Habits always start with a good intention, go to the gym, lose weight, eat healthily and then for some reason they become hassle.
We often go straight to what we want to achieve rather than looking at the process that leads there, or more importantly who we will be once we have made the habit permanent.
In James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” he explains there are three layers:-
- Changing your outcomes – the result eg. losing weight
- Changing your processes – the systems and habit that lead you to losing weight
- Changing your identity – this is changing your view of your self
Outcomes are about what you get, processes about what you do and identity is about what you believe.
A good example is someone trying to quit smoking and being offered a cigarette:-
- “No thanks I’m trying to quit”
- “No thanks I’m not a smoker”
The identity change of not being a smoker is far more powerful than the response of trying to get there.
The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It is one thing to say I am the type of person who wants this. It is something very different to say I am 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 10k the goal is to become a runner
- The goal is not learn an instrument the goal is to become a musician
The reason habits are so hard to reverse is we have created beliefs around our identities and unless we challenge them they become the pathway. Carol Dweck describes this as the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
- I am terrible at Maths
- I am terrible with directions
- I am not good with technology
The habits we follow embody our identity. So already you make your bed each morning therefore you have the identity of an organised person. The more you repeat the behaviour the more you reinforce that identity.
- Each time you write you are a writer
- Each time you practice a musical instrument you are a musician
- Each time you encourage your team you are a leader
The starting point is to decide the person you want to be and prove it to yourself with small wins. What do you want to stand for? What are your principles and values? Who do you wish to become?
Think about who is the type of person that could get the outcome you want?
- I am a team leader who stands up for the team
- I am a Doctor who gives each patient the time and empathy they need
- I am the person who can be relied upon to be on time
Once you have identified the person you want to be you can ask your desired identity:-
- “Would a healthy person catch a cab or walk?”
- “Would a healthy person choose a salad or sandwich?”
In summary the most effective way to change a habit is focus not on what you want to achieve but on who you wish to become. Your identity emerges through your habits and each small action is a move in the direction of who you want to be. The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results, but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.
Please do get in touch for a workshop on habits or coaching firstname.lastname@example.org