By Ted Miller
Do you ever think about all your goals and wonder how you can achieve them all? Or do you ever think about the person you want to become and believe that it feels so out of reach? One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to enact major changes in who we are and what we can achieve is the creation and implementation of effective habits. Small but consistent steps over long periods of time are what ultimately allow us to move mountains.
The power of habit in self-actualization
A powerful idea from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits that illustrates the concept of how small habits can lead to big personal change is that of shifting the direction of an airplane by just a few degrees. If a plane is flying from Los Angeles to New York City, and the pilot adjusts the plane by just 3.5 degrees during takeoff, the plane would end up in Washington DC instead of New York. This adjustment would not be noticeable when the aircraft was taking off; it would feel like you were heading in the same direction. But with that small adjustment and given enough flight time, you would end up hundreds of miles away from your intended destination. (Clear, 2018)
Think about your life in the same way, and how if you consistently hold a small shift in direction over enough time, your final destination can be remarkably different.
But how do we maintain that shift when we change our path by just a few degrees? We have all experienced trying a new diet or a specific exercise regime, only to give up after a short period of time.
Sticking with it – seeing behavior change as identity change
According to James Clear, true behavior change is identity change. We often start a habit because we feel motivated, but motivation doesn’t always last for long periods. People who stick with habits tend to do so because it becomes part of their identity. Research shows that when people believe in an aspect of their identity, they are more likely to act in alignment with that belief. (Clear, 2018)
So how do we change our identity? Well, the quickest way to do so is to change what you do. If your goal is to lose weight and increase your health, you should consistently ask yourself, “what would a healthy person do?”. Every time you take an action that lines up with how a healthy person would live, you align more and more with this identity. You begin to believe it to be true on a deeper level and are thus more likely to act in alignment with it in the future. But the opposite is also true; every time you take an unhealthy action, you reinforce that part of your identity. So the goal here is to ensure that more of our actions fall in the “healthy” category vs. “unhealthy.” We will begin to believe more deeply in whichever identity we feed more often.
Reverse engineering to become the person you want to be
Once we know what we want to achieve, we can work backward to the type of person who can get these results. What type of person is confident in social situations? What type of person regularly takes care of their mental health? Every time you take a small action that aligns with that person’s identity, you reinforce and strengthen that aspect of who you are.
Every small action adds up. Another powerful example that illustrates this idea is the 1% principle. If you improve 1% every day for a year, you will end up being 37 times better than you were at the beginning of the year. A 1% change is almost unnoticeable, but this powerful idea of leveraging small steps over long periods of time still applies.
Becoming your best self the slow and steady way
So next time you find yourself working towards a specific goal, remember to focus on becoming the type of person instead of getting a particular outcome. As you are able to make small changes in your identity, you will be more likely to stick with the habit. And next time you find yourself ready to give up on making significant changes in your life, remember that just a few degree shifts in direction over time can be the difference between radically different results!
If you or someone you care about is struggling with mental health concerns, behavioral health issues, or needs professional guidance toward a more fulfilling life while living with a learning disability or high-profile career challenges, we’re here to help. Contact us today to find out how our compassionate team of care coordination experts can help you on the path to a happier and healthier life.
Clear, J. (2021). Atomic habits: Tiny changes, remarkable results: An easy & proven way to build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. CELA.