Book: Atomic Habits, 2. How your Habits Shape Your Identity

The Goal of This Post

This post is a synthesis from the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear.

The author packs a playbook on how to build systems and habits for life-long transformation. This post focuses on the role your values, beliefs and identity play in effective habit building. I hope you enjoy it!

If You Only Takeway One Thing

“The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.” – James Clear

Outline

Some of the key ideas we’ll explore in this post:

  1. The Three Layers of Behavior Change
  2. The Relationships between Habits and Identity
  3. The Two-Step Process to Changing Your Identity
  4. The Feedback Loop

Three Layers of Behavior Change

The first layer is changing your outcomes.

  • This level is concerned with changing your results.
  • Example: Losing weight, publishing a book, winning a match
  • Most of the goals you set are associated with this level

The second layer is changing your process.

  • This level is concerned with changing your habits and systems.
  • Example: A morning routine, a meditation practice
  • Most of the habits you build are associated with this level.

The third layer is changing your identity.

  • This level is concerned with changing your beliefs.
  • Example: Your worldview, your self-image, your judgements about yourself and others
  • Most of the assumptions and biases you hold are associated with this level
Three Layers of Behavior Change, by Atomic Habits

The key differences:

  • Outcomes are about what you get.
  • Processes are about what you do.
  • Identity is about what you believe.

What’s the main idea here?

  • With outcome based-habits, the focus is on what you want to achieve.
  • With identity-based habits, the focus is on who you wish to become.

The Relationships between Habits and Identity

Behind every system of actions is a system of beliefs. (Habits ← Identity)

  • There are a set of beliefs and assumptions that shape the system, an identity behind the habits.
  • Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last.

Your identity emerges out of your habits. (Habits → Identity)

  • Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
  • The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity.

The Two-Step Process to Changing Your Identity

It is a simple two-step process:

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

(1) Decide the type of person you want to be.

  • What do you want to stand for?
  • What are your principles and values?
  • Who do you wish to become?
  • Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?

(2) Prove it to yourself with small wins.

  • What would that type of person do?
  • What small steps can I take to embody (and reinforce) this identity?

The Feedback Loop

Your habits shape your identity, and your identity shapes your habits. It’s a two-way street.

  • It’s important to let your values, principles, and identity drive the loop rather than your results.
  • The focus should always be on becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome.

Assessment & Reflection

Key questions to reflect and assess on:

  • Where am I driving change from today? (Outcomes, Process, Identity)
  • Who or what type of person do I wish to become?
  • What small steps can I take to become that person?

The book chapter does a great job at getting at the core of effective habit building; starting with who – your values, beliefs, assumptions; and letting those shape your habits.

All content credit goes to the author. I’ve shared the bits I’ve enjoyed the most and found most useful.

Cheers ’till next time! Saludos!
Alberto

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