Woman sitting beside a lake stretching with text overlay: Do You Need a New Wellness Identity?

Do You Need a New Wellness Identity?

How do you see yourself when it comes to wellness? Do you see yourself as someone who has the ability to make positive changes? I mean really, deep down, what do you believe about yourself? I ask this because a while back when I was doing research for When Motivation Isn’t Enough, I came across an interesting concept that can have a huge impact on our wellness.

In his book Atomic Habits, (1) James Clear talks about the three levels of behavior change. The deepest layer of change is when we change our identity. This is how we see ourselves – our self-image, our judgments about ourselves. It also includes our worldview and how we see and judge others.

Why is how we see ourselves important?

I’ve often said that one of the most rewarding parts of my job when I was working as a Personal Trainer was when I saw the switch flip on for one of my clients — the switch from “I don’t really belong here, I’m not sure I can do this” to “I’ve got this!”

They went from seeing themselves as someone who didn’t ‘belong’ in a gym to someone who believed in themselves and their ability to make positive health changes.

Why is a switch like this so important? There are a few reasons:

  1. When we hold onto an ‘old identity’ that no longer serves us, it can sabotage us and our plans for change. As Clear says, “It’s hard to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behavior.”
  2. When a habit becomes part of our identity, it provides motivation to keep going, even when things get harder. For example, my husband will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t really enjoy working out, but he does it anyway. He’s able to do that thing that he doesn’t enjoy because he sees himself as a person who will remain active for the rest of his life.
  3. Your behaviors are usually a reflection of who you believe you are, whether consciously or unconsciously. When we believe a certain thing about ourselves, our actions are more likely to align with that belief.
  4. The more ingrained a certain belief, the harder it is to change it. We have a much harder time making changes if our desired behaviors conflict with how we see ourselves.

So you can see how our identity can impact our wellness, either positively or negatively. But when those beliefs are so deep-seated, how can we possibly change them?

Beige box within a teal box with text overlay: "Believe in yourself. You are braver than you think, more talented than you know, and capable of more than you can imagine."

How do we change our wellness identity?

Changing our identity doesn’t happen overnight. When we’ve believed certain things about ourselves for a long time, it’s going to take some time to change those beliefs.

Some things that may be helpful are:

  1. Ask if what you believe about yourself is really true. In his article in Inc., A Harvard Psychologist Shows How to Change Those Limiting Beliefs You Still Have About Yourself, (2) Scott Mautz says we should ask ourselves whether our ‘story’ is really true or if it’s a ‘false truth.’ Is how we see ourselves based in fact, or is it just our inner ‘mean girl’ talking to us?
  2. Act the way the person you want to be would act. Mautz says, “If you want to be a certain way, be that way. If you want to live a certain life, live that life.” James Clear talks about this in relation to habit formation. He explains that with identity-based habits, we start to focus on who we want to become. He uses the example of two people resisting a cigarette.

“When offered a smoke, the first person says, ‘No thanks. I’m trying to quit.’ It sounds like a reasonable response, but this person still believes they are a smoker who is trying to be something else. They are hoping their behavior will change while carrying around the same beliefs.

The second person declines by saying, ‘No thanks. I’m not a smoker.’ It’s a small difference, but this statement signals a shift in identity. Smoking was a part of their former life, not their current one. They no longer identify as someone who smokes.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

3. Celebrate your small wins. Have you ever heard the saying that “success breeds success”? Every time we’re successful with a behavior, we need to reinforce it. No matter how small, forward movement is a win. When we celebrate those small wins, we build self-efficacy – the belief that we can be successful – in changing our wellness for the better.

When we start to see ourselves differently, we will act differently. That can be a huge benefit when we’re trying to change or maintain our wellness. Seeing ourselves as someone who is able to make positive change can help motivate us and keep us from sabotaging our wellness efforts.

Does the concept of working on your wellness identity resonate with you? How could changing the way you see yourself help you with your wellness endeavors? In which dimension(s) of wellness would you like to adjust your identity? Please share!

Blessings,

~Terri

If you found this helpful in any way, I’d love for you to share!

Sources:

(1)  Atomic Habits, 2018; James Clear; Penguin Random House UK; London

(2) https://www.inc.com/scott-mautz/a-harvard-psychologist-shows-how-to-change-those-limiting-beliefs-you-still-have-about-yourself.html

22 comments

  1. I’m so much futher along than I could have imagined before I became ill. I wasn’t a terrible health person but it was ack seat for sure. Since 2012 life has been very differenent. And I se the real change, I like the changes there not a hassle or a second thought any longer.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Melinda! You make such a great point that after you’ve been participating in healthy behaviors for awhile, they don’t feel like such a hassle, and you don’t have to give them as much thought – you just do them. Congratulations on the strides you’ve made with your wellness sweet friend. Sending hugs your way!

