Summary

Have you ever struggled to build a new habit or break a bad one? You're not alone. Nearly 45% of our daily actions are driven by habits, making them crucial to our lives. To build lasting habits and break bad ones, we must understand the three layers of behavior change: outcomes, processes, and identity.

James Clear's book "Atomic Habits" emphasizes that identity, or how we see ourselves, is the most important layer. If our behavior doesn't align with our identity, it won't last. For instance, if you see yourself as "not a morning person," getting up early for the gym will be challenging. Similarly, someone who views themselves as "not a reader" will struggle to maintain a reading habit.

To successfully change habits, we must focus on who we wish to become, not just what we want to achieve. For example, instead of just running, become a runner. Instead of just working out, become someone who loves fitness.

A practical approach to this is the BE. DO. HAVE model:

  • BE: Who must I become?
  • DO: What actions must I take?
  • HAVE: What will I achieve?

To implement this model, follow these steps:

1. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR LANGUAGE

Replace negative identity statements like "I'm not a morning person" with "Up until now, I haven't been a morning person."

2. ASK BETTER QUESTIONS

Regularly ask yourself questions that line up with the identity you want to form. Questions such as, "What would a healthy person do?" or "What would a disciplined person do?"

3. Reinforce identity with small wins

Small, consistent actions build evidence for your new identity.

4. Spend time with the right people

Surround yourself with those who embody the identity you aspire to.

By focusing on identity and aligning our behaviors with it, we can create lasting change and achieve our goals.

Transcript

Have you ever set out to build a new habit and found yourself right back to where you started only a couple of weeks in?

Is there a bad habit that you have tried and tried to get rid of but just can’t seem to shake?

I think pretty much every person who has ever lived has had to wrestle with the process of building good habits and breaking bad ones. If you find yourself frustrated right now, you are not alone.

It is estimated that about 45% of your everyday actions are a direct result of your habits. That’s about half of your decisions each day.

Habits play a crucial role in your life. They are important because that save energy and help to not overload your brain so that we can actually focus on what’s important. 

But if half of your decisions are made by habits, then it is absolutely crucial that you understand how they work and make sure you are proactively designing them in a way that serves you in the long term. 

Habits can be amazing when they are working in your favor. And they can be absolutely detrimental to your long-term success if they are working against you. 

As an intentional man, you must be proactive with your habits and not just let them happen to you. 

There is a lot that goes into building good habits and breaking bad habits, but today I want to talk about what I believe is the absolute most important element…and it’s a part that most people don’t think about when they are trying to implement a new habit.

And that part is your identity

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear introduces us to three layers of behavior change.

We often think about two of these but we rarely think about one of them. 

 

The outer layer is outcomes. These are the actually results that come from a habit or what we typically think about when we are setting goals. 

  • You want to run a marathon
  • You want to save x amount of dollars
  • You want to lose 25 pounds
  • You want to get the promotion
  • You want to write that book
  • You want to start the business

These are pretty straightforward. This the reason many of us create goals or create habits…we want a specific outcome

 

The next layer is processes

This is the routine, the system, or the habit that you put into place in order to get the outcome or result that you want

  • To run a marathon, you make a running schedule
  • To save x amount of money, you create a budget and track your expenses
  • To lose 25 pounds, you create a workout routine and a meal plan
  • To get the promotion, you show up to work an hour early
  • To write the book, you write 10 pages a day

You get the picture. In order to hit a goal or get a desired result, we have to know the steps it takes to get there, that is the process

 

Then there is one more layer, the one we neglect the most but is the most important of all of them, and that is identity.

This is referring to your beliefs, your worldview, your thoughts about yourself, your self-image. 

When most people set goals or habits, they think about the first two layers…what is it that I want, and how do I go about getting it. These are very important pieces to identity. Without them, you will be directionless and not have a concrete plan. 

But most people fail to think about the inner circle…the identity piece. And that is ultimately what will determine if you are successful or not. 

 

Behavior that is incongruent with your identity will never last.

This is so important to realize. If a behavior you are trying to implement or a behavior that you are trying to break is not in alignment with the way you see yourself, you are going to have trouble making the change.

This is why we see people push super hard for a goal, only to go back to their previous habits when they are done.

Have you ever set a goal for yourself, pushed hard with all of your willpower to do it, and then when you achieve it, you are so done with that goal that you don’t want anything to do with it?

