How many times have you decided to make a positive change in your life, given it your all for a month, and then given up? We've all been there. Maybe you decided to get into shape, or into writing or yoga or cooking. Why didn't you stick with it?

Forming new habits is one of the hardest things you can do, and there are many philosophies you'll find on the topic. There's unlikely to be a silver bullet here – but here's one by James Clear that I found very interesting, and that I think can be quite a powerful tool for helping you chart your life.

First: The "default" way

When I think about making a positive change in my routine, my default is to set an achievable target –

  • "In one month, I'll exercise 3 times a week"
  • "I'll read the Economist for 10 minutes every evening"

Sensible, right? It gives me something measurable, and makes it easy to track progress.

The problem is that it's just a target. There's not much at stake. So what if I fail? I can always set a new goal in a few months' time when the motivation stirs up.

Enter: Identity-based planning

The above is what we call "outcome-based habit forming". The outcome is your guiding light – it's your be-all and end-all.

Instead, potentially a better approach is to use "identity-based habit forming". To do so, you think about the person you want to become and then guide yourself with nudges in that direction.

For example:

  • I want to lose 10 kgs πŸ‘’ I will become the person who uses muscle over machine πŸ‘’ To prove this to myself, I will always take the stairs
  • I want to make YouTube videos πŸ‘’ I will become the person who posts on YouTube every week πŸ‘’ To prove this to myself, I will spend 15 minutes on my YouTube every day, whether it's scripting, recording, editing
  • I want to get a better job πŸ‘’ I will become the person who has a large, active professional network πŸ‘’ To prove this to myself, I will reach out to one person on LinkedIn everyday

Why is this a better approach?

James describes habit-forming with 3 levels.

  1. Changing Outcomes: This has to do with achieving specific targets, and is typically the default.
  2. Changing Processes: This has to do with changing your workflow, which will then lead to better outcomes.
  3. Changing Identity: This has to do with changing your world-view, which will lead to better processes, which will lead to better outcomes.

If you go with (3) instead of (1), you are making a deeper change within your self – and the theory goes that this change is more likely to take hold (and subsequently more difficult to erode).

How do you go about forming positive habits? Let me know by emailing me / replying to this email!