Identity & Habit Alignment

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become.” This quote is from James Clear, one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation. With the current COVID-19 environment and working around an injury that has temporarily shut down my running and cycling I’ve found it challenging to hold on to my identity as he frames it.

James wrote the book, Atomic Habits, and as the description reads – he reveals practical strategies that teach you how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results. I have anchored to his work around personal identity as soon as I read his book late in 2018 along with habit formation and deconstruction.

Here I will share some things to consider when looking to change or reset something in your life. It’s an interesting dynamic as our habits shape our identity and visa versa. The puzzle to solve here is to know what you want your identity to be and develop habits that reinforce it and deconstruct the bad ones. A series of bad habits can erode at the identity you desire. Conversely the smallest of good habits can support who you want to be promoting alignment in your life.

To set further context, James shares the following about identity and its relation with habits.

  • Habits are a method to embody a particular identity and reinforce it
  • True behavior change is identity change
  • Focus on the process, not the result
  • Examples:
    • The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner
    • The goal is not to write a book, the goal is to become a writer
  • Once you identify as – the type of person, you are not pursuing behavior change anymore, you are acting in alignment with the type of person you already believe you are
  • How do I become the type of person that embodies this each day? He shares the following simple example:
    • Identity – I want to be a person that doesn’t miss workouts
    • Some days I don’t have time to workout
    • Some days it’s simply about reinforcing the small habits that reinforce the desired identity
    • Being able to only do five pushups for an entire workout supports the identity desired
    • It’s easy if fixated on an outcome/result to think – doing only five pushups won’t have any impact on my future desired result and to dismiss it entirely
    • Even if I can’t do the full workout and only have enough time for five pushups, it supports the muscle of supporting the desired identity

I will add my personal experience here supporting this thinking with two references I go to often. The first is from Boston Marathon winner, Des Linden, who shares the concept of, Keep Showing Up, as a mindset that even on what seems to be really hard days, to keep showing up and perform the task at hand. She goes on to note that she never regrets it after and it helps with so many mindset muscles going forward.

The second is from Jessie Itzler who when contemplating a tough decision asks himself the question, “what will I think tomorrow?” Based on the decision he needs to make in the moment, he asks himself the question and based on that he acts accordingly.

Both of these examples support the importance of focusing on the process that supports the identity I want to embody. One of my identities is an athlete wanting to perform at a very high level. When I compete in races, although I want to win or place well, I am not fixated on it. I am focused on ensuring I have the best process of training to enable me to compete at the highest level on race day. On race day I focus on executing the process and plan I put in place, not focusing on the result. The result is an outcome and many variables come in to play. I control the process.

Over the last four weeks I’ve really struggled with this identity and it put me in a bit of a funk. Since not being able to bike for over four weeks and running for two it’s changed my entire daily routine impacting my sleep, stress management, eating habits, motivation and other exercise habits. Once I realized I was struggling I referenced some tools to help me out.

Some Headspace meditations, close friends Elia Luti, Dan Radde, and Celia Dubey offering up useful tips and resources, some 1:1 time with my daughter Morgan, and finally the work of James Clear as I knew I could review some of the things I learned when I read his book and listened to interviews. I needed to cast some votes with intentional actions to be the person I wanted to be as I referenced in the opening line of the blog.

I created new a new training plan that would engage me while not being able to run or bike but keep me connected to the sport as close as I can. In addition I placed my exercise mat in the middle of the living room to encourage me to get on the floor with the bag of therapy tools next to it. I then added core exercises to that routine while I’m already down on the mat…another useful tip for habit formation from James – stack habits. My daily run has been replaced with a daily walk to the Safety Harbor Pier. Not running or biking but adding a few of these habits to support my identity has helped me feel closer to that identity I desire…and it helped me crawl out of the funk. I try to ask myself every day, “is what I’m doing supporting me to be a better athlete?” – Identity

Periodically I reassess my identities & habits and make adjustments. I say identities in plural form as I have a few as I strive to be a(n):

  • Loving dad
  • Supportive sibling & uncle
  • Thoughtful friend
  • Intentional coach
  • High performing athlete
  • Valuable colleague

I may be missing one or two but that is enough identities I think…

I hope you can pull something out of this to help you align your habits with the identity you desire. I will share more on habit formation and deconstruction from what I have learned from James in a future blog. You can take a deeper dive on habits and identity through the following James Clear resources:

– Add Health to Your Life

*Blog Photo – my identities:

  • Top left – thoughtful friend running with Elia as we share our live experiences
  • Top middle – intentional coach sharing about wellness with friends and family
  • Top right – loving dad hanging with his girl
  • Middle left – athlete and coach in our environment doing our thing
  • Middle – athlete living my dream
  • Middle right – valuable colleague
  • Bottom left – intentional coach pre-race with Dan and Dylan Nolan
  • Bottom middle – supportive sibling and uncle (and dad) enjoying a paint class
  • Bottom right – thoughtful friend and coach as Celia and I cheer on our team at Gasparilla 2020

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