#169: How to Have a Better 2019 by Changing Your Identity

Before we get to this week’s episode, I wanted to let you know that I’m putting together a coaching group where I’m going to work with a handful of private, six-figure clients to help them earn more in less time—without the stress and burnout that often come with this level of income.

If you’re at this income level, you already know that your challenges are different.

In some cases, it’s a different flavor of challenges you’ve always struggled with. And in other cases, it’s an entirely new set of challenges. And you’re probably not sure how to get around them.

If you’re a six-figure writer and would like to work with me on this, send me an email at [email protected] … put BREAKTHROUGH in the subject line … and I’ll send you the details.

OK, let’s get into this week’s message.

This month, the focus of the podcast and blog will be on the topic of habits.

I firmly believe that habits hold the key to successful execution.

Yes, strategy is important. And so is planning. But execution is where the rubber meets the road.

Habits are a critical ingredient in execution. In fact, they’re THE most important element for getting consistent, better results.

A few months ago, I had James Clear on the show to talk about his new book Atomic Habits. This is an excellent book that I can’t recommend enough.

One of the things that stood out for me is a concept he discusses in Chapter 2 — the issue of identity.

Specifically, how your habits shape your identity — and how your identity shapes your habits.

This concept blew me away. It was the missing link that explained why we struggle to develop habits in some areas and not others.

In this episode, I take a closer look at this concept … and explain how you can leverage your identity to make new habits stick.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

In Atomic Habits, James talks about three habits of behavior change: outcomes, processes and identity.

He describes these three habits by using a model of three concentric circles.

The outer ring represents outcomes, (what you want).

The middle ring represents processes, (what you need to do to get that outcome).

The inner ring represents identity, (what you believe).

Most of us try to develop new habits (or change old habits) by focusing on the outer ring—outcomes.

But James argues that focusing on identity is a more effective approach.

Who Do You Want to Become?

Instead of thinking about what you want (outcome), think about who you want to become with this behavior change.

For example:

  • What kind of writer do I want to become?
  • What kind of father?
  • What kind of leader?
  • What kind of husband/wife?
  • What kind of [insert your religious faith]?

As James explains, “Behavior change that’s incongruent with the self will not last. You may want more money, but if your identity is someone who consumes rather than creates, then you’ll continue to be pulled toward spending rather than earning.”

He then adds, “The biggest barrier to positive change at any level—individual, team, society—is identity conflict.”

When a habit becomes part of your identity, real, massive change happens … and it sticks!

For example:

  • I’m the kind of writer who writes 500 words every weekday without fail.
  • I’m the kind of business professional who stays in touch with his network every week
  • I’m the kind of father who puts his kids first and spends time with them every day.
  • I’m the kind of husband who races to the back of the line.
  • I’m the kind of person who never misses a workout. And when I do, I make it up.
  • I’m the kind of Christian (or whatever) who gives freely of his time to serve others.

When you set out to develop a new habit, you’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that your actions are congruent with your identity in that area.

We want to be seen as consistent. And not just to other people … but also to ourselves!

The original motivation for the habit may have been to boost your income, etc. But what enables you to maintain the habit is that the habit is now part of your identity.

I’m convinced that improving your life is about continuously revising your beliefs … and upgrading your identity.

Improving your life is about continuously revising your beliefs … and upgrading your identity.

Why This Works

You don’t usually see immediate results when you’re just starting to form a new habit. In fact, the pain you experience is usually greater than the result or reward you get in the short term.

But focusing on identity can help solve this problem.

To explain, think about how habits are formed. They consist of:

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward.

Cue and craving are the “problem” phase. (For example: I see an ad for pizza and I get hungry.)

Response and reward are the “solution” phase. (E.g. I grab a snack and feel satisfied.)

So pretend you’re trying to establish a healthy eating habit.

In the early days of developing that habit, grabbing a healthy snack isn’t satisfying. You want potato chips, not celery sticks! And that can quickly derail your attempt to form this new habit.

But when your new habit is tied to an identity that you’re trying to create and manifest, then the situation changes. Because staying true to your new identity becomes the reward!

How Can You Change Your Identity?

What follows is a combination of what James Clear suggests and what’s worked well for me.

Step 1: Take stock of your current beliefs in the area you’re trying to improve.

Step 2: Decide the type of person you want to become.

Step 3: Think about someone who’s doing a great job in this area. Ask yourself, “To become that type of person, what would he/she do if he/she were me?”

Step 4: Take baby steps in that direction. Think of the smallest action you could take today to mirror what that type of individual would do. (Don’t try to do everything all at once.)

James Clear explains the importance of baby steps this way: “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”

Those “votes” build up little by little. And before you know it, you become that person.

It forms a feedback loop: These small actions shape your identity, which helps you feel better, which motivates you to take more and steadier action, which further shapes your identify….”

That’s why habits matter so much. It’s not because of what they help you attain. It’s because of the person you become in the process of trying to improve some area of your life or business.

Habits matter. Not because of what they help you attain. But because of the person they help you become.

Because as James puts it, you literally become your habits.


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