How our Identity Impacts Motivation

How our Identity Impacts Motivation

5 Minute Read

If you’re reading this, you probably like to run. Welcome to the party.

But, do you consider yourself a runner, because you run? Or do you run, because you consider yourself a runner? 

There is an interesting distinction to be made here. 

Identity-Based Motivation (IBM) is a powerful psychological concept that can pretty much change our whole lives if we let it. Understanding and harnessing this concept will help us become the type of athletes we want to be, and can strengthen our passion for the sport like nothing else can.

Understanding Identity-Based Motivation (IBM)

IBM posits that our actions are deeply influenced by how we see ourselves. Intuitively, we would have said that actions come first, which lead to self perception. But it is much more powerful to think of it the other way around. Actions follow our self perception. 

And so, this theory then suggests that the best way to build habits, achieve goals, etc. is to start with building our identity. Then, taking actions in accordance with our identity becomes easy. 

When motivation wanes, passion fades, burnout ensues… and if there exists a disconnect between our self-perception and the goal we are trying to achieve? Well then stop right there. Problem found! 

We must first craft our identity, and let our actions follow suit.

You See Where This Is Going

Yes, you need to think of yourself as a runner. You're a runner, and you run.

The Deeper Identity Shift

Okay, so we’re all runners. But let’s get to the core of this concept. 

When studying IBM, it was shown that the stronger, and more positive, the identity, the stronger the impact will be on your actions and motivation. 

And so, the key is to get specific. The more specific we are with the traits and qualities of our identity, the stronger we take it to heart.

The question then becomes: what type of runner do you want to be? It is totally up to you, and of course, there is no right or wrong answer. 

Are you a runner who loves the sport, but will prioritize other areas of life? Totally okay!

Are you a runner who loves competition, and always has a race coming up? Totally okay!

Are you a runner who loves the super long, slow, meditative distances? Totally okay!

Are you a runner who loves strength training and beefing up? Totally okay!

Aligning your identity with the actions you want to take is the key. And the more specific you get on your identity and actions, the better. 

In any regard, being a runner means embracing the discipline, resilience, and joy that come with the sport. Running is a core part of who we are, and shapes our daily actions and mindset. This deeper identity influences not just our training, but also how we approach challenges in life.

Be Careful With Outcome Based Labels

“I am an ultrarunner.” 

Perhaps this phrase isn’t the best identity to espouse if you're trying to reach a new goal that you haven't achieved before. “Ultra” is not a character trait, it is a distance.

So this is a good example to clarify the concept. Say we are training for a 100 miler, and we have never done any ultra distance before. If you looked in the mirror every morning and said, “I am an ultrarunner,” would you truly believe it? Take it to heart? Build an identity around it? Ehhhhh maybe not.

IBM is only impactful when we truly believe we hold an identity. 

So the best approach is to get specific with actual character traits. For example:

  • I am someone who loves running
  • I am someone who loves running so much, I wish I could spend my life doing it
  • I am someone who believes in putting in the work
  • I am someone who values consistency
  • I am someone who makes time to train in my life
  • I am not someone who lets circumstance dictate my success

When we break down the specific qualities, we can further associate our identity with them. We first build our identity as a dedicated athlete, and then appreciate that “working up the motivation” can become a thing of the past.

Bottom Line

Passions are built through routine, consistency, and identity. And it just so happens that our motivation to take action is extremely influenced by our self perception, and the identity we believe in. And so, if the goal is to love running, strengthen our passion, and train consistently, it starts with getting specific on the identity you want to espouse.

Everything we learn here is meant to help us build a routine we love, and train consistently. With consistency, we build passion.

Fuel your passion