FFF 126: Atomic Habits, An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones – with James Clear

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James Clear is on the podcast talking about his new book, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. He shares some great strategies for creating habits you can stick to and get rid of the things you know you shouldn’t be doing through sensible and evidence-based ways

An author and speaker, James is known for talking about habits, decision making, and continuous improvement. Featured on New York Times, Entrepreneur, Time Magazine, and lots of TV appearances, his website gets millions of visitors each month. He regularly speaks to Fortune 500 companies and has worked with NFL, NBA, and NLB sporting professionals and teams.

Getting Started: Habit as a Timeline

James cites the four stages of a habit as cue, craving, response, and reward. Cue is the trigger or something you notice on a small scale. Craving is the desire for change. Response is the action itself. Reward is the benefit you get for taking the action.

Bad Habits vs. Good Habits

For good habits, the immediate outcome is often painful or uncomfortable. For example, you’re going to the gym for 45 mins. and it’s a bit annoying or uncomfortable because you sweat and it requires work and effort, and energy. But the long-term outcome is great as you become fit over time.

Bad habits are the reverse. The immediate outcome is often beneficial and it serves you and feels great. But the ultimate outcome is very bad. A month from now or ten years from now, you’re sick or unhealthy.

The Feedback Loop

Those four above form the feedback loop. Habits are methods that your brain has for learning which actions are most effective through trial and error. So you try different responses, and as you try those, whichever is effective at resolving your problems, you eventually learn through that feedback loop which you should repeat. This is how a habit is formed.

How to Form a Good Habit: Using the Commitment Device

When we think about our future selves, we often want what is best for us. It’s very easy to want the good ultimate outcome for your future self. But when it comes to the present moment, when the moment of action is there, you no longer think about your future self. Now, it’s about your present self. And the present self often wants convenience, to be comfortable, and the easiest. We adhere to the law of least effort.

Use commitment devices to help you lock in a good habit such as using an accountability partner or a technology or app. Add a little bit of immediate pain to not acting.

Forming Habits to Adhere To Our Identity

Oftentimes, the reason you stick with a habit, in the long run, is because it aligns with the identity that you have about yourself. True behavior change is identity change. It’s a change in how you view yourself and the type of person you think you are.

For James, what is more effective is casting votes for the type of person you want to become and accumulating that evidence until it becomes internalized and you believe that’s who you are.

Being Value-Centered Over Adopting a Label

Once you’ve adopted a label for yourself, it’s what you need to do in the beginning to fully dive into a new change. But the more strongly you claim to a particular label, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it. And growth always requires you to update and expand your identity.

Better build your identity centered around values rather than labels, since they’re flexible enough to fit new circumstances when they change, which always will.

Instead, consider the type of person you want to be and the type of values you want to represent. Then begin casting votes for that identity, those values or principles, so you can embody that and you can be flexible. Otherwise, adhering to a single category makes you brittle.

How to Deal with Setbacks

First, realize you’re off-track. Have some kind of tracking system to keep you accountable, like keeping a food journal or marking each day you do a habit.

Next, never miss twice. We all get off track, but the key is getting back on track as quickly as possible and overcoming the all or nothing mentality.

Being Part of the Social Norm

Tracking is a good way to hold yourself accountable as an individual but the most powerful form of accountability are social norms and being part of a group where that is the normal behavior.

Mastering Your Decisive Moments and The 2-Minute Rule

Make the task smaller. But for many people, what they think is a small task is still too big. For instance, taking your phone off the pocket only takes 2 seconds but it ends up shaping the behavior you do for the next 20 or 30 minutes. These actions end up eating your time but they were all started by that little two-second action by pulling your phone out of your pocket.

According to research, habits make up 40-50% of your daily actions. But the impact of your habits is greater than that. The key here is having a decisive moment.

So the moment you pull out your phone is a decisive moment that determines how the next 20-30 minutes is going to be spent. James has this two-minute rule where you figure out the behaviors that are the most effective for you and then you downscale them so they only take two minutes.

Standardize Before You Optimise

Standardize by doing the right thing first then you can optimise it after that. If you never show up, then you don’t have anything to optimise to begin with.

The Compound Interest of Self-Improvement

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Make a small gain each day. It may not be that much, but if you do it each day, it will compound to a remarkable degree.

Convenience is Key

Convenience matters more than you realize. Much of our behaviors each day are shaped by what is convenient. The key is to design your environment to make the good behaviors as convenient as possible and the bad behaviors as inconvenient as possible.

Highlights
  • What James Clear does and why he’s good at it!
  • The 4 stages of creating habits
  • Good habits vs. bad habits
  • The feedback loop that eventually forms a habit
  • Using a commitment device to lock in a better habit
  • Why James dislikes adopting labels
  • How to deal with setbacks
  • Sticking to a habit by being part of the social norm
  • Mastering your decisive moments
  • Standardize before you optimise
Quotes & Take-Aways

The reason you stick with a habit, in the long run, is because it aligns with the identity that you have about yourself.

The most effective way to change your identity is by changing your habits.

The more you define yourself by a single category, the more brittle you become. The more you define yourself by values and principles, the more flexible and robust you become.

If you want to stick with something for the long-term, join a group where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.

Standardize before you optimise…if you never show up, then you don’t have anything to optimise to begin with.

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Make a small gain each day. It may not be that much, but if you do it each day, it will compound to a remarkable degree.

Convenience matters more than you realize… the key is to design your environment to make the good behaviors as convenient as possible.

Connect with James:
Atomic Habits on Amazon

Thanks for listening and the support – if you enjoyed this episode, I hope you can leave the podcast a rating and review on iTunes, and if you haven’t subscribed yet, this is the best time to do that too. This will help the show to get up in the rankings.

Scott Baptie

Scott is the owner and founder of Food For Fitness. He is a fat loss coach, speaker and fitness writer with a masters (MSc) degree in Applied Sports Nutrition.