The Power of Identity-Based Habits

November 06, 2018

If progress is happiness, then mastering the key to developing lasting positive habits is one of the most important skills we can all learn if we want to enjoy life more.

One of the keys and possibly the most important element to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Experts suggest that our current behaviours are a reflection of our current identity. The outcomes and results we are getting in our lives right now are simply a mirror image of the type of person we believe that we are (either consciously or subconsciously).

Let’s say you decide you want to become a competitive cyclist after watching the Tour De France for the 20th year in a row. You are most likely starting out as a novice and a very below average cyclist in terms of skill, fitness and knowledge. Even if you have the discipline to start training regularly plus you study all things cycling and get some more serious cycling gear, you are still essentially the same novice you started out as. Who you see when you picture yourself in your mind’s eye is the critical thing. If you still see a novice in fancy cycling gear that is who you will remain. If you start to see you are becoming more competent, skilled, fit and competitive, that is what you will become. Your progress will be exciting and fun despite the physical pain you are putting yourself through and the habit will stick for good. You now believe and call yourself a cyclist, not just a want-to-be.  

Once you start doing and believing new things about yourself, you are developing identity-based habits.

As a budding competitive cyclist, you might start telling yourself that you are the type of cyclist that trains rain, hail or shine (because that is what the top cyclists do) and so you do it. You will have shifted your self – identity and as a result, are most unlikely to stop your new habit of training rain, hail or shine because you now see yourself, and believe, that you’re becoming a top cyclist and no longer a novice who hardly ever trained.   

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, suggests there are three layers of behaviour change: a change in your outcomes, a change in your processes, and a change in your identity.

James Says, “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. Changing your beliefs isn’t nearly as hard as you might think. There are two steps.

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

If you have health goals that have up until now kept eluding you, this is most likely why. Start seeing yourself as the healthy person you desire to be and set about proving it one little win at a time. You will have setbacks, as we all do, but that won’t change who you are now becoming.