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Identity-Based Habits

Brian Crain
Brian Crain
1 min read

I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. It is an excellent practical guide for how to approach changing and maintaining your habits. But while there are lots of great ideas, one perspective was particularly novel to me and has changed how I think about habits.

This is the notion of identity-based habits. The idea is that our own sense of identity is, to a large extent, shaped by our habits. And in turn, our identity makes a lot of behaviors automatic that are in line with our identity.

As an example, if you want to become more fit, you could adopt a habit like: Every morning after I wake up, I do ten push-ups next to my bed. Is that really going to change your health? On its own, it's probably far too little and won't have much of an effect. However, doing this every morning for months and months, will change your identity. You might start to think of yourself in this way: I am the kind of person, who values my health and does some exercise every morning after waking up, no matter what. And with that kind of belief, your behavior will start changing in many contexts and move in the desired direction.

Clear also argues that you can scale down any habit to a version that takes less than two minutes. Again, if you think of it in terms of an outcome you want to achieve, two minutes might not be enough. But if you think of it in terms of the effect on your self identity, it makes sense to me that two minutes on a daily basis are sufficient.

The result is remarkable. You can change your own self identity in profound ways by practicing habits in line with your new desired identity in two minutes or less. Pretty cool.