two people riding bikes at sunset

How To Make A Fitness Habit Part Of Your Identity (And Why You Should Care)

Identity is defined as a set of beliefs that you have about who you are as a person. 

Aristotle famously said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.”

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, points out, “Your behaviors are a reflection of your identity. What you do is an indication of the person you believe you are.”

If we combine these two quotes, we get a picture of identity that looks something like the diagram below. This image describes the loop-like nature of behavior, habit, and identity.

If behaviors are repeated enough, they become habits. Our collection of habits make up our identity – our beliefs about who we are as a person. 

Finally, to bring the loop full circle, our identity then helps us decide which behaviors to engage in. If the behavior is in line with our identity, we are more likely to do it. If the behavior is at odds with our identity, then we are less likely to do it.

Example: The Identity Loop In Action

A person who rides their bike frequently (behavior), might form a habit of going for a bike ride every day before work. After forming this habit, they may start to identify as a cyclist. Adopting this identity will help them make decisions about their future behaviors based on whether or not they align with their identity as a cyclist. 

Woman enjoying a break from rising her bike.

Behaviors that a cyclist might choose to engage in are eating healthier to support their performance, enrolling in a race, or joining a cycling group. Behaviors a cyclist may choose to avoid might be smoking or staying up too late which might cause them to miss their morning ride. 

Why Do People Have A Hard Time Sticking To New Fitness Habits?

There are a lot of reasons why people fail to stick to fitness and health goals, but what many of these things amount to, is a mismatch between a new habit and the person’s current identity. 

For example, let’s imagine that you have a goal of trying to lose weight. You’ve heard that running is a great way to burn calories, so you decide to go running every day. Despite not being a fan of running. 

You know some people that are runners, and you really can’t relate to them. Losing weight is important to you, but you can’t really see yourself ever identifying as a “runner”. 

Unfortunately, because you don’t identify as a runner, it will be very difficult (but not necessarily impossible) for you to stick to a running habit long-term. For this reason, it will be hard to lose weight and keep it off using running as a method.

Woman running while the sun is setting
If you don’t identify as a runner, it will be hard to stick to a running habit.

The lesson here is that if you are trying to form a new exercise habit that you can stick to long-term, it is important that the habit becomes part of your identity. 

"True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you'll stick with one is it becomes part of your identity". – James Clear #AtomicHabits Click To Tweet

How To Make A New Fitness Habit Part Of Your Identity

1 – Decide what kind of identity you want to adopt.

2 – Choose habits (that you can stick to) that support this identity.

Step 1 – Decide What Kind Of Identity You Want To Adopt

Your identity is who you are as a person. Like a fingerprint, your behaviors and habits are a unique part of who you are. So what habits would you like to make up your identity?

Below are just a few examples of how healthy habits can be part of a person’s identity:

  • I am a healthy eater.
  • I am an athlete.
  • I am a runner/dancer/hiker/yogi/health nut.
  • I am confident in my own skin.
  • I am the kind of person who takes care of my body.
  • I am the kind of person that never misses a workout.
Healthy eating. Pot of vegetables

Notice that these “I am” statements tell us a lot about identity. 

Activity: Choose Your Health & Fitness Identity

Take some time to fill out the table below to decide what kind of identity you would like to adopt.

Activity to help you decide what king of health and fitness identity you would like to adopt.

The activity you just completed is designed to help you to think of yourself in a different way, shifting your mindset. 

Remember that identity is just a set of beliefs that you have about yourself. Beliefs can be changed. People can change their habits, and in doing so, can adopt a new identity.

Step 2: Choose Habits (That You Can Stick To) That Support Your Chosen Identity

Now that you’ve decided on an identity that you would like to adopt, it is time to build some habits that will support that identity.

The tricky part is choosing habits that are sustainable, meaning habits that you can actually stick to long-term. 

Honestly, enjoying the type of exercise that you choose is a huge part of being able to stick to a fitness goal! If you enjoy an activity you will have high levels of motivation to do that activity.  

If you don’t already have a type of exercise that you love, read 3 ways to stop hating (and start loving) your exercise.

Example: Choosing Habits That Support Your Identity

I identify as being an adventurer. I enjoy conquering mountains, getting up-close and personal with waterfalls, scaling rock walls, and paddling with whales. 

My favorite types of exercise are backpacking, hiking, rappelling, rock climbing, and paddling. Stand up paddle boarding, canoe, or kayak – I love them all! Notice that all of these types of exercise align with my identity of being an adventurer. 

Because I truly enjoy these types of exercise, I am highly motivated to do them. This makes it much easier for me to be consistent in my exercise habit.

Further, because I enjoy physically demanding adventures, I am more likely to choose behaviors that align with this identity. 

For example, I choose to do additional resistance and cardiovascular training so I’m ready for a big adventure when the opportunity arises. I also choose to eat relatively healthy and get a good night’s sleep to help with my performance. Some of the behaviors I choose to avoid because they are mismatched with my identity are drinking all the time, staying up all night, and eating excessive junk food.

Conclusion

Now that you have a better idea about what identity you would like to adopt, keep it in mind when you are making a choice about what behaviors to perform.

Next time you are faced with a challenging situation where you might be tempted to stray from the goals you have set, ask yourself, “Is this behavior consistent with the identity I want to adopt?” If not, pass on it.

[Check out these additional tips to achieve your fitness goals!]

Your Turn!

Have you ever tried to form a habit that didn’t align with your identity? If so, were you able to stick with it?

