A few weeks ago, in episode 239 of the podcast, I mentioned I was reading (actually listening) to the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. I finished listening to it. It was good. Real good. So good I bought a hard copy and am now reading it along with some friends.
To be sure Mr. Clear does a fantastic job of helping you work through the mechanics of habit development and, when needed, habit change. That part was good. But the best part of the book centers around the topic of identity. Let me explain.
When most of us set out to improve our life – or our companies via continuous improvement – we often set goals. These are outcomes.
For example, with the new year approaching you may set a goal of losing 15 pounds or fitting into your favorite pair of pants again. Perhaps you want to write a book. Perhaps you want to run a marathon. Perhaps you want to start a business. All good things, no doubt. But all of these things are outcomes.
In order to achieve these goals, or outcomes, you’ll need to develop new habits. You’ll need to eat better and exercise to lose weight. You’ll need to write each day in order to finish that book. And you’ll need to grind and work weekends in order to get that new business going.
Finally, in order for these new habits to stick, and have staying power, we need to change our identity. In other words, we need to reframe our self image and world view.
So, if you want to lose weight you need to become an athlete who regularly exercises and eats clean. If you want to be an author you must become a writer who hones their craft with deliberate, daily, practice. If you want to start a business you must become an entrepreneur who’s willing to grind. And when I say become… you must believe in this identity. That way when you see the cookies in the break room you’ll pass since you know who you are (an athlete that eats clean).
In summary, goals/outcomes are what we achieve… habits and processes are what we do… and our identity is who we are and what we believe.
Sadly, most of us begin the process of self (or company) improvement by focusing on WHAT we want to become. I know, I know… we lean thinkers know better than this. We know it’s all about the process, right? Fair enough… we lean folk may begin the process of self (or company) improvement by focusing on WHAT WE WILL DO. This is better. But, it’s still not ideal.
You see, in order to really make lasting change we must start with our identity. We must start with WHO we want to become enabling us to build identity-based habits.
As I mentioned, I’m working through Atomic Habits a second time with some friends and we’re completing the worksheets that go along with the book (free downloads from the web). To begin we’ve done our best to write out who we hope to become. I won’t bore you with my full identity list but, to give you an idea of how I’m approaching this, here’s a small part of what I’ve written.
- an athlete who uses fitness & nutrition as a way to maximize my ability to honor God, to serve and provide for my family, and to optimally perform my duties as a business owner.
- a person that believes I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Phil 4:13.
So, even if you don’t read Atomic Habits I’d strongly encourage you to take some time before the new year begins to ponder your ideal identity.
Who do you want to be (identity)? What are you going to do (habits/process)? And what goals will you achieve along the way (outcomes)?