I think of people who do crazy diets for 30 days. Totally cut out sugar or totally cut out carbs. The second they achieve the goal, they go right back to consuming food how they did before.

Or people who want to read 2 books a month. They push super hard to read the book, hate every minute of it, and then never read again when they achieve or fail the goal.

Why is it that people do this?

A lot of times, it is because they have not taken on the identity of being a person who does these things consistently. For the person who takes on a crazy diet and revert right back to their old eating habits, they have not taken on the identity of a healthy person.

Deep down, they don’t believe that they are someone who consistently makes healthy decisions. Deep down, they have seen over the course of their life that they haven’t had self-control over their eating habits and so they don't’ believe they are someone who eats healthy.

For the reader, they have not taken on the identity of being a reader. They were just someone who pushed hard to read a book or two, but ultimately, they think of themselves as someone who doesn’t like to read. The whole time, they are not enjoying reading because it is counter to who they think that they are.

If the story you have told yourself your whole life is that you don’t like reading, when you read, it is not in alignment with your identity. If you don’t change that identity, you are going to have trouble making that a consistent habit.

Can you think of areas of your life where this may be the case? Maybe you have always said that you are not a morning person…you have taken on that identity. It’s going to be hard to get out of bed to get to the gym.

Maybe you have told yourself you are not a business person…you grew up with parents that didn’t run their own business and so you don’t think that can be you. It is going to be hard to start your own business.

Maybe you have convinced yourself that you are just a spender…it’s going to be hard to save money.

You have always told yourself that you are not an athlete…that working out isn’t your thing. It’s going to be hard to consistently go on runs or go to the gym.

There’s a popular example of this: Picture two guys who are offered a cigarette

  • The first says, “No thanks. I’m trying to quit.”
  • The other says, “Not thanks, I am not a smoker.”

Who do you think is going to be more successful?

The first guy is still taking on the identity of being a smoker. He just said “He is trying to quit.” 

The second guy has completely rejected that identity. He says “I am not a smoker.”

That is a powerful statement. Smoking is no longer in line with the way he sees himself…

Behavior that is incongruent with your identity will never last.

You might make the changes for a little bit, but eventually, you will fall back to the level of your identity. You will fall back to how you view yourself.

So here is a crucial shift that you must make:

You need to focus on who you wish to become instead of only what you want to achieve

If you want to build habits that truly last, you need to become the person who does those habits.

  • Don’t just run, become a runner
  • Don’t just workout, become a man who loves fitness
  • Don’t just start a business, become a businessman
  • Don’t just do leadership activities, become a leader
  • Don’t just hope you are a good friend, be the person who always stays in touch
  • Don’t just set random relationship goals, become a great husband

The purpose of our goals and our habits should be leading us to a new identity that sticks

There is another great way of illustrating this point that has been around for a long time. I was trying to track its origin. Some say it’s from Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of Highly Effective people but I saw others date this teaching back to the 1950’s.

You may have heard of this before, but I want you to really think about if this is common practice in your life.

 

This is the BE. DO. HAVE Model.

It is pretty much the same thing we looked at before, but might be more memorable

  • The Have is what you want to achieve
  • The Do is what actions you will need to take to achieve your results
  • And the BE is who you are…your identity

 

It is very easy for people to go about this is in reverse order.

See if you can relate to this order of steps in your life, or if you can think of people who go about it this way.

I have definitely caught myself in this kind of thinking before. I also hear it all the time in conversations with other people.

It starts off…When I just have _______________

Then I’ll do ____________

Which will make me ___________

 

  • For example, when I just have more money
  • Then I will give to the church
  • And then I’ll be generous person

 

  • When I just have a wife
  • Then I will start cleaning my room 
  • And I will be a clean person

 

  • When I just have more money
  • Then I can go on vacations
  • And I’ll be happy

 

  • When I have that promotion
  • Then I will start leading a team
  • Then I will be a leader

Can you recognize some of this thinking in different areas of your life? If it is very easy to fall into this trap. 

This is one of the biggest things that I see and hear in working with men. There is no sense of urgency to develop character or identity based habits until some defining moment.

I see this all the time with guys who want to be married but are not putting in any work to better themselves now. Thinking they will make all the changes when they get married.

Well, if you wait until you have something to change, it is most likely not going to be in line with your identity. You haven’t formed that new identity and so it is going to be really hard for it to stick.

You want a more successful marriage, become a man NOW is ready for marriage. Become a man NOW who is a healthy person. Become a man NOW who is good with finances.

