Let’s unpack the three layers of behavioural change to build better habits.
Building new habits can be tough. Fortunately, once you find your rhythm you are one step closer to the best version of your future self. It is, however, finding said rhythm that often proves to be the biggest challenge to overcome. Habits require conscious decision-making and consistent action. But, what if we told you there was another layer to this thinking and that once you learn more about it, you’ll be better prepared for any new habit you intend to adopt?
James Clear, author of the no. 1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, knows a thing or two about building good habits and making them stick. In his work, Clear explains that to achieve the goals we set for ourselves, we need to understand the three layers of behaviour change:
- A change in your outcomes,
- A change in your processes,
- A change in your identity.
In a nutshell: Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.
Let’s begin with the first layer: An outcome-based habit. This goal is centred around the thing we want to achieve and, without much further planning, is more difficult to maintain in the long-term. We’re all familiar with this scenario: We decide, for example, that we want to get stronger. Sure, we acknowledge this is something we desire, but ultimately make no real changes to achieve. Once this happens, we tend to beat ourselves up for failing. This is because we are focused on an outcome, and not how we might need to adjust other areas of our lives to achieve the goal.
The second layer is concerned with changing your habits and systems through processes. Processes are about what you do, for example, implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow, developing a meditation practice, and so on. Most of the habits you build are associated with this level. So, if you want to get stronger you may begin setting your alarm clock 30-minutes earlier and doing 30 push-ups each morning. This helps create more consistent behaviours.
The third layer, identity-based habits, is concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, your self-image, your judgments about yourself and others. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases you hold are associated with this level. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become. This is what makes habits stick. If you truly believe you will be stronger you will begin to make a mental shift towards being this person every day, you will drown out the naysayers and your self-sabotaging ways that often hold you back.
Regardless of the habit you are working towards, it comes down to how you start. Start with your identity. To quote Clear, "If you're looking to make a change, then I say stop worrying about results and start worrying about your identity. Become the type of person who can achieve the things you want to achieve. Build identity-based habits now. The results can come later.”
What habit are you going to make stick with this new way of thinking?