How Identity Shapes Our Habits and How to Transform It - tracker and habit teacher.

The way we perceive ourselves—our identity—plays a crucial role in shaping our daily habits and behaviors

Understanding the impact of identity on our actions and learning how to modify it can lead to profound changes in our lives. This article explores the concept of identity, how it influences our habits, and offers practical ways to reshape identity to foster positive changes.

Understanding Identity and Habit Formation

The Link Between Identity and Behavior

Identity is a powerful force in determining behavior. It involves how we see ourselves and how we believe others see us. This self-perception influences almost every aspect of our behavior—from how we talk to how we work and play. When someone identifies as a "runner," for instance, they are more likely to prioritize running in their daily routine. Similarly, someone who sees themselves as "not good with technology" might avoid situations where they have to engage with new tech tools.

Identity as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Identities can become self-fulfilling prophecies. This means that if you believe certain things about yourself, you are likely to act in ways that reinforce those beliefs. For example, if you think you are "always late," you might not try as hard to be on time, thus perpetuating the cycle.

Experiment: The Role of Priming in Identity Change

The Setup

In an experiment inspired by the principles discussed in "Pre-Suasion," researchers set out to test how priming certain aspects of an individual’s identity could influence their behavior in specific tasks. Participants were divided into two groups. Each group was primed differently; one group was subtly reminded of their past successes in a relevant skill area, while the other group was not given such priming.

The Task

The task involved a skill that many people often feel anxious about, such as public speaking or mathematical problem-solving. Before the task, the primed group received messages that highlighted their previous successful experiences in the skill area, even if those successes were minor or not directly related to the task at hand. For example, if the task was about solving math problems, the primed group might have been reminded of a time they effectively calculated a tip at a restaurant or managed a budget.

The Results

The results showed that the group which was primed with reminders of past success performed better on the task than the group that was not primed. The primed group reported feeling more confident and connected to the identity of being competent in the given skill area.


This experiment underscores the power of pre-suasive techniques in shaping behavior by modifying self-perception. By reminding individuals of their capabilities, the experiment effectively shifted their identity—at least temporarily—towards that of a successful person in the specific task area. This shift not only enhanced their performance but also likely influenced their ongoing perception of their abilities in that area.


This experiment illustrates a practical application of pre-suasion in everyday life and in therapeutic settings. By deliberately priming people with positive aspects of their identity, it is possible to enhance their performance and encourage the formation of new, positive habits. This aligns closely with the idea that changing one's identity can lead to lasting changes in behavior, as discussed in the article about identity's influence on habits.

Experiment: How Questions Influence Self-Perception and Behavior

The Setup

Researchers conducted an experiment to examine how posing certain types of questions could affect individuals' actions in the future. Participants were asked a series of questions designed not just to gather information but to influence their self-perception and behavior.

The Questions

The key to this experiment was in the specific questions asked. Instead of asking participants if they intended to perform a behavior, the researchers asked questions that assumed they already had certain qualities or habits. For example, instead of asking, "Do you plan to vote in the upcoming election?" they asked, "How important is it to you to be a voter in the upcoming election?" This subtle shift in phrasing from "plan to vote" to "be a voter" invokes a change in identity, suggesting that the individual is already the kind of person who votes.

The Results

The results showed that people who were asked about being a voter were more likely to actually vote compared to those who were simply asked if they planned to vote. By framing the question around identity ("being a voter"), it reinforced the idea that being a voter is part of who they are, which in turn influenced their actual behavior to align with this identity.


This experiment highlights how questions can be a powerful tool in pre-suasion by framing people's thoughts about who they are (or who they can be), thus influencing their subsequent behaviors. The idea is that by asking someone to consider a positive identity ("being a voter," "being a donor," "being a helper"), it increases the likelihood that they will act in accordance with that identity.

Implications for Habit Change

This research is particularly relevant when considering habit change. If someone wants to change a habit, questions that evoke an identity—such as "Do you see yourself as someone who is organized and punctual?"—can be more effective than direct suggestions or reminders. The question encourages the person to align their actions with the positive identity, thereby facilitating a change in habits.

By understanding and utilizing the strategy of pre-suasive questioning, individuals and professionals can more effectively encourage themselves and others to adopt new behaviors and strengthen desirable identities. This aligns closely with the notion that modifying one's self-identity can have profound impacts on their behaviors and habits.

How Identity Affects Habits

Positive vs. Negative Identities

Identities can be broadly categorized into positive and negative identities concerning habits. Positive identities (e.g., "I am a reader") promote habits that are beneficial or desired, while negative identities (e.g., "I am bad at math") can hinder personal growth and development.

The Role of Identity in Habit Change

Changing a habit often requires changing the underlying identity that supports it. If you want to stop being late, for instance, it helps to start thinking of yourself as someone who is punctual. This shift in identity can create a powerful psychological push to adopt new, more positive behaviors.

Transforming Your Identity

Example 1: Becoming a Morning Person

Suppose you frequently say, "I'm not a morning person." To change this, start by slowly shifting your routine to include enjoyable morning activities. Perhaps begin with a cup of your favorite coffee or a short walk. As these activities become a pleasant part of your morning, you can start identifying as someone who appreciates the early hours, gradually becoming a "morning person."

Example 2: Embracing Technology

If you identify as "not good with technology," challenge this by engaging with technology in small, manageable ways. Start with user-friendly apps or software known for their ease of use. As your comfort grows, so will your identity as someone who can handle technology well.

Example 3: Remembering Names

Many people say, "I'm bad at remembering names." To change this, make a conscious effort to repeat names during conversations and associate each name with a visual image or a rhyme. This practice can help you shift towards an identity of someone who is excellent at remembering names.

Example 4: Improving Punctuality

For those who believe "I'm always late," consider setting multiple alarms or planning to arrive 15 minutes early to every appointment. By consistently arriving on time, you reinforce the identity of being punctual.

Example 5: Becoming Math Savvy

"I'm horrible at math" is a common self-belief. To overcome this, start with basic problems and use resources like educational apps to practice regularly. Celebrating small victories in math can help you build a new identity as someone who is competent in math.

In the experiment, researchers worked with school-aged girls who had internalized the stereotype that they were not good at math, a belief that negatively affected their performance and interest in the subject. Before a math test, one group of girls was asked to check a box indicating their gender, while another group was not. This simple act of checking a box related to gender was used to subtly remind the first group of the stereotype, which, in turn, affected their test performance.

The results were telling: the girls who were reminded of their gender identity right before the test performed worse than those who were not given such a reminder. This experiment highlighted how even subtle cues can activate certain identities (in this case, a stereotype about gender and math ability), leading to changes in behavior and performance.


Changing deeply ingrained identities might not happen overnight, but with persistent effort and strategic changes, it's entirely possible. By embracing new identities, you can foster habits that align with who you want to be, leading to a more fulfilled and successful life. Remember, the goal isn't just to change a habit temporarily; it's to transform how you see yourself in relation to that habit permanently.