UACES Facebook Keeping resolutions means more than changing wants, but changing how we view ourselves
skip to main content

Keeping resolutions means more than changing wants, but changing how we view ourselves

By Mary Hightower
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Jan. 31, 2020

Fast facts

  • Habits persist as long as they fit our self-image
  • Building identity-based habits encourages success

(444 words)

(Newsrooms: with headshot of Mader at
(Download this story in MS Word format here.)

LITTLE ROCK – The difference between success and failure in our pursuit of keeping resolutions and goals may have more to do with self image than it does with our day-to-day choices or even willpower. The concept is at the heart of a presentation from a nutrition expert with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.Bryan Mader, DrPH, assistant professor-nutrtition, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. (Division of of Agriculture image)

Bryan Mader, assistant professor-nutrition and extension specialist for the Division of Agriculture, said success in achieving the goals of a resolution is linked to how we see ourselves, rather than the process taken in attaining an outcome.

Mader, who holds a doctorate in public health, offered a presentation encouraging colleagues to make positive changes. In it, he cited concepts from James Clear, author of “Atomic Habits.” Clear found that making a change, whether it’s losing weight, trying to eat healthier or learning to forgo our spendthrift ways, starts with how we view ourselves, Mader said.

Outcome vs. identity

“Many people begin the process by focusing on what they want to achieve,” Mader said. “This is known as outcome-based habits.

“The alternative is to build what’s known as an identity-based habit,” he said. “In this approach, we focus on who we wish to become, rather than what we want to achieve.”

People stick with habits in the long term is because it becomes part of their identity.

“Our habits persist as long as they are congruent with how we see ourselves,” Mader said. “For example, we might want to save more money, but if we continue to identify ourselves as something more of a shopper, then we’ll continue to be more pulled toward spending rather than saving.”

It’s the difference between saying, “I’m the type of person who wants something” and “I’m the type of person who is something.”

He offered the example of people who follow up a resolution by going to the gym or saving $20  once or twice. The key is how to think about goals. “the goal isn’t to save $20. It’s to become someone who is a saver.”

Living the change

Mader said that research suggests that “once we believe in a particular aspect of our identity … we were more likely to act in alignment with that belief over time.”

At that point, “we are no longer actively pursuing that behavior change, we are simply acting like the person we already believe ourselves to be,” he said.

To learn more about identity-based habits, and other healthy living ideas, visit or call your county extension office. Follow the Cooperative Extension Service on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.

Mention of products and services does not imply endorsement by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer. 

# # #


Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A System Division of Agriculture
(501) 671-2006