How small behaviors can help you develop productive habits
It’s the new year! Which means new years resolutions, right?
Now this is usually the moment someone starts recommending ways to lose weight, or eat better, etc. etc. But I want to do something different. I want to throw out a possibility for not a new years’ resolution, but a lifestyle change!
There’s a book out, Atomic Habits by James Clear.
And I must say, it’s a game changer.
The difference between his book, and all the others I’ve read on habits, Clear’s entire book isn’t solely about habits, but how to implement them.
The idea is that you choose a habit you want to develop, like meditating, and cut it to a smaller, easier habit. Such as sitting on your floor after breakfast and closing your eyes.
But that’s just the beginning.
Clear developed the ‘four laws of behavior change’ to aid in the design of permanent habits. His laws are a system, or process, that helps you achieve the habits that you want.
From what I understand, you don’t have to apply each law to each habit, you may need two of the four to build the habit of going to the gym. Or you may need all four. And with that, here they are:
Law #1: Make it Obvious
This law is associated with a cue, or object.Simply, to put something in plan sight. For example, say you want to eat more fruit. A simple and easy way to provoke this habit, is to put your fruit in a place where you can see it. Sonot in the bottom crisper, but on your counter in a nice bowl.
Or you want to go to the gym. Pack your gym clothes before bed and leave them in your gym bag by the door. And/or pick a gym that is on the way to work, so you have to pass it each day.
Law #2: Make it Attractive
This law is justas it states, make the habit you want to develop attractive. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Eating healthy for instance, the long term result is attractive. The getting fit, the feeling good, the overallhealth gain. But the immediate reaction to a plate of vegetables is not so appealing.
But it’s all about prospective.
You have to focus on the outcome, such as “If I eat this healthy meal now, I will feel good the rest of the day”, or “If I eat an unhealthy meal, I won’t lose any weight”. In essence, bring the reward to the present.
Law #3: Make it Easy
Don’t you love Clear’s directness.
A way to make a habit easy. Minimize it.
Clear recommends you use the “Two Minute Rule”, which is to downscale the habit to the first two minutes, and make that happen.
Say the habit you want to develop is learning to play the guitar. Make the habit picking up the guitar after dinner.
Writing every day? Start with one sentence.
The idea is once you start it, you’ll move forward. It will set you on your path.
Law #4: Make it Satisfying
This law plays hand in hand with Clear’s cardinal rule of behavior change:
Behaviors that are immediately rewarded get repeated, behaviors that are immediately punished get avoided. – James Clear
The idea that if you find a way to make your habit satisfying, or pull the benefits of this habit into the present, then it will be repeated. It’s all about finding alternative ways to be satisfied at the moment.
For example, working out. You can choose to find satisfaction in the recording of this workout. Or posting an end workout photo to your followers. Whatever is it that will satisfyyou at the moment, do it!
And the opposite, if you pull future consequences into the immediate moments, you’ll avoid that bad habit. This may seem tough. Finding an immediate consequence for eating a doughnut may seem impossible. But a simple consequence, record it. Get yourself a calendar, or day planner, and note that you ate that doughnut in bright red ink. If you want an even greater impact, hang it where its visible.
It’s like the walk of shame.
Invert the laws to avoid a bad habit
While we’re on the topic of bad habits. I also wanted to note that Clear also talks about how to use these laws to avoid bad habits.
All you have to do, is invert the laws:
For Law #1, hide it.
For Law #2, make it unattractive.
For Law #3, make it difficult.
ForLaw #4, bring the consequences forward.
The other take always from this book.
Every time I’ve clicked on an article, opened a book entitled ‘How to Create a Habit’, or ‘Ten Steps to Developing a Habit’, I’ve noted that they all specify a specific amount of time it takes to develop that habit. As in once you reach 21, 30 or 62 days, you’ll develop that habit. But they don’t talk about what happens next. It’s as if you’ve achieved said goal, and that’s the end.
“Habits are a lifestyle to live, and not a finish line to cross” – James Clear
Habits shouldn’t have an end game. They should be a continuation, a new perspective on life.
Developing a permanent habit means changing how you perceive the habit as a whole. Instead of saying, “I’m trying to stick to a vegan diet”, try saying “I’m eating vegan”. Or instead of “I’m trying to floss more”, try saying “I floss once a day”. Small changes in language can also help create big change.
Lastly, Clear touches on how to react to a broken streak.
It happens to everyone, you take a vacation, something comes up and you break your streak. But Clear’s insight is simple,“Never miss twice”.
It’s pretty much never the first mistake that ruins you, it’s the repeated mistakes that follow – James Clear
You can’t plan for everything, sometimes the unexpected arises. Don’t get wrapped up in the mistake, justpour your energy into getting back on track.
We have to stop punishing ourselves. Life isn’t about our failures, but how we choose to live. So when you fall off your metaphorical bike, take a cue from the children in your life, and get back on that bike as if you never fell off in the first place!
Also, buy the book! Theres so much I didn’t touch on!