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Mindful Bytes: James Clear - Identity

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

Well that was quite the break!!!. Hedy and I have been doing well. The family got and recovered from Covid. To be honest I’ve been less motivated to write lately. I’m still very engaged in my journey but jeez sometimes there just isn’t a new twist or discovery to share. I’ve been playing with videos and thinking about making a podcast. Some mindsets are just easier to communicate with the spoken word.

One change I can write about, thanks to encouragement from Coach Jana, I started reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits. And as I suspected, there’s so little incentive to write when you read that masterpiece. Seriously. If you want to really grasp what our goals and mindsets should be, you can start and stop with that book. It’s brilliant. I feel validated that there’s so much of his approach that fits perfectly with what I work on. The book is amazing in its balance between approachability and evidenced theory.

Something that really caught my attention was his concept of identity.

Essentially Clear explains that there’s three layers to behaviour change: Layer 1 is Outcomes, Layer 2 is Process, and Layer 3 is Identity. I have almost always approached behavioural change from Layer 1 - Layer 3 (just like everyone else).

I wanted to be a healthy weight (outcome) so I need healthy sustainable habits (process), and that will make me a healthy person (identify). Sounds totally reasonable right? And it can work like that, but if there’s a conflict between your existing identity and your desired outcome/identity, your existing identity will typically win over your desired outcome/identity because of the powerful influence your identity has over your process.

Thank you James Clear!!. Thanks for explaining two decades of my life in a paragraph!!!.

I have always been someone who loves food. I think I love food more than other people that think they love food. I’ve clearly considered myself a foodie for a long time. So no matter how much I’ve wanted to lose weight, when it came to that decision point (will I make a choice I planned or the choice I want?), I told myself it’s ok to choose the lasagna, or the speciality fish and chips, or the crème brûlée. Or even that new flavour of Doritos. It’s who I was and what I thought I needed to be happy. My identity was overriding my desired outcome because it has immense influence over my process. Consciously (I need to eat indulgent food to have a moderate lifestyle) or unconsciously ( I only indulge on special occasions).

Mr Clear shows that behavioural change is much more likely when the change is Layer 3 to Layer 1. If you think of yourself as an athlete(identity), you’re much more likely to plan and create an environment where you exercise and eat like an athlete (process), which creates a body that looks and feels athletic (outcome).

Now I can’t just decide I’m an athlete and believe it. That kind of leap is where the motivational self help world loses credibility with me. But Atomic Habits helps bridge that gap, because it explains that process can influence identity. In my case, I did actually choose a new identity first.

This journey changed for me when I accepted that my problem with food wasn’t normal. That my solutions up until that point weren’t effective. That I needed to approach this like recovery more than weightloss.

It’s doesn’t take much effort to understand that recovery is actually an identity, not an outcome or process. Someone in recovery has specific habits. They avoid at risk situations, participates in group therapy, don’t keep alcohol/triggers in the house. They flat out announce to people that “I’m in recovery” Literally a declaration of identity.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a food addict, you can still create a similar identity by passing your decisions through an identity filter: “what decision would a healthy person make?”

Atomic Habits proposes that every decision is a vote for who your future self will be. So, once you start accumulating decision after decision that’s consistent with a healthy person, you start to think of yourself as a healthy person. Little moments (choosing an apple instead of a cupcake), build into big changes (“holy cow, I’m a healthy person”). Again, it’s not perfection, but the “votes for your future” mindset is a numerical reality that makes this concept easy for me to understand.

There’s obviously a lot of heavy lifting to go from what identity I am to the one I want to be, but this concept of the three layers really lays bare how inconsequential using weight is to drive process.

So thank you Coach Jana and thank you James Clear. I’m loving this. I hope I can continue to find ways of interpreting this amazing book that isn’t just regurgitating what I read.

And obviously, if you’re wondering if this book is worth the effort? It absolutely is.

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