Welcome to the 3x5 Leadership podcast where we champion intentional leaders who create significant impacts. In this show, we share simple, practical strategies to help you live, lead, and learn more intentionally.
To learn more about 3x5 leadership and explore all our resources to help YOU become a more intentional leader, go to our website at 3x5Leadership.com.
Today we are going to explore the power of goal setting and, specifically, an important key to unlocking our goal success. That key? It’s simpler than you think. It all comes down to our identities. Alright, let’s check it out! Here we go.
I’m Josh Bowen, and thanks for being here. I believe the only way to achieve important and lasting change is to tie our goals, and ultimately our habits, to our core identities. What do I mean?
In 2015, Gunhild Swanson, a 70-year-old woman from Washington State, completed the Western States 100-mile trail race, considered one of the premier and most challenging 100 mile races in the US. I’m an ultramarathon runner myself, albeit a very casual one, but I enjoy following big races like this every year. And I vividly recall following this race those years ago and being blown away by her accomplishment.
The race starts in Squaw Valley, California and finishes in Auburn, gaining over 18,000 feet of elevation over the course. Not only that, but the summer temperatures during the race average 92 degrees Fahrenheit, and almost always surpass 100 during the race.
So Gunhild, at an impressive 70 years old, became the oldest woman to finish the race, crossing the finishing only six seconds before the 30-hour race cut off.
But impressive as the accomplishment is, what led her story to stick with me still these many years later is everything behind her accomplishment. Gunhild ran her first marathon in 1980, at the age of 35, and then her first ultramarathon in 1987. Training for and running marathons was a dominant activity within hers and her husband’s marriage, consuming much of their time together. It was integral to their individual and also collective identities.
Then, in 2015, Gunhild set her next racing goal…to complete her third Western States 100-mile race. And while impressive just by itself, this was in fact just the next racing goal, not unlike the hundreds of races completed before it.
To train for this race, Gunhild reported that she ran between 2,500 and 2,600 miles that year, averaging out to well over 50 miles a week. She would run ten to twelve collective hours on the weekends, not to mention her routines to get up early to run in the dark mornings or even staying out running in late evenings.
I also ran my own 100-mile race that year. I had to train for over nine months to prepare for it. I remember the exhausting weekends, early mornings, and monotony of running the same workouts and miles week after week. I can only imagine what kept Gunhild training that year, at 70 years old and 35 years into her running career.
During a post-race interview, Gunhild was asked, “So now that this has happened, this is something you’ve been working toward for a while. You established a record for women 70 and older. What do you do now?”
Her response? “Oh, nothing different.”
Gunhild made it clear in those three words – this is who I am; this is what I do. She continues to serve as an inspiring example of the power of tying our goals to our identities for me.
In my own goal setting journey over the last dozen years, I’ve set some goals that I never came close to accomplishing. Goals like losing weight, getting stronger in the gym, and even playing the guitar. But then, over that same time, I accomplished other goals…goals that actually seem more challenging, like reading my Bible and praying almost every day, running ultramarathons, and maintaining 3x5 Leadership for six years running now.
Why? Why the difference in my two sets of goals – being able to accomplish some and not others? Well, just like Gunhild, it comes down to my identity. We need to set identity-based goals, not merely outcome-based ones.
My goals of losing weight, getting stronger, and playing the guitar? Those goals were not tied to any important identity of mine. But the others? Reading my Bible and praying is tied to my #1 identity as a follower of Christ. Running ultramarathons? My identity as an endurance runner. And 3x5? A developer of leaders.
Like almost everything in leadership, we need to revert back to Simon Sinek’s famous argument and start with why. Why do I need to change? What is my enduring source of purpose that gives meaning to my desired new behaviors? What is going to keep us going through the lows, the monotony, and the struggle of lasting habit change to achieve our desired goals?
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear offers a great way to view our identity-based vs outcome-based goals. He outlined that there are three layers where change can occur. And when we view it like an onion, the outer layer is outcome-based change, when simply focuses on results. Things like losing weight, running a race, or winning a competition.
The middle layer is process change, which is concerned with our habits and systems. Goals in this level can look like a daily reading habit, a reflective writing routine, new exercise regiment at the gym, or even habits at work like – I will walk through a different department at the office every day at 10 AM to connect with our various teams.
And the deepest layer, the core, is identity-based change. Here, we change our beliefs, our worldview, self-image, judgements, and even values.
James Clear clarifies saying outcomes are what we get, processes are what we do, and identity is about who we are and what we believe. When it comes to achieving goals and building supportive habits that last, most of us initially begin by focusing on what we want to achieve. However, through identity-based goals, we start by first focusing on who we want to become.
