Our brain naturally creates habits to improve performance and reduce energy usage. The problem is that sometimes the habits created are bad. How do we change those bad habits to good ones? How do we improve on certain habits we already have?
My son sent me a copy of James Clear’s Atomic Habits. He shares easy and proven ways to build good habits and break bad ones. My 5 Thursday Thoughts from Atomic Habits will follow the principles he lays out in the book.
Tiny Changes Make A Big Difference
We spend a lot of time looking for that one big breakthrough or defining moment, and we underestimate the power of making small improvements daily. Because real change is often slow, it is easier to let bad habits slide. The outcomes lag the habit, so we do not see the immediate results. Clear reminds us that mastery requires patience. A habit is a behavior that one repeats enough times to become automatic. He says that habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Habits can work for us or work against us, which makes understanding habits even more important.
Make It Obvious
The brain is a prediction machine. When we practice, the brain picks up on cues that predict certain outcomes without thinking about them. We then stop paying attention to what we are doing. For us to make a change, we must first become aware. The two most common cues are time and location. Clear says the implementation formula for creating a habit is: I will (behavior) at (time) in (location). He says we should make the cues for good habits obvious in our environment, which may require us to change environments. New habits are easier to build in a new environment. The new environment may also remove us from temptation. It is easier to avoid temptation than it is to resist it.
Make It Attractive
Clear states that “The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.” Cravings and dopamine are measurable together. Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. Our friends, family, and culture will have an impact on what behaviors are attractive to us. He says we imitate the habits of three social groups: the close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (those with status and prestige). One of the best ways to improve your habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is normal.
Make It Easy
The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning. The number of times you have performed a habit is more important than the amount of time you have spent performing the habit. He tells us that human behavior follows the Law of Least Effort. We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work. We should be reducing the friction associated with good behaviors and increasing the friction associated with bad behaviors. Make them both easier and more difficult, depending on where they fall.
Make It Satisfying
We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying. We repeat what gets rewarded, and we avoid what gets punished. Make the habit feel successful. Clear calls this the Cardinal Rule of Change. If we make it satisfying, we increase the odds of repeating it the next time.
If you want to make some changes to your habits, I highly recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear. You can pick up your copy here.