What is Behavior Change – and why should I care?
Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. But wait! Stick with me. While yes, behavior change literally means changing your behaviors, the context to this topic is what makes it so important.
Think about it, your entire life is a series of choices and as a result, behaviors. Drinking a bottle of wine every night is an outcome. What leads up to it is a series of choices and behaviors. The choice to stop at the liquor store on the way home. The behaviors of taking that route, turning on that street, walking in, purchasing the bottle, opening the bottle, pouring a glass, etc. So lets say your overall goal is to drink less (outcome), You know the outcome of drinking a bottle of wine every night is not conducive to this goal. You need an outcome that lines up with the goal (drinking less wine or no wine). So we need to change the behaviors.
Instead of telling yourself you won’t drink tonight, think about what needs to change in your day to day behavior to achieve that outcome. Maybe you take a different route home. Maybe you purchase lemonade instead. Start small by trying to substitute existing behaviors with similar ones that are simply more in alignment with your desired outcomes.
If you think this concept sounds easy enough, but hard to keep up with over time, you’re not wrong. And this my friends, is where the concept of IDENTITY change comes in.
You mean I need to change my whole identity?
Yes! I’m kidding. No, not your whole identity, and definitely not overnight. However in order to make behavior change truly last and become automatic (aka less thinking about it, less willpower, and making it overall easier) this is a crucial step. For instance think about something you do almost every day. Say, making fresh coffee every morning. For you this might be automatic. You get up, you grind the beans, you start the coffee machine. For others, they might like the idea of fresh coffee every day, but this might seem like a chore. Currently, maybe they buy their coffee at Starbucks every day. In order to start making fresh coffee in the mornings, they might have to make it as easy as possible and change small behaviors first. Perhaps starting with preground coffee beans, or even just getting up 15 mins earlier even if they don’t do anything with that time just yet. They are working on their behavior changes, because their identity is not yet someone who makes fresh coffee every morning. They’re someone that buys it. In order for the behavior of getting up, grinding beans, and starting the coffee pot to become easy and automatic, they need to believe that they are a person who gets up every morning and brews coffee. They are NOT someone who prefers to buy it.
So how do you just decide to change who you are?
Simply put, you don’t. You collect evidence and build small wins that accumulate into an identity change overnight. This requires two things; a) digging deep and figuring out who the kind of person that has the habit you want to have is, and b) observing and celebrating every time you cast a vote towards that future self.
To continue with our coffee example. Someone aiming to establish this behavior change and overtime make it part of their routines/identity might ask themselves “what kind of person makes fresh coffee every morning?” The answers could be people who wake up early, people who have a consistent morning routine, people who appreciate good coffee, etc. So what things do those kinds of people do? They probably have a solid night time routine in order to prioritize sleep, they try different kinds of coffee, and they invest in a good coffee machine. Every time you do something that is in line with the kind of person you’re trying to be you’re casting a vote to become that person. Repeat anything enough, and you’ll have changed your identity.
What you don’t want to do is tell yourself “I’m not a morning person, so I can’t do that.” or “I could never make the drink I buy, I’m not good at that.” By reinforcing an identity that is counterintuitive to your behavior change goals, you are casting a vote to NOT become the kind of person who has the habits you want to have.
TLDR; you have to believe that you are accumulating evidence for the kind of person you want to be each and every time you do something that reflects it. What’s not important is how big the action is, or even how many times you do it. Just that you keep doing it.
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