“Every behavior has a surface level craving and a deeper underlying motive.” James Clear
In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear explains why bad habits are so difficult to break. It’s because we tend to focus on surface-level actions rather than what drive them.
Consider the common approach to goal setting and resolutions. Most people aim to start a “new chapter” by focusing on outcome-based goals like:
- “I want to lose 20 pounds.”
- “I want to write a best-selling book.”
- “I want to make one million dollars.”
And they think that their newfound self-vision will motivate them to produce the desired results.
Two obstacles to change
There are two problems with this. One is technical. The other is foundational.
On the technical side, goals should always be written as behaviors to do, not outcomes to achieve. They should focus on the things you can control, not on an outcome that’s beyond your control. For example, you can’t necessarily lose twenty pounds. What you can do is to take the actions that predictably will help you take off the undesired weight, such as exercise and diet.
On a more foundational level, stating goals as outcomes can be sabotaged by something sinister: our self-identity. Self-identity is how we view ourselves. There’s a good chance that a person who is overweight has been overweight for some time. This is not their first attempt to combat their weight issue. And while there are certainly physiological factors at play for many people, deep down they’ve come to identify as someone who doesn’t make good dietary and lifestyle decisions.
Belief must lead behavior
We can say whatever we want. We can even set goals to change. But as they say, the proof is in the pudding (pardon the pun). Our behavior reflects who we believe we are.
If we identify as someone who is fit and healthy (or at least aspires to be) then we’ll do the things that fit and healthy people do. We’ll steer clear of the wrong food choices and put in extra time in the gym. If we identify as an author, then we won’t let a day pass by without writing 500-1000 words minimum. When we identify as a wealthy person (or a person with a wealthy mindset) then we’ll act with an abundant mindset, not scarcity.
If you want to create sustainable change in behavior, you must start by shifting how you see yourself. Once you’ve embraced a new identity, each action you perform will be driven by a fundamental belief that your goal is possible, and your results will improve dramatically.
Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach who helps busy leaders be more productive so that they can scale profits with less stress and get home at a decent hour.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.