A couple of weeks ago I highlighted a concept from James Clear about setting identity-based habits versus outcome-based habits. James’s book, Atomic Habits, provides excellent background and framework about how to establish habits that work for you.
One of the most compelling concepts he shares in the book is the idea that each habit you have – good or bad – is like casting a vote for your identity. If you’re someone who exercises regularly and eats well, you’re casting a vote as a person who is health conscious and takes care of themselves. If you’re someone who spends everyday reading a book for 15 minutes, you’re casting a vote as a person who is interested in learning.
I’ve always felt that my journey for self awareness & self acceptance (which I’m still working on) has always involved two sides: the aspirational and the skeptical. The aspirational would be the one that encourages me to try new things and be a better version of myself; whereas the skeptical would be the voice at the back of my mind that says “let’s see how long this is going to last” with a bit of a smirk. Becoming a different version of ourselves – an ideal version – means we need to be constantly casting the votes for the identity that we want to become. With enough votes, we can slowly start to make the skeptical side of us to actually believe we can do it and that we are who we want to be.
If we want to be braver, calmer, kinder, healthier, etc. etc. we need to consistently be casting votes through our actions – whether they’re habits or decisions we make – to prove to our our skeptical (i.e. subsconscious mind) that we are who we’re saying we are.
Last week, I wrote a bit about James Clear’s idea about setting identity-based habits versus outcome-based habits in your life. If we can set habits that are better aligned with our identity, it’s more likely that it will be sustainable. Every desirable habit that you do casts a vote about the person you want to become. You begin to actually believe you can become that type of person.
I think there’s a supporting element to identity-based habits — your principles.
If habits are your day-to-day behaviours that are on autopilot, then what do we do when you have to stop and think about a decision we need to make? It could be a simple decision like “what do I eat for lunch?” or a complex one like “do I take this job or not?” Either way, it’s going to require some amount of decision-making to figure out what you want to do.
This is where principles come in. Life is complex but if we have guiding principles that are aligned with our identity, we might be able to make better, more consistent decisions. Much like an aligned habit will cast a vote of confidence, decisions that are aligned with your principles can further instill that confidence.
Principles don’t get developed overnight, of course. It can take years to craft out a set of principles that will help guide your decision-making. But it’s better to start thinking about them now.
When we decide to make a change in our life, we typically think about setting tangible goals. They could look like…
I want to lose 10 lbs.
I want to find a partner who is like x, y, z.
I want to increase my earnings by 10%.
Goals can be useful but if we start the journey of change with goals, we may be losing out on the bigger picture.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the importance of building “identity-based” habits over “outcome-based” habits. Building “identity-based” habits is about thinking first about what kind of person do you want to be. Instead of thinking about losing 10 lbs, you can aspire to become a health-conscious person.
For example, over the summer I had the privilege of running a Spartan Race. In the months leading up to my race, my mantra became “is this something a Spartan would do?” for all my decisions. It impacted what I ate, how early I went to bed, and how often I trained. It was a very powerful motivator when I had an identity that I wanted to embody.
For the change you’re looking to make in your life, see if you can start by building an “identity-based” habit. Think about the people you admire in your life – what are they like? Becoming the best version of yourself starts by redefining who you want to be.
h/t Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year via James Clear