Breaking free of labels and old habits

I have only realised recently how many labels I have been giving to myself and others.

This is not a post about racism or labelling – but a self-interrogation of how I categorised myself and others based on where they are from, ultimately to dissect our behaviours and habits.

For example, I think all Asians are night owls, deadline fighters and luxurious brands shoppers. And I think most westerners are not very mindful when it comes to pandemic precaution.

And you know how the saying goes – your opinions reveal more about yourself than what you actually think of others.

Just because my old self and people around me are all like that doesn’t mean everyone falls into the categorisation.

My “identity crisis”

That’s probably why I thought I had an identity crisis when I reflected how much my lifestyle had changed since the pandemic. Now I have non-negotiable fitness and learning habits rooted in my calendar – I go to the 8.30am or 9.30am boxing classes 3 times a week, I read and listen to podcasts about entrepreneurship (in 1.8x – 2x speed), and I keep learning my 5th language. I do all that while I have a casual job and full time master degree studies. I’m no longer a night owl, a deadline fighter or someone lusting over the new designer bag. In fact, I don’t even crave that much for Hong Kong food. The drastic change shocked me – how is it possible for an Asian to embrace this kind of “western” lifestyle, in my opinion? And how easy it actually is to never go back to my hometown again?


As someone who’s into personal development, I am constantly reflecting on my routines, productivity and performance. One issue I have been struggling for years is that I can’t seem to go to bed early. In my standard, it’s only “getting late” after midnight. I usually start packing up my things, finishing my daily habits (language learning, brushing my teeth etc.) and unwinding for the night. By then it will be way past my intended sleep time, not to mention a final scroll of all my social media accounts in bed. Then I start hating myself for doing that and I swear I will change tomorrow. This has been going on for YEARS.

So I thought a lot about that. I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and I used to think the environment contributed a lot to this behaviour. It is common to have late life – whether sober or not – especially given the crazy working hours we have. Well, I guess it depends on who you live with and what kind of friends you have, but this was how I was brought up with. I carried on this routine even when I moved to Sydney 10 years ago. I moved to a place near the waterside after graduating from Uni and started working, but the new environment did not make me get up an hour earlier to have a stroll before the day started.

How did I go from being a lazy arse to a self-motivated – almost automatic – machine?

Maybe environment wasn’t the issue, after all.

How to build healthy habits?

As you might have read from many self-help books about habit formation, your mindset matters. Particularly, how you see yourself. If you consider yourself a runner, you go for that jog every morning no matter what. If you consider yourself a musician, you sacrifice time and energy after your 9-5 for that project.

Identity forms the basis of habit formation.

It comes down to how much you believe in the destination you set for yourself. Most people cannot commit to their fitness goals because they haven’t set the foundation right. I was the same in my lifestyle case – I did not associate myself with being a morning person, so it was fruitless no matter how much I wish I could get up earlier for that waterside walk.

But as you know now, I get up early and I start my day on my own terms.

It started with an identity shift.

That identity shift has a twin called intrinsic motivation.

You can’t talk yourself out of bed for a workout or out of the chips aisle for apples if your fitness goal is to look good in summer and to impress people. That goal is not sustainable. You might be working hard and seeing results in spring and summer, but you will bounce back even harder during autumn and winder.

Intrinsic motivation can look like this: I want to be healthy so that I can provide for my family, or I want to be stronger so that I can take on more challenges. In fact, if you have that internal drive, you can throw willpower and motivation out of the window.


Setting your environment up is only effective after you set your new identity. Using my fitness example again, I totally ignored the yoga mat I laid out the night before and snoozed until I had to get to work. But once I decided to commit to staying active, laying out my fitness equipment and gym clothes made the process more seamless.

Define your own lifestyle

I don’t fuss about my new lifestyle and think about whether it contradicts with my old “Asian” self or not anymore. You can choose to live your life on your own terms. You don’t have to confine yourself to a box. As long as your routines and lifestyle get you closer to your goals, they are worth keeping, don’t you think?