According to author James Clear, the key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously).
For example: I am really good at being punctual, or so I’m told. I’m not tooting my own horn. It’s just something I’m really good at. I always have been on time. As such, I can actually say out-loud, “I’m the type of person who is good at being on time.” I believe I am always on time, so I am.
The moral of my story: To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself.
Imagine how we typically set goals. We might start by saying, “I want to lose weight” or, “I want to get stronger.” If you’re lucky, someone might say, “That’s great, but you should be more specific.” So then you say, “I want to lose 20 pounds” or “I want to squat 300 pounds.” It’s always great to have clear goals, but these goals are centered around our performance or our appearance.
Performance and appearance goals are great, but they aren’t the same as habits. If you’re already doing a behavior (eating well or lifting weights), then these types of goals can help drive you forward. But if you’re trying to start a new behavior, then I think it would be far better to start with an identity–based goal.
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.
Here are five examples of how you can make this work in real life. Remember, start small and trust that the results will come as you develop a new identity.
Want to lose weight?
Identity: Become the type of person who moves more every day.
Small win: Buy a pedometer. Walk 50 steps when you get home from work. Tomorrow, walk 100 steps. The day after that, 150 steps. If you do this 5 days per week and add 50 steps each day, then by the end of the year, you’ll be walking over 10,000 steps per day.
Want to become a better writer?
Identity: Become the type of person who writes 1,000 words every day.
Small win: Write one paragraph each day this week.
Want to become strong?
Identity: Become the type of person who never misses a workout.
Small win: Do pushups every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Want to be a better friend?
Identity: Become the type of person who always stays in touch.
Small win: Call one friend every Saturday. If you repeat the same people every 3 months, you’ll stay close with 12 old friends throughout the year.
Want to be taken seriously at work?
Identity: become the type of person who is always on time.
Small win: Schedule meetings with an additional 15–minute gap between them so that you can go from meeting to meeting and always show up early.
As you set your 2014 New Year’s Resolutions, if you’re looking to make a change, then stop worrying about results and start worrying about your identity. Become the type of person who can achieve the things you want to achieve. Build the habit now. The results can come later.