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Build good habits, Break bad habits

Habits form our days, weeks, months and our entire life. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that good habits lead to a productive life and a bad habit has the power to ruin a life.

I've read many books on the subject, but lost interest mid reading in almost all of them. One of the well-researched and well-written books, in my opinion, is "Atomic Habits" by James Clear, which provides a practical and easy-to-understand framework for creating and maintaining good habits while breaking bad ones.

The book is divided into four laws of behaviour change, with each providing insights, strategies, and tools for building better habits:

The first part of the book explains why good habits matter and the importance of small incremental improvements, which the author calls "atomic habits" (atomic = very small). He argues that by making small but consistent improvements, individuals can achieve remarkable results in their personal and professional lives. The figure below is a mathematical illustration of how just 1% improvement can lead to 37 times improvement is a year while 1% decline reduces your results to 0.03 of the original.

One of the most eye-openning notions in the book is the importance of focusing on the process rather than the goal. For instance, hitting the gym will not produce results in the first months, but the process itself is crucial because without the first months one cannot reach the threshold of seeing results.

The author argues that the goal is the same for winners and losers, everyone desires reaching the same goal. The difference is really in the process.

Also, once people reach the goal, most of us lose all motivation. This is why so many people whose desire is to become fit gain the weight back. The goal should be to become a healthy person who trains daily without the focus on a desired body image. In a way, the goal becomes the process itself.

The author argues that setting goals restrict your happiness. Most people torture themselves to maintain a habit. They become so miserable because they created the conflict of "once I reach the goal, I'll be happy", and the goal never satisfies their efforts as it is a momentary pleasure. Hence, they relapse into their old habits after reaching it.

For instance, if your goal is to have an organized house, you'll postpone organzing until there are piles of clothes/objects/dust everywhere. You summon the motivtion and clean everything. You feel happy for a moment, but soon enough you're returning to the old self of leaving stuff around everywhere until you have an unbearable mess again. Now, you're waiting for the burst of motivation to help you tidy up again. You're stuck in the loop.

Trading the goal with the process of becoming an organized person means you pick up objects as soon as you finish using them will prevent having piles around. There's no goal to reach. You already have a result as a side effect of becoming an organized person.

The second part of the book provides a comprehensive guide for creating new habits using the four laws of behavior change: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying.

The first law is to "make it obvious":

This involves creating cues and triggers that remind us to take action towards our desired habits. The author explains that our environment plays a crucial role in shaping our behavior, and by making our desired habits more visible, we are more likely to take action towards them. Some strategies to make habits more obvious include:

  1. Environment design: Rearrange your physical environment to make your desired habits more visible. For example, if you want to read more books, place them on your nightstand or in a prominent location in your living room.

  2. Habit stacking: Pair your desired habit with an existing habit. For example, if you want to start meditating, you could meditate immediately after brushing your teeth in the morning.

  3. Implementation intentions: Create a plan for when and where you will take action towards your desired habit. For example, "I will exercise for 30 minutes after work in the gym down the street from my office."

By making our desired habits more obvious, we are more likely to take action towards them and make them a part of our daily routine.

The second law is to "make it attractive":

The idea behind this law is to make our desired habits more appealing and enjoyable so that we are more likely to stick with them. Here are some strategies to make habits more attractive:

  1. Create a positive association: Pair your desired habit with something you already enjoy. For example, if you want to exercise more, listen to your favorite music or podcast while working out.

  2. Use temptation bundling: Combine a habit you want to do with a habit you need to do. For example, if you want to watch more TV, only allow yourself to watch it while you're exercising.

  3. Join a community: Surround yourself with people who have similar goals and habits. Being part of a community can provide accountability and motivation to stick with your habits.

  4. Use rewards: Reward yourself for completing your desired habit. For example, after exercising for a week, treat yourself to a massage or a favorite meal.

By making our habits more attractive, we are more likely to enjoy doing them, which increases the likelihood of sticking with them. Over time, these habits become a part of our identity and are easier to maintain.

The third law of behavior change is "Make It Easy." :

This law emphasizes the importance of simplifying the process of developing new habits by making them as easy as possible to start and maintain. Making a habit easy to start means reducing the amount of time, effort, and resources required to begin it.

  1. Start with small, manageable steps: Breaking down a new habit into small, achievable steps can make it feel less overwhelming and more achievable. For example, if your goal is to start running, you might start with just 5 minutes of running each day and gradually increase the time as the habit becomes more established.

  2. Use the two-minute rule: The two-minute rule suggests that you start any new habit by doing it for just two minutes each day. This makes the habit feel more manageable and can help you build momentum. Once you've established the habit, you can gradually increase the time you spend on it.

  3. Do onetime actions that make good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible in the future: if the option for a good habit is much easier than the one for a bad habit, it is natural that you'll have more tendicy to stick to a good one. For example, removing the TV from the bedroom will help you sleep better as it will be harder to set it up again and watch when you're already sleepy. Another example is to turn off notifications on your phone (or even remove social media apps completly). It is harder to be distracted when distraction requires more effort (openning your laptop to check social media). You can use technology to automate good habits, like setting reminders to practice good habits or using an blocker to limit the use of social media.

The fourth law of behavior change is "Make it satisfying".

Humans are primed for immediate satisfaction. However, the rewards of good habits (like healthy eating) often take a long time to produce results. It will help if you can get an immediate reward from doing your habit. Choose one of these strategies for your habit:

  1. Reward yourself for the habit immediately: Find ways to give yourself immediate satisfaction. Want to develop a 30-second hand washing habit to stay safe? Consider buying nice smelling, extra foamy soap so the experience is pleasurable. Want an immediate reward for skipping happy hour or dessert? Set aside a jar and put money in to save for a special leather jacket each time you skip.

  2. Use a HABIT TRACKER and don’t break the chain: With this technique you record your progress with habits on a calendar or a chart. You just need a chart (can be an app, a computer document, or a piece of paper) and check off each day you do the habit.

  3. Create a negative consequence: Get an accountability partner and set up a HABIT CONTRACT. Why do we pay our bills on time? To avoid the negative consequence of a late fee. You can create a contract with an accountability partner and promise a negative consequence – like wearing an opposing team jersey or paying a sum of money – if you do not complete your habit regularly.

Even though I've went over the main points of the book here, I would like to recommend reading the book as it is full of real-world examples and actionable advice that I wasn't able to cover in this article, making it a valuable resource for anyone seeking to improve their personal or professional life. Its very well written and enjoyable as well as incredibly useful.

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