Changing a Habit Can Mess With Your Sense of Self

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1/22/1927-Boston, MA- Scratches, and plenty of them, will be the one reward for any who bothers "Narcissus", pet cat of a summer street butcher. "Narcissus" sits for hours gazing at herself in a mirror at the market. Not even the choicest tidbits can tempt her away. And even the camera failed to bother her.
Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

Gretchen Rubin is known for being the author of best sellers like The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, but her next book is about habits, those little daily behaviors she calls the “invisible architecture of everyday life.” In a video she published today, Rubin pinpoints one easily overlooked reason a decision to change a habit can fail: Sometimes, a change in our everyday behavior may first require a change in the way we perceive ourselves. 

She writes in an earlier blog post on the subject, “Often, habits can’t change until identity changes.” For example, if someone likes to think of himself as the life of the party, but he’d also like to cut back on how much alcohol he consumes, that’s going to be harder to do, because, as Rubin writes, his “identity is incompatible with the change in habits.” So to break (or adopt) a habit, sometimes we’ve got to change the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.