Identity Based Habits

We all know it’s hard to make serious change. Often times when we do, we revert back to our old ways. I’m interested in making these changes stick, and I hope you are too. I want to make a point that this isn’t just about working out. It can be about whatever you want to do. As we talked about yesterday, our brains have a great ability to learn and develop new skills. Your habits are a big part of being able to do that.

For example, while I’m writing about goals, the lens I’m looking through is not in fact working out more, even though that’s often my example. The big thing I’m working on now is becoming a better writer. The concept I want to share with you today helped me get out of my own way to work toward this. I hope this can help you on two levels, helping you stick with the healthy lifestyle you’re trying to develop but also give you insights to other parts of your life.

From Atomic Habits, here are the 3 layers of habit change:

  • First Layer: changing outcomes - this level is about results. Most of the time we associate goals with this layer of habit change.

  • Second Layer: changing process - this level is about process. What steps are you taking towards your goal by creating new habits and systems.

  • Third Layer: changing your identity - this deep layer is concerned with changing your beliefs, your self-image, your mindset.

In Clear’s words, “Outcomes are what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is what you believe."

When we start changing habits, we focus on the outcome. The results that we want. I find most of the time people don’t even make process goals, which is creating how you’re going to get your outcome. If we miss the second layer, we will miss the third, which is changing our identity. Clear makes a case that we should work the other way. Shift our beliefs, then the process, then get the outcome.

We need to take our beliefs and mindset into consideration when trying to make an impactful change. Its powerful intrinsic motivation when we take pride in our identity, or identify as what we want to be. The example from the book is someone trying to quit cigarettes.

If the person trying to quit is offered a cigarette, and their response is, “no thanks, I’m not a smoker.” That is a more powerful, identity changing answer compared to, “no thanks, I’m trying to quit.” There’s some fear with identifying with something. Often times, people are afraid to commit to saying they’re a healthy eater. Shifting your perspective and identifying as someone who eats healthy can help you stay strong and make better choices.

For me, it was about changing my belief that I can write. I would want the results, people reading this blog and learning something from it. I had a process. I’ll blog on these days at these times and I’ll keep a list of ideas and so on. Nothing allowed me to stick with it. I’m bad at writing, I thought. I get writer’s block easily. I don’t have the time to write more. All of these beliefs were part of my identity. It wasn’t until I shifted my mindset to I’m someone who can write that I was able to be consistent. 

If you’re trying to eat better or workout more or play the guitar, if you can identify with that, you’re going to be more likely to stick with it. Results are cool, but we need to learn how to get there.

Justin Miner


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