When I connect with potential clients for the very first time, our conversation typically commences by shrouding The Goal – you know, the capital-G end-game G-O-A-L looming in an unknown and unknowable galaxy far, far away – in a cloud of circumstantial causation. It sounds like this:
“I just really want to lose 20 pounds, for good. But I’ve tried everything – every Diet – and nothing works. I have no willpower and I have a nagging sweet tooth and I just don’t love vegetables.”
By the end of our fifteen-minute discovery session unpacking that initial introduction, we conclude that a change in body composition isn’t so much the result we desire, but a by-product of something much more than skin-deep – identity and behavior change.
Life hack: stop setting outcome-based goals and start setting behavior-based goals.
All ’round the globe, from coast to coast and sea to shining sea, people are resolving to change. But how long before goals are abandoned, left to collect dust on the top shelf, far out of reach? I’ll let you in on a little (big) secret that will change the way you approach – and achieve – goals.
If you ask me, it seems everyone is so caught up in toning their arms or building their booty, they forget to shape their character. Their identity. Their integrity. It’s your insides that shape your outsides. It’s who you are at your core – your values and how you act on them – thats sculpts your reflection.
I don’t even mean this metaphorically, I mean it quite literally.
If you’re looking to commit to a change, like put-a-ring-on-it commit, then I say stop focusing on results and start focusing on your identity. Become the type of person who can achieve the things you want to achieve.
Set behavior-based goals and build identity-based habits now. The results can (and will) come later.
It works like this: when most people set goals, they choose an outcome they’d like to reach.
Outcome-based goals focus on the end-result.
I will lose 20 pounds
I want to Squat my body weight
I’ll stop smoking
I will get sober
Sound familiar? That’s because you’ve likely been there, done (or should I say, didn’t do) that.
Outcome-based goals are problematic, and often so difficult to accomplish, because they put more emphasis on circumstantial causation than personal choice and control. Outcome-based goals look at the long-term, and despite any amount of desire or desperation, they can quickly feel too distant, lofty, or insurmountable. Outcome-based goals don’t often address the root cause for wanting change, which makes it difficult to stick to it when the course gets slippery.
Outcome-based goals focus on the end-result… but don’t put emphasis on what happens between now and then or here and there.
I’m not telling you to never ever set a goal. Far from it. I’m telling you to set behavior-based goals and better yet, identity-based intentions, instead.
Behavior-based goals focus on actions and process.
Behavior-based goals create conditions that make the chances of an outcome or result more likely. Behavior-based goals look more closely at the short-term, emphasizing attainable action items that can be implemented consistently and repeatedly. Behavior-based goals consider the catalyst for change, bringing clarity to the why behind the how and the what.
Behavior-based goals focus on actions and process… emphasizing what happens between now and then or here and there.
But if you don’t believe you’re the kind of person who can achieve the goals you have set, no amount of resolve is going to lead to action. And ultimately, it’s action that yields results (or not).
You are what you do, and you do what you are.
No matter how S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) a goal is, you’ll be hard pressed to stick to it if you don’t believe yourself the type of person who can, will, and wants to.
If you want to accomplish your goals, and maintain the results long-term, you have to identify with the behaviors necessary to achieve them.
Any which way we look at it, identity is at the root of achieving goals.
Who you are (identity) impacts what you do (behavior) and dictates what you have (outcome).
What you have (outcome) is a product of what you do (behavior) which is directed by who you are (identity).
When we give up on a goal, we often chalk it up to self-sabotage. But the actions we take that prevent us from our goals aren’t self-sabotage, they’re self-reflective – a mirror-image of who we believe ourselves to be.
Whoever you identify with now, you believe it because you have recurring proof:
- If you identify as somebody with a slow metabolism or genetic predisposition to a certain body composition – the number on the scale reinforces that every day.
- If you identify as somebody with no self control – the empty ice cream containers in your trash can reinforce that with each additional pint polished off.
- If you identify as someone who is “too busy,” – the structure of your to-do list reinforces your priorities (or lack there of) daily.
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes:
“Once you have adopted an identity, it can be easy to let your allegiance to it impact your ability to change. Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity.
When you have repeated a story to yourself for years (or decades), it is easy to slide into these mental grooves and accept them as a fact. In time, you begin to resist certain actions because ‘that’s not who I am.’ There is internal pressure to maintain your self-image and behave in a way that is consistent with your beliefs.”James Clear, Atomic Habits
So you can imagine how difficult it is to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs about yourself that dictate your behavior.
Each action you perform is driven by the fundamental belief that it is possible. So if you change your identity (the type of person that you believe that you are), then it’s easier to change your actions.
So, how do you even begin to change your identity?
Fake it ’til you make it.
Listen, I am all for authenticity. But in this case, I give you full permission to fake it ’til you make it.
An identity-based habit is formed by acting like the person you want to be, until you actually become them.
Although it seems like this crazy complicated concept, changing your identity can be done with two simple steps:
- Decide who you want to be
- Prove it to yourself
Every choice you make will either act in accordance or avoidance of your identity. So with each choice, ask yourself, “what would they do?”
How does the person who has what you want act? Eat? Train? Think? Speak? Work? What do they prioritize? What do they enjoy?
And then do that. Until one day, it’s not what they would do, but what you do.
Work backwards to move forwards.
Outcomes are about what you get (“I lost weight”).
To achieve a goal, start first by establishing the outcome you desire. You don’t have to put too much thought here. Honestly, it’s okay if the goal is skin-deep. It’s perched on a pedestal now but trust me, it’s hardly going to mean a thing as we keep going.
Behavior is about what you do (“I meal plan and prep weekly, eat mostly nutrient-dense foods, and exercise regularly”).
Then, outline the actions, processes, and habits necessary to achieve that outcome. This should come easily to you. Truth is, for the most part, we know what it takes to achieve a goal.
Identity is about what you believe (“I am a healthful, energized, active human.”)
And finally, determine what type of person performs these actions and processes regularly. What do they value, prioritize, and believe? Here’s where it gets more than skin-deep. Where the soul-searching and self-discovery happens.
The real challenge is not defining the outcome and determining if you want the result – everybody wants to be an olympian, an award-winning author, a millionaire, accomplished, successful – but if you are willing to accept the sacrifices and compromises and actions required to achieve your goal. Do you want the journey that comes with your destination? Do you want the difficult – and sometimes boring and ugly process – that comes before the exciting and glamorous product?
In other (key)words, outcomes are about the what, processes are about the how, and identity is about the why. And the why is how you get what you want.
Ultimately, it’ll look like this:
lose 10 poundsTo be a healthy, self-confident person.
stick to [insert Diet]To value nutrition and nourishment.
squat 300 poundsTo be a strong person who prioritizes strength training
run a marathonTo be a runner.
And that’s when you’ll have it – The Magic Pill. The prescription – rather, a set of behaviors, beliefs, systems, and skills – for successfully achieving any goal and sustaining results.