Behavior change is belief change

Aristotle habit quote

Every behavior change fanatic out there loves this quote. Probably has it on their bathroom mirror.

The formula is so simple.

You = what you do every day

And therefore:

if (what you do every day == excellent)


You = excellent

And also, if you’re trying to solve for excellence…

You + X = Excellence

You now know that

X = do excellent things every day


You + (do excellent things every day) = Excellence

I know what you’re thinking.

Be excellent to each other

And more importantly, just be excellent.

And here, it becomes clear.

The quote by Aristotle is actually not helpful at all.

Last night I had a great conversation with @e_ramirez, @cwhogg, and @aarondcoleman over a few beers. It was a thoroughly enjoyable behavior-change app-building quantified-self throw down.

Despite all of us having fairly different ideas about to build RIGHT NOW, given the current state of the market, what we know about behavior change, and what works and doesn’t work, there was a moment of clarity when we all agreed on the fact that:

Behavior change is belief change.

You can’t change what you do without first changing who you are.

Two parallel universes (and a rather cliched example):

  1. You step on a scale, and don’t like what you see, and you wish you could change.

  2. You step on a scale, and don’t like what you see because that person isn’t you.

In the first parallel universe, you are the person on the scale, and you wish you could read a book, buy a gadget, etc that would help you lose weight and be a healthier version of yourself. This person will have a really difficult time changing their actions, because they first have to change the belief about who they are.

In the second parallel universe, you look at the numbers and you look at yourself and it’s like looking at a stranger. That person ISN’T YOU. Even though you are apparently in their body. This person has ALREADY changed who they are, and therefore changing actions to match that will be a lot easier.

The dissonance of having a strong belief, and living in a universe where that belief seems to be false, can create a huge burst of energy that can then be channeled into changing INTO the person that you already believe that you are.


This is the pattern that I hear over and over again with people who were able to change their behaviors:

They already believed themselves to be the person who they were changing into.

Now, of course, that just begs the question.

How do we change who we believe that we are?

How do we change our core identity of ourselves? How do we change into “a runner” or “a stair-taker” or “a whole foods eater” or “a meditator” or “an optimist”?

It seems really difficult, right?

That’s because it is.

Anyone that tells you that you just need to “walk one more bus stop every morning” in order to be a healthier person has reversed the formula (putting the easy thing first) in order to sell it to you.

In order to be a person who walks to the bus stop every morning you have to change your core identity of yourself into a “healthier person who walks a lot”.

On the other hand, if you believe you are that person already, then you’ve already done the difficult part.

  1. Accept your beliefs about who you think you are now.
  2. Accept your beliefs about who you want to be.
  3. ???
  4. Behavior change.

Now read this

$1 for you (conclusion)

Last September I asked people to call me out whenever I complained. The first person to call me out would get $1. I probably got called out at least 100 times, and appreciate all of the help from everyone who did so. It was pretty great... Continue →