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You Can’t Change Your Behaviour by Changing Your Thoughts Alone

Changing our behaviours for good is certainly one of the hardest things to do as humans. I’m talking about long-term, sustained change, not short-run bursts that make you get back to your old ways of behaving even stronger afterwards! But the ones that actually become part of us.

Have you ever noticed how unique behaviours are?  I mean, how they are not necessarily the same as your friend’s? The type of habits, intensity, when and how they appear in your day-to-day life are very unique, and with a reason!

Behaviours and Your Sense of Identity

Your current behaviours are simply a reflection of your current sense of identity. Your identity is usually a construct based on your early childhood experiences or life changing events that happens later on in life. So, you behave in a certain way due to your unconscious bias around who you think you are, or who you think you should be.

To simply put it, the beliefs you have about yourself are the ones who drive your long-term behaviour. Maybe you can trick yourself into going to the gym or eating healthy every now and then, but if you don’t shift your underlying identity, then it’s hard to stick with long-term changes.

The Graphic by James Clear [1] shows the layers of habits that are constructed based on our sense of identity.

You do this for a reason…

Having a sense of identity is a very important aspect of being human. It is a way in which you find a center, a place to grounds you. When you lose sight of that center, you can find yourself adrift, which oftentimes can only serve to magnify your general sense of uncertainty, fear and anxiety.

How do Behaviours Actually Change?

As behaviours are a reflection of your sense of identity, the only way to truly change it is by working on your unconscious beliefs around who you think you are or ‘should be’. Of course, this sounds like an obvious thing to do, but it is not so easy as your sense of identity is trying really hard to keep you safe!

Therefore, changing our behaviours by simply changing our ‘thoughts’ alone or using a general formula will certainly not work. Yes, they can be very helpful and bring many changes in a short term, but if we are talking about long lasting changes, there has to be something much deeper looked at, and that can be a much slower process that requires patience, self-compassion and understanding.

If you truly want to change a behaviour that no longer serves you, you need to look at the roots of its causes. The stronger or ‘stickier’ the behaviour, the more patience and gentle you need to be with yourself. Before making any self-deceiving commitments to make a big change in your habits or lifestyle, you need to be accepting to the fact that YES, they are there for a reason, therefore but using your ‘will power’ alone, won’t be so helpful if you wish to make long lasting changes.


[1] Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals. James Clear, 2013.

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