Throughout my life, I’ve set many goals. Make first chair Trombonist in my high school band, lose weight to join the Marine Corps, make it through boot camp, buy a house before 26, get a job in tech while getting my degree, get various IT certs, finish my degree, and on and on. I’ve been to countless life coaching classes throughout my time in the Marine Corps and some outside. Most of them offering similar advice. Start with a Goal.
Find a clear objective in your mind, break that objective down into smaller chunks, and break those smaller chunks down into even smaller chunks until they become palpable and achievable. And this has worked for me. I was first Trombonist. I lost 50 lbs to join the Marine Corps. I made it through boot camp. I bought a house before 26. I have an awesome career in Tech. I have several IT certs. And I’m almost done with my degree. This process works. But now I find myself asking why? Why did I want to achieve those things? And even more important; Why do I continue to try so hard to improve every day?
Right now I’m reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear and have just gotten through the second chapter which talks about identity and its effects on habit formation and persistence. Then it clicked. Start with the WHO, not the WHAT or even the WHY. I did the things and continue to do the things I do because those goals fit with my identity. I held a leadership role in the band, so I needed to be good at my instrument. I am a studious student, so I’m able to get all these certs and do so well in school. I am a family man so I needed to buy a house to take care of my family. And when I was in the Marine Corps I identified with being a Marine, that’s why I was able to run 3 miles in 19 minutes and do 20 pull-ups. That’s what Marines do. Of course, those were GOALs that I achieved, but they were goals formulated around my identity.
Trying to reach goals that go against whom you view yourself takes a tremendous amount of willpower. Every time you contribute to your goal will feel like a chore and you’ll need to pull out all the stops and muster every bit of motivation you can to get there. If you can do that, maybe you identify with being a fighter and your motivation comes from doing what fighters do best, persevering. Either way, the most consistent way to meet a goal is to become someone who can meet that goal. If you want to lose weight and get better at fitness, be an athlete or simply a healthy person. If you want to spend more quality time with your family, be a family person. Whatever you want to achieve, become the type of person who can achieve that, and when you come across a decision ask yourself, “Is that what a(n) athlete, marine, successful person, family guy, writer, etc would do?” In the book James mentions evidence. As you make more and more of these decisions using your identity as a guide you build up evidence and it becomes easier for you to believe you’re the type of person you say you are.
This concept is powerful. You get to be who you want to be. You get a choice. And as the book says “Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become”. All you gotta do is start with who.