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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

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June 19, 2023 | Max Jenkinson

The Clear Way - How to Actually Change

Real change is hard. Mostly because we don't know what we want & we are terrible at doing things we know we should.

While writing this I am one day away from doing a 315km bike race.

That might sound hard (which it is), but it is only one day, one long effort.

It is nothing compared to radically changing your life. Real change is hard.

It requires us to slowly change behaviours that are ingrained in who we think we are.

Real change is a consistent execution of the small things that make a huge difference over time.

Most people won’t actively change. Instead, as life evolves they change alongside it.

In the last post, we got a sense of how we take charge of our lives.

How we go from someone that changes depending on external change (an NPC), to someone who decides the direction of their life (main character).

Once we accept our life is in our control we need to implement a plan to make change a reality.

Let’s use the category of health to look at real change (although it can be applied to any area of life).

There are two main obstacles in the way of getting healthy. It is not willpower, motivation or knowledge.

Instead, it comes down to the fact that:

  • You have not clearly defined what it means to be healthy for you.

  • You have not clearly defined how much you value being healthy.

  • You have not clearly defined why you value it.

The two obstacles are:

  1. We have not made it clear to ourselves what we want

  2. We are terrible at doing what we know we should

We see someone strong on Instagram and we think “I want to become strong.”

This then becomes a desire we hold that we might pursue for a month, a week or a day.

Then, we see something else that is desirable, like some flexible dude doing insane yoga.

Our desire changes and so we get distracted from the previous one.

We are getting pulled in every direction possible by a constant shift in desire occurring from external input.

An object will equal forces applied from all directions will remain stationary. And so, we go nowhere.

To actually get somewhere you need to pick a desire, make it a goal, and sacrifice almost all other desires.

You can have anything you want. But, you cannot have everything you want.

Once you pick a desired outcome and make it a goal, you need to create a system that gets you there.

An implementable strategy that fits into your unique life and moves you in a direction you’d actually be proud of.

James Clear wrote Atomic Habits in 2018 which has already sold more than 15 million copies.

This post is my synthesis of some of the key takeaways from the book which you can use to get from where you are to where you want to go.

You’ll learn:

  1. What habits are & why they are important

  2. Why it is hard to change & how we make it easier

  3. How being process-oriented instead of goal-focused causes you to actually reach desired outcomes

 

Habits – who we are is determined by how we act

A habit is something we do consistently over time. Usually, a behavioural pattern that has been repeated so many times it’s become automized.

All organisms are trying to minimize energy loss to maximize the probability of survival and reproduction.

As humans, we do the same.

Consciously performing a cost-benefit analysis on choices is energetically costly.

Because of this almost every single decision we make is subconscious.

The subconscious decisions are based on our values which determine what actions we think will lead to a desired outcome.

Yet, this structure is not perfect.

We all have behavioural patterns that do not benefit us in the long run (most of them we are not aware of).

In Atomic Habits, Clear breaks this down.

He explains:

  • How we become aware of the habits we have

  • How we determine if they are productive or not

  • And how we most effectively change them.

Habits are important. They make up most of our day as most of our actions are automated.

It is how we spend our time that determines both our well-being and the direction our lives take.

Habits solve problems in life with as little energy as possible.

Our life is a journey. Spending our time on things that aren’t beneficial will make the journey miserable.

It will also cause us to find ourselves in an undesirable destination in the future that we did not choose.

Why would you choose something undesirable?

How you spend your time today will directly impact your future. Everything you do affects all of your outcomes.

The smallest building blocks that determine how and on what you spend your time on Clear calls Atomic Habits.

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement

 

James Clear

Positive habits’ impact on our lives becomes exponentially more positive over time.

The opposite is also true.

Negative habits’ impact on our lives becomes exponentially worse over time.

Clear has a concept he calls the plateau of latent potential which describes how work or effort is never wasted.

It is stored until it causes an improvement.

We often seek out immediate satisfaction but Clear reminds us that the most potent results are delayed.

As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

The most powerful results come from doing the same beneficial habit over years. Thus, we should always be playing the long game.

You are trying to determine:

  • Which habits to keep

  • Which habits to implement

  • And which habits to get rid of

View your life in years and decades rather than in weeks and months.

Ask yourself, how will this behavioural pattern iterated over 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, affect me, my loved ones and my life as a whole?

Framing it like this will cause habits to reach their full potential (and thus also you).

 

Change is hard, so make it easier

Change is hard. Mainly because of two issues.

  • We try to change the wrong thing

  • We try to change our habits the wrong way

To help us with this Clear uses another brilliant concept, the three layers of behaviour change.

  1. Identity

  2. Processes

  3. Outcomes

Step 1 – Focus on a desired outcome (outcome)

  • We think change starts with the focus on a desired outcome.

  • We want to have this, we want to get that, we want to become this.

Step 2 – Define a plan to get there (Process)

  • Then we try to define a process that we think will lead us to our desired outcome.

  • Once a process is defined, the desired outcome changes from a dream to a goal.

Step 3 – Change who we are (Identity)

  • We think that reaching our newfound goal will cause us to change who we are.

  • We will be able to justify our new identity, we’ll become a new person.

Many people get stuck at the outcome stage and acquire a bunch of dreams. Let’s call these people the dreamers.

Other people find themselves constantly switching from one goal to the next. Hoping that they will find an outcome that will make them happy.

Let’s call these people the outcome chasers.

Very few reach all the way to the identity stage.

Clear believes the reason most people fail in changing their life is because they have the idea of change flipped on its head.

