How to Build Essential Habits - James Clear

How to Build the "HABITS" You Need to get the "RESULTS" You Want ??

How to Build the "HABITS" You Need to get the "RESULTS" You Want ??

A habit is when something has been repeated enough times that it becomes automatic. Ultimately, we want our habits to solve problems in our lives with the least amount of effort.

A habit is formed & reinforced by means of a continuous feedback loop :

1 2  3 4

The key to creating habits that stick is to create feedback loops that are continuously being improved. Over time, rewards become associated with cues.

And the more you repeat these habit loops, the stronger & more automatic they become. Cues can really be anything. A smell, a sound, a sight, a person, a location, etc.

Try to think of any cues inn your daily life that are initiating your good or bad habit loops. So how can we influence the habit loop to work for us ??

The book (Atomic Habits) shows us the 4 laws that will guide us to do just that :

Law 1 : Make It Obvious

Most of your current habits are so automatic that you don't even realize them. You must first become aware of your habits before you can change them. You can achieve this with help of your Habit Scorecard.

Habit Scorecard :

Write down all your daily behaviours on a habits scorecard, from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to the bed (You Get All the Mentioned Products with "My Habit Buddy" to build top 12 habits of successful people in one year).

Based on whether it helps you become the person you aspire to be, categorize each habit as positive (+), negative (-), or neutral (=).

At this stage we aren't trying to change anything, but just observe what is actually going on in our daily lives.

"Until you make the Unconscious Conscious, it will direct your life & you will call it FATE." - Carl Yung !!

Vagueness is a real problem when it comes to habit formation, and studies have shown that quite often the reason people fail to stick to a habit is not because of a lack of Motivation, but because of a lack of clarity. (Habit No. 1 of My Habit Buddy helps you in getting clarity of what you actually want in your life, Power of Visualization).

"One day, I will get into shape" is easy to say to yourself but too vague to get any momentum. What you need is a time & a place.

Implementation Intention :

Set a Time & Place. The most common cues - "time" and "location" - will help you achieve your goals. Clearly state your intention to act using the following formula :

"I will [ Behaviour ] at [ Time ] in [ This Location ]"

Here is a bad example,"I will read more this month."

Here is a good example, "I will read a book for 15 minutes daily at 6 AM in the spare bedroom."

Another good way to get a habit started is by Habit Stacking.

Stacking Habits :

To stack habits, tie a desired habit to an existing habit according to the following formula :

"After [ Current Habit ], I will [ New Habit ]."

For example, "After I brush my teeth, I will stretch for 5 minutes."

You can stack habits together, for example after you finish brushing your teeth, you will meditate for 10 minutes, then plan the rest of your day before checking social media.

A "chain of habits" is more likely to be sustained if you practice this consistently.

Choosing the correct trigger is essential. Your trigger should be; something that you do automatically without fail during your day such as waking up, turning off your alarm or brushing your teeth.

Environment vs Motivation :

James Clear tell us in "Atomic Habits" that Motivation is highly overrated. You can better shape your behaviour by designing your environment.

NOTE: We are more influenced by our environment than our willpower or motivation.

It's hard to stick to positive habits in a negative environment (if you need help in creating the environment to make good habits easier & bad habits harder, Habit No. 3 of "My Habit Buddy" will guide you properly - Keep Yourself Organized).

"Environment is the invisible hand that shapes Human Behaviour" - James Clear

Creating a habit requires you to redesign the space around you (home/ work) to :

  1. make it easier to see the cues for the desired habits, and
  2. prevent bad habits by making them invisible.

If you want to drink more water, make the cues visible & obvious. Place water bottles around the house in places you are likely to see them.

Want to read more? place the book somewhere you will see it. If you want to get better on the guitar, don't leave it out of sight in the closet.

Remember: Context is the Cue !!

Objects in the environment do not determine our behaviour; rather, it is our relationship to them that does.

Stop seeing your environment as a place simply filled with objects. Imagine it as a place filled with relationships.

The coach in the living room is the place where one person reads an hour a night. For another, the couch is where they watch Netflix & eat pizza and relax after work.

If your relationship with the couch is a place to relax, then trying to get a work related task done in that environment may be difficult.

Try to make separate zones in your house for different activities. James Clear like to use the mantra "One Space, One Use."

Breaking a Bad Habit (Make it Invisible) :

If you are trying to eliminate a bad habit, you can only rely on self-control in the short term. Cutting off bad habits at the source is a more reliable solution and one of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to make it invisible.

Eliminate it from Your Environment. For example, put your phone in another room for a few hours if you have trouble getting work done or put your junk food out of sight or remove it from your house if you are trying to lose weight.

