Yesterday’s post highlighted James Clear’s insight that the key to permanent behavior change is changing our identity:

“True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity…Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are” (34).

But this raises the huge question of where does our sense of identity come from? How do we, in Clear’s words, “upgrade and expand our identity”?

Clear’s answer is that it emerges out of our habits. “Your habits are how you embody your identity” (36). Your identity is your repeated actions.

How unsatisfyingly circular! We change our habits by changing our identity….which we change by changing our habits!

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity” (38).

“Habits are the path to changing your identity. The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do” (38).

It’s not a one-off action but a repeated action that changes our identity, Clear explains. We change who we are by changing what we do. And as these habits mount up, the evidence mounts up, and our story that we tell ourselves begins to change too. We become our habits

Clear admits that it’s a reinforcing feedback loop as identity influences habits and vice versa. Later, he reduces it to a simple two-step process:

  • Decide the type of person you want to be.
  • Prove it to yourself with small wins. (39)

Identity is therefore derived from our decisions and our deeds. We become our habits. We define ourselves.

How different to the Christian approach to identity which rests on a divine definition; not on what we decide or do, but on what God decides and what God does. The Christian’s identity is based upon God’s decision and God’s deeds. He elects his people in Christ, redeems them in Christ, saves them in Christ, adopts them in Christ, sanctifies them in Christ, and glorifies then in Christ. That’s why Paul can’t stop describing Christians as “in Christ” (see Ephesians 1).

With such an incredible identity, how much more powerful should be the motivation to change our behavior. What a foundation to build upon. Not the shaky creaky foundation of our own decisions and deeds, but God’s acceptance and action.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones