to me, I will naturally have the discipline and willpower to consistently do it. I am, however, weaker than I’d like to admit, and all my willpower only goes so far. And scientists now know that willpower is a muscle that can be fatigued.

We simply aren’t strong enough to discipline ourselves long-term. Instead, we can hack our willpower for lifelong transformation.

Habits are the auto-pilot of our lives; once formed, these behaviors go deeper than conscious choice.

Charles Duhigg (author of The Power of Habit) tells us that once we create habits, they become hardwired, encoded into our brains. Habits never fully disappear, but can be reshaped with intention. This allows us to tinker with the wiring of our own minds.

It’s the holy grail of practical life-transformation, the key to moving from good intentions to consistent actions. And, ultimately, to who we want to be.

Make it tiny.

We want to start with big leaps, like exercising every day or having hour-long quiet times when we haven’t done either for months. But that just sets us up for failure. So, I find that choosing a tiny habit makes it so much easier to start.

When I was in a deep depression and wanted to cultivate joy, I set a mason jar and some scraps of paper on my bedside table. I committed to write one good moment from the day on a piece of paper each night before I went to bed, then drop it in the mason jar.

The moments I captured were so simple: I laughed with a friend. My chai tasted good. The morning air smelled fresh. But the habit was profound.

That tiny habit helped me stop and savor life – an unthinkable task in the pit of depression. Eventually, it seeped into other moments of the day as I noticed lovely little things. And I became someone who can find joy in the darkest moments.

Link it to an existing habit.

My gratitude jar worked because I practiced that habit at a very specific time: after I climbed into bed before I turned out the light. It was the last thing I did before I went to sleep every night.

The clear timing made it feel more natural to write my gratitudes. I began to crave it and felt something was off if I forgot. Finally, it became automatic and natural, part of my nightly routine.

But if I said, “I’m going to write something I’m thankful for every day,” when would I have done it? I wouldn’t have had a trigger for that habit, so it wouldn’t have become part of me so quickly.

Plan for the day after perfect.

This idea comes from Jon Acuff’s brilliant and hilarious book, Finish. He talks about the failed-resolution phenomenon and research that reveals a profound truth: we don’t plan for when we fail.

Perfectionism is the enemy of finished goals, he tells us. It’s also the enemy of becoming who we want to be.

Of course we will fail. But somehow, we’ve believed if we don’t do everything right, we might as well throw in the towel. It doesn’t matter if we’re trying to achieve something or become someone.

I want to become someone who cares well for my body and soul. Lately, added sugar and empty carbs start my heart racing and quivering with anxiety. Caring well for myself means choosing foods that don’t make me feel panicky. But sometimes, I don’t want to ask for special food – or discipline fails and I cave to dessert.

When that happens, because it does and it will, I have a game plan. I’ve learned what helps me stabilize my blood sugar and how to cope with anxiety. And afterward, it’s a reminder of why I’m building this habit.

An unexpected benefit of making room for imperfection? Each misstep fuels my motivation to build healthy habits.

The secret? Habits are the key to becoming who we want to be.

It may not be easy at the beginning, and we can miss the huge changes happening in our tiny habits. But over time, creating habits creates identity. They create our lives.

What habit or habits do you want to implement that will help you “behave until you become” who you want to be?

3 Replies

  1. Great post, Sarah! So glad you’re sharing this. This is foundational truth I need to hear.

  2. Dr. Clark Roush

    Sarah – you have a been ray of light in a very trying time for me. I am blessed and better because you take the time to share. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much, Clark. I’m so sorry you’re struggling. Take good care of yourself.

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