If this is your first time here… I am working my way through James Clear’s book about creating good lifelong habits called Atomic Habits. Please click the blog button to your right to read past posts. If you like the post please hit the Like button at the bottom of the page and please consider following my blog. You can sign up at the bottom of the page.
Please Note: I am not getting anything for endorsing James Clear’s book. I am just a fan of good ideas and I am using this book to help me make positive changes in my life.
Since starting to read Atomic Habits, I have been working with the theme of identity and how your habits shape identity and your identity shapes habits (Chapter two). I am writing about my past to understand what informed the development of my identity. This is the third and last installment before I move on to chapter three.
James Clear writes, “Your identity emerges out of your habits. You are not born with preset beliefs. Every belief, including those about yourself, is learned and conditioned through experience.” “The more evidence you have for a belief, the more strongly you will believe it.”
PART THREE of my story: Consciously building my identity.
In 2009 I was still dealing with a majority of negative thoughts about myself. My children were a bright spot but my primary relationship with my wife was tough. Getting diagnosed in 2008 with autism did a couple of things. It produced an inner connection to myself that I had not had before and at the same time it made my relationship with my wife much worse. With an actual diagnosis my wife felt that me being autistic really screwed up her future.
If you have been following my writing so far then you have probably figured out that my wife was not a very nice person. Saying that she didn’t treat me well after my diagnosis would be an understatement. My wife went out of her way to produce stressful situations and amplify issues that were difficult for me to work with. I lived in an almost constant state of anxiety. I worked with my therapist and tried many things to try and improve the relationship. Nothing worked. Eventually, in 2010 I told her that I wanted a divorce.
There was an internal power and clarity that came when I had exhausted all my ideas and actions to heal my relationship with my wife. I had to let go. There was nothing left to do. All that remained were the wishes and dreams for myself and my children. James Clear writes, “when you make choices in your life it is like casting a vote for the type of person you want to be.” Me summoning the energy and courage to get out of a destructive and abusive marriage was me casting a vote for a more positive, healthy, and authentically connected future for myself and my children.
The divorce started off badly and grew into an excruciating painful ordeal. I was adamant from the start that our children should be protected through the process. I even tried to get them their own attorney or advocate so they could be protected and their wants could be expressed and heard. Unfortunately, that did not work nor did my attempt at collaborative divorce. Nothing went well through the process. My children were used by my wife as emotional fodder to inflict her anger on me. In the end I could not protect them from the divorce process nor their mother. Both of them sustained emotional and physical damage.
I feel terrible for what my children went through and I have a strong desire to help them in any way that I can. Over the years I have learned that my wife most likely has Borderline personality disorder along with histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders. She is also a charismatic manipulator and a person who desperately wants to win at any cost. For seven years during the divorce her job was to, in her words, “destroy me.” My job was to try and protect my children, get more time with them and end the marriage. Divorce is hard on everyone but having a seven-year divorce is something on a whole other negative level.
It has been four years since the divorce ended and I am only just starting to feel like I am making my way out from under the heavy effects of it. One of my daughters lives with her mother and unfortunately, I do not have contact with her at this time. My eldest daughter lives with me. Both of us have been invested in therapy and the benefits of doing the hard work of reordering and understanding our pasts are starting to show. She and I are doing well.
I can say that the culmination of all my past experiences has made me a strong person and over the years I have developed a better sense of my personal ethics. I am gaining a more positive identity and depth of character.
When I was first diagnosis with autism, I was relieved. Then I was angry. I thought about all the time wasted on the struggle of just barely getting by. I felt that being autistic and not knowing it had messed up my life. I eventually fell into a grieving stage for all the time that was lost due to my constant struggle with difficult environments and trying to be somebody different. With the diagnosis came language to explain some of my behavior: Meltdown, autistic burnout, stimming, ritualized patterns, masking, camouflaging and repetitive movements. For as long as I can remember I have disliked looking people in the eyes, shaking hands and small talk. I like animals a lot more than people and my deepest relationships before I had my children were with inanimate objects. I can also be a little strange, or come across as confusing, picky, or a rigid eccentric person who likes to wear the same type of clothes and eat the same things every day. Yes, that is all me too. I realize I cannot not be autistic. At this point in my life, I am in the process of making peace with who I am and I am understanding what I am and am not capable of.
James Clear writes, “The effect of one-off experiences tends to fade away while the effect of habits gets reinforced with time, which means your habits contribute most of the evidence that shapes your identity. In this way, the process of building habits is actually the process of becoming yourself.” “The more you repeat the behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior.”
Chapter two is about defining who you want to become. James Clear describes a two-step process for changing your habits:
- Decide the type of person you want to be.
- Prove it to yourself with small wins.
I thought I would start out with a longer list and pair it down to what is essential as I go through the next few chapters of the book.
I want to be a person who writes and who has many lifelong readers.
I want to be a person who understands and accepts my own limits and capabilities.
I want to be a person who exercises regularly.
I want to be a person who is a stellar dad to my young adult daughter.
I want to be a person who works on making my relationship with my new partner better each month.
I have some medical issues that need attention and part of the prescription to get better is to manage my stress and change my diet.
I want to be a person who makes having good health a priority.
I want to be a person who understands their own needs and takes steps to meet them.
I want to be a person who helps people who need help.
“It’s not about achieving external measures of success like earning more money, losing weight, or reducing stress. Habits can help you achieve all of these things, but fundamentally they are not about having something. They are about becoming someone.” —James Clear
Over the next few chapters I will be continuing to follow the book and building a system to support who I want to become.
If you are interested in learning how to change your habits, build positive new habits and have a good life then check out the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear.