#0005 — Identity Based Habits

A smarter way to make lifestyle changes.


What was the last habit or skill you tried to pick up?


🛑 Problem:

Forming new habits is hard. 80% of the people who set a New Year’s resolution will fail to keep those resolutions in the longterm.


✅ Solution:

Practice creating identity based habits. These are habits that are attached to our personal identity.

We are more likely to build a habit if it’s part of our identity.


🔎 How to create an identity based habit:

There’s 2 steps:

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.

  2. Prove this new identity to yourself with small wins.

Why should I attach the habit to my identity?

Humans are always managing what they think of themselves. We’re always trying to affirm the personal traits that are important to us. Research indicates this is more effective for creating longterm habits.

Why do I have to prove it to myself?

You have to genuinely believe that your desired habit is part of your identity. The alternative is to lie to yourself and that will hurt you in the longterm.

Why do I need to use small wins?

You need to quickly build evidence and momentum that proves your desired identity to yourself. Small wins are:

  1. Easier to start.

  2. Impose less mental burden or fear.

  3. Better for momentum building.


🧐 Examples of identity based habits:

Example One:

Identity: I want to be a healthy person.

Small wins: On day one of my habit I will go for a 5 minute walk. Then I will add one minute to my walk every day after that.

Example Two:

Identity: I want to be a romantic person.

Small wins: I will text my partner a cute message once per day. After a week of cute messages, I will kiss my partner everyday in the morning and the evening. After a week of kisses, I will handwrite a cute note for my partner each day.


✍️ Try now:

Consider a habit that you would like to form.

  1. Write down the type of person you want to be.

  2. Write down a small win that you can achieve in order to reinforce your new identity.

Write your answer in a journal or mental health app. Writing the answer is critical because it makes you more likely to reinforce the exercise (seriously, doing this exercise “in your head” is almost worthless).


📈 Some stats:

  • Researchers from Stanford found that voter turnout increased by 10% when voting was described as an enactment of a personal identity (e.g., “being a voter”) versus simply a behavior (e.g., “voting”).

  • Researchers from the University of Bath found “significant correlations” between people who used identity based habits and how long they sustained those habits for.

  • Researchers from the University of New South Wales studied more than 100 students learning to play an instrument. The study asked students why they wanted to learn music and observed two trends:

    • The highest achieving students wanted to learn music for intrinsic reasons. For example they said:

      “I’ve always liked music for as long as I can remember, since being a baby”.

    • The lowest achieving students wanted to learn music for extrinsic reasons. For example they said:

      E.g. “I want to learn music because my friends are in Band”


🤨 Critiques

It’s impossible to do anything when you’re depressed, even going for a walk is super hard.

If your “small win” is too difficult then you should make the task smaller. If going for a walk is too difficult then maybe a better small win is to put on exercise clothes.


🌇 Conclusion

Building identity based habits can be incredibly powerful. Be sure to focus on the small wins because that is what will set the foundation for your new identity.


📖 Read more

On New Year’s resolutions: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2980864/

From author James Clear: https://jamesclear.com/identity-based-habits

Commitment and Practice: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285831276_Commitment_and_practice_Key_ingredients_for_achievement_during_the_early_stages_of_learning_a_musical_instrument


📱 Practice more

Download Bold CBT. It’s an iOS app that I made which makes it easier to do mental health exercises like this one.


🙏 Thank you

I’m grateful that you read this far! Please send me an email to tell me what you think. Your feedback makes the newsletter better for everyone.

  • john@boldCBT.com

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