If we want to target lasting behavior change and results through our goals, we need to engage identity-based change. Our identities serve as our enduring wellspring of purpose and motivation for our behaviors…even when we don’t know it. Our identities separate all the noise and urgency of life that doesn’t matter from what we view as truly important. Our identities come from our upbringing, our environment, our education, socialization, and experiences. They drive our behaviors, our beliefs, and even our personalities. Identities can manifest as roles as values.
So, how do we get below the superficial surface of outcome-based goals and deep into the lasting and impactful identity-based ones? I see it as three simple steps.
First, we need to establish our identities. And forewarning, this step might be a little uncomfortable. Who are you? What defines you? When someone describes you, what do they say…or what do you want them to say? These are your identities.
So, start by listing them out. List them out in order of precedence too, with the first identity as the most important one. These identities can be roles you fill in life like husband, mother, nurse, fire fighter, soccer coach, mentor, or volunteer. They can be based on beliefs like your spiritual, religious, or faith principles. These can manifest based on your physical attributes, cultural norms, or ethnicity. Or even come as values and things you’re committed to like family, honesty, resiliency, or work ethic. They can look like a lot of different things, but what’s important is that they capture you. You, most simply and authentically at your core.
When you try this, see what you can do about getting to identify ten identities. You may not reach ten and that’s ok, but see if you can stretch yourself to fully capture who you are with ten.
Like I said, this step may be uncomfortable. And it likely will take some time and iteration. Don’t try to capture the essence of who you are in a singular ten-minute brainstorming session. Give it time.
Ok, that’s step one. Now, once we have our identities, we move on to step two, which is connecting goals to our identities. And there are two ways we can approach this step – setting goals based on our identities…or…taking a goal and nesting it within one of our identities.
When you create your list of identities, it reveals who you are. But it also reveals what is important to you and should serve as the guide to your growth in life. If these identities capture who you are, then what are you doing about continuing to grow in each of these areas of your life? Use your identities to set goals for continuous, life-long growth. When looking at my identity as an endurance runner, for example, what am I doing to continue to practice and grow in that area of my life? Setting a goal for an upcoming race, new running technique, or a faster run time can all be ways to continue to develop myself through that particular identity.
Or we can identify an outcome-based or process goal, something we want to do or achieve. Outcome and process goals are not bad, but when not tied to an identity, they remain unimportant and superficial. Alone, they do not provide any source of enduring inspiration. So, take your outcome-based or process goal and tie it to an identity. For example, last year, one of my mentors challenged me to consider writing to get published in a journal, magazine, or something widely recognized. To pursue that goal, I first tied it to my identity as a developer of leaders. I am going to write something to publish and contribute to the public body of knowledge to help inspire and equip others to be better leaders. And connecting that outcome-based goal to an important identity of mine gave me the purpose needed to endure the lengthy writing and publishing process.
Ok, step two is developing goals based on your identities or, at least, tying outcome-based goals to your identity to give your goal purpose and meaning. Use your identities to clarify why.
Finally, step three, include your identity in your SMART goal statement. To be complete, goals need to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. But you can enhance your goal statement by including your identity into that statement.
Some of my examples include: I am a developer of leaders. I will publish an article in Harvard Business Review that provides important perspectives and helpful recommendations to equip other leaders by the end of 2023.
Or, I am an endurance athlete. I will run the 2023 New York City Marathon in under four hours.
And finally, I am a follower of Christ. I will read Scripture and pray every day in 2023 to deepen my relationship with Him.
Incorporating your targeted identity into your goal statement offers that consistent reminder of why, and injects that source of inspiration to keep you going. Why am I doing this? Because this is who I am.
Knowing and clarifying our identities enables us to focus on those relevant areas of our lives. And we grow in them through goal setting and tying our goals to our identities. Through this process, we can achieve significant impacts – at work, at home, in our community, and in life. I just hope that I’m able to continue setting and achieving impressive goals year after year for over 35 years just like Gunhild.
Ok! Now, let’s go and use the power of identity and goals! As you go, I ask three simple favors from you.
First, if you enjoyed this episode, give us a like and a review! It’s just a simple way for others to discover us, check us out, and know it’s worth their time.
Second, go to our website at 3x5 Leadership.com. There, you can check out all our great resources and get our free guide on the 10 habits of intentional leaders.
Finally, if you want to get more out of 3x5 and go deeper, consider joining our Patron Community where you’ll get even more insight from, and access to our team. You can find the link in our show notes.
Until next time, friends, take care and lead well.