WHY IS IT so easy to repeat bad habits and so hard to form good ones?

It often feels difficult to keep good habits going for more than a few days, even with sincere effort and the occasional burst of motivation.

Habits like exercise, meditation, journaling, and cooking are reasonable for a day or two and then become a hassle.

Changing our habits is challenging for two reasons:

  1. we try to change the wrong thing
  2. we try to change our habits in the wrong way.

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Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits

by James Clear

THREE LAYERS OF BEHAVIOR CHANGE

Our first mistake is that we try to change the wrong thing.

To understand what I mean, consider that there are three levels at which change can occur.

THREE LAYERS OF BEHAVIOR CHANGE 

  1. The first layer is changing your outcomes.
  2. The second layer is changing your process.
  3. The third and deepest layer is changing your identity.

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It is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book etc . 

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It is concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow etc . 

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This level is concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, your self-image, your judgement about yourself and others. 

Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.

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.

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Outcome-Based Habits & Identity-Based Habits

Imagining two people resisting cigarette. When offered a smoke, the first person says, “No thanks. I’m trying to quit.” The second person declines by saying, “No thanks. I’m not a smoker.”

 It’s a small difference, but this statement signals a shift in identity. Smoking was part of their former life, not their current one. They no longer identify as someone who smokes.

We never shift the way they look at ourselves, and we don’t realize that our old identity can sabotage our new plans for change.

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When your behavior and your identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behavior change. You are simply acting like the type of person you already believe yourself to be.

Identity change can be a powerful force for self-improvement.

The biggest barrier to positive change at any level—individual, team, society—is identity conflict. Good habits can make rational sense, but if they conflict with your identity, you will fail to put them into action.

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Your identity emerges out of your habits. You are not born with preset beliefs. Every belief, including those about yourself, is learned and conditioned through experience.

More precisely, your habits are how you embody your identity. When you make your bed each day, you embody the identity of an organized person.

The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior.

Your identity is literally your “repeated beingness.”

This is a gradual evolution.

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  • Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
  • Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your 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.

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