We should be going in this order

Ask yourself, “Who must I become”

Then what must “I do”

So that I can “Have” _________

  • I must become a generous giver
  • Which means I do actively give to my church
  • So that I can have financial freedom

 

  • I must become a healthy person
  • And workout and eat healthy regularly
  • So that I can have more energy and be more confident in my body

Again, in thinking of habits and goals, the question we should be asking ourselves at the beginning is who am I seeking to become.

When we take on the identity of someone who does a specific action, it is way more likely to stick.

Ok so you’re probably wondering how you do this. How do you ultimately upgrade your identity?

I want to give you some action steps and tips that you can start implementing right away to start building a new identity in some specific areas.

 

1. Start to Pay Attention to Your Language

We typically are what we tell ourselves that we are. Be careful to say “I am” statement casually. Start to catch yourself when you say things like

  • “I am not a morning person”
  • “I am not good at running a business.”
  • “I am not a speaker”
  • “I am not a writer”
  • “I am not a salesperson”

You most likely use this kind of language more than you think and it is affirming an identity that you ultimately don’t want. Start to pay attention to when you do this. You will also probably start to notice when people around you use these kind of statements as well. It’s more often than you think

Here is a simple way to change this when you are saying it or thinking it. Instead of saying, you are not a morning person. Use the simple phrase “Up Until Now”

  • Up until now, I have not been a morning person
  • Up until now, I have not been someone who goes to the gym
  • Up until now, I have not been good with finances

It’s subtle, but you can see the power behind it. You are stating your intentions to be a different person in the future. 

You aren’t lying to yourself…I think that is the problem with affirmations is that we don’t actually believe what we are saying…there is evidence from the past stacked against us. But with this phrase, you are acknowledging that was the old you but stating that you will be different.

When you catch yourself saying identity statement, include the “Up until now” phrase to help form your new identity

 

Number 2

Ask Yourself Better Questions

Tony Robbins said the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is the questions that you ask yourself. We are all asking ourselves questions throughout the day.

Successful people ask themselves better questions. 

Here is a simple one you can do to start forming a new identity. Just start to repeatedly ask yourself the question, 

  • “What would a healthy person do?”
  • “What would a disciplined person do?”
  • “What would a leader do?”
  • “What would a godly man do?”
  • “What would a great businessman do?”

Whatever identity it is you want to develop, ask yourself over and over throughout the day, “What would someone who is successful in this area do?”

I heard a story of a woman who lost 100 lbs just asking the simple question, “What would a healthy person do?”

In each situation she encountered throughout the day. At a restaurant, “What would a healthy person order?” 

In the morning when you are tired and don’t want to get out of bed, “What would a healthy person do?”

She asked herself that question and then took the actions of a healthy person and lost 100 lbs.

Ask yourself better questions and you will get better results

 

Number 3

Reinforce your identity with small wins

Determine who you want to be, and then consistently do small actions that reinforce that identity. 

In order to believe a new identity we have to prove it to ourselves. So this is where habits and identity are a constant feedback loop.

They feed into each other. The more you do an activity, the more you take on that identity. The more you take on that identity, the more you do the activity

The problem is most people try to change their identity with huge wins. You do the 75 hard day challenge, which is extremely difficult, and you miss a day and then just take on the identity of someone who is a failure or someone who isn’t healthy.

If you would’ve have started with, I am going to go on a run twice a week, and you consistently did it, then you are reaffirming that desired identity.

When the goal is to become a person, you don’t feel like you have to do all these massive monumental things. You just have to do the little actions that aligns with your new identity. 

You don’t have to be perfect either. You just need to have more evidence for you than against you. This doesn’t mean you want mess up, you just need to do the actions of that kind of person more than you don’t…start to build evidence that this is who you are

 

And the last one, number 4

Spend Time with People Who Have The Identity You Want

Get around people who have your desired identity. See what they do. See how they think. See how they talk. 

We become like the people that we spend time with. 

If you want to be healthy but you are surrounded by people who don’t take that on as their identity. It is going to be hard for you to make that change.

We are social beings and so you can leverage that to your advantage. 

To recap those four.

  1. Pay attention to your language - Use the “Up Until Now” statements
  2. Ask Yourself Better Questions - “What a successful person do?”
  3. Reinforce Your Identity with Small Wins
  4. Spend Time With People Who Have the Identity You Want

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