How many of you remember the movie Cool Hand Luke?
The famous line that Captain (Strother Martin) says to Cool Hand Luke (Paul Newman) –
“You Gotta git yer mind right!”
One of those great movie quotes that, when you hear it, you know exactly where it came from.
When we start thinking about fitness (or really taking on any task) we often start with a goal:
“I want to lose 30 lbs.”
Now this isn’t an indictment on goal setting. Goal setting has it’s time and place and can serve as an effective roadmap to accomplishing something.
But true success and accomplishment aren’t determined by the strength of your goals or your commitment to keep them.
Most of us have a hard time keeping our goals over time. James Clear in his book “Atomic Habits” suggests that a lot of our goal setting fails because we fail to “get our mind right.”
In his writing, Clear states that 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).
To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself.
A good example of this are two friends of mine. Both are quitting smoking.
When offered a cigarette, friend number 1 says:
“No thanks, I’m trying to quit.”
Friend number 2 replies:
“No thanks, I’m a non-smoker.”
See the subtle difference?
Friend 2 has changed their belief about themselves. They have identified themselves in a new way. This change in identity begins defining who they are and what small choices they make in their behavior (Clear calls these “habits).
Their identity determines their habits and the sum of their habits creates their outcome.
So how does this apply to fitness?
Many people fail a fitness routine because they are focused on an outcome … a goal. Unfortunately, those goals are a lagging indicator of our effort. In other words, the results don’t happen very quickly. It’s easy to get discouraged if we are looking at a goal that seems to be a long way away.
Instead of setting a goal to be fit, try changing your identity.
One of the best ways to do that is to define yourself as the outcome you are looking for.
- Why are you going to the gym?”
- “Because I’m and Athlete”
- Why do you workout?
- “Because I am a fitness enthusiast.”
According to Clear:
“To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. You need to build identity-based habits.
Imagine how we typically set goals. We might start by saying “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get stronger.” If you’re lucky, someone might say, “That’s great, but you should be more specific.”
So then you say, “I want to lose 20 pounds” or “I want to squat 300 pounds.”
These goals are centered around outcomes, not identity.
To understand what I mean, consider that there are three levels at which change can occur. You can imagine them like the layers of an onion.
The first layer is changing your outcomes. This level is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book, winning a championship. Most of the goals you set are associated with this level of change.
The second layer is changing your process. This level is concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow, developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits you build are associated with this level.
The third and deepest layer is changing your identity. This level is concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, your self-image, your judgments about yourself and others. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases you hold are associated with this level.
Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe. When it comes to building habits that last—when it comes to building a system of 1% (one percent) improvements—the problem is not that one level is “better” or “worse” than another. All levels of change are useful in their own way. The problem is the direction of change.
Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.”
Here’s a little exercise for you:
Think about a goal you have, or a new outcome you want to achieve and work backwards. Instead of focusing on your goal, focus on who YOU are that is going to accomplish it.
You don’t work out to get fit, you are fit so you work out.
You don’t go on a diet to lose weight, you eat well because you are feeding your healthy body.
Subtle, I know, but I think you will find it a powerful tool toward your health and fitness success.