by James Clear
It doesn’t matter how successful or unsuccessful you are right now. What matters is whether your habits are putting you on the path toward success. You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.
Prevailing wisdom claims that the best way to achieve what we want in life is to set specific, actionable goals. Results have very little to do with the goals we set and nearly everything to do with the systems we follow. If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is yoursystem.
Changing our habits is challenging for two reasons: (1) we try to change the wrong thing and (2) we try to change our habits in the wrong way.
There are three layers of behavior change: a change in your outcomes, a change in your processes, or a change in your identity.
Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.
Behind every system of actions is a system of beliefs. Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last. The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wantsthis. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who isthis.
Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins. Identity change is the North Star of habit change. The true question is: “Are you becoming the type of person you want to become?” The first step is not what or how, but who.
The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward. The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. It is a bit of information that predicts a reward. Without some level of motivation or desire—without craving a change—we have no reason to act. The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior. Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward.
How to Create a Good Habit
- The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
- The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
- The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
- The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
The cues that can trigger a habit come in a wide range of forms but the two most common cues are timeand location. Broadly speaking, the format for creating an implementation intention is: “When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.”
People who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through. Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action. When the moment of action occurs, there is no need to make a decision. Simply follow your predetermined plan.
When it comes to building new habits, you can use the connectedness of behavior to your advantage. One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top.This is called habit stacking.
The habit stacking formula is: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
Habit stacking works best when the cue is highly specific and immediately actionable.
Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it. Unfortunately, the environments where we live and work often make it easy not to do certain actions because there is no obvious cue to trigger the behavior. Habits can be easier to change in a new environment. A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is an environment where habits can easily form.
You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it. Simply resisting temptation is an ineffective strategy. The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least.It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often. A more reliable approach is to cut bad habits off at the source. One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
The central idea is to create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits and increase the friction associated with our bad ones.
If you want to increase the odds that a behavior will occur, then you need to make it attractive.
Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it. We need to make our habits attractive because it is the expectation of a rewarding experience that motivates us to act in the first place.
The habit stacking + temptation bundling formula is: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].
There is nothing magical about time passing with regard to habit formation.It doesn’t matter if it’s been twenty-one days or thirty days or three hundred days. What matters is the rate at which you perform the behavior.
You’ll find that nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two-minute version: Make it easy to start and the rest will follow. Start by mastering the first two minutes of the smallest version of the behavior. Then, advance to an intermediate step and repeat the process—focusing on just the first two minutes and mastering that stage before moving on to the next level.
A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future. It is a way to lock in future behavior, bind you to good habits, and restrict you from bad ones.
When working in your favor, automation can make your good habits inevitable and your bad habits impossible. It is the ultimate way to lock in future behavior rather than relying on willpower in the moment. By utilizing commitment devices, strategic onetime decisions, and technology, you can create an environment of inevitability—a space where good habits are not just an outcome you hope for but an outcome that is virtually guaranteed.
The first three laws of behavior change—make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy—increase the odds that a behavior will be performed this time. The fourth law of behavior change—make it satisfying—increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated next time. It completes the habit loop.
Making progress is satisfying, and visual measures—like moving paper clips or hairpins or marbles—provide clear evidence of your progress. As a result, they reinforce your behavior and add a little bit of immediate satisfaction to any activity. Visual measurement comes in many forms: food journals, workout logs, loyalty punch cards, the progress bar on a software download, even the page numbers in a book. But perhaps the best way to measure your progress is with a habit tracker.
There is a version of every habit that can bring you joy and satisfaction. Find it. Habits need to be enjoyable if they are going to stick.