Lesson 1: How to Choose a Habit that Sticks

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The most important decision you will make is what habit to build.

Pick the right habit and progress is easy. Pick the wrong habit and life is a struggle. It is much more important to work on the right habit than it is to work really hard. (Working hard is still important, of course.)

In this lesson, we’re going to discuss how to choose the right habit for you.

When most people think about the habits they want to build, they naturally start by considering the outcomes they want to achieve. “I want to lose weight.” Or, “I want to stop smoking.”

The alternative is to build what I call “identity-based habits” and start by focusing on who we wish to become, not what we want to achieve.

Here’s the short version:

Anyone can convince themselves to practice yoga or meditation once or twice, but if you don’t shift the belief behind the behaviour, then it becomes hard to stick with long-term changes. Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are.

  • The goal is not to get straight A’s, the goal is to become a person who studies every day.
  • The goal is not to finish a painting, the goal is to become an artist.
  • The goal is not to win the game or competition, the goal is to become a person who practices every day.

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity.

It’s one thing to say “I’m the type of person who wants this.”

It’s something very different to say “I’m the type of person who is this.”

This brings us to an important question: if your identity plays such an important role in your behaviour, where does it come from in the first place?

To a large degree, your identity emerges out of your habits. It’s like a self-improvement feedback loop. The more you repeat a behaviour, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behaviour. And the more you reinforce the identity, the more natural it will feel to repeat the behaviour.

If you volunteer at your local homeless shelter, you start to believe you are the type of person who cares about your community. The more weekends you show up at the shelter, the more you reinforce that identity, and the easier it becomes to see community service as part of who you are.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.

Each habit is like a suggestion: “Hey, maybe this is who I am.” No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. And when your behaviour and your identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behaviour change. You are simply acting like the type of person you already believe yourself to be. As Benjamin Franklin quipped, “The things you do often create the things you believe.”

So, this is the first lesson: think about your desired identity and ask, “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?”

What would a healthy person do? What would a productive person do? What would X do? These questions help reveal the desired identity you should be working toward and the habits that support that identity. This is the way to determine which habit you should focus on.

Once you have a handle on the type of person you want to be, you can begin taking small steps to reinforce your desired identity.

Here are some more examples of linking your habits to your desired identity:

  • If you want to write a book, you should focus on becoming the type of person who writes every day.
  • If you want to learn a new language, you should focus on becoming the type of person who studies every day.
  • If you want to retire early, you should focus on becoming the type of person who saves money every month.

The focus should always be on becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome. In the beginning, it is far more important to cast small votes for your desired identity than to worry about a particular result.

Your habits reshape your identity in a gradual way. It’s slow and nearly impossible to see. You can rarely tell a difference between who you were yesterday and who you are today. But with each rep, with each vote cast, your internal story begins to shift.

Start by focusing on who you want to become, not what you want to achieve.

That’s all for Lesson 1. See you in the next lesson.

 

 

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Helpful bonuses and downloads

  •  30 days to better habits workbook – This 20-page PDF includes an action checklist (including templates for key strategies) for each lesson of the course, plus lesson summaries and a key terms dictionary.
  • 30 days to better habits examples – The examples database is a Excel Sheet of 100+ examples of how to implement each strategy covered in this bootcamp for dozens of different habits.