Use identity-based habits.
Most people don’t know who they want to be. One week you’re a vegan, the next you are a fully-fledged carnivore once again (yeah, that happened to me).
The problem you have is you’re outcome-based. Now, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having a goal to work toward can be a driving factor in your journey to self-discovery or whatever it is you want. However, it isn’t a long term solution.
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research has shown that you are more likely to put yourself down because of unattainable goals. She says that the average person will find more success and happiness if they shoot for just down the block instead of the moon. Long term thinking, short term planning.
Sure, you can have lofty targets, but implementing a series of attainable habits will lead you in the right direction. In two-steps, you can unlock the ability to do just that, and become who you want to be.
Step 1: Decide the type of person you want to be
The problem you have is you want to be something, but you don’t want to be someone. Say you want to be in better shape. You tell yourself “I want to be fitter”, but you don’t believe it. That is because you feel it isn’t a part of your identity just yet. The more you exercise, however, the more evidence there is that you are an athletic person. It becomes a part of your identity. James Clear writes more about this in Atomic Habits:
“Each time you write a page, you are a writer.
Each time you practice the violin, you are a musician.
Each time you start a workout, you are an athlete.
Each time you encourage your employees, you are a leader.”
Pick a target and work backwards. For a while now, I have wanted to be a writer. So, as Clear suggests, I’ve been asking myself: “who is the type of person that could get the outcome that I want?” That person is reliable and consistent. So, those are the habits I need to employ in my everyday life. I need to show up every day and write. I need to publish often to get my work seen, and so on.
Step 2: Prove it to yourself with small wins
Once you have discovered who you want to be, you need to cement the new identity. You do this through incremental reinforcement. Say you want to become an author. It isn’t going to happen overnight.
So, in any relatable situation, you ask yourself: “what would an author do?” In this instance, you need to be reliable and consistent, as I mentioned earlier. When you wake up and want to stay in bed for longer, but know you have a book to write, ask yourself: “what would an author do?” Whenever you want to binge a TV series, ask yourself: “what would an author do?” You get the idea.
By asking yourself these sorts of questions, you can embody the identity of the person you want to be until you actually become that person.
It takes time
“Look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow, it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”
To merely look at the outcome is to glance over the situation. If you want to be something, you need to be the person that requires. You won’t suddenly realise you are an athlete, a writer, or a respected manager. Sure, you might receive indicators, but your new identity is a result of habits now embedded in your personality. Remember, it isn’t what you want to be, it’s who.