James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits”, a NY Times Bestseller, is one of the most widely read books on personal development on the market today. Countless numbers of leadership teams, in both the business world and ministry world, are reading and discussing this book. Habit is the new buzz word in leadership circles. Just today, I spent a couple of hours teaching and discussing the principles in this book to a team of leaders in the real estate industry. The impact these principles have had on this particular team has been incredible.
Personally, I have found “Atomic Habits” to be extremely helpful on a number of fronts. This post is the first in a series that will examine some of the content found in “Atomic Habits” through Gospel-lenses.
Why is Change Hard?
James Clear does a fantastic job in “Atomic Habits”, explaining why it is so hard to break bad habits and establish healthy ones. Since habits are, by definition, behaviors that we do not always engage in consciously, this means that habits must be addressed at the subconscious level. And that is a difficult proposition. Every day, the vast majority of our daily activities are performed at the subconscious level. Our brains function, largely, on autopilot. The roads you take to get to work. The keys you press while typing. The countless times you pick up your phone. Your morning rituals. These habits are all deeply ingrained into our subconscious.
Since habits take root deep within us this means that cultivating healthy habits and removing negative habits, requires addressing at a far deeper level than merely outward behaviors.
Where All Habits Begin: The Identity Level
One of the truly eye-opening revelations in “Atomic Habits”, and consequently a main-theme in the book, is that habit-change happens at the identity level.
“So many people set goals and determine the actions they should take to achieve those goals without ever considering the beliefs that drive their actions.” Atomic Habits
In the book, Clear presents a paradigm he refers to as the “3 Layers of Behavior Change”.
The basic premise is fairly straight forward. All of our actions flow out of our identity. Consequently, if lasting change is going to take place at the habit level (Processes) then a fundamental change must occur in who we believe we are. Clear proposes “Identity Based Habits” as opposed to the far more frequently implemented “Outcome-Based Habits” that we so often settle for.
“With outcome-based habits, the focus is on what you want to achieve. With identity-based habits, the focus is on who you wish to become”. Atomic Habits
While James Clear is correct in his belief that identity is the engine that drives our behaviors, he is wrong in his understanding of how identity is formed. The Gospel is clear: Identity is assigned by God, not created through our desires and behaviors. For those who are trusting Jesus, we have been identified as “in Christ”.
Colossians 3:1-4 “ Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Here the Apostle Paul is clear: We are in Christ, therefore act like it. In other words, our identity is not created by our actions, but it is affirmed by them. Lasting change in our spiritual habits can only happen when we understand that our identity is rooted in Christ.