He makes the case that we should start with identity.

What kind of person do you want to become?

If I remember correctly, he gives the example of two smokers who wants to quit.

Smoker A gets asked if he wants to smoke, and he says “I am trying to quit so no thanks”.

Smoker B also gets asked if she wants to smoke, she says “I don’t smoke”.

One fails to quit, one succeeds.

Smoker A identifies as a smoker trying to quit. Smoker B identifies as someone who does not smoke anymore.

Smoker A fails, and smoker B succeeds.

Once our ideal identity is defined we can start thinking about what processes such a person would do.

How would a day look like for the person you would want to become?

The Old Way:

  • Pick a goal (desired outcome), define a process that will lead you there, and hope that this will change who you are (identity).

The Clear Way:

  • Define an identity, pick a process that affirms you’re identity, and hope this will lead to desired outcomes.

This works so well because we constantly live in a way that affirms who we think we are.

Why?

Because otherwise, we’d go insane.

If you woke up tomorrow and the next day, and the day after and,

  • You walked in a different way

  • You laughed in a different way

  • And your accent was different

You’d go crazy. You would not exist and so how would you act?

This is why I love Joe Dispenza’s title of one of his books, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself.

Now it should make sense.

The way you change who you are to who you want to become is by doing things that affirm who you want to become.

Real change requires a shift in what and who we identify with.

 

From goal-focused to process-oriented

This is not to say you shouldn’t use goals. But, they should be specific to one process.

Let’s say being healthy is a big part of your ideal identity, and you’ve decided going to the gym is a process to affirm that identity.

Within the gym, you can do many things. Here you’d use a specific goal to create a direction for your process (gym routine).

Using the S.M.A.R.T framework we can get a sense of how this would work.

  • Specific – Reach 2.5x body weight in the deadlift.

  • Measurable – Measure sets, reps, weight, and rest periods on a weekly basis.

  • Achievable – Realistic goal for strength work.

  • Relevant – Strength is associated with longevity and health.

  • Time-bound – Aiming to reach this in six months.

The goal sets the direction of the implementable process. It helps us be able to define clearly what we are going to do.

The desired outcome is not the aim, the aim is to affirm our identity.

The focus should always be on the process and not the goal.

The goal is only a desired outcome in the future while the process is where you exist.

Your day-to-day experience. Your life.

When we are focused on the desired outcome any obstacle that gets in the way will be demotivating.

It will be viewed as a threat to achieve the goal.

If we instead focus on the process any obstacle will be used as feedback to adjust the process so that it aligns with our identity.

Being internally motivated (process-oriented) has been shown to be much more successful than being externally motivated (goal focused).

If the process (what you are doing) is not aligned with your identity it will be very hard to execute the process over time.

It is only when our actions are aligned with our identity that the process becomes sustainable.

And, as Clear said, the most potent results are delayed.

By doing this, we no longer do things we believe will make us happy, instead, we do what the person we want to become would do.

Then, wouldn’t we be the person we want to become now?

The only difference is that we don’t have what we think that person would have.

The difference between being and having is important.

The goal is not to achieve desired outcomes, the goal is to use a process that is aligned with who we are and who we want to become.

Doing the right thing is easy. After all, when your behaviour and your identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behaviour change. You are simply acting like the type of person you already believe yourself to be.

James Clear
 

Dissatisfaction & goal-focused

We forget about the outcomes, the goals, and the dreams.

We focus on our identity, the value structure that underpins who we are.

We then act in a way that affirms our identity.

Shouldn’t we then assume the outcomes that follow are what we want?

Out well-being is no longer defined by the distance from a desired outcome.

The distance between who we think we are and who we think we want to become.

Instead, it is defined by how aligned our time is with our identity.

On a podcast, Alex Hormozi talked about how he used to be unhappy because there was a distance between where he was and where he wanted to be.

He realized he justified his action by how fast they moved him toward his desires.

As he moved toward them his desires got bigger, and so he never got closer.

One day he stopped justifying his actions in relation to his desires. He stopped trying to be “happy”. He just did what he enjoyed.

All of a sudden he was “happy”.

He removed the desired outcomes which he linked to happiness and became process-oriented. All of a sudden he was more productive and happier.

There are two big problems with being goal-focused.

  1. How close we are to a goal is often not in our control

  2. Being goal-focused causes us to constantly move the goalpost forward

Both of these cause us to be unhappy with where we are.

The only way to accept where we are is to live in alignment with who we want to become.

If the alignment is perfect there is no distance between who you are and who you want to become.

If the distance is where dissatisfaction lives, you will no longer be dissatisfied.

As you can see, satisfaction is not synonymous with complacency.

You are spending your time in processes that affirm who you are which leads to outcomes that then should be what you want.

This way you will spend years in the same processes and thus benefit from the plateau of latent potential.

Paradoxically, by not focusing on desired outcomes you will achieve more than you could dream of.

 

This post builds upon the last. It further expands on the idea that, in change, identity comes first.

1) Define your ideal identity (who you want to become).

2) Define processes that such a person would do.

3) Refine and adjust both the processes and the ideal identity.

You have enormous potential. You are unique, you are valuable.

You do not have to become rich or famous to prove your potential, (these are desired outcomes).

What you need to do is define your ideal identity as clearly as you can and then live in alignment with that.

As you lead by example, you will inspire.

Remember, you are both the animal living in the zoo and the designer of the zoo, so why not design it better?

Next post we will look at how to implement small changes with big results practically.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading The Progress Letter.