4 Keys to Building Better Habits (Part 3)

Who Do You Want to Become?

If you haven’t read Parts 1 and 2 of the series – go back and read those now so you get up to speed before we dive into developing habits around your identity.

Part 1 – Focus on Long-Term Sustainability, not short-term gratification

Part 2 – Focus on Systems, Processes, Environment, not outcomes or results

Now let’s dive in to see how developing habits can be done through changing your identity and vice versa – how developing new habits can change your identity.

Part 3 – Focus on Who You Want to Become

When we focus on who we want to become, and tie our habits to an identity, we are working on true behavior change.

When we first set out to develop a new habit, it can be useful to say to yourself – either out loud or in your head – “I am the type of person who…” This little mantra can help you focus on who you want to become and develop identity-based habits. Let’s take the goal of eating healthier, or even better (more specific 😊) of eating more fruits and vegetables. If you say to yourself – “I am the type of person who eats fruit for dessert” or “I am the type of person who eats vegetables for breakfast” (it’s not that hard/weird/gross – let’s talk if you want some more ideas!) you are tying the behavior of eating more fruits or vegetables to a specific time and saying that you are that person. Not “I should eat more vegetables” or “I should eat fruit for dessert,” but “I am that person {who does that thing}.”

What does it actually mean/look like to tie our identity to behavior change? It can be looked at as a cycle that starts with:

  1. Our Beliefs being our Identity – What we believe (about ourselves), and
  2. After we establish a belief (or a thought) about ourselves, we move to the Process/System – our Habits – What we do, and
  3. As a result of those 2 things – Identity/Belief and Process/Habits – we end up with our Outcomes/Results. Hopefully those are aligned with the goals you set out to achieve – if not, you were probably believing the wrong things, or doing the wrong things/developing the wrong habits. This is where a coach can be very helpful in supporting you to set clear goals and establish the right systems and habits to achieve those goals, to help you become the person you want to be.

In order to change old habits or past behaviors, we must change the underlying beliefs about who we are in order to develop new habits and take new action.  Let’s look at the dessert example again. If you tell yourself “I am the type of person who eats fruit for dessert” eventually your underlying beliefs that fruit is not for dessert or that only ice cream/cookies/cake/pie/candy are for dessert will need to change. After dinner you will want something sweet to eat, you will tell yourself “I am the type of person who eats fruit for dessert.” You will then look for fruit in the kitchen. You eat the fruit and continue telling yourself, “I am the type of person who eats fruit for dessert.” Over time – remember you must be patient and not expect a quick fix or an overnight identity change – you will believe that fruit is for “regular” dessert and that cakes/candies/cookies/pies/ice cream are for “special” dessert. Again, this, as with most habit change is better with support from a coach or friend or relative (but it should be someone who can be objective, not placate you, and not enable you to continue being the person you were, not the person you are working to become).

Habits are the “what we need to do” to get to who we want to become. These can be thought of as the embodiment of the new identity you are working to establish. Each habit, each action, is you casting a vote for “the type of person who…” The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do.

  • Want to call yourself a reader? You must pick up a book or a magazine or an internet article, and repeat.
  • Want to be the type of person who lives until they are 95 and enjoys those extended years? You must take the actions (repeatedly) to get there (sleep, nutrition, physical activity, social connection, stress management).
  • Want to be the type of person who runs? You must start to run – 1 step, 1 block, 1 mile – you must start somewhere, you must take the action. Eventually, after some time, you will do the things runners do automatically – schedule their runs, lay out their running clothes – and will start to truly identify as being a runner because you’ve taken the actions runners take over and over and built the habits of runners.

Another way to look at this habit change work is to look at the outcome you are trying to achieve (but only as a starting point – remember this is not our main focus) and figure out what those people who have achieved that are doing. For example – if you want to lose weight (the outcome), you should ask yourself, “What does a healthy person do?”  Then the hard part – you have to do those things – eat more vegetables and fruits and less processed foods, move your body more, manage stress better, sleep more. Eventually you will become a healthy person (and presumably have lost the weight of your original outcome goal).

It can be a tricky proposition to change your identity or want to change your identity. Often the fear of losing something we already have is greater than the desire we have to gain the unknown. We are of often too afraid to question the life we have built for ourselves, question our identities, and question if it truly aligns with the values we have and the things we want in life. And subsequently are often too afraid to make the changes required to live in alignment with our values for fear of what our loved ones or society might think or say about us. My challenge to you is to question who you are and the life you are living. Is it in alignment with what you value? Do you know what your personal values are? If you are not in alignment, it might be time to believe something new about who you can become and start taking the first small steps to get there.

So many of us are asleep at the wheel in our own lives. Walking “through life in a cognitive slumber” as author, James Clear says. We are “blindly following the norms attached to [our] identit[ies].” The beautiful thing is we can decide who we want to be at any time. That’s the easy part (sometimes)! The real work comes in believing that decision and taking the action to become that person.  We need to really think about who we want to be and what we need to do to get there.

What type of person do you want to be?
What do you need to do to become that person?
What do you need to believe?
What small step do you need to take?

For more ideas on developing habits, optimizing your life, and living more joyfully, check these out:

Want even more tips, tricks, and ideas for living well through nature, nourishment, movement and mindset? You know you do!

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