The 4- and 6-year old children were told, “This is a very important activity and it would be helpful if you worked hard on this for as long as you could.” The task was a helpful, but boring task on a computer that lasted a total of 10 minutes. During this same time, they were given the option to take a break by playing games on a nearby iPad.
I am sure you are thinking, “the outcome of this experiment is already doomed,” right? There is no way kids are going to continue doing something boring that an adult deems “important” and “helpful” when they have the permission and sweet beckoning of an iPad nearby.
Well, if you made this assumption, you are correct. Across all the conditions (age, gender, etc.), the iPad proved to be too tempting. The children spent an average of 37.01% of the time on the helpful task on the computer and 62.99% of the time on the iPad.
No big surprise there.
However, the children were assigned to one of three different conditions and there were definite differences between these groups.
At every minute a recorded message was played over the speakers of the computer. This message was different for each child depending upon which condition they were in.
In the first, they were asked to ask themselves, “Am I working hard.” In the second, they were asked to ask the same question in the third person to get some distance from the situation and hopefully be in a better position to persevere. So, they were to ask themselves, “Is [child’s name] working hard?” Last of all, the third group was asked to think about someone else that is good at working hard.
This third group was given the option between four characters familiar to their age group: Batman, Bob the builder, Rapunzel (from Disney’s Tangled), and Dora the Explorer. They were then given a prop to help them get into character (i.e. Batman’s cape). This group was then asked to ask themselves, “Is [character’s name] working hard?”
Across the board, all children that were asked to see themselves as a character (i.e. Batman) were less likely to indulge in immediate gratification and were much more likely to continue working hard toward a delayed goal.
Why is that?
Well, the study proposes that playing an exemplary character allows you to distance yourself from the immediate situation and be in a better position to make good decisions. (study source)
The other explanation is that it is a perfect example of the power of identity based behavior in action.
A common mistake that far too many of us make when approaching new habits is that we take what is called an outcome based approach.
What this means is that we focus on the outcome that we want and then ask ourselves what we need to do (process) in order to achieve that outcome. Now, this approach isn’t horrible, but it completely overlooks a vital power that is lying dormant, but is just waiting for its name to be called so that it can help us with our worthy cause.
If we want to change our behavior and truly transform, we must go deeper into our core. We must enlist the power of our identity.
The world approaches change from the outside-in, but the Lord works from the inside-out.
If we want to experience lasting and true change, we must work from the inside-out. We must start with our identity, then move to our processes (behaviors/habits), and then when we continually perform those things, the outcome is sure.
You have much more power and likelihood to change your behaviors when you are operating from your identity.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say there are two different people trying to be better at reading their scriptures at night before they go to bed. One is approaching this new behavior with an outcome based approach and the other with an identity based approach.
They both set out their scriptures where they can see them before going to bed each night. The first night the outcome based scripture reading hopeful thinks, “Oh man, I am so tired. I would much rather lay down and just go to bed, but I should read at least something.” So, they open up the Book of Mormon and read a couple of verses before turning off the light.
They did it just because it is something they should do.
The other person in the exact same situation, but using the identity based approach thinks, “Oh man, I am so tired. However, I love the scriptures. I can’t wait to read this chapter and find the answer to my question. I will set a timer so that I don’t go too long and negatively affect my sleep.”
They both have the same goals. They both are in the same situation of trying to be better at reading scriptures. They both face the obstacle of being tired. They both successfully read before going to bed.
However, their mindsets are completely different.
Which of the two do you think got more out of their scripture study?
Which will be more likely to stick with the new habit?
This is the power of approaching our desired habits with the identity based approach.
If you use the outcome based approach you will continue to experience friction between what you believe about yourself and what you are trying to do. If you still view yourself as someone that doesn’t enjoy and look forward to reading your scriptures, reading them will feel like a chore. If you change that identity and tell yourself that you do love reading scriptures and do all you can to believe it, then it will feel more like a gift.
Now, I am not saying that all you have to do is say you love it and you will magically love it, but it will make a difference and make the habit easier. Plus, as you consistently perform the behavior (process) you prove to yourself that your identity of loving the scriptures is true. The more you do it the more it will solidify your identity. The more you will truly believe that is how you are and the more natural the behavior will become.
This works with any behavior you want to implement, whether it be a nutritional habit, exercise, improving your marriage or relationship with your kids, attending the temple, being a better ministering brother/sister, etc.
Approach your desired behavior from the inside by changing your identity first.
But, even more powerful than changing your identity, is unveiling your true identity as a child of the God of the whole universe.
He is your father. You are His child.
You can and do love reading scriptures. You can [insert desired habit]. That is what you do.
“With few exceptions, everyone participating in this meeting could right now, without written lyrics or music, sing “I Am a Child of God.” This beloved hymn is one of the most often sung in this Church. But the critical question is, do we really know it? Do we know it in our mind and in our heart and in our soul? Is our heavenly parentage our first and most profound identity?”
(Donald L. Hallstrom, “I Am a Child of God” Ensign, May 2016)
Like those 4- and 6-year-olds, we can improve our ability to stick with our behaviors by thinking, “I am Batman.”
Or we can greatly improve that likelihood and power by remembering, “I am a Child of God.”
Dedicated to your success,