  2. VERY good post and necessary. I agree. I think it’s really important to do this. I got sick in 2017 and for a long time had zero faith in ever being well enough to be considered ‘well again’ you do have to try to re-set it is not easy but necessary to over come the trauma of being really sick

    1. Thank you so much Candice! I absolutely understand what you meant when you said, ” I got sick in 2017 and for a long time had zero faith in ever being well enough to be considered ‘well again’” That’s exactly how I felt for almost 10 years. The more I didn’t do anything, the more deconditioned I became and the worse I felt. I finally determined that I was just going to have to do everything I could to improve my general health even if it meant more pain and fatigue to begin with. It’s been a slow, long road, but I feel better now than I have in years. I hope you’re staying safe and well these days. Blessings to you!

      1. I so admire your perspective. I really do. We are working on an anthology called But You Don’t Look Sick about invisible illness. I had wanted some poems or writings in there about the value of hope and maintaining a positive belief things can improve, because it is too easy to believe it never will. I am so very glad for your improvement, you have obviously worked hard at it and I wish you continued improvement. I feel very much like you on this subject.

      2. Thank you so much – you’re far too kind! I love that you’re working on the But You Don’t Look Sick anthology. I’ll look forward to reading it. It really is a struggle sometimes to keep that hope that things can improve when you’ve been suffering for so long, but I believe it’s absolutely vital to always keep that little spark alive.

  3. I loved this post Terri. Wellness all starts with you and your mindset. Sometimes I do find it hard to look within myself to try to change old habits but for some reason my mind has a difficult time adjusting. It’s something that I struggle with everyday because I know that change can help but diverting from your normal routine can make you pause and think that it might be a mistake. But I’m working on trying to improve the way I think so that I can make the necessary adjustments to better myself.

    1. Thank you so much Mark! You’re so right that it starts with your mindset. I used to teach wellness classes and one thing I used to tell people is that we all really know what we need to do with eating, exercise, etc., but we have to get our mindset right. You’ve got this my friend! Blessings to you!

  4. Really useful article, thanks as always for sharing. Celebrating small successes can be so valuable when we are limited by health issues. My wife will tell me I’ve had a successful day even if I’ve only ticked off one item on my to-do list, and that positivity has made me slowly reconfigure my approach towards managing my own expectations.
    It hasn’t made me magically well (sadly!) but it has encouraged me to focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t (which for me feels like a pretty big win).

    1. Thanks so much Captain! I’m glad you found it useful. I agree about the importance of celebrating those small wins when you live with chronic health issues. That’s one thing I’ve learned over these last few years. So often, we feel like we’re not making any progress or even that we’re going backward when our health issues seem to be winning. Taking note of the small wins (like ticking off your one item on your to-do list) can help us realize we’re having some successes and keep us going. I love what you said – “it has encouraged me to focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t (which for me feels like a pretty big win).” Keep celebrating those small wins my friend! Blessings to you!

  5. I love the perspective of this post, it’s such an interesting one to look at. It’s giving us back the control to make deeper changes. “Act the way the person you want to be would act” – it’s a bit like ‘fake it until you make it’, and that can actually work surprisingly well sometimes. Our identity is so complex and the stories we tell ourselves can impact that, what we do and how we feel about ourselves greatly. Changing the story, adjusting our identity, can be profound. I like the smoker example too, that shows how it can work in action. Great tips and a fantastic post as always, Terri! xx

    1. Thanks so much Caz! When I read about the whole ‘identity change’ thing, it really resonated with me too. Like you said, it gives us the “control to make deeper changes.” Changing how we see ourselves takes a lot of hard work and can be a lengthy process, but it really can be a game changer. I hope you’re staying safe and as well as possible sweet friend. Hugs!

  6. Thank you,Teri, for such an informative piece on mental health. I’m currently undergoing treatment for PTSD, and much of what is outlined here is being used in my treatment. Have a great day, 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for sharing Mark! I continue to wish you all the best with your treatment. I’m so glad you have access to a good program. On another note, I’ve started Vanished, and you had me hooked from the beginning. Stay safe and well my friend!

  7. I came across this concept a few times recently in relation to manifestation and they also talk about acting like you already live the life that you want. It is hard to implement, but I believe it can be powerful. I am working on this currently actually.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing Anna! There’s a lot to be said for believing differently about ourselves and acting in a way that supports that belief. Wishing you all the best sweet friend!

Please tell me what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.