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From Hell No, To I Can Do It

“Hey, you wanna sign up for the Golden Gate Bridge Run in November,” asked my buddy Tony. That dreaded word r-u-n immediately conjures up images of running laps around the schoolyard in my white shirt, blue tie, grey shorts, black shoes. Not for athletic practice but for punishment! I’ve never quite understood the appeal of running. I hear it’s exhilarating, freeing even. For me it’s always been linked to shame. The embarrassment of being castigated for talking in class or showing up with dirty shoes. (I blame my Catholic school upbringing in India). I responded: “Why would I subject myself to that? No!” Tony: “Come on man, it’ll be so fun. Plus you’re healthy now, a 5K will be easy!” The old me would have stood firm with a hell no! But I’ve been getting better about my diet and exercise. I’ve even started identifying with being a healthy person–and healthy people run. For fun. Clearly, the image of who I aspire to be wasn’t lining up with my old ways of being. James Clear talks about this. He calls it Identity-based habits.

Here is an excerpt from his NY Times Bestselling Book Atomic Habits.

The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously).To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. You need to build identity-based habits.” The first layer is changing your outcomes. This level is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book, winning a championship. Most of the goals you set are associated with this level of change. The second layer is changing your process. This level is concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow, developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits you build are associated with this level. The third and deepest layer is changing your identity. This level is concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, your self-image, your judgments about yourself and others. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases you hold are associated with this level. Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.

This really worked for me. I went from “Hell No”, to “Maybe I should try it,” to “It’s only 3 miles. I can do it!”

After enough persistent texts from Tony, I signed up for the Golden Gate 5K on November 7th.

There was something about the act of putting down my credit card and enrolling, that really changed things for me. Commitment! I felt like I was acting in-line with my new identity of being a healthy person. Immediately I felt the rush of a new challenge kick in, but with 15 weeks to go, I could easily do nothing for a while and race day would be here in a flash. Again, I’d be huffing and puffing in shame.

I knew the burst of motivation would be short lived. I needed to implement the accountability to show up and train. I signed up for the couch to 5K app, which gave me a training plan, and then I asked Tony to be my accountability buddy and check-in periodically. We swapped out our weekend bike rides for a run to make sure we’re both building capacity.

I didn’t quite understand the power of accountability until it disappeared. When I started my business last Jan, life seemed great–I had no boss, no weekly 1:1, no quarterly meetings. I could get lunch with a friend, do a 3pm walk and talk, close my laptop at noon on Friday and head up to Napa…. I was living the dream. Until the end of the month rolled around and I had no paycheck, no money in the bank. Hours of work logged, yet no results.

Turns out, those structures are quite effective in getting shit done. Accountability, I realized, is a game changer when it comes to driving results. I put accountability back into my professional life by signing up for an accountability coaching service. It felt painfully stupid to pay $300/month (a car payment!) to a recent grad to hold me accountable to my weekly commitments, but it worked. I got projects finished, built momentum and my calendar started filling up…. like magic!

How might you add commitment and accountability to new initiatives you're kicking off?

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