Do you think that your beliefs about who you are as a person (identity) can be shifted over time?

What type of identity do you currently have and which type would you like to adopt?

Let’s discuss in the comments. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Share the knowledge!

Author: clarissa.cabbage

Clarissa is a teacher, a coach, and an avid adventurer! Armed with a master's degree in Exercise and Wellness, she is on a mission to teach people how to build healthier habits that support the adventurous lifestyle of their dreams. There is nothing Clarissa is more passionate about than helping people get active and live their lives to the fullest!

36 Replies to “How To Make A Fitness Habit Part Of Your Identity (And Why You Should Care)

  1. A really interesting read. I started doing more exercise when we were locked down and have kept it up. I always thought I was quite fit, but have now improved my diet and ramped up the exercise – it’s definitely become a major part of my identity now.

    1. Yaaaaaaay, that’s fantastic Graham! It’s funny how things snowball like that isn’t it? How all the sudden you find yourself actually wanting to eat better so as not to ruin all the effort you put in working out. Congrats, and thank you for the comment!

    1. Thank you Justin! It is always my goal to make these posts actionable. It’s great to learn something new, but even better to be able to apply them to your life and goals right away. Thanks for reading!

  2. Great article! I think fitness is such an important habit. It affects almost every facet of life, whether mental, physical, or emotional. Thanks for the interesting post!

    1. Thank you Dave! I wholeheartedly agree that fitness effects wellness as whole like you mentioned. This is why I like to address mindset as well as the physical parts of becoming fit. Thanks so much for the read!

    1. Thank you for the comment Chantal! I would agree, it definitely takes time to change an identity, especially since identity is based on habits and those take time to take root. I don’t think it’s necessary to change your overall identity though! (For example you could still be a mother, sister, wife, lawyer, videogame nerd etc.) It is possible to just change smaller parts of identity that relate to health and fitness without overhauling the whole thing.

    1. Thank you Abigail, I am glad you found it helpful! I definitely believe that mindset is a huge (and often underestimated or even overlooked) part of making a behavior change. Mindset matters!

  3. You have some very good points about habits, thoughts, identity and behaviours and explain clearly how this all affects those of us who aren’t the most activity loving people 🙂 Thanks for sharing, this is definite food for me.

  4. I totally agree with you. In the recent years, I managed to incorporate fitness into my identity. People know my routine and if I happen to miss a day, they asked why I skipped going to the gym LOL! It’s always hard to start something, but once you start, it is easy to keep on going. I love these tips about picking your identity. Everyone’s identities change over time, as their interests transform. We’re not the same person we were years ago :).

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

    1. I definitely agree Nancy! I know that I have changed and evolved a ton in the last 5 years or so. I think it’s really important to have the mindset that we can always change, grow,and improve ourselves. Hard work and passion go such a long way! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!

    1. ? Why thank you! There is way too much misinformation in fitness. I am always trying to combat that in my own way as much as possible. Nothing but science here! Thanks for taking the time to read it.

  5. These are all such great tips for making a fitness habit part of your daily routine! I always feel so much better when I can stick to my fitness routines. Thanks for sharing these tips and tricks!

    1. Thank you Charity! I always say that success is the best motivator. If I can set people up for little victories early on, they are so much more likely to stick to their new habit long-term. It’s that first phase of adopting a new habit that is always the hardest, so early victories are crucial!

  6. I love this idea! I want to get back into yoga. I have cleared the spare room, got my yoga mat out (but yet to do a session – I need to build it into my morning routine but keep just going straight into the garden because it’s so lovely at the moment!). Yoga also fits in well with the whole slower-paced and less stressful lifestyle I want to adopt.

    Lots of love, Helen
    http://www.whathelenloves.com

    1. That’s awesome Helen! Yoga sounds like a great way to start off your day. Would it be possible to do your session out in the garden when days are nice? That would be a win-win! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment.

  7. I’ve never thought about a fitness identity. That’s interesting!! I will keep this in mind and try to come up with something.

  8. This was such a great read! This is something I really really struggle with. I always start things I want to be habits but then all it seems to take is one bad day and that’s the end of it. Sometimes feels like I have no stamina or willpower at all.

    Kadie ♥ The Great Canadian Housewife | A Story About A Girl

    1. Thank you Kadie I am glad you enjoyed reading it, and hope it inspired you to think a little differently about forming habits. I am planning on writing a post very soon about willpower. I think you might enjoy it!

  9. Brilliant article with proactive steps. I love the fact that we can reshape our identity based on our habits. The only thing is, if the identity we want to carve for ourselves in the future is a million miles away from who we are now, the habits to work toward it will be harder and require more willpower. I have exercised on and off since I was an early teen and still have that muscle memory, it is definitely a part of who I am!

    1. Thanks so much S.S.! I absolutely agree, it can take a good while to reshape our identity based on habits. It’s not easy to do, and really, it’s a lifelong pursuit. I love your comment about how far the chosen identity is from the current habits. I agree for sure. I think the key is taking baby steps to systematically incorporate the new habit into your life in a sustainable way. Trying to do it all at once requires huge amounts of willpower, which rarely ends well. We’ve got to play the long game!

      Thank you for taking the time to share your insight and experience! ??

  10. Such an interesting read, Clarissa. I think narrowing down a Fitness/Health identity would be a massive help in determining what kind of fitness regime to adopt. I am such a lazy person that any kind of exercise is thoroughly unappealing but baby steps, and this is a great way to try and find something that I would a) like and b) stick to – thank you! Lisa

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