Behavior ChangeMindset

The MOST Important Factor in Getting Long Term Change

By January 22, 2020 No Comments

Welcome to your second Mindset installment of our Transform You 2020 series.

On Monday, I talked about how you can’t rely on willpower if you want to make a change. (Click here if you missed it…)

I talked about a highly effective hack to overcome our limited willpower, by changing your environment, which can force a change in your habits.

But what if you don’t want to rely on environmental changes long term? How do you become the sort of person who can drive by McDonalds and never pull in, or who won’t eat the package of Oreos sitting in the cabinet?

The answer is to go deeper and really look at your beliefs and identity.

Our sense of identity (conscious and unconscious) drives our choices and our actions every day. Our actions are a reflection of our current beliefs about ourselves.

James Clear describes this brilliantly in Atomic Habits, where he talks about three layers of behavior change: outcomes, process, identity.

Image credit: James Clear,

Outcomes are the goals that we want to be able to achieve, like running a 5k.

Processes are the habits that will get us to our goals, such as running or walking 1 mile every day.

Identity is made up of our deepest beliefs about ourselves, our world view, our values, our judgments about ourselves and others. It is our identity that drives many of our daily choices and actions.

We usually try to change by figuring out what outcome/goal we want (ie, lower blood pressure, improve health, run a half-marathon, lose 20 pounds) and then identifying the processes/habits that will get us there (ie, eating more veggies, exercising every day).

But James argues that the deepest, most sustainable way to change is to actually change our sense of identity, our beliefs about who we are, which will then drive a shift in habits and help us achieve the outcomes that we want to achieve.

When we focus on who we want to become and the type of person we want to be, every action we take becomes a vote for the type of person we wish to become.

The converse is also true. When we don’t consciously decide the type of person we want to become, our actions tend to reflect unconsciously held beliefs about ourselves. Maybe our unconscious belief that we’ll never be a morning person keeps us from staying consistent with early morning workouts, for example.

So how do you change your identity?

First, be aware of the stories that you tell about yourself. Do you see yourself as someone who will always struggle with __x,y,z___? Do you believe that you aren’t worthy of putting yourself first? Do you see yourself as not athletic? Or not capable??

Identify the narratives that may be hiding in your subconscious.

Would you say these things to your best friend if he/she were looking for advice? If not, they aren’t things that you should say to yourself.

Replace those narratives with a positive focus. Decide on the type of person that you want to be–who do you want to become? What is most important to you to focus on first?

Do you want to be the kind of person that takes care of their health and their body? Do you want to be the type of person who never misses a workout? Do you want to be someone who is always there for their family? Always on time? Organized? Obviously, this is not limited to health and fitness.

Once you have an identity that you want to focus on, think about how you can prove that identity to yourself with one small action every day. What is one small win that is doable but that can reinforce that identity?

For example, if you want to be someone who takes care of their health, perhaps a small win could be eating one veggie-based meal or snack each day.

Or, you could buy a pedometer and aim to increase your step total by 50 or 100 steps per day.

If you want to be someone who is tidy and organized, perhaps you start by making your bed each day.

Over time, these small, identity based habits will both help you achieve the results you are looking for, while also more permanently shifting your beliefs about who you are. And that is how you can truly achieve lasting change.

Stay tuned because on Friday, I’ll share two habit hacks that can really help you get these small wins that will reinforce your new identity.

For now, carve out some time to think about an area of your life where you want to become a different type of person. What is that new identity? And what is one *small* thing you can do to start proving that to yourself each day?