We have all been there. We are very aware of our habits, especially those that are detrimental to our lifestyle or profession. And we all want to fix this to improve ourselves and make plans to do so. However, the execution does not go as expected. The execution starts off well, but for some reason or another, we revert back to our old ways. All those New Year’s resolutions every year seem to fail at some point. It happens so often, mathematical statistics was created, and by January 17th, most of them fail.
Some say that it is all mental and that some people lack the willpower. Does that mean that those that fail should give up using lack of willpower as an excuse? As it turns out it may not be lack of willpower but your execution plan and how you approach it. Atomic Habits by James Clear dives deep in to the psychology of habits and gives a detailed explanation on how one can change their habits. I found this a very interesting approach and discovered profound appreciation of how the human psyche works.
Intro of the book
The power of the book’s message comes from atomic habits and the right system in making the change. Atomic habits means making incremental changes. James lays out that one percent change gradually over time in consistent manner can bring about compounding results. One percent change is not a life altering impact so it is important to start slow and small. The key is consistency. The main focus of the book is how to remain consistent and his view of creating a proper system is the key and that’s the main focus of the book.
First, James postulates that habits should be identity-based habits rather than outcome- or processed-based habits. By making it identity based you will be more motivated in changing your habit. One example is, you are not learning an instrument but becoming a musician. By changing who you are by what you do is the most practical motivation. Each time you practice an instrument, you are a musician.
Next, James dives in to the scientific analysis of how habits work and how your brain functions. James lays out the four-step pattern of how habits are formed: cue, craving, response, and reward. The initial step of cue triggers a behavior. Cues trigger a reward mechanism such as food and water from our prehistoric ancestors to money, pleasure, fame and power in our current times. Craving is the motivational force that drives a person to respond in certain way to fulfill that craving. Reward is the end desire of what you get upon responding to that craving. James uses this habit loop to create a system that will work in creating good habits and eliminating bad habits.
Four laws of behavior change
James sets a system by using four laws to correspond with the four step pattern of habits. To create a good habit, one should:
- Make it obvious for the cue
- Make it attractive for the craving
- Make it easy for the response
- Make it satisfying for the reward
The inverse law to break a bad habit would be:
- Make it invisible for cue
- Make it unattractive for craving
- Make it difficult for response
- Make it unsatisfying for reward
James goes in to details on each of the four laws with great real world examples and using science of the brain to back up his ideas. For example, to make things obvious you can use habit stacking and creating the proper environment. To make it attractive, you can use temptation bundling or be with the right people and group. To make it easy, you start small like the one percent increment and creating environment and situation where doing the right thing requires the least effort with minimal friction. To make it satisfying, you need to make it gratifying immediately even though the reward itself is delayed like losing weight or saving money for retirement.
I am oversimplifying everything and not giving James credit by doing this. The book goes in details of each law and the details of breaking bad habits which I omitted here as all of this is too comprehensive to cover here.
Improving yourself to the next level
James ends the book in a great way as well. He takes all his ideas on fixing habits and how to apply this in your professional life as well. Now that your habit is your identity, you can use this to find success by choosing the right field of competition. You can apply habits that align with your natural abilities with the right game. You can use the four laws to find the right motivation in your career. Most threat to success is not failure but boredom and finding the right motivation is key.
If you are looking for a new way to improve yourself by making great habits, this book is for you. The book uses wide range of science, psychology, human behavior and factual and historical examples to give you a full set of tools to support your journey to a better habit. I find it very insightful, knowledgeable and learned about myself in new ways to apply his ideas. Please do check it out.
If you have read this, let me know what you think by leaving a comment.