Changing Identity to Achieve Goals

I just read the book Atomic Habits and really enjoyed it.  Specifically, there was one part that really called out to me and it was about how to accomplish your goals.

As the author James Clear says, there are really mainly 3 ways to change

  1. Change your outcomes. Set new goals
  2. Change your processes. Set new habits, new activities, new meetings
  3. Change your identity or your beliefs.  Set new thoughts or perspectives
3 Levels of Behavior Change

Outcomes are about what you get such as losing weight, running a marathon.  Processes is about what you do such as getting a new diet or  changing your bedtime. Identity is about what you believe – your worldview, your self-image, and your judgements about yourself and others.

As an advisor and coach, I’m regularly asking founders to set goals and think about how to accomplish them. We talk about new motions, new people, new processes. That’s level one and two listed above.  These are the most common ways I’ve seen people think about goals.

The big change for me is flipping the way you think about that circle. Instead of tackling change by going outside-in and thinking of goals first, I instead start with the center and think first about how I need to change yourself and your beliefs to accomplish my goals.

Identity Based Habits

For example, if someone offers you a cigarette it’s much different saying “i’m trying to quit” than saying “No thank, I’m not a smoker.”

What’s even more interesting is to think more deeply about the goal. Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are. That’s the real goal.

  • The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader.
  • The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner.
  • The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician.

Your behaviors are usually a reflection of your identity. What you do is an indication of the type of person you believe that you are either consciously or non-consciously

Another example from my own life is my weekly exercise routines. I’ve made more time and have better habits since I changed from just setting new goals to adjusting what I thought about myself.  I moved from someone who wanted to try to work out 3x a week to thinking of myself as “an athlete who has healthy cardio and is strong” and then behaving as if that was true.  I found that if I identify that way, I then behave that way.

I love this way of thinking as many people begin their goal-setting process of changing by focusing on WHAT they want to achieve. This process shifts that to focus on WHO we wish to become.

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