In a world where starting something new has become easier than ever, building habits is the new challenge, precisely because it is more tempting to try something new than to find the courage to persist at something.
If you ran your first 5k, you no longer want to run a faster 5k, you want to try a 10k, and then a half marathon, and then an ironman… And, to make things worse, society encourages this. “So you ran a half marathon! When are you running the full?” (“let me enjoy this first!” you would think…But it seems we need more and more. And in many cases, we measure success by doing more, not by doing better or enjoying more. The result? We give up the sport, the diet, the online course…
The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. And this implies questioning who we really are. Ready to try?
This is how we typically set goals. We might start by saying “I want to lose weight”, or “I want to get stronger”. If you’re lucky, someone might say, “That’s great, but you should be more specific”. So then you say, “I want to lose 20 pounds”, or “I want to squat 300 pounds.”
These goals are centered around our performance or our appearance. Performance and appearance goals are great, but they aren’t the same as habits. If you’re already doing a behavior, then these types of goals can help drive you forward. But if you’re trying to start a new behavior (i.e. going to the gym, starting a new diet), then it would be far better to start with an identity–based goal.
As James Clear shares in Transform your habits, “the interior of behavior change and building better habits is your identity. Each action you perform is driven by the fundamental belief that it is possible. So if you change your identity (the type of person that you believe that you are), then it’s easier to change your actions.”
Instead of focusing on your habits to change your identity (who you are), focus on changing your identity to achieve results.
1) Decide the type of person you want to be
2) Prove it to yourself with quick wins
3) Give yourself a reward
A quick win is a small accomplishment that is easy to achieve and has a big effect on your motivation. For instance, for an ultramarathon runner it is almost impossible to stay motivated when you know there are 100k left to the finish line. However, breaking the race into 10 portions of 10k makes it be more “digestible”. And using rewards is essential: every 10k the runner gives himself or herself a treat (a sip of water, a bit of gel, a chunk of their energy bar), and then off to the next 10k goal. Breaking a large goal into small milestones keeps us focused and motivated.
It is also very important that these rewards are associated to the goal. For instance, if I want to lose weight, my reward shouldn’t be to have a cupcake but something associated to my goal (ie: to buy nice sports clothes, a watch, or to travel to a different city and run a race there). Being coherent is essential to build our habits.
Here are a few examples:
Example 1: Want to lose weight?
Identity: Become the type of person who moves more every day.
Quick win: Buy a pedometer. Walk 50 steps when you get home from work. Tomorrow, walk 100 steps. The day after that, 150 steps. If you do this 5 days per week and add 50 steps each day, then by the end of the year, you’ll be walking over 10,000 steps per day.
Reward: Go shopping (as you lose weight, you will have to buy clothes anyway)
Example 2: Want to get stronger?
Identity: Become the type of person who never misses a workout.
Quick win: Do pushups every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Reward: After completing three straight weeks, buy work-out equipment to train at home.
Example 3: Want to become a better writer?
Identity: Become the type of person who writes 1,000 words every day.
Quick win: Write one paragraph each day this week and focus on creating a blog with these thoughts in one month.
Reward: Attend a bloggers’ meeting or an inspiring conference on your area of interest.
If you’re looking to make a change, stop worrying about results and start worrying about your identity. Become the type of person who can achieve the things you want to achieve. Build the habit now. The results will come later.
“If you plant the right seed in the right spot, it will grow without further coaxing. I believe this is the best metaphor for creating habits.”
BJ Fogg, Stanford University Professor.
What is your next quick win? And, most importantly, how are you going to celebrate it?
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