Do This And See Long Term Results
I am so excited to share the final portion of my interview with James Clear. He has spent years educating people around the world on the importance of habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement.
Throughout this three part series, James and I have discussed so much about habits from how to control them, how they affect your personality and how they differ from goals. Today I want to wrap up by touching on reframing habits, breaking bad habits, and the rules for cultivating good ones.
Immediate Rewards and Long Term Results
Immediate gratification is quite literally wired into our genes as humans. Modern society developed from hunter gatherer tribes whose survival was dependent on living moment to moment and finding the quickest, easiest, and most efficient way to get things done. In today’s society, we have certainly adopted more concern for the future; however, we still have a biological inclination to favor immediate results rather than long term ones.
This results in a misalignment of rewards when it comes to forming habits. There is an immediate reward and an ultimate reward. Usually with bad habits, the immediate reward is favorable. You eat a donut and it tastes good, but if you eat one every day, you might not be happy with the way it affects your health.
Meanwhile good habits are often the exact opposite. If you go to the gym for one day, you won’t see any change in your weight or your body, but if you continue to go over time you will most likely see improvements in your strength or weight over time.
A lot of the challenge of building good habits and breaking bad ones is figuring out how to pull the long term cost of your bad habits into the present moment. If you can feel the long term pain, you have a reason to avoid the bad habit. At the same time you also have to pull the long term rewards of your good habits into the present moment so it feels good. This will help you stick with a good habit while waiting for the ultimate reward.
Ultimately James states, “the cost of your good habits is in the present, and the cost of your bad habits is in the future, and the fact that we prioritize the present over the future ends up making a lot of habit change difficult.”
Making Habits Stick
You may recall James and I discussed the four stages of a habit: cue, craving, response, and reward. For each stage, James has come up with, what he calls, “a law of behavior change.” For Cue, the law is to make it obvious. The cue for good habits should be readily available and easy to see because the easier the cue is able to catch your attention, the easier it will be for you to fall into the habit.
An example, if you want to start flossing more, keep your floss right next to your toothbrush rather than putting it away in a cabinet. Or if you’re trying to change a bad habit, like watching too much TV, rearrange your sofa so it faces a table with books rather than the TV.
You have to be able to design your environments to go along with the habits you are attempting to cultivate. If you want a habit to be a big part of your life, make it a big part of your environment.
For craving, the law is to make it attractive. If a habit is more attractive or appealing, you’re more likely to do it. A tactic you can use here is what scientists call a “commitment device” which is a choice you make in the present that locks your behavior in the future.
“Commitment devices” add a layer of accountability and make it more attractive to do your habit.
For example, if you text your friend and make plans to go running the next day at 6:30 am, you’re much more likely to keep this commitment knowing that if you snooze you’re bailing on a friend and abandoning your good habits. Social environment is hugely important in building good habits.
Motion vs. Action
For response, the law is to make it easy. James has the idea of motion versus action which basically means that there are a lot of things we do that we think are moving us toward our goals but most are “motion” and only some are “action.” “Motion” will never get you a result on it’s own, but “action” can. For example, signing up for a gym is “motion,” but doing 10 squats a day is “action.”
This doesn’t mean “motion” is useless, but we have to remember to not overvalue or default to it. It feels safer to make plans, but you won’t begin to see results until you begin to act on the plans.
Finally, for reward, the law is to make is satisfying. The only reason we repeat habits is because they feel good. We need to have some type of satisfaction with habits, so our brain feels able to repeat them.
One of the most satisfying feelings in life is making progress, so if you are able to find a way to visual your progress, your habit will seem much more satisfying. You can do this, for example, by starting a “habit tracker.” Get a calendar or notebook and track how many times a week or month you followed your good habit. This way, you can see your progress more immediately and it helps you follow through.
If you are someone who is looking to break a bad habit, just invert each rule. Do the opposite of the rule and you will see your bad habits begin to disappear.
It has been such a pleasure getting to dive so deeply into these topics on habit with James Clear, and if you’re interested in learning even more about the importance of habit, check out his new book, Atomic Habits which 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.
Editor, Brian Rose Uncensored