Law 2 : Make It Attractive

When we expect to be rewarded, we take action. The more rewarding an action is, the more likely we are able to repeat it until it becomes a habit.

Hence, the first step to forming good habits is to make them more attractive. Understanding how dopamine affects your body will help you.

Dopamine & Feedback Loops :

Our Motivation levels are affected by dopamine, a hormone & neurotransmitter.

We are more motivated to act when our dopamine level rise. By measuring dopamine, scientists can pinpoint the exact moment at which a craving occurs.

It was once assumed that dopamine was just about pleasure, but now we know it's vital to many neurological functions, including motivation, memory, learning, punishment as well as voluntary movement.

The hormone dopamine is released not only when we experience pleasure but also when we anticipate it. "Gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right before they place a bet, not after they win."

Let's Dive Deeper Into Dopamine Spikes :

Using social media, eating junk food and taking drugs are all associated with high levels of dopamine & are highly habit forming.

Think about before going on a vacation. Sometimes the thinking & anticipation of the vacation is better than the actual vacation.

Seeing the junk food you desire urges dopamine, not after eating it. Drug addicts increase dopamine when they see the drugs, not after taking them.

The craving is what causes us to take action in the first place. Making our habits attractive is vital because it is the expectation of a rewarding experience that drives us to act.

Here you can use a strategy known as :

Temptation Bundling :

The temptation bundling process makes a habit more attractive by combining an action we need to do with one we want to do.

For example, you could bundle watching Netflix (something you want to do) with working out (something you need to do).

Temptation building applies a psychology principle known as Premack Principle.

Developed by professor David Premack, the Premack Principle states :

"More probable behaviours will reinforce less probable behaviours."

In other words, even if you are not looking forward to doing some exercise, you'll become conditioned to do it because you get to do something else you really enjoy.

Group Influence :

"We are continually wondering, what will others think of me? and altering our behaviours based on that answer." - James Clear

Find groups to join where the habit you desire is the norm (Check Out "STEPLO CLUB").

We are influenced by the people closest to us, and the groups we belong to. 

If you are trying to build a new habit, one of the best ways to reinforce the habit is to find & become a part of culture where that habit is the norm.

If you want to get into better shape, surround yourself with fit people. If you want to read more, join a book club.

Primal Motivators - The Source of Cravings :

(Where Cravings Come From). In your normal everyday life you wouldn't say something to yourself like - "I want to eat this pizza because I need to consume this food to survive."

Surface level cravings are merely manifestations of our deeper underlying motives. And those underlying motives guide our behaviour.

Here are some examples of underlying motives :

  • Conserving Energy.
  • Reduce Uncertainty.
  • Obtaining Food & Water.
  • Achieving Status & Prestige.
  • Finding Love & Reproducing.
  • Connecting & Bonding with Others.
  • Winning Social Acceptance & Approval.

Your brain did not evolve with a desire to smoke cigarettes, or to check instagram every 5 minutes or play video games.

Online platforms & products do not invent new motivations, but rather appeal to the underlying motives of human nature that we already have to gain our attention.

"Your Habits are Modern-day solutions to Ancient Desires. New Versions of Old Vices. The underlying motives behind Human Behaviour remain the same." - James Clear

People who have the underlying motive of connecting with others may jump onto Facebook, others seeking the underlying motive of finding love & reproducing may sign up for Tinder.

Reducing uncertainty, there's Google for that. Seeking social acceptance, there is Instagram.

How to Reprogram Your Brain to Enjoy Hard Habits :

"You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience." - James Clear

By highlighting the benefits of a habit rather than its downsides, you can quickly reprogram your mind & make it seem more appealing.

For example :

  • Fitness = health & wellbeing; and not fatigue.
  • Cleaning the house = an environment conductive to peace of mind; and not wasted time.
  • Saving Money = future financial freedom; and not sacrifice.

Breaking a Bad Habit (Make It Unattractive) :

To break a bad habit, do the same but highlighting the benefits of NOT doing that habit. to make it as unattractive to keep doing as possible.

Law 3 : Make It Easy

How Long does it actually take to form a new habit?? During a habit formation, a behaviour becomes increasingly automatic as it is repeated.

As you repeat the activity, you brain changes in order to become more efficient at it. Long before neuroscientists dug into the process of forming habits, repetition was known as a powerful tool for establishing habits.

You activate particular neural circuits associated with habits every time you repeat them. So "framing habit formation in terms of time is flawed. It should be framed in terms of the number of repetitions."

Reducing Friction (The Law of Least Effort) :

The more energy required, the less likely it is to happen. It takes almost no energy to get into the habit of reading one page of a book each day.

