Do your habits align with your identity?

In the article titled “Culture Grows the Way You Feed It” I challenged you to look at what’s in your pantry. This week, we’ll go one step further, because not all food is created equal and if you want a different brand result (than you have), a place to start is the whats and hows of your everyday actions and decisions — your habits.

In his recent book, Atomic Habits*, James Clear takes apart the mechanics and motivation that drive any shift in habits. I previously referenced Clear’s work in several articles introducing the idea of brand habits and the deliberate practice required to achieve a brand result. However, before you get to established habits, it’s worth looking at what drives them.

Habits thread through the formula for achieving a brand result beginning with identity. And what Clear observes for individuals can easily translate to organisations. He writes:

“Once you have a handle on the type of person you want to be, you can begin taking small steps to reinforce your desired identity… You need to know who you want to be. Otherwise, your quest for change is like a boat without a rudder.” (page 40)

An organisation’s identity provides the intention that habits make obvious. So if what I’m doing and how I’m doing it isn’t aligned to and grounded in why I’m doing it, I will quickly lose the will to persevere.

Clear further outlines the vital relationship between habits and identity, “Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity? Habits that reinforce your desired identity are usually good. Habits that conflict with your desired identity are usually bad.” (page 65)

Let’s say I’m trying to establish my identity as an organisation who cares about the environment. The thrift of saving a few dollars is a bad habit where I continue to buy the cheapest and most convenient office supplies regardless of how they’re made.

Sure it’s one small decision, but compound it throughout the whole organisation and it means the environmentally caring identity I’m seeking will never happen. To make obvious what you care about and believe it needs to be present in habits, big and small.

Your habits are the foundation of the ‘unheroic work’ I talk about, and are a vital element of achieving a brand result people will care about.

Because when you use your identity to shape them you make it obvious for all to see. When you drag those good habits into how you make promises, you’re more likely to keep them. When you use them to shape the experience people have working with and buying from you, they’re more likely to stick around.

If you’d like to get a handle on your habits, Clear’s book is jam-packed with frameworks and processes to use.

Michel Hogan is an Independent Brand Counsel advising organisations on the risk to their purpose and values of making promises they can’t keep.

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