The Extraordinary Value of Identity on Your Willpower

They were shocked to hear the news.

The hotel maids – all who claimed to be the furthest thing from habitual exercisers – were given the statistics about how many calories they were burning compared to regular exercisers.

Compared to a desk job, hotel maids are quite active. The scrubbing, vacuuming, and walking from room-to-room isn’t exactly "intense," But over the course of an 8-hour day, the movement adds up.

In fact, it adds up to burning over 900 calories! [1]

Much more than many regular exercisers burn in a given day. However, over 1/3rd of hotel maids believe they don’t get any exercise at all.

Researchers wondered, “would knowing this information change the maids’ behavior or attitude towards exercise?” 


To find out, researchers separated the maids of the hotel into two groups.

One group learned the truth about how much exercise they were getting on a daily basis. They receive lists with how many calories each part of their job burned – from folding towels to changing the bed.

The second group received no exercise information. They continued to believe that their jobs were hard on their bodies, not good for them. 

After just 4 weeks, something remarkable happened — the maids who knew the truth about their exercise lost an average of 2lbs more than the control group!

Why did this happen?

Some of the researchers speculated that it might be the placebo effect,. However, placebos only work with subjective measurements. In this case, these were real weight loss results across a large group of participants!

The real answer was in the maids' new perceptions of themselves.  [2]


Before the experiment, the maids saw themselves as lazy or hopeless when it came to exercise. After all, they could not summon the willpower to make it to the gym or go jogging after work.

And after burning through 900 calories in the course of the day, can you blame them?

Now they saw themselves as regular exercisers and started acting in turn. 

They approached their work with more enthusiasm...
They started walking more...
They started eating healthier...

With each day of work, they identified more with the regular exercisers they really were. The other group of maids, however, just saw themselves as “laborers.”

This distinction is crucial. When it comes to your willpower, if you see yourself as an exerciser, it will require less willpower to act like an exerciser. [3]

If you see yourself as lazy, it’s going to require a ton of willpower to overcome your perspective and start acting like an exerciser.

This example shows us the extraordinary value of identity – which applies to any willpower challenge you face.


I first came across this idea of identity when reading fellow blogger James Clear’s article on the same topic. In his article, he brought up the value of identity in trying to create new habits.

I just started Willpowered, and I certainly did not consider myself a “writer” yet.

Then I read his idea that would change that.

“Want to become a better writer? Become the type of person who writes 1,000 words every day.”  [4]

So I did. Every day since then I have tried to write at least 1,000 words. It became my daily win. Something I would try to achieve no matter what.

Writing that many words every day was not easy. It requires a lot of willpower to wake up before everyone else on Christmas and holidays to make sure you get your writing in. But it required less willpower than it would have if I did not see myself as a writer.

Anytime I felt like taking a day off; I would remind myself, “I am a writer. And great writers write every single day.” 

That higher standard gave me the motivation to act as a writer and ensure I met the 1,000 words goal. 


To take advantage of this enormous willpower benefit, you must think about who you want to be – rather what you want to achieve. 

For example, say your goal is to lose 10lbs. 

After a lot of hard work and discipline, you were able to reach it!

Now, what do you do?

If you were focused on simply losing the 10lbs, rather than becoming a healthy person, now your work is done. It is celebration time! So bring on all of the food and relaxation you have denied yourself over the last few months.

However, if you were focused on becoming a healthy person, the 10lbs is now simply a small win on your journey. It is a "big" small win, but it is not the end.

Next, you may want to lose even more weight, start adding some muscle, or begin playing a recreational sport.

Because you are focused on becoming the type of person you want to be, not only will it require less willpower to achieve your goal, but it will also take less willpower to move onto your next target once it is complete.

So determine the type of person you want to be, not the results you want to achieve. 


Once you know who you want to be, ask yourself, “what does this person do on a daily basis?”

However, rather than visualize yourself as that person – as many "self-help gurus" suggest – focus on taking similar actions as he or she does on a regular basis. [5

I have become more like the writer I want to be every day by setting my benchmark of 1,000 words. The maids became more like the exercisers they wanted to be by giving just a little bit more enthusiasm in their daily cleaning.

Whoever you want to become, break it down to what you can do today to become more like that person. Then let time take its course. 


How you see yourself matters. If you see yourself as an exerciser, it will require less willpower to act like an exerciser. If you see yourself as lazy, it will require a ton of willpower to prove yourself wrong.

However, seeing yourself as the person you want to become is only half the battle. You must take action to become more like that person every single day.

So think about who you want to be and keep that identity in your mind. Then be prepared to hold yourself to a higher standard and take the daily actions necessary to become the best version of yourself.