Who We Wish to Become

A different take on New Year’s resolutions

Jan 11, 2023

New Year Habits Personal Development
woman holding umbrella with yellow background

Photo by Edu Lauton

The beginning of a new year is not unlike a grieving period. Some resisting the idea of the current year ending. Others angry about what was not accomplished or goals unmet. Many depressed about holidays and vacations coming to an end and their mundane routines starting up again. Until we all, grudgingly, begin to accept the realities that come with one year ending and another one beginning.

What is it about a new year that is so laden with emotion and expectation? On the calendar, January 1st is simply just another day. But in the course of a life, it is the chance to start over, to try again, to forget the lost causes and mistakes of the past and look forward. As humans, we need these concocted junctures in order to remain hopeful, to know which direction to take our life. Even if nothing else has changed, externally, we can begin to create change, internally.

But alas, how quickly the hope for a better version of ourselves and our life fades. How swift we are to give up on our resolutions and goals. It becomes tempting to slide back into our old patterns and habits, no matter how well-intentioned and determined to change we might be on the first day of the year. Why is this the case? The issue isn’t our goals, the issue is being the type of person who wants to achieve a particular goal.

James Clear in his bestseller Atomic Habits talks about this in detail. He says in order to build good habits or break bad ones, we need to build identity-based habits by focusing on who we wish to become. “Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last…. True behavior change is identity change.”

It isn’t enough to set goals or make resolutions, we need to think about the type of person we’d like to be and direct our conduct accordingly. For example, if I call myself a writer, I need to live in alignment with that self image through my beliefs and actions — writing regularly, reading frequently, putting my work out into the world, practicing my craft, believing I have a message to share. Not simply checking off a list of writing to-dos, but mentally instilling in myself the identity of a writer. This simple but profound shift changes everything. Now it’s no longer a destination I’m trying to reach, but a daily application that becomes a lifestyle.

Forget goals (or at least make them less important), and focus on the person you wish to be instead.

Remember the WWJD bracelets that gained popularity in the 90s? It asked a simple question, “What Would Jesus Do?” This is the same philosophy. Whatever it is you wish to achieve, ask yourself what the type of person who would achieve that would do:

Want to write a book? What would a writer do?

Want to lose 50 pounds and eat healthier? What would an athlete do?

Want to start a business? What would an entrepreneur do?

Easier said than done, of course. This shift in mindset takes time and commitment. But with practice, it spills into behavior that builds into habits, which in turn slowly create our new identity.

If we continue to slide back into old habits even after attempting to change, repeatedly, we must face the harsh truth that perhaps we don’t want to change after all, or we don’t really want to achieve that goal as much as we thought. Maybe we enjoy our creature comforts too much. And there is nothing wrong with this, so long as we’re not putting our health at risk.

There may be a thousand and one reasons to change, but what matters most is that we develop a deep-rooted self-acceptance no matter how far from our best version we may be. You and I cannot grow from a place of self-hatred. The desire to do and be better must come from a well of self-love, instead. The well might be almost empty and dried up, but we only need to draw a small amount to propel us upward.

This new year, I wish you:

Farewell 2022.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson