Change is hard. You've probably noticed that.
We all want to become better people — stronger and healthier, more creative and more skilled, a better friend or family member.
But even if we get really inspired and start doing things better, it's tough to actually stick to new behaviors. It's more likely that this time next year you'll be doing the same thing than performing a new habit with ease.
Why is that? And is there anything you can do to make change easier?
How to Be Good at Remembering People’s Names
My wife is great at remembering people’s names.
Recently, she told me a story that happened when she was in high school. She went to a large high school and it was the first day of class. Many of the students had never met before that day. The teacher went around the room and asked each person to introduce themselves. At the end, the teacher asked if anyone could remember everyone’s name.
My wife raised her hand and proceeded to go around the room and accurately name all 30 or so people. The rest of the room was stunned. The guy next to her looked over and said, “I couldn’t even remember your name.”
She said that moment was an affirming experience for her. After that she felt like, “I’m the type of person who is good at remembering people’s names.”
Even today, she's great at remembering the names of anyone we come across.
Here's what I learned from that story: In order to believe in a new identity, we have to prove it to ourselves.
The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously).
To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. You need to build identity-based habits.
Imagine how we typically set goals. We might start by saying “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get stronger.” If you're lucky, someone might say, “That's great, but you should be more specific.”
So then you say, “I want to lose 20 pounds” or “I want to squat 300 pounds.”
These goals are centered around outcomes, not identity.
To understand what I mean, consider that there are three levels at which change can occur. You can imagine them like the layers of an onion.
There are three layers of behavior change: a change in your outcomes, a change in your processes, or a change in your identity.
The first layer is changing your outcomes. This level is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book, winning a championship. Most of the goals you set are associated with this level of change.
The second layer is changing your process. This level is concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow, developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits you build are associated with this level.