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:
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
It is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book etc .
It is concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow etc .
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.
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.
You may want better health, but if you continue to prioritize comfort over accomplishment, you’ll be drawn to relaxing rather than training.
You have a new goal and a new plan, but you haven’t changed who you are.
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 more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it.
If you’re proud of how your hair looks, you’ll develop all sorts of habits to care for and maintain it.
Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are.
The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader.
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.
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.
This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change.
Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity. And if a change is meaningful, it actually is big. That’s the paradox of making small improvements.
The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do.
New identities require new evidence. If you keep casting the same votes you’ve always cast, you’re going to get the same results you’ve always had. If nothing changes, nothing is going to change.
It is a simple two-step process:
For example, “Who is the type of person who could write a book?” It’s probably someone who is 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).
Your habits shape your identity, and your identity shapes your habits. It’s a two-way street.
The focus should always be on becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome.
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