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The Power of Assuming a New Identity: A Reliable Path to Changing Habits

Have you ever wondered why some people effortlessly adopt new habits while others struggle to make lasting changes? I’ve discovered the answer lies in the mindset we adopt during the process of habit formation.

I have grappled with changing habits throughout my life. I’ve tried countless methods and approaches to hack my habits, from extreme discipline to reward-based models. Once, I even attempted blackmailing myself into changing a habit. Most of these efforts only yielded short-lived results, and before I knew it, I was back to my old ways.

Through reflection and plenty of trial and error, I’ve found two powerful keys:

1) Make change alongside others instead of in isolation.

2) Focus on the identity of the person I am trying to become.

Seeking to help others recognize and disrupt this cycle, my business partner (aka my wife) and I hosted a group of my clients and loved ones throughout the month of June to embark on a journey of habit change together. Using the wisdom of James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” as the foundation, we explored how his approach can lead to lasting habit change.

One of the most impactful gems I gathered from Clear's work is the magic of assuming the identity of the person you want to become. In this article, I share key takeaways from this identity-based approach that you can put into action right away in your life.

First things first, let's talk about the power of identity. When it comes to habits, many people focus solely on the desired outcome or the specific actions they need to take. However, Clear argues the real game-changer is embracing the belief that you are already the person you aspire to become.

It all starts with a change in perspective. Instead of telling yourself, "I want to lose weight," you start seeing yourself as someone who is already healthy and fit. Can you feel that shift in perspective? It’s like a metamorphosis has begun with only a simple change in behavior.

When you root your habits in your identity, they become a reflection of who you are. For instance, if you identify as a writer, writing consistently becomes second nature because, hey, that's just who you are! This alignment strengthens your commitment to and makes those habits an integral part of your being.

Embracing your desired identity reinforces the belief that change is possible. As you consistently embody the qualities and behaviors of the person you want to become, your self-image transforms, paving the way for lasting habit change. The more you reinforce this identity, the more those corresponding habits become like second nature.

Here are some practical steps to begin implementing an identity-based approach to habit change in your own life.

  1. Clarify Your Desired Identity: Define the characteristics and behaviors of the person you aspire to be. Imagine how they think, act, and interact with the world.

  2. Start Small: Begin with tiny, achievable habits that align with your desired identity. For example, if you want to be a more organized person, start by making your bed each morning.

  3. Consistency Is Key: Stay the course with your chosen habits to reinforce your identity and strengthen the neural pathways associated with those habits.

  4. Gradual Progression: As you gain momentum and confidence, level up habits gradually. Incremental steps will help solidify your progress.

Now, let me share a personal victory with you. During our group session in June, I embraced the identity of a devoted dog dad. We have two sweet pups, Kiko and Shanti, that love my care and attention. My morning is always packed full of preparing for the day before my first meetings at 7am, so walking them is often put off each day. Walking the dogs seemed like a habit I struggled to make time for, so, following Clears’ advice I took the identity of ‘becoming a devoted dog dad’. At first, it was all about small steps, like hanging the dog leash by the door and leaving my tennis shoes there too. These simple actions left me no excuse to deprive them of an early morning jaunt.

I tracked my progress and committed to these daily morning walks - no matter how short or long - for the full 30 days. At first, it was hard to get up and get moving, but after a couple weeks, I noticed my perception started to change. I started to look forward to the walks and my mornings became a joyous adventure with my furry friends.

As James Clear puts it, true transformation happens when you see yourself as the person you want to become, reinforcing the belief that change is possible. So, go ahead, embrace the power of your desired identity, and watch as your habits start to align with the extraordinary person you aspire to be...and already are.

(Note: This article is a creative interpretation and summary of James Clear's concepts from "Atomic Habits." Please refer to the book for a more comprehensive understanding of his ideas.)

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