Identity is defined as a set of beliefs that you have about who you are as a person.
Aristotle famously said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.”
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, points out, “Your behaviors are a reflection of your identity. What you do is an indication of the person you believe you are.”
If we combine these two quotes, we get a picture of identity that looks something like the diagram below. This image describes the loop-like nature of behavior, habit, and identity.
If behaviors are repeated enough, they become habits. Our collection of habits make up our identity – our beliefs about who we are as a person.
Finally, to bring the loop full circle, our identity then helps us decide which behaviors to engage in. If the behavior is in line with our identity, we are more likely to do it. If the behavior is at odds with our identity, then we are less likely to do it.
Example: The Identity Loop In Action
A person who rides their bike frequently (behavior), might form a habit of going for a bike ride every day before work. After forming this habit, they may start to identify as a cyclist. Adopting this identity will help them make decisions about their future behaviors based on whether or not they align with their identity as a cyclist.
Behaviors that a cyclist might choose to engage in are eating healthier to support their performance, enrolling in a race, or joining a cycling group. Behaviors a cyclist may choose to avoid might be smoking or staying up too late which might cause them to miss their morning ride.
Why Do People Have A Hard Time Sticking To New Fitness Habits?
There are a lot of reasons why people fail to stick to fitness and health goals, but what many of these things amount to, is a mismatch between a new habit and the person’s current identity.
For example, let’s imagine that you have a goal of trying to lose weight. You’ve heard that running is a great way to burn calories, so you decide to go running every day. Despite not being a fan of running.
You know some people that are runners, and you really can’t relate to them. Losing weight is important to you, but you can’t really see yourself ever identifying as a “runner”.
Unfortunately, because you don’t identify as a runner, it will be very difficult (but not necessarily impossible) for you to stick to a running habit long-term. For this reason, it will be hard to lose weight and keep it off using running as a method.
The lesson here is that if you are trying to form a new exercise habit that you can stick to long-term, it is important that the habit becomes part of your identity."True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you'll stick with one is it becomes part of your identity". – James Clear #AtomicHabits Click To Tweet
How To Make A New Fitness Habit Part Of Your Identity
1 – Decide what kind of identity you want to adopt.
2 – Choose habits (that you can stick to) that support this identity.
Step 1 – Decide What Kind Of Identity You Want To Adopt
Your identity is who you are as a person. Like a fingerprint, your behaviors and habits are a unique part of who you are. So what habits would you like to make up your identity?
Below are just a few examples of how healthy habits can be part of a person’s identity:
- I am a healthy eater.
- I am an athlete.
- I am a runner/dancer/hiker/yogi/health nut.
- I am confident in my own skin.
- I am the kind of person who takes care of my body.
- I am the kind of person that never misses a workout.
Notice that these “I am” statements tell us a lot about identity.
Activity: Choose Your Health & Fitness Identity
Take some time to fill out the table below to decide what kind of identity you would like to adopt.
The activity you just completed is designed to help you to think of yourself in a different way, shifting your mindset.
Remember that identity is just a set of beliefs that you have about yourself. Beliefs can be changed. People can change their habits, and in doing so, can adopt a new identity.
Step 2: Choose Habits (That You Can Stick To) That Support Your Chosen Identity
Now that you’ve decided on an identity that you would like to adopt, it is time to build some habits that will support that identity.
The tricky part is choosing habits that are sustainable, meaning habits that you can actually stick to long-term.
Honestly, enjoying the type of exercise that you choose is a huge part of being able to stick to a fitness goal! If you enjoy an activity you will have high levels of motivation to do that activity.
If you don’t already have a type of exercise that you love, read 3 ways to stop hating (and start loving) your exercise.
Example: Choosing Habits That Support Your Identity
I identify as being an adventurer. I enjoy conquering mountains, getting up-close and personal with waterfalls, scaling rock walls, and paddling with whales.
My favorite types of exercise are backpacking, hiking, rappelling, rock climbing, and paddling. Stand up paddle boarding, canoe, or kayak – I love them all! Notice that all of these types of exercise align with my identity of being an adventurer.
Because I truly enjoy these types of exercise, I am highly motivated to do them. This makes it much easier for me to be consistent in my exercise habit.
Further, because I enjoy physically demanding adventures, I am more likely to choose behaviors that align with this identity.
For example, I choose to do additional resistance and cardiovascular training so I’m ready for a big adventure when the opportunity arises. I also choose to eat relatively healthy and get a good night’s sleep to help with my performance. Some of the behaviors I choose to avoid because they are mismatched with my identity are drinking all the time, staying up all night, and eating excessive junk food.
Now that you have a better idea about what identity you would like to adopt, keep it in mind when you are making a choice about what behaviors to perform.
Next time you are faced with a challenging situation where you might be tempted to stray from the goals you have set, ask yourself, “Is this behavior consistent with the identity I want to adopt?” If not, pass on it.
[Check out these additional tips to achieve your fitness goals!]
Have you ever tried to form a habit that didn’t align with your identity? If so, were you able to stick with it?
Do you think that your beliefs about who you are as a person (identity) can be shifted over time?
What type of identity do you currently have and which type would you like to adopt?
Let’s discuss in the comments. I can’t wait to hear from you!