James Clear is an entrepreneur whose expertise is to write about habits, continuous improvement, and decision-making. He offers a fantastic suggestion on how to form better habits.
I. Good Habits or Good Outcomes?
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear states:
“Habits can help you achieve all the things, but fundamentally they are not about having something.
Habits are about becoming someone. The focus should always be on becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome.”
Hmmm. Habits are not about achieving a particular outcome… such as that bonus or promotion at work. See related Post #77, How to be Free From Attachment. Personal examples of desired outcomes include the urge to get married or have children by a certain age.
Outcomes show up in many shapes and sizes. Without realizing, we tend to go about our lives expecting certain outcomes. We tell ourselves stories of how life should be, and that if we only follow the plan, our story will play out true to form, etc.
My challenge to you for a few moments is to forget about the specific outcomes you dream of. Let’s instead try James Clear’s suggestion on how to form better habits: think about focusing on becoming someone different.
II. Shift Your Perspective on Outcomes
Essentially, his suggestion is to focus on changing your identity instead of focusing on an outcome.
Because generally, and contrary to what society has taught us, it is not the specific outcome or result that makes you happy. I know, this may not sound intuitive. Because some of you are thinking,
A) “But I was so happy when I got my degree.”
B) “But I was so happy when I got my first job.”
C) “But I was so happy when I got my first promotion.”
D) “But I was so happy when I bought my first house.”
Of course, you were happy in the moment. And for a few moments thereafter. But that happiness was probably short-lived and unsustainable. Which leaves you chasing the next big thing – this way of life can be exhausting!
Allow me to offer alternative statements of the accomplishments listed above, A-D:
AA) “I am so happy because I know what it takes to earn a degree. And I can do it again if I had to.”
BB) “I am so happy because I know what it takes to prepare for interviews and receive job offers.”
CC) “I am thrilled that I understand the process and what it looks like to receive a promotion at Employer X.”
DD) “I am confident in my financial ability to buy a home.”
Can you feel a shift in the framing of these comparisons? This is how to form better habits.
III. Becoming Someone
Time to try your own real examples.
Instead of aiming for specific goals, outcomes, or results, what if instead you asked yourself:
- “What does it take for a person to achieve ______?”
- “What might I need to do differently if I want _______?”
- “Who do I have to become in order to accomplish ______?”
James Clear states that habits are about becoming someone. Think about it… who is it you want to become… what kinds of daily activities does that person do? How can you slowly work on becoming that person?
The implication is that as you work on becoming the person who deliberately engages in an identity shift, the accomplishment will take care of itself.
Habits matter because of who you become along the way. If you want to learn how to form better habits, redirect your focus to identity, not results. And you can start by answering the questions in this section.
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