Habits are more likely to occur when they require less energy. The bigger the obstacle, the more friction there is between you & the desired outcome.

If you need to travel 20 minutes out of your way to go to the gym, chances are you will not. But, if your gym is located on your way or nearby to work, you will greatly decrease the friction.

By making your good habits more convenient, you're more likely to stick to them. Your life will be easier if you find ways to reduce friction rather than trying to solve it.

In order to build better habits, we have to find ways to reduce friction associated with our good habits and increase friction associated with our bad habits.

Prime the Environment For Use :

By automating or setting up your environment, you can reduce the friction for future action.

For example, "I will lay out my workout clothes at night so I can get up & get moving in the morning." or to prepare a healthier breakfast, place the pan on the stove, and gather the ingredients the night before. Again to reduce any friction.

The 2-Minute Rule (Stop Procrastinating) :

Using the "2-minute rule" can help you establish small habits that will lead to habit momentum and success in bigger ones."

Find a simple, 2 minute version of your desired habit. You want to scale down your desired outcome.

  • Running a marathon becomes putting on your shoes & stretching for 2 minutes.
  • Reading an hour per day becomes reading one page.

"You need to get the routine anchored in place & then slowly build up the difficulty." After you have mastered the 2 minute habit, you can progress to the next phase.

Breaking a Bad Habit (Make It Difficult) :

To make something more difficult, think about ways you can create barriers of friction between yourself & the bad habit. Make it as impractical as possible.

If you want to watch less TV, unplug the TV after each use & put the remote in an inconvenient location.

When you go shopping, leave your credit card under the seat of your car if you have a bad habit of spontaneous spending.

Do anything you can to make your bad habits less likely to occur.

Law 4 : Make It Satisfying

This is the most important law of Behaviour Change. A feeling of pleasure is a message to the brain : "This feels good, Let's repeat this next time."

When you experience pleasure, your brain learns that a behaviour is worth remembering & repeating.

"What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided." - James Clear

The first three laws increase your chances of doing the habit this time. The last law increases your chances of repeating the habit next time.

The Mismatch Between Immediate & Delayed Returns :

It is common for us to feel good about our immediate results, but bad about our long-term outcomes when we practice bad habits.

It is the opposite with good habits. The immediate result is unpleasant, but the ultimate outcome is satisfying.

"A certain amount of success in just about every field involves ignoring an immediate reward for a long-term one."

It is best to add a little immediate pleasure to the habits that will pay off in the long run & little pain to those that don't.

Rewarding Yourself & Feeling Successful :

"The vital thing in getting a habit to stick is to feel successful - even if it's a small way. The feeling of success is a signal that your habit paid off & that the work was worth the effort." 

It is satisfying to make progress, and you can monitor your progress using visual measures, such as moving paper clips, hairpins, or marbles. These "little wins" can go a long way.

For example, for each sales call you make today, move a marble from one jar to the complete jar. For each 25 minutes of writing, move a paperclip.

Visual measurements can take many forms: diet journals, workout logs, download progress bars, or even page numbers in a book.

Keeping a Habit Tracker may be the best method to monitor your progress.

Habit Tracking :

Using a Habit Tracker is a simple way to determine whether you did a particular habit.

Tracking becomes a reward in it of itself. Crossing the task of your to-do list or completing an entry in your exercise log or performing the habit and writing an "X" on the tracker is satisfying.

When Life Gets in the Way (Bad Days) :

Inspite of your best efforts, it is inevitable that life will interrupt you at some point. A bad day at work, a bad performance, or a bad workout can happen to anyone.

When you're having a bad day, you don't realize how valuable it is to just show up.

"Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you."

The Chain of Continuity :

Don't break the chain of continuity. Missing twice is the start of forming a bad habit; never do it.

Every time you mark an "X" off your calendar for a given habit, you are creating a chain. Showing up every day is very important.

Even if you do 50 push ups, just do 10 on that given day. If that means not breaking the chain.

Breaking a Bad Habit (Make It Unsatisfying) :

A behaviour is less likely to occur when pain is immediate. Being held accountable by a partner is a good way to keep your desired habits in check.

We all want to be liked & respected. So we would rather just avoid the punishment that we will be held accountable to.

For example, I owe you Rs. 100 every time I miss the workout plus the respect I loose for failing to do what I said, I would. 

Your behaviour is more likely to be influenced by concrete & immediate consequences.

The Habit Contract :

You can create a habit contract to held yourself accountable just as governments use laws to hold citizens accountable.

You can create a habit contract either verbally or in writing which makes it clear that you will honour a particular habit & there will be punishments if you do not. 

You can use your accountability partners to enforce this contract.

Leave a comment

* Required fields

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.