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:
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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:
- 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?
- 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!
If you found this helpful in any way, I’d love for you to share!
(1) Atomic Habits, 2018; James Clear; Penguin Random House UK; London