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Identity is More Effective than Willpower

I made it!

At 51, it was my first ever attempt to give something up for Lent. I chose sugar (which essentially meant no sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cake, desserts or drinks containing added sugar) which I thought was a good challenge for someone with a sweet tooth.

At the end of the 46 days I was able to enjoy having the Green & Blacks Dark Chocolate Easter Egg from my wife, but I didn't feel the urge to binge on sugary foods. I've returned to having most sweet things ... but perhaps not as much as before.

As mentioned in a previous blog, I found it interesting that I didn't need a lot of willpower.

Most of us would recognise that having to apply a lot of willpower suggests an internal struggle between aspects of ourselves. I've recently learned that this has been proven to deplete our mental, emotional and physical reserves.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of "The Power of Full Engagement" cite research that shows the negative impact on our mental and physical capacity when we need to apply a lot of conscious effort to something (i.e. when learning a new skill or trying to change an old pattern/habit).

Willpower might be necessary to kick-start a change but it is difficult to sustain if it sucks up a lot of our energy.

For me, it was less about willpower and more about identity. What I noticed was that, having made a decision not to consume those foods and drinks, I didn't really feel tempted because my new (albeit, temporary!) identity was that I don't have those things.

This suggests to me that we would do well to consider the power of identity in all aspects of our life. Our identity is constantly being shaped and maintained by the stories we tell ourselves. The stories we tell others may be aligned with these, but even if they're not, what really matters is the private self-talk, the inner voice that reflects and reinforces a particular identity.

It is said that we think 10,000 thoughts a day. For most people, most of those daily thoughts are much the same as the ones they've previously had! No wonder identity tends to be fairly stable (regardless of whether that identity is serving our best interests or not).

The important point is this: every moment we make a choice about who we are. In a small way, I got to experience that we CAN make a different choice at any point we decide to.

All we need to do is be consistent about the new choice until it seems as natural as the old pattern did.

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