Developing Good Habits

I just had an interesting reframe around goal achievement.  Although, I pride myself in being a great goal setter and a really good goal getter too, there is more to goal achievement than the “outcome-based” approach most of us are accustomed to.

Let me explain. I just read an interesting book called Atomic Habits by James Clear. In his book, he makes a strong case for developing good habits – especially tiny ones. He says “if you want better results, then forget about setting goals – focus on your system instead.”  The system he refers to are the series of good habits you put in place and consistently execute. According to Clear, “goals are about the results you wish to achieve” and good for “setting a direction”, “systems are about the processes to get you to your goals/results” and systems are “best for making progress”.

According to Clear, there are 3 layers of behavioral change needed to get results:

  1. Outcomes.  Outcomes are what you get and the focus is on changing results.
  2. Process. Process is what you do and the focus is on changing habits and systems.
  3. Identity. Identity is what you believe and who you wish to become and the focus is on changing beliefs, worldview, self-image.

The way many people typically practice goal setting is to focus on the outcome first, then figure out the process, steps and action needed to be taken. The identity then follows process.  I.e. You desire to lose 20 lbs, so you eat 500 fewer calories each day becoming a thinner person. Or you wish to quit smoking so you wear a patch every day and become a non-smoker. Or your goal is to get promoted, so you meet with a coach twice a month and become a better leader. This is considered an “outcome-based” approach.

In his Atomic Habits book, Clear makes the case for flipping the order and taking an “identity-based” focus first. He argues that an “identity-based” approach is more likely to make your habits stick. And much more sustainable for long-term behavioral change. “True behavior change is identity change.” Following an “identity-based” approach starts with identifying who you wish to become. Clear states you have to change who you are first. Here are some examples he uses: “Goal is not to read a book, but to become a reader”, “Goal is not to run a marathon but to become a runner.”

I have a great personal example of taking an “identity-based” approach. A few years ago, I decided I was going to stop focusing on my weight. I was a serial yo-yo dieter for many years. Gaining weight, then losing the weight and then repeating the pattern over and over again. Finally, I told myself that the goal was not about the number on the scale but rather the desire to become a healthy and fit person.  Similar to what Clear describes in his book, I started to ask myself, what would a healthy and fit person do? How would they act? I signed up with a personal trainer and committed to 3 workouts per week. Regular workouts are now a habit for me. I increased my vegetable intake and eliminated meat from my diet. Eating healthy is a habit. Fast forward, almost 4 years later, during my annual physical, my physician praised me for my fitness level. “Whatever you are doing, keep doing it” she said.

In his book, Clear states: “Habits matter because they help you become the person you wish to be – you become your habits.”  “Habits matter not because you get better results (although they can do that), but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.” “The real reason habits matter is that they are not about having something, they are about becoming someone.”

For more information regarding Atomic Habits by James Clear, check out the book:

Note: all quotes, and general information above are from the book: Atomic Habits, An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, Copyright © James Clear 2018, Penguin Random House, UK

Interested in ways you can become a better version of yourself, and how to set up your habits and systems to support your desired identity, I’m here to help.  Contact me at or call me at 416-617-0734.

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