I recently read the excellent book Atomic Habits by James Clear.
In short: Atomic Habits teaches you how to break bad habits and adopt good ones in four steps. You’ll understand how small everyday routines compound to big, positive change over time.
When James Clear was in high school, a baseball bat slipped out of a player’s hand and went straight into his face. He suffered dangerous brain swellings and damage to his face and eye - his recovery took many months.
But, he was determined to join the baseball team. He decided to use the power of small habits - tiny improvement is all he could do anyway. Everyday he took small actions that would enable him to play baseball. Eventually he ended up becoming one of 33 players for the all-American Academic team - an incredible achievement.
There are 3 key points to learn from the book:
Every time we form a habit, there are four steps involved: cue, craving, respond and reward.
To form new habits, the action need to have four qualities: easy, obvious, attractive and satisfying.
Use some form of habit tracking to ensure you stick to your plan.
Discover 4 Steps in Forming a Habit Loop
Our environment is like the ‘invisible hand’ that impacts on our everyday behaviour. That’s why all habits start with a cue, often from the world around you. For example, every time you walk past a sweet shop, you buy a chocolate. The cue is seeing the sweet shop.
Cue. A piece of information to let you know about a potential rewarding experience. For example, seeing the sweet shop or even a dark room that needs a light to be switched on.
Craving. This is the motivation or desire to change your internal state, like tasting the delicious chocolate or being able to see in the room.
Response. Your thought or action to get your reward.
Reward. The feeling of satisfaction. At this stage, you also observe to see whether you want to do this habit again. If it isn’t so rewarding, the habit isn’t strengthened.
4 Laws to Change Your Behaviour
James now comes up with 4 laws to change your behaviour. We will include these to create a mindfulness habit.
Make it obvious. Put fruit out on your dining table, not hidden away. Make the first thing you always do to start the day: meditation. Then it’s obvious what you need to do.
Make it attractive. Put your most delicious and favourite fruit out on the table. Meditate in your most cosy and enjoyable place.
Make it easy. Choose fruit that you can easily eat, like a banana. Not one that you have to spend ages peeling. Start with a short meditation, that’s very easy to do - like just counting 3 deep breaths.
Make it satisfying. Enjoy the fruit you’re eating. Once you’ve finished your little meditation, congratulate yourself and smile to enjoy the rewarding feeling of achievement - no matter how short the meditation.
Apply these four laws of behaviour change to form all sorts of good habits, like meditating, walking, watering your plants or going to bed on time.
Do the opposite for bad habits. Make them invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying. For example, you could take a different walk home away from the sweet shop, give yourself the penalty of 10 pushups if you buy the chocolate, have no money with you when you walk home, and only eat the chocolate once you’ve eaten other food and already full up.
Use a Habit Tracker
The comedian Jerry Seinfeld wanted to be a better comedian. So he knew he had to get into the habit of coming up with a new joke everyday. He achieved this through habit tracking. Every day that he came up with a joke, he marked his calendar with a cross. Eventually he ended up with a streak of crosses, and kept going as he didn’t want to break the chain.
Now you have a system for creating and breaking habit, it becomes more fun rather than the old approach of just trying your best or using your willpower and hoping you can stick to it.
If you’re excited and want to track multiple habits, you may find using some kind of record of your habits very helpful. Then, at the end of each day, you can see which ones you managed to stick and which ones may need adjustment, as you weren’t so motivated or didn’t have time to do them...or maybe you just forgot, and need a better way to remind yourself.
You can track in any way you wish. I use a paper journal. You could also use a digital journal, a calendar, an app or a simple notebook.
James Clear calls habits the ‘compound interest of self-improvement’. You may not want to improve yourself and feel you’re good enough. Although yes, you are good enough, what we’re saying here is you can make small, positive improvements in the daily actions you take, to make yourself and others feel better.
If you want to have a go, then begin with one habit, perhaps mindfulness, daily physical exercise, sleep or a balanced diet for example, and see what tiny action you can take today, using the evidence-based principles I’ve shared with you above. But hopefully not just today - something so small, you can commit to doing it everyday.
Water the seeds of positive habits in your life everyday, and enjoy the flowers of happiness bloom.
If you’d like to learn more about my approach of combining mindfulness with kindness, consider my free 7 day course. Or my full 8 week program which is currently on sale - includes 60 mini daily videos and over 15 guided kindfulness audio meditations to try.
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