83 - Habit-building 11: Building habits by hooking up with a crew



My mother believed kite flying to be a dangerous sport. She would go back years to recount all neighborhood accidents when kids, chasing kites, had fallen off rooftops. She also made this clear to my friends. I was thus forced to fly kites by myself on the sly. For those unfamiliar, kite flying needs prep (coating thread with powdered glass) and shared knowledge to succeed (kite-cutting, reeling in).

All alone, I sucked at kite-flying and the experience was more frustrating than fun. My mother won, for good.

Identifying closely with who you want to be is a powerful driver for habit change. Your personal identity pushes you to cultivate desired routines. But the process of carving out your own identity gets expedited if you swim with the current. The current is nothing but your group identity–the tribe you belong to.

Our earliest identities are not those we choose. They are what we see around us. We mimic nonconsciously what we see people around us do.

As social animals, we have an evolutionary need to blend in. Anything that makes us stick out from the pack is something we’re more likely to give up. Tribe identity overpowers personal identity. You can make that work for you as a feature, instead of trying to debug it.

If you want to build a habit, join a group where that is routine. If you want to quit alcohol, join AA. If you want to read, join a book club. When personal identity is aligned with tribe identity, it creates a powerful tailwind.

How does it work? When you’re part of a tribe you identify with, a shared craving is at work. The desire for a specific behavior is not just yours but of everyone around as well. The appeal of a routine is multiplied when you see many others around you engaging in it. You improve by learning from other’s mistakes too.

This can work against us as well if we are drawn to the wrong company. The pressure to comply then forces us to engage in unproductive behaviors, and soon we’re in a downward spiral.

We often take pride in being the lone wolf. The lone wolf dies early (like the kite-flying me did) or at least takes longer to learn. Instead of fighting our desire to fit in, we can harness it by hooking up with the right crew.

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