To Change Your Habits Focus On Who You Wish to Become
READING TIME: 4 MINUTES
I recently finished reading Atomic Habits by James Clear and no matter what your goals are this book does a great job of offering a proven framework for helping you improve --every day. James Clear is one of the world's leading experts on habit formation who reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.
In the book James explains that the most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become. Let’s dig into what this really means.
The Three Layers of Behavior Change:
James explains that there are three layers of behavior change: a change in your outcomes, a change in your processes, or a change in your identity.
When we say change in outcomes we are referring to changing your desired results, for example losing weight. Most of the goals you set are at this level. Outcomes are about defining what you get.
When we say change the process we are referring to changing your habits and systems, e.g. developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits you build live at this level. Processes are about what you do.
Now when we say a change in the Identity, we are referring to changing your beliefs, e.g. your worldview or self-image. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases you hold are associated with this level. Identity is about what you believe.
The foundation of every lasting change is identity. You can change your outcomes or your processes; but, if you don’t change your identity, you will eventually come back to your old habits. For example, if you want to stop smoking, and you keep saying, “I’m trying to quit smoking,” it’s the outcome you are trying to change. Lasting change can only come through identity change. In this example, you must start saying, “I’m not a smoker.” To truly change behavior you’ll have to redefine and change your identity.
“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this...the goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader. The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician.”
Your identity is formed around your habits. Repeating a behavior reinforces the identity associated with it. Every time you take action you are casting a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
So how do you change your identity:
Decide the type of person you want to be: What are your principles and values? Who do you wish to become? What matters the most to you? How do you want to spend your time?
Then ask yourself: “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?” For example, the type of person who could write a book is probably consistent and reliable. Now your focus shifts from writing a book (outcome-based) to being the type of person who is consistent and reliable (identity-based).
Prove it to yourself with small wins: once you have a handle on the type of person you want to be, you can begin taking small steps to reinforce your desired identity. For your mind to believe your new forming identity it will require evidence. Evidence it can see, feel and measure. For example if you are trying to become a writer, waking up everyday and writing a sentence becomes evidence that you are on your way to becoming this person. If you are trying to lose weight, keeping track of your food or loging your exercises becomes proof that you are making progress.
James writes, “I have a friend who lost over 100 pounds by asking herself, “What would a healthy person do?” All day long, she would use this question as a guide. She figured if she acted like a healthy person long enough, eventually she would become that person. She was right.”
Just know that if you keep on doing the same things as always, you are going to get the same results as always. So if you want to see change start taking actions in a new direction and keep track.
Progress requires unlearning and relearning. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously ask questions, gain new perspectives, learn, edit your beliefs and upgrade and expand your thinking and identity.
“The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results (although they can do that), but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.”
Quite literally, your identity is a collection of your habits, you literally become your habits.