Identity-Based Motivation – The Motivation in the Moment Protocol (Part 3)

Part three in a three part series about making motivation easy. In the two previous posts about Motivation in the Moment, we’ve discussed short-term and long-term practices to naturally increase your motivation.

This post describes the most effective strategy to get out of a motivation rut: identity-based motivation. Use this powerful goal-setting strategy to make lasting progress on your most challenging goals.

If you’ve been working through the Motivation in the Moment Protocol and still feel stuck, then this post is for you my friend. We’re bringing out the big guns today with the most powerful motivational theory. It’s a simple concept, and ooooooh so powerful in practice.

What’s the best way to get unstuck on a big, audacious goal? Make it personal with an “I” statement.

When you tie your identity to a goal, something magic happens. You are no longer driven solely by an outcome, you are open to wherever that identity shift might take you.

The psychology behind identity-based goals is Identity-Based Motivation theory. Identity-Based Motivation, IBM for short, describes the power of tying goal pursuit to your personal sense of identity. University of Southern California Professor Daphna Oyserman pioneered the concept of Identity-Based Motivation. In her book Pathways to Success Through Identity-Based Motivation, she describes how identity-based goals overcome the cognitive dissonance standing between your current and future self.

Identity-based motivation theory avoids the trap of comparing yourself (current)… with yourself (future).

Why use Identity-Based Motivation?

Identity-based motivation
Writing down identity-based motivation statements keeps goals top of mind.

A simple truth underlies Identity-Based Motivation: The easiest way to stay motivated is to connect your identity to your desired outcome.

When a goal becomes part of our identity, making better decisions and taking actions becomes easier. Intrinsic motivation increases.

A 2017 study at Rutgers University showed that those participants who articulated their goals as an ‘identity’ were not only more likely to achieve their goals, but also found it easier to stay motivated and make choices consistent with their desired goal outcomes.

When you’re stuck on a big goal, goals with “I am” statements are easier to follow than specific goal targets.

When to use Identity-Based Motivation

Have you ever gotten into that trap where you have an idea of where you want to be, but your current self and your future self just don’t match-up?

Maybe your future self is a published author, but your current self does not have a consistent writing habit. Perhaps your current self is a painter on a tight budget, and your future self is a world traveler. In both scenarios, there is a clear disconnect between your current actions and where you want to be.

Identity-based motivation work best when you desire to make a fundamental shift. If you find yourself facing the same obstacles over and over again, you may need an identity-based goals.

Identity-based motivation also works well if you find yourself constantly talking down to yourself in your head about how you will never reach your goal. An identity-based goal creates an immediate bridge to your future self.

By declaring an ‘I’ statement about your goal, you call that desired outcome into the present moment. You’re not focused on a large, abstract goal like ‘losing weight,’ which might feel a little bit scary. Instead your focus is being congruent with your identity.

4 Steps for Identity-Based Motivation

  1. Bring to mind a long-term goal with which you haven’t made as much progress as you would have liked, or a goal you have in your heart but are hesitant to start. Ask yourself “What is the story I’m telling myself about this goal?” Challenge yourself to dig deeper until you get to the root cause: a belief, a core value, a mindset.
  2. When deciding to go after a goal, we chase not only a result, but also a desired feeling (like confidence, self-assuredness or self-expression). Imagine as if you’ve achieved your goal and notice the feeling you want to achieve when you complete your goal.
  3. Articulate your goal as an “I” statement. Some examples of “I” statements include: I am persistent, I am able to figure out anything, I am the kind of person who doesn’t eat after 9 p.m., I have an endless supply of creative ideas, I am an achiever.
  4. Write down your “I” statement somewhere highly visible. Take regular time throughout the day to consider your “I” statement so it stays top of mind and guides you to take positive action towards your goal.

Thank you for being a part of this goal-setting community, where we face the struggle head-on and cheer each other on our journeys! For additional resources and encouragement on autonomy, mastery and purpose, check out these related blog posts:

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