In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear lays out a picture for breaking old habits by approaching goals through three layers of behavioural change. The first layer is ‘identity’, the second ‘processes’, the third ‘outcomes’.
In James’ view, before you can change a behaviour, you first need to alter your beliefs about yourself. This is an identity-first approach rather than one that prioritises outcomes – it’s the difference between saying “I want to get fitter” (an outcome) and “I want to be a person who lives an active lifestyle” (how you identify).
The ‘processes’ involved in the second layer are the ways you demonstrate and reinforce this new identity to yourself. So if fitness was your ultimate goal, the process might be going for a nightly jog three times a week.
I’ve found that people get stuck on outcomes – they get too fixated on the ultimate result. If you don’t first acknowledge your identity and recognise that you need to change your internal beliefs, it’s unlikely that you’ll implement the processes that will let you reach your desired outcome. It’s not enough to just want something: you need to become the kind of person who can achieve what you want. All the wishing in the world won’t get you a six-pack, or whatever your goal is.
Try it out in your own life. First, ask yourself what part of your behaviour you want to change, and then nail down why you want to change it. From there, you can articulate your goals. Often, it’s clear-cut. If you’re an AFL player, your outcomes might be kicking more goals, winning matches, and, ultimately, conquering the premiership. So the belief that forms your identity becomes, “I’m going to be the kind of athlete who is part of a premiership-winning team.” From there, the processes you’d put in place would be giving 100 per cent at every training session or making sure you were on top of your nutrition throughout the season. Relatively small steps, maybe, but they lead you down the road to your desired result.