The difference between success and failure in one’s pursuit of keeping resolutions and goals may have more to do with self image than it does with the 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, who holds a doctorate in public health, is an assistant professor-nutrition and extension specialist for the Division of Agriculture.

He said success in achieving the goals of a resolution is linked to how people see themselves, rather than the process taken in attaining an outcome.

Mader 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 one’s spendthrift ways, starts with how people view themselves, Mader said.


“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 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.”


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 a county extension office. Follow the Cooperative Extension Service on Twitter at @UAEX_edu.

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

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.

— Mary Hightower is director of communication services at the U of A Division of Agriculture.