I bet you have tried to change your habits before, only to go right back to doing the very thing that you wanted to get away from. Maybe you were able to get away from your actions for the time being, but over time, you snapped back to your old ways like a stretched-out latex glove. The reason this happens is because of your true identity.

I would do this very thing with sugar. I would eat and then swear off it. Each time I was so sure that I was done with those ways. I had all the tricks in the book. I would not walk down candy aisles in the grocery store. I would keep that stuff out of my house. But it never worked because I never changed the most important thing, my true identity.

The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously). - James Clear

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Where People Go Wrong When Trying to Change 

The mistake most people make when trying to change is in the story that they tell themselves about themselves. Your true identity is attached to the story you believe about who you are.

People don't talk about this nearly enough because it dictates everything you do, and your brain hates when you act in a way that is not consistent with this story; it becomes confusing.

When people try to change, the thing that is often focused on is income. The process and identity are afterthoughts, and this is a big mistake.

If you're the type of person who loves to weight, and you have been proud of your whole life. People have come to know you for it; after some time, it becomes locked into your identity. The story you keep telling yourself when you're confronted with food is that you eat a lot.

Then all a sudden one day, you decide that it would be in the best interest of your health if you stop eating a lot. Your brain gets confused by your new actions. As a matter of fact, it hates them because it goes against the story you have been repeating for years.

What do you do about this? 

True Identity Before Outcomes

The way you have been trained to make changes is like this. 

  1. Focus on an outcome
  2. Decide what behaviors will help you to move towards that outcome
  3. Make those changes on a daily basis

All of these points listed above are a part of the process, but they miss some key ingredients. It's like trying to bake but forgetting the baking soda. Its a key ingredient in the process, so the results will not be favorable. 

Here is how things should actually look.

  1. Change identity 
  2. Decide what behaviors will help you to move towards the desired outcome
  3. Make those changes on a daily basis 
  4. Enjoy the desired outcome after sometime

The identity work must be done first. You have to change that story about yourself. When you look in the mirror, you need to see yourself as the person you want to be. Your old way of seeing yourself has to be thrown out. 

Only after you do this will your brain finally release your actions. You will finally make a change, but you need to understand more about how this will happen. 

What Happens When You Change Your True Identity? 

When you change your true identity, you begin to think like the person who you want to be. Take my example with sugar. I could not get away from it because I still saw myself as a person that LOVED gummies bears.

As a matter of fact, my whole family did. Anytime I would see anyone on my wife's side of the family, they would bring me a fresh gummies bag. One, they brought me the huge five-pound bag of Albanese gummies. It was insane, but it had everything to do with my identity, and they saw me that way, which kept confirming my identity. 

When I started to see myself as a person who dislikes candy and added sugar, my life started to change. The story that I told myself was different, even though at first, it was a lie. I could not just tell myself that I hated sugar once, and in one day, it becomes a new identity. It takes time for it to work. 

Each day you confirm your new identity with words, feelings, and actions; your brain's more loosens on your old behaviors. It's easier for it to let go because it begins to believe the new behavior. It begins to search for a way to confirm this new identity. 

What would this person do?

Instead of sitting there all day and falling into old behavior, a search begins to figure out what the new identity needs. 

When I would be making shopping decisions, I would ask myself what a person who hates candy would do? Everything I did began to feel more authentic. Over time, my old habits became a contradiction. I would want to smack a bag of gummy bears down, and it just felt wrong. My brain knew that it was not consistent with my identity. 

The Blueprint for Long-Term Success

After you begin to do the needed identity work, the key is that you focus on the process moving forward. You have to become process-oriented and not outcome obsessed. 

Who would you believe in more, the coach seemed to win with any players, because he had a system for practicing, coaching, and a killer playbook. Or would you take the guy obsessed with the championship, and it was all he talked about? 

You would be smart to take the coach with the system that worked well. Long-term success is about following a process that works well. When you focus on the process, you don't let any day escape you because there is always an opportunity to improve. 

When you focus on the process, you wake up each day focused on the habits. The daily habits get you closer to what you want. Knowing the result you want is good because it provides direction and a larger purpose, but focusing on it all day will get you nowhere in a hurry. 


Ian Warner

About the author

I went from a broken leg to a 2012 Olympian. I have spent the last 15 years building positive habits as a track athlete and entrepreneur. I founded Habit Stacker and dedicated my life to helping people to develop winning habits. I have helped over 5,000 people...

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