Activity Vs Identity Goals
If you’re interested in movement and physical training, you no doubt have goals and aspirations within your practice. These goals might be vague ideas (such as wanting to move better, feel better or to try new things) or they might be more precise goals (like to learn to do a cartwheel, achieve your first muscle up, or to lose 5 kg by the end of the year).
The question of how to set a goal is a big question, and it can’t be answered in a single blog post. There are certainly many different factors at play, and what is right for you will be somewhat individual. Different tools, techniques and styles of goal setting will suit different personalities.
Today, i’d like to suggest a relatively simple technique that I have found effective, and that you might like to try applying to your current goals. This technique is about reframing your current goals into an identity goal.
There are different types of goals. Two of the most common types of goals or outcome based goals and action based goals.
Outcome based goals are about getting something or achieving something: they are about results. For example: I am going to learn to do a backflip. I can tick off the goal only when I can do a backflip.
Action based goals goals that involve doing something. These goals are process oriented. For example: I will practice backflips for 30 minutes, five days a week, until I can consistently perform a backflip without needing a trampoline. I tick off this goal every time I do it: it’s about repetition and frequency, about putting in the work.
If you know me, you’ll know that I prefer action based goals over outcome based goals. The process will yield the results if you stick to it, and in my opinion you’ll likely get a much greater sense of satisfaction from taking pride in completing each step of the way rather than focusing on some distant single event in the future.
The shift from outcome to action is a first and important step, but we can go one step further.
An identity goal is a goal that involves shifting how we see ourselves, and who we are in our own personal narrative. It’s about becoming the person you want to be and embodying your goal completely. For example: I practice backflips for 30 minutes, five days a week, because I am a gymnast.
Note the use of present tense rather than future tense: if I said because I will be / want to be a gymnast, this would be an outcome based goal!
In saying this, we become the person who does what we want to be doing.
It is one thing to not practice your backflips when you want to learn a backflip, it is another or not practice your backflips when you have committed to practising five days a week, but it is quite another to not practice backflips if you are a gymnast.
Making this shift, be careful you choose an identity you really feel you can embody. If you want to learn a backflip purely for fun, maybe the word “gymnast” isn’t the right one for you. You could also say “because I am a backflip junkie” or “because I am a backflip enthusiast” or whatever you feel you can make true. We want to walk the line between reality and aspiration: too easy and nothing will change, too demanding and we won’t really feel or believe our own words.
Here are a few examples of goals in each format (the chosen identity could of course be different for the same outcome goal)
Outcome: I want to lose 5kg
Process: I will eat healthy and stop eating before I am full
Identity: I eat healthy food and stop eating before I am full because I am a fit and healthy person.
Outcome: I will learn to do a 10s handstand
Process: I will practice handstands for one hour three days a week
Identity: I practice handstands one hour, three days a week, because I am a handbalancer/handstand practitioner
Outcome: I want to feel less anxious
Process: I will meditate every morning for 15 minutes before breakfast
Identity: I meditate every morning because I am a mindful and self loving person
Outcome: I want to sleep better
Process: I will go to bed before 11pm every day, no matter what work I have left to do
Identity: I go to bed early every day and prioritise my sleep and rest because I am an athlete - nothing is more important than my recovery!
I’d recommend writing the goal in the new format and repeating it to yourself regularly until the new identity settles in. I hope this idea is useful to you, I’d love to hear from you if you decide to implement it!