A few weeks ago, I did a journaling exercise inspired by James Clear’s transformational book Atomic Habits.
In the book, Clear talks about the three layers of behavior change: Outcomes, Processes, and Identity.
The first layer is changing your outcomes. This is the outermost level of behavior change. The most shallow but also most accessible of the three. This level is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book, winning a championship. Most of the goals we set in life are associate with this level of change.
The second layer is changing your process. This level is concerned with changing your habit and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow, developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits we build are associated with this level.
The third and deepest layer is changing your identity. This level is concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, your self-image, your judgments about yourself and others. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases we hold are associated with this level.
Outcomes are what you get. Processes are what you do. Identity is what you believe.
Most people don’t even consider identity change when they set out to improve. They just think, “I want to be in better physical shape (outcome) and if I stick to this exercise routine (process), then I’ll get what I want.”
But as Clear points out, self-improvement is only temporary until it becomes part of who we are.
- The goal is not to write a blog, the goal is to become a writer
- The goal is not to start a successful business, the goal is to become a successful entrepreneur
- The goal is not to pay off your credit card, the goal is to become someone who looks after their finances diligently
First you must decide who you want to be. Then you can develop a reliable path to getting to where you want to go.
But if you are anything like me, coming up with a satisfying answer to “Who do I want to be?” can be extremely stubborn problem to solve.
So I decided to come at this question from another angle, with a new framework designed to deliver a reliable, clear, and self-honest answer.
Admiration Audit: The Framework
I sat down with my journal and performed what I now call an Admiration Audit. And what I realized from doing this Admiration Audit was equal-parts transformational and simple.
To do an Admiration Audit of your own, follow these steps.
- Make a list of 10 people you genuinely admire. These can be public figures or people that you know personally. You don’t have to be able to explain exactly why you admire them, you just need to know deep down that you do admire them. Try to diversify your list as much as possible: pull from many different areas or disciplines such as business, sports, arts, entertainment, religion, etc.
- Trim your list. Cut every person that you have somewhat mixed feelings about. Try to get your new shortlist down to just 5 people. You should feel really good about these finalists deep-down in your heart cave. There should be no doubt that you genuinely, deeply admire these people. If possible, try to keep a strong diversity of disciplines, occupations, or areas among your final 5.
- Explore what you admire about these people. It is essential that you write these thoughts down, stream of consciousness style. Write until you feel satisfied that you’ve gotten all the little things that you admire down for each individual. Then move on to the next one.
- Re-read what you wrote and look for patterns. Are there specific words that you keep using to describe these different people? Certain things that they do, or ways they carry themselves? What qualities or traits do every one of these people share? You might be surprised at how obvious the themes become now that you’ve done all the hard work.
After taking an hour to give those 4 steps my full attention and some genuine thought, it’s remarkable how easy it became to answer that daunting question from before: “Who do I want to become?”
The answer is simple: “The kind of person who belongs on this list alongside those I most admire.”
How? Even easier. Whatever the common theme between the people on your list is, that’s the quality you need to develop in yourself. In time, you will not just get the results these people do, or do the same things these people do, but you will be the same type of person these people are.
My Most Admired Trait: Persistence
For me, the answer materialized before I was even done with Step 4 of the Admiration Audit.
The one thing that all my role models had in common was persistence. Willingness to commit. Willingness to play long-term games. To keep working, to keep going in the same direction for years or even decades, with no guarantee of success.
These people were impatient with their inputs but patient with their outcomes.
They understood that each day’s effort is but one blow of their blade against a mighty oak. The first blow may not cause even a tremor in the wood, nor the second nor the third. Each blow, on its own, may seem trifling and of no consequence. But from childish swipes the oak eventually tumbled.
None of them had a short, or easy path.
The olive tree takes 100 years to bear fruit—the onion plant is mature in 9 weeks. Which fruit is valued more highly?
I am learning that the most rewarding things in life are earned. Incrementally, methodically, over vast stretches of time. The people I most admire were always willing to take another step. And if that step was of no avail, then they would take another, and another. In all honesty, no single step in and of itself is ever too much for any of us to bear.
And now, after going through my first ever Admiration Audit, I finally know what the most important trait for me to cultivate is if I’m to become who I want to become.
As long as I have my breath, that long will I persist.
“The great prizes of life are at the end of each journey, not near the beginning; and it is not given to me to know how many steps are necessary in order to reach my goal. Failure I may still encounter at the thousandth step, yet success hides behind the next bend in the road. Never will I know how close it lies unless I turn the corner.” - OG Mandino, The Greatest Salesman in the World