How Action Creates Identity with James Clear

How Action Creates Identity with James Clear

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits explains how our habits impact our identity and how to stay motivated when you aren't getting the results you want.

Building Identity

The link between doing and believing can help you build the identity that you want. After all, confidence is just displayed ability. So if you want to be good at something, you'll need to take action.

Your habits are how you embody a particular identity.  

For example, if you make your bed every day then you embody someone that is clean. Or if you study biology once a week, then you embody someone that is studious.

The more you act in a particular way, the more you reinforce being a certain type of person. Each action you take is a vote for the type of person that you want to become. Although you don't have to vote unanimously for an identity, it should make up the majority of your votes. Habits are the best option we have to vote for our identities.

Fake It Until You Make It

At some point in your life, there might be a disconnect between who you think you want to be and your actions.

The standard advice is to simply fake it until you make it. In this case, you would be attempting to drive your behavior through your beliefs. Although this could be an effective short-term strategy, in the long term it could turn into delusion. If your actions are consistently not matching up with your internal beliefs, then there is a problem.

The better option is to start with the behavior first and let the belief follow. For example, if you do some push ups, then you can't say that you are healthy. However, you cannot deny that you are the type of person that works out. Over time, the habit will build a belief and transform your body.

There is something very concrete about doing the action and letting that drive the belief that you have because it provides actual evidence.

As you continue to do the action, it is more likely that the belief will stick around. When your behavior doesn't match your belief, then you will realize that you are lying to yourself at some point.

New Year's Resolutions

If you want to transform your life in this new decade, then you can harness the power of habits.

As we think of resolutions, most of us think about the kind of results they want. For example, they might want to lose weight, or finish a book, or sleep more. There is nothing wrong with those results, but it is important to look at the process.

Most new years resolutions fail partially because they don’t get integrated into our identity.

Many are too focused on achieving the result and forget about the process entirely. Instead of focusing on the result, ask yourself what type of identity you want. Think about the habits you would need to be the person that could accomplish your desired result.

For example, if you want to lose 30 pounds, then ask yourself what kind of person could lose weight. It is likely someone that works out consistently and eats well. With that answer, you would start to build habits of working out and eating well.

Another example could be the goal of writing a novel. Someone who could achieve that goal would write at least a sentence every day. With that, you could focus on building the habit of writing every day instead of worrying about the entire book.

As soon as you shift from focusing on outcomes to focusing on identity, it changes the way that you approach building a habit.

Check out James Clear's interview on ChooseFI

How To Stay Consistent

As you start to build your habits to create your desired identity, you might run into some problems. The most common problems are getting started and sticking with it.

The problem with building a habit is that you will experience a lag time from when you start the habit and when you see results. A habit is a compounding process. And the hallmark of any compounding process is that the greatest results are delayed.

Clear shared a story that has inspired the San Antonio Spurs. When you feel like giving up, think of the stonecutter that hit a stone 100 times without a crack. But the stone split in two on the 101st hit. The results did not come from the last hit, but all of the hits that came before.

You can think of this story as you start your own habits. It will not be the last healthy meal that leads to a fit body or the last sentence of your novel that writes the book, it is all the ones that come before. If you are willing to embrace the idea that you need to build a volume of work, the rewards will compound over time.

If you fall in love with the habits, the result will happen naturally. But if you only fall in love with the result, you’ll always be finding yourself trying to get motivated or failing to stick with it.

Find a process you love, even if that means adapting your goals. It will be extremely difficult to achieve your goals if you don't love the process along the way.

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