These days we often–rightly–push back on the use of stereotypes and broad strokes. Moving away from the clearly-defined roles for people of the mid-1900s, Western culture has now critiqued and attempted to dispose of just about everything that has had any level of definition as an expected role for anyone. The clarion call these days is, “You do you.”
But even if outwardly imposed labels evoke pushback and negativity, there are some ways that it can be helpful for a person to try and connect his or herself to a group.
The Move to Identity
In his excellent book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about allowing both our habits and our identity to be mutually formative.
To make a lasting life change, you want to get to the deepest layer of behavior.
The outer layer is outcomes. This is a result you are trying to achieve.
- I want to lose weight
- I want to get a promotion
- I want to win the competition
A second behavior layer is process. This is the level concerned with your habits and systems.
- Decluttering your workspace for better productivity
- Starting a new routine of Bible reading
- Scheduling regular time at the gym
Most habits occur at this second level.
The deepest layer is the layer of identity. This isn’t just about what you do, this is about who you are.
- The way you define yourself
- Your biases toward others
- Your worldview, beliefs and assumptions
Clear points out that most people try to change themselves at the outer layer, focused on what they want. The better question to be asking is: Who do I want to be?
For lasting change, focus on your identity.
This is Who I Am
One of the best advertising campaigns of all time is a series that began the same way every time:
“I’m a Mac.” “And I’m a PC.”
The PC guy looked nerdy and stuffy. The Mac guy looked cool, relaxed, and accessible.
The invitation was not to buy a product, but to be a certain kind of person. The ads targeted identity rather than behavior. They worked.
If you haven’t, I would encourage you to have a listen to my interview with Dr. Mac Sandlin about Virtue Ethics.
Virtue Ethics go a level deeper than many types of ethics in that they proactively ask the question: “What kind of a person am I trying to be?” For Christians, we would say, “I’m trying to be like Jesus.”
A focus on identity is the difference between saying:
- “I’m trying to lose 20 Lbs” vs. “I’m a runner”
- “I’m trying to pray more” vs. “I’m a contemplative person”
- “I need to invite more people to church” vs. “I’m a minister of reconciliation”
To run with Paul’s title in 2 Corinthians 5, if I say, “I’m a minister of reconciliation” as a matter of identity, I can begin to ask questions like:
- How does a minister of reconciliation begin the day? At what time? What would he or she be doing?
- How is a minister of reconciliation present at work? What is the effect of such a person walking into a room?
- What would be the recreational habits of a minister of reconciliation?
- What would be the interactions with family of a minister of reconciliation?
By starting at the level of identity, you can go a wide variety of directions with application and behavioral change. In fact, get a person to grasp identity, and much of the other application might sort out itself.
Application by Identity
My point is: You may have more luck in effecting change in people’s lives by inviting them to be someone rather than to do something.
All layers of behavior matter. We want to see different outcomes, which is why we change our processes and behaviors. But how do we get these to stick and stay with us?
Define a desirable label, and invite people to apply it to themselves.
“I’m this kind of person, like these other admirable people. I do the kinds of things that they do.”