The Making of an Identity
Even before Muhammad (saws) was assigned to the office of Prophethood, he was known for his trustworthiness. People of Makkah called him al-Ameen, one who is trustworthy. Likewise, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) was As-Siddique, or one who stands with the truth. And Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) was Al-Farooq, one who distinguishes between right and wrong.
The good qualities these great men had, which they habitually expressed in words or actions, gave them their respective identity. On the contrary, if a person constantly exhibits negative behaviour, then he is identified with that quality. For example, Abu-Jahal was called so because of his constantly uttered ignorant comments, and intolerance towards Islam. Similarly, it has been prophesied that closer to doomsday, a man from Jewish origin will rule over the world and he will deceive people in every possible way, based on this attribute of his, he has been addressed as ‘Dajjal’ – the Liar, in all the prophetic narrations.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits says a person’s identity emerges out of his, or her, habits. Supposing if a person made his bed every day, kept things in their proper places, and maintained an everyday routine, then he is identified as an organized person. The more you repeat a behaviour, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behaviour. It is true conversely as well, a person’s behaviour, or habit, usually reflects his identity or personality. That is, if a person believes in certain values, then those values reflect in his personality. Perhaps, that was the reason the Sahaba, or the Companions of our Prophet, were the best of humans, because their acceptance of Islam was followed by complete submission to its teachings and morals, by inculcating them from within. Islamic values became their identities since they demonstrated them in every sphere of life.
James Clear further explains that, when a person tries to change himself, or herself, by developing good habits, then the focus should always be on becoming the desired person, rather than desiring a particular outcome. For example, when a person tries to instil honesty within himself, he should strongly believe in that value, and practice it under all circumstances. Since humans are unconsciously or consciously, trying to adopt the behaviour of the tribe or larger community they live in, the dishonesty of others should not de-motivate the person from practicing honesty. Despite their living in a warring and immodest Arab culture of that time, the Sahaba never let their environment overpower their desire to change.
A person may be motivated to start a habit initially, but for that habit to become one’s identity, it has to be patiently persevered with through all odds of life. Anyone can convince themselves to visit the gym or eat healthy once or twice, but it is hard to stick to this routine until they believe in the need of these changes. It can thus be concluded that, improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are.
Building better habits – like brushing your teeth every night and taking a shower every morning – is not about having a well-planned day, nor is it about achieving external measures of success like earning more money, or losing weight, or reducing stress. Yes, good habits can help one achieve all these things, but at a fundamental level, they are not about having something, they are about becoming someone.