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My last blog post was about how to develop good habits (if you haven’t seen it, you can check it out HERE).  Life becomes so much easier when you make it a habit of doing the things that need to be done!

A book that really helped me to take practical steps towards building good habits, as well as stopping bad habits, was Atomic Habits by James Clear.  I have always known the power of small, incremental changes – the compound effect – and this book reminded me of this.  By starting with seemingly minor actions or behaviours, these minor actions soon turn into deep rooted habits, hopefully good ones!  James Clear personally experienced the power of ‘atomic habits’ – tiny changes that compounded into remarkable results – through his personal journey from sustaining an awful injury at college and his journey to full recovery and beyond, going on to achieve amazing things.

One thing I particularly love about this book is how the author talks about not only the external stimuli that tend to affect our behaviour (and hence habits) but also our internal states – our thoughts, feelings, emotions and how these affect our behaviours and habits.  If you know me, you know that I’m all about the inside out approach.  If we want to truly flourish, we have to first master the internal game for it to reflect externally.

He starts by explaining ‘The Fundamentals’ and then goes into his habits framework, ‘The 4 Laws of Behaviour Change’ which align with his four-step model of habits – cue, craving, response and reward.

The Fundamentals

Here the first fundamental discussed is the impact of ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’ – a philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything we do – is explained, using the example of how this approach was applied by a new performance director of the British cycling team (Dave Brailsford) to help the team improve their somewhat dismal cycling performance.  By finding literally hundreds of teeny, weeny improvements to make – things like teaching the team to wash their hands properly to prevent catching a cold – the compound effect of all these teeny, tiny improvements eventually ended up having a remarkable effect.  The British cycling team went from not winning the Tour de France in 110 years and only winning an Olympic gold medal once since 1908 to winning 178 world championships, 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and winning 5 Tour de France events in the space of TEN years.  Woah!  For me – gobsmacking. I was all ears (well, eyes) after this!

I also love how James believes in systems versus goals. I am all for systems to make life easier!  As he explains, goals are about the results you want to achieve while systems are about the processes that lead to those results.

The second ‘fundamental’ is how our habits shape our identity.  James tells us that the most effective way to change our habits is to focus not on what we want to achieve (our desired results), but on who we wish to become.  Again, music to my ears, I am totally aligned with this way of thinking, I 100% believe that to make any change in our lives, we need to first BE the type of person who can make that change happen.  Focus on being, as opposed to having the outcome!  The outcome will naturally follow!

The 4 Laws of Behavioural Change

Most people want to know “How can I create a good habit?” or “How can I break a bad habit?”  James Clear’s habits framework, which he explains throughout the book, is a simple set of rules to help you create good habits or break bad habits.  I personally LOVE using this framework because, as always, I find it so much easier to create systems to use in my daily life so I can use most of my energy and brain power on other things!  Using this framework really simplifies things for me when I’m trying to create good habits or get rid of bad habits.  I simply go to this set of rules and run through how I can apply them to whatever it is I am trying to achieve, whether that’s developing a good habit or stopping a bad habit.

The 4 Laws of Behavioural Change are as follows and below each law is the recommended strategy James recommends to use for that particular Law.

HOW TO CREATE GOOD HABITS

1 |  Make it obvious by

– Setting implementation intentions “(I will [behaviour] at [time] in [location]”
– Using habit stacking “(I will [desired new habit] after [current habit]”
– Designing your environment (make the cues of good habits obvious and visible)

2 |  Make it attractive by

– Using temptation bundling (pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do)
– Joining a culture where your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour
– Creating a motivation ritual (do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit)

3 |  Make it easy by

– Reducing friction (decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits)
– Priming your environment (prep your environment to make future actions easier)
– Mastering the decisive moment (optimise the small choices that deliver outsized impact)
– Using the Two-Minute Rule (downscale your habits until they can be done in 2 minutes or less)
– Automating your habits (invest in tech and one-time purchases that lock in future behaviour)

4 |  Make it satisfying by

– Using reinforcement (give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit)
– Making “doing nothing” enjoyable (when avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits)
– Using a habit tracker (keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain”)
– Never missing twice (when you forget to do a habit, make sure you get back on track immediately)

HOW TO BREAK BAD HABITS (this is the inversion of the above)

1 |  Make it invisible by

– Reducing exposure (remove the cues of your bad habits from your environment)

2 |  Make it unattractive by

– Reframing your mindset (highlight the benefits of avoiding your bad habits)

3 |  Make it difficult by

– increasing friction (increase the number of steps between you and your bad habits)
– using a commitment device (restrict your future choices to the ones that benefit you)

4 |  Make it unsatisfying by

– getting an accountability partner (ask someone to watch your behaviour)
– creating a habit contract (make the costs of your bad habits public and painful)

 

Hopefully the 4 Laws and their associated strategies above are self-explanatory but I highly recommend reading Atomic Habits which explains each Law and strategy in great detail, also providing loads of examples.  I use many of these strategies myself with one of my favourites being ‘habit stacking’ – I simply think of a habit I currently do and then ‘bolt on’ my new desired habit onto that, for example, ‘I will drink a large glass of water after I wake up.’  Or, ‘I will take my supplements as soon as I finish eating my dinner.’  I find this strategy works really well and saves me having to try and carry out the habit on its own at some other time!

So if you’re wondering how to create a new habit, then try using these 4 Laws. Simply ask yourself:

1. How can I make it obvious?
2. How can I make it attractive?
3. How can I make it easy?
4. How can I make it satisfying?

And if you’re trying to figure out how to break a bad habit, ask yourself the inverted version of the same questions:

1. How can I make it invisible?
2. How can I make it unattractive?
3. How can I make it difficult?
4. How can I make it unsatisfying?

Like James Clear says in his book, “your habits are shaped by the systems in your life”.

Use this framework to create easy systems in your every day life because all these little habits you practice every day, over time, will amount to a big result – and you want it to be a good result!

 

P.S. You can download my FREE HABITS TRACKER below to write down the habits you want to develop and track them over a month (just print out a copy each month) – you will see patterns and trends start to emerge and know immediately where you are doing well and where you need to improve (by implementing James’ Laws and strategies!)