We know that change is hard. If you’ve ever tried to adopt new habits in business, or started a new business routine which you’ve done enthusiastically for several weeks and then … stopped … what’s wrong?

If you’ve made goals and resolutions that you haven’t achieved, is it the goal setting that’s wrong? Should we be digging deep into our ‘heartfelt desires’, as Danielle La Porte suggests? Are you lacking willpower? Or is there something else?

Willpower is not the issue

Too many of us beat ourselves up for “lacking the willpower” to change our habits, reach our goals or transform our businesses. But this has been debunked by psychology Professor Roy F. Baumeister, and his colleagues, with the limited strength model of self-regulation which shows that we all have a finite amount of self-control or willpower every day. This is also backed up by health psychologist and Stanford University Professor Kelly McGonigal in her book, The Willpower Instinct.

In other words, every day, we each have a finite amount of willpower which is depleted with every decision we make.

By reducing our need to make choices, we don’t deplete our willpower and can use this for smarter decisions. We can replace choices with good habits.

Redesigning your habits

As author James Clear explains, achieving our goals and desires is not about the goals themselves but the system we use to achieve these.

What’s our system? It’s the culmination of our process and habits. Says James, “decisions set your trajectory. Habits determine how far you walk along that trajectory. And your system is the collection of habits you perform each day.”

Habits are our brains’ way of being more efficient so that every small action needing doing throughout the day doesn’t cognitively overwhelm us. Habits allow us to act on autopilot, meaning motivation and willpower aren’t required, thus our daily store of willpower isn’t depleted by good habits.

The missing piece of the “change your habits” puzzle

Of course, it was easy to change your bad habits into good, then you wouldn’t be reading this article. The diet industry, reported to reach $442.3 billion globally by 2025, would collapse, many of us working in the health industry would be out of a job, and we’d all be super humans (and likely, superhumanly annoying).

A few clues on the path to changing your habits are: they take time! (A set time like 21 or 40 days is a myth. Some new habits take less time; some take far, far longer.) We need to reward new behaviours. This is based in science – dopamine will reinforce your new behavior towards habit.

We also need a lot of self-awareness to identify the cues for your new, good habit. Cues trigger behaviours (thought patterns are behaviours too).

But perhaps the biggest puzzle piece that’s missing is that habits and behaviours become part of our identity. If you want to change your behaviours, you need to change your identity.

Redefining your identity

Your identity, or ego, is made up of many facets, including your past behaviors and habits. If you have established your identity as someone who is “bad with money” based on prior behaviours and habits, then setting the goal to earn $150,000 in your business this year is at odds with this.

In order to change behaviors and habits related to money – whether impulse purchasing, overspending, miserly behavior, lack of budgeting, lack of negotiating prowess, invoicing routines, etc – you need to overhaul your identity, from someone who’s “bad with money” to someone who’s “good with money” or, at least, “better at money”.

[Tweet “In order to change behaviors and habits related to money, you need to overhaul your identity, from someone who’s “bad with money” to someone who’s “good with money”.”]

Audacious questions you need to ask yourself about your goals

After you’ve set yourself some business goals, ask yourself:

  • Is there a (hidden) part of me that objects to this goal? What’s it saying?
  • What’s the story that I’ve been telling myself about what it’s going to take to achieve this goal?
  • Can I truly believe that I am (not could be) the “kind of person” to realise this goal?
  • In what ways might this goal challenge my values? Is this truly the case, or just an assumption?

Excavating your socialisation

Being self-employed, despite its recent fashion and accompanying propaganda, is still a fairly radical thing to do. It is not taught in schools, it’s not part of the vast majority of vocational training courses, it’s not encouraged in most Australian families.

Much of what we’ve learnt, both formally and informally, through our socialization, is not only unhelpful to self-employed, but will hinder our progress.

We need to excavate our socialization to enable our entrepreneurism to flourish and our businesses to thrive. This includes learning how to:

  • Ask for what we want and advocate for ourselves
  • Redefine what we believe ‘professional’ means
  • Be visible as a business owner and unashamed about how we express ourselves
  • Be okay with making numerous decisions regularly with incomplete information
  • Be okay about making mistakes
  • Get over our shame about hustling Get over our desire to be seen by others as likable or agreeable
  • Not worry about trying to figure out who the authority is in any situation so that we can seek permission before we act.

These are common learnt behaviours and beliefs throughout childhood and higher education. They take time to dismantle, especially when they inconvenience or disrupt the people close to us.

Even more so, it takes bucket loads of confidence, courage, and positive reinforcement to refine our identity as someone who: asks for what they need; goes after what they want; hustles without shame.

Building real confidence, from the inside, out and back again

Courage is not the absence of fear, so don’t confuse the two. You likely know how awesome it feels when you take an action that has scared you to your foundations and the world didn’t collapse in on itself.

Building real confidence takes many things: practice; courageous friends and colleagues who are similarly pushing themselves; self-care, including sleep and holidays; getting over being perceived as ‘selfish’; grit to develop new skills and habits and maintain these; self-insight into our own particular flavor of procrastination, what motivates us and what we truly desire.

Your identity is a huge piece of the puzzle in making real change. Don’t overlook this when you set aside time to plan for next year in business (are you the “kind of person” who does business planning?). Have the courage to excavate your socialisation and rebuild your identity from the inside out, so that your goals aren’t at odds with your identity.