Create This Instead of Goals

Dear Reader,

I’m so glad that you’ve tuned back in for part two of my discussion with James Clear on the importance of habits. James has spent years educating millions of readers on the importance of habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement. He is a regular speaker at Fortune 500 companies, and his work is used in the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

His new book, Atomic Habits, details his system of building good habits and breaking bad ones, showing how small changes can have a transformative effect in every aspect of your life.

Where I left off yesterday, James and I were discussing what exactly was the definition of a habit: a behavior that has been repeated enough times to be more or less automatic. We already covered not only how to control your habits; but also, how your habits affect your personality.

James and Habits 

I wanted to get a bit more personal with James and learn more about why he began his focus on habits in the first place.

James began to realize that both luck and habits play a role in your life, and you have control over your habits. However, a lot of people feel like they don’t have control over their habits. They believe themselves to be the victim of a bad routine.

This led James to begin to delve deeper into the layers of habits, what they are, and how they work. No matter who you are you are going to be developing habits whether they are good or bad. For this reason, it makes more sense to be able to understand how habits work and how to structure them, so that the individual can be the architect of their own habits rather than feeling like the victim of them.

The 4 Stages of a Habit

James has a nontraditional breakdown of a habit which is a 4 stage model tracking cue, craving, response, and reward. There are 100 years of behavior psychology research behind his reasoning for modeling the habit off these four stages, but what it comes down to is that if you show someone the right cue, and you perform the correct action, and follow it with a reward, you can train someone to do that thing whenever the cue arrives.

A second wave of cognitive psychology showed that not only do external cues and external reward influence our habits, but internal moods, emotions, thoughts, feelings or beliefs also influence our behaviors. This is why James added the fourth stage: craving.

In following these four stages, you can teach your brain how to break bad habits. If you are able to change your inner monologue about the cue you can adjust your craving and therefore, change your response.

In summary, the reason James chose those four particular stages is because he was trying to create a model that he felt would accurately describe both all of the research that is true about behavioral psychology and the research from cognitive psychology and the influence of internal states.

His hope is that the four stages can accurately describe a habit and how both the internal and how the internal and external world influence our behaviors.

Cultivating Systems Rather Than Setting Goals

James is someone who spent most of his life setting goals for himself. However, one day he took the time to reflect and realized that he has accomplished a very small amount of his goals. Setting the goal was not the thing that determined whether he moved forward or not, so he began to question what is it that would actually help him accomplish what he wanted?

He determined that goals are good for setting a sense of direction and clarity and they are good for filtering, in other words, staying focused on what’s most important.

Where goals fall short, systems can take over. Goals are focused on the outcome, a system is focused on the process. For example, if you’re a writer, your goal may be to write a bestseller. Your system is the writing process you follow each day, your research, your interviews, etc…

James then had the idea to ignore the goal entirely a put all the focus on the system which goes against a lot of common perception of success in modern society. We live in an outcome focused society. Results of success need to be easy to view.

This is one of the reasons that good habits are hard to cultivate. No one is going to notice whether you wrote every day or not until you have a bestseller to show off. This is why James is calling for the system to be the default for success rather than the goal itself.

It’s important to note that achieving a goal only changes your life in that moment. We think the results are the most important thing, but it’s the process behind the results that that really needs to be the property.

Often times you actually see people face a lot of struggles and self doubt after accomplishing a long sought after goal.

If it’s all about the goal, once that goal is achieved, then what is motivating you?

Let’s challenge ourselves to shift the focus to the process and habits rather than putting all the energy and attention onto one looming goal.

This also goes along with the James idea about making 1% changes. It’s about making the small changes that eventually lead to big changes. Habits are a lot like this. They don’t feel like much in a given day, but they certainly add up in the long term.

What are some systems you can integrate into your life that will actually help you to achieve long term success. Take the time to celebrate the 1% things, the little habits that are guiding you on your path and shaping who you are.

Stay tuned for the final portion of my interview with James where we discuss reframing, breaking bad habits, and the stages of making a good habit.


Brian Rose

Brian Rose
Editor, Brian Rose Uncensored

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Brian Rose

Brian Rose is an MIT graduate, with a degree in engineering. Upon finishing school, he immediately began working on Wall Street. An advanced technical trader, Brian was trading a book of $100 million at the age of 22. He spent years on Wall Street, working in New York, Chicago and London. He made millions, but...

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