tinystride

product designer, cyclist, armchair urbanist

Affirmations

I’ve heard recently about a few successful people who, before they were successful, regularly reminded themselves that they were going to be successful in some specific way.

Something with decent odds. Not this: “I am going to become the president”, or “one day I will sell more records than Drake”. More like this: “I will be a published author”, or “I’m going to be a business owner”. Something where the odds aren't zero.

Naval Ravikant talks about it on the Tim Ferris podcast (he told coworkers at a company "I'm just here temporarily. I'm an entrepreneur. I want to start a company."). Scott Adams writes about it extensively in his book (early in his career, he'd repeat into the mirror "I, Scott Adams, will be a famous cartoonist").

It's a line of thinking from the New Age movement called affirmations, and it's probably mostly bullshit along with the rest of self-help advice from already-successful or powerful people. I doubt it's scientifically reliable, but it seems likely that it's a genuinely useful mental framework for staying optimistic, focused, and committed to something meaningful.

James Clear writes about Identity-Based Habits, which has some overlap with the idea of affirmations but gives it a more helpful framing:

Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.

Clear’s framework goes deeper than affirmations since it leads from identity statements into action and habit change. That’s helpful. But just getting that statement in place at all—a clear, bold statement about who I will become—is a useful step.

I like all of this a lot, and I’m trying it for myself. I'm steering clear of pseudoscience or magical thinking. But I like the idea of taking a veiled intent and laying it bare for myself and my friends to see. It’s really about being decisive.