“I sincerely believe that behavior change is identity/belief change.” – Buster Benson

Benson argues habits aren’t tiny things and they actually require a complex and intricate brain structure to support them. Any sort of habit change should therefore be attacked in a way that supports the development of this complex brain structure.

That’s why he’s counting down from 1,000 in his goal to become a marathoner. He thinks any successful habit change requires a shift in his identity. He doesn’t want to just run a marathon, he wants to become a marathoner. By counting small and marginally tangentially related things he is supporting his identity change into a marathoner and not just the behavior changes that will allow him to run a marathon.

What major habit change are you working on? How do you need to shift your identity to more fully support that change?

  • MartyS

    And who the heck is “Buster Benson” and why should we care? Sounds like a pseudonym.

    As an NSF-backed research psychologist, there’s nothing that Mr. Benson says here that can be understood as anything else other than yet another blogger who thinks himself an expert in psychology. He admits he’s “no academic” but then throws around vague terms like “identity change” as meaningful insight without any critical exposition of what he means by the term or any correlation to the enormous body of research in place already in Cognitive Behavioral Psychology. These kind of fortune cookie descriptions of psychological and neuroscientific dynamics degrade 99u and your readers.

    This garbage has led me to unsubscribe from 99u’s RSS feed. Good riddance.

    • Sean Blanda

      Marty, as a psychologist you know as well as anyone that there’s a limit to the number of studies that are released on a monthly basis. Benson isn’t a psychologist, but he’s offering a first-hand account of how he changed a habit, something that’s useful to anyone undergoing a similar change — and that’s why we published this post.

  • Ani Remme

    Maybe the change in identity happens first- most people assume that this formula works: have-do-be. If I buy this thing or do this thing, I will be this person. My experience has shown me that it works: be- do – have. You had to accept the possibility of being this person before action or having the thing could take place.

    Changing negative belief patterns or concepts of ‘I AM’ are much subtler and tricker!!! It involves staying PRESENT to the moment- undoing and exposing false beliefs and creating new neural connections. (Every emotion has a chemical recipe) So….I am working on this one at the moment. Any suggestions?

    • Lonn

      Have you looked into REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy)? The A-B-C method from REBT lines up well with your comment. I agree, btw. The PRESENT MOMENT and new neural connections are a big part of real change.

  • Caleb G

    This post may be more persuasive if “identity” was defined. Furthermore, the conclusion does not follow given the premises of the argument. Spurlin writes, “He thinks any successful habit change requires a shift in his identity.” But couldn’t identity precede behavior? And wouldn’t that paradigmatically alter the thrust of this post?

  • bsn

    I listened to ‘Redirect’ by Tim Wilson. He talks about ‘do’ before believe or think or be. He uses the example of teenage girls, say demographically vulnerable to pregnancy, and the best (backed by evidence, numbers) practice to curb pregnancy? Volunteer work. The work helped them rewrite their internal dialogue about who they are.

    In older Army literature, Be, Know, Do were the tenets of leadership training…what a leader is, what he/she knows, what they do. Effective examples, but I have to agree with Wilson on this. In my experience, it is only after I do, and I do, and I do, and I do, and I do some more…that I actually begin to internalize it…and then be.
    For what it is worth…

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