Have you decided that you want to do something different in your life, turn over a new leaf, or start or stop doing something, but have been unable to make it happen?
The path to improving your life is created by laying stepping stones one at a time. These stepping stones are habits, behaviors that you repeat consistently without much thought.
That sounds easy, but we all know that creating new habits is hard (when was the last time you found accomplishing a New Year’s resolution to be easy?).
For instance, if you’ve been pressing the snooze button six times in the morning before getting up for the last ten years, it’s extremely hard to start getting up the first time the alarm goes off.
You might be able to do it once when you have an early meeting, or even every day for a week. But, before you know it, that snooze button is part of your routine again.
I just ran across a new way of approaching change in your life. It’ll work whether you’re trying to get up early, lose weight, or become a better supervisor for your team. Read on to learn this simple and effective method.
Who Do You Want to Be?
So, how can you replace old habits with new ones or create a new one entirely?
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear says the reason that most of us don’t succeed in habit changing is because we’re approaching it from the perspective of what we want to achieve.
For example, we approach changing our eating and exercise habits with the goal of losing weight. He suggests there may be a more effective way.
Clear recommends focusing first on defining your new identity. Who do you want to be? One way to figure this out is to think about why you’re trying to do something different.
With weight loss, it could be that you can’t go up a flight of stairs without getting winded. What you really want is to be an active person.
By deciding the new identity you’re striving to become, it’s easier to determine and follow through on the habits this type of person would do.
In our snooze button example, decide why you want to get up early. Is it to exercise? Is it to get some extra work done? Spend time with your family in the morning before everyone heads out for the day? Any one of these could be your motivation.
Let’s say you want to get more done in your day. Your goal is to be a productive person. Productive people get up early and get work done. When you start by saying, “I’m a productive person,” your brain will work with you to align your behaviors to match the type of person you want to be.
How it Worked for Me
After reading this idea, I spent some time thinking about whether, in my experience, starting with who I want to be has led me to sustained change in my life. Turns out it has.
I love to run. I run several times a week and am not myself if I miss a few days in a row. But I didn’t start running in high school track; I began my running habit in my mid-thirties.
I wanted a way to exercise that wasn’t tied to a location or equipment–something I could do whether I was home or traveling. You only need a good pair of shoes to run, so I decided to give it a try.
But it was hard…really hard. Within about 60 seconds, I had a sharp pain in my side and had to slow down and walk. I walked a lot and only jogged for a minute here and there.
What made the biggest difference for me was deciding I was going to be a runner. I went out and bought real running shoes, tights, and a jacket because in my experience, the right tool for the job makes the job easier, and these were the tools I saw runners using.
From the very first time I put on my running gear, I was motivated. I actually felt like a runner. And what do runners do? Walk? No, they run! So that’s what I did.
And I just kept doing it every day. Because that’s what runners do.
It even kept me going when I didn’t want to run in the cold weather. I thought to myself, “I see people running in the cold every day. That must be what runners do.” So that’s what I did.
Now, over a decade later, I still run regularly. I barely have to think about it; it’s just a habit to put on my shoes and hit the road.
Because I’m a runner, and that’s what runners do.
Now it’s your turn. Take a few minutes to sit quietly and think about a goal you’ve wanted to achieve. What type of person does this?
Then, identify what steps you need to take to be that type of person. Those are the stepping stone habits that will take you to the goal you’re after.
This can work for a team as well as an individual. Start by defining who the group wants to be and then ask the group if it were that, what would a team like that be doing?
As humans, we’re naturally wired toward evolving and improving. Use this simple approach to change your habits by deciding the identity you want rather than the outcome you’re seeking, and let that be your motivation to create the future you, one step at a time.
Share Your Experience
What in your experience tells you that this approach is effective? What’s the identity that you’ve settled on to carry you to new behaviors?
You can leave your answers in a comment below.
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