“Your habits are the way that you embody a particular identity. So, every morning that you make your bed, you embody the identity of an organised person. Every time you go to the gym you embody the identity of someone who is fit. Every time you sit down to write you embody the identity of someone who’s a writer. And so, in that sense, every action that you take is kind of like a vote for the type of person you believe that you are and, as you take these actions, you build up evidence of a particular identity. Pretty soon, your beliefs have something to root themselves in and that, I think, is the true reason why habits are so important.” – James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.
I recently heard an interview with the author James Clear, from whom I have stolen the idea for this week’s Moon-Day News. It struck me that how a lot of what he was saying could be hugely useful for anyone who struggles to practise yoga regularly, despite wanting to.
The crux of his philosophy is that, in order to follow through with behaviour-change we need to be focused not on what we want to achieve, but rather, on the type of person that we want to become.
We practise yoga for many different reasons and all of those reasons are valid. If you really think about it, though, most of our reasons are based on an outcome in one way or another; to achieve good physical health and a healthy mind, to maintain a healthy weight, to gain mastery of our bodies, to become one with the universal consciousness. These are some of the potential benefits and results that we are practising to achieve.
Despite these noble reasons to practise (who wouldn’t want all of theses things) we often need help in maintaining a regular practice.
What James Clear is saying is that, if, instead of being focused on these goals, we can think of ourselves as the type of person who, for example, doesn’t miss a day a of practice, then we are much more likely to follow through and eventually achieve those goals. True behaviour change comes about by changing our view of ourselves as people.
So, let’s say you only have three minutes to practise today. You no longer have to think “what benefit will I get from just practising one or two surya namaskara?” because now you are embodying the identity of someone who never misses a day of practice.
Some days it’s not about the benefits or results of the practice. Some days it’s just about reinforcing the fact that you’re the type of person who practises regularly. And, as we all know, regular practice is one of the most important elements in the quest to experience the fullest expression of yoga. In fact, according to Patanjali’s yoga sutras, if we practise regularly we are half way there.
Yoga Sutras, Chapter 1
Sutra 2: Yoga is the stopping of the turning of the mind
Sutra 12: The mind is stopped (i.e. the state of yoga is achieved) through practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya)
Sutra 14: Practice becomes firlmy established when it is done for a long time, without interruption and with a positive attitude.
I hope this change of mind-set might be helpful to someone reading this. Be the type of person who practises yoga regularly. That’s half the battle. Of course, if we’re in search of true enlightenment, we’ll ultimately have to let that identity go too, along wih everything else that we identify with. That is non-attachment.
Firstly though, let’s just get the practice bit sorted!