What is this for?

My efforts here are about the testing of ideas. Taking concepts and refining them through the writing and editing practice. The end goal is making use of the concepts through my experiences. I don’t expect them all to be fruitful. I expect there to be contradictions and variability among the ideas. I expect them to be outdated, replaced, ignored, and sometimes wrong. It’s all a progress report, not an end point.

Habits and Identity

“What do you do?”

When meeting new people or connecting with those you last saw a while ago, it’s a common question. How you answer that question depends on the context and who you are talking with. Are they interested in what you do, or is this just an alternative to speaking of the weather? As a result, it seems most of the time people throw something fairly general out there. I run a business. I work in school districts. I am a mechanic. People can connect those terms. It gives them some footing to move the conversation forward.

So that question of “What do you do” can be pretty trivial when asked by another, but that all changes when you ask it of yourself.

Identity and Habits

In the book, Atomic Habits, the author James Clear states that three levels of behavior change influence the development and adherence to a habit.

  • Outcome: The results we want
  • Process: The systems that define the habits themselves
  • Identity: The beliefs about who we are

Generally, we frame it around the outcome when we want to change something. I want to lose 20 pounds. By setting the goal, we can then set up some systems for reaching it. I’ll do this by intermittent fasting. If the systems are appropriate and we apply them consistently over time they become part of our identity. Through your actions, you are someone who is 20 pounds lighter. You’ve reached the goal. Great, but how do the systems fair when there is no intrinsic measure to aim at? It easy to let those habits slip after success is achieved.

If you turn this around and say I am someone an intermittent faster, you have an identity. That identity also provides the system that defines the habit. The result of believing in and living the characteristics of that new identity may be that you lose 20 pounds.

Both routes get you there, but that framing of where you start can make a big difference in adherence. If your actions are based on reaching a specific goal, lose 20 pounds, the motivation behind those actions is likely to dwindle once the goal is obtained. On the other hand, If you believe you are intermittent faster, the character traits and systems allowing you to lose weight are not tied to a specific goal but to a process. You are embedding the actions that reflect what an intermittent faster is, so it’s easier to maintain those systems over the long run.

When do we actually define our identity?

An evaluation of our daily actions best defines our identity. You are a writer because you write every other morning. A drinker because you love drinking beer in the evening. It’s not something just verbally declared. Yet, just because actions speak louder then words does not mean your spoken beliefs are not useful. If we take the example from Atomic Habits to heart, the labels you use to describe yourself might be essential in maintaining habits and directing what actions to take.

Belief in your professional identity?

I used to call myself a spatial scientist. I liked the title for a few reasons. For starters, it’s descriptive. I worked with spatial data conducting scientific research. Secondly, no one knows what that term means, so it was a natural gateway to trigger the next series of questions in social interactions. But times have changed, and Spatial Scientist is not something I pin my identity on. The primary research is that I don’t lead research projects I support them. I don’t conduct research; I generate materials and methods that allow others to investigate a specific research question. What I really do is provide academic research support.

Academic Research Support is a terrible title; it sounds more like a sign you would find in a library. But what I do does not need to be a title. This is an internal evaluation. It represents the character traits and actions I have to emulate. In that way, it squarely states what I do. I’m here to help others with their questions. I’m not the domain expert but the person helping connect the dots. I’m a part of the team working on a shared agenda. I complete tasks and produce products far more than I orchestrate other people’s efforts.

Just live it

So when I go to work, my motivation and measurement for evaluating my efforts is, “does this behavior model that of someone providing academic research support.” If I can make that happen, I can reach the outcomes for myself and my partners. You know what to do when you know who you are.


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