In my last article, I talked about how habits work and explained that much of our behaviors are automatic habits that keep us operating on autopilot for significant part of our days and lives. So, what is the big deal? Due to the unconscious nature of these habits, some of us are functioning daily with habits that no longer serve us well. In fact, some of our habits might be undermining the lives we want to create for ourselves and our families and ways we want to grow and develop personally and professionally.
Since all of us have at least one habit that we want to break or build, I challenged you to identify one habit that might be getting in the way of your overall effectiveness. This could be a mindset, a relationship or habits related to food, exercise or how you spend your time and money. Since, our habits can work for and against us, it crucial that we understand them and ensure that they are working in our favor and not to our detriment. Afterall, we cannot fix a habit without being aware of it and truly wanting to change that behavior. But then again, changing behaviors is never easy. Our habits formed to serve a function and usually continue to do so.
At the start of the year, I read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear which talked about how tiny changes, little choices, small improvements in behaviors can unlock significant success and remarkable results. He argued that “if we could improve by 1% every day for an entire year, we could get 37% better by the end of the year.” Conversely if we got 1 % worse every day for an entire year, we would end up being 37% worse off at the end of the year. Clear explained that if you are willing to build small behaviors and layer 1% improvements on top of them, they will compound and multiply the same way that money multiplies with compound interest over time.
One example of this could include you increasing your water intake daily or replacing one meal with a salad or fruit/vegetable smoothie. Making any one of these choices on daily basis might not immediately result in a drastic dip on the scale or in the pounds automatically melting away. But after a year of this behavior (and if you continued), you are more than likely to experience and see huge gains in your health and overall nutrition than had you made no change at all. The full impact of those actions will compound as getting 1% better every day counts for a lot in the long run.
Habit Change as Identity Change
Whether you or realize it or not, we tend to describe ourselves based on our behaviors and preferences. People who love coffee will say they are coffee drinkers, while other who prefer teas will identify as a tea drinkers. And this applies to how people see and describe us as well. So, when it comes to changing habits, identity plays an important role as well. According to Clear, the most effective way to change your habit is not to focus on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become. Your identify emerges out of your habits since every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become
Clear advises that rather than setting a goal to read 12 books this year, see yourself as reader. Then ask yourself, what do readers do? Answer- readers read (even one page every day.) When you embrace the identity of a reader and read, you are intentionally casting votes for that person you want to become. And the more you do it, you will start to see yourself as that person and build up more evidence to support that identity. Once this behavior becomes your identity, there are no limits on the number of books you will read. Therefore, focusing on identity change can help you become more conscious about your habits and help you to be more intentional about your behaviors so that you can make better choices to grow and improve.
For me, reading Atomic Habits back in January was huge game changer and it helped me restart writing this blog. I had originally started this blog back in 2014 to share my ideas, lessons, experiences and engage with others. For the first year, I consistently published an article weekly, which later dropped off to once a month, then periodically and I stopped altogether in 2016. This was due to a lack of motivation brought on by the stresses of what was happening in my life at the time. Though I had stopped writing my blog, I continued my love of writing by contributing to newsletters at work and occasionally writing on LinkedIn. For the years in between, I developed a habit of spending a huge amount of my down time scrolling through Twitter and consuming long hours of TV with popular streaming services such as Hulu, Netflix, and Apple TV. I was not reading books as much anymore and I was not writing consistently which are hobbies I enjoyed and believed I was good at.
After reading the book, my biggest takeaway was that “Every action you take is a vote for the person you want to be.” When I assessed my habits and tracked how I was spending my time, I realized I was voting for an unproductive TV watcher not the writer I hope be. My behaviors were not consistent with my goal to write and publish a book someday. I knew these behaviors had to change. Consequently, I decided that my writing rut was over, and I would resume writing and publishing articles on my blog again. As I got started, I had doubts about whether I would be able to be consistent and I worried about whether anyone would read. After thinking about it for a while, I resolved that writing was more about me honoring my talent for writing and not burying my talent due to my fears.
So, I committed to posting an article every Monday and developed a system to support it. I am happy to report that since February 1, 2021, when I started, I have a casted a vote for the writer I hope to become and now have written and published 16 articles and counting. There is now evidence to support my identity as a writer and my journey continues. I no longer allow the fear that no one will read or doubts about how good the articles are to discourage me. I just vote for myself as a writer every week. Plus, I spend way less time on Twitter and watching TV.
So how about you? Who and what are you voting for? Which new identity do you need to adopt? Clear explains that “In an election, you do not need to have 100% of the votes to win, you just need the majority.” Changing your habits is not about perfection, just progression, so just start. And even if you mess up, avoid the all or nothing mentality and get back on track to keep going.
Four Laws of Behavior Change
So how do we change our behaviors and build better habits? In his book Atomic Habits, Clear recommends four laws for behavior change to build better habits as follows:
- 1st Law of Behavior is make it obvious: 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]. With that you then set an implementation intention that says, After work, I will go outside for a 15 minutes’ walk in my community.
- 2nd Law of Behavior Change is make it attractive: The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming. Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. When dopamine (feel good hormone) rises, so does our motivation to act. It is the anticipation of a reward – not the fulfillment of it – that gets us to act. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike. Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do. Example, I will watch Netflix while riding my stationary bike.
- The 3rd Law of Behavior Change is make it easy: The most effective way to learn is to practice not plan, so just get started. If you spent all your efforts thinking about the issue, researching, and gathering information but never took any action to execute, you are simply in motion. Instead, focus on performing the behavior . Habits are formed when we repeat the behavior over and over. Remember the amount of time you spend performing the habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.
- The 4th Law of Behavior is make it satisfying: “We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying.” So the “The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change states that “What is immediately rewarded is repeated and what is immediately punished is avoided. “If you want to get a habit to stick, you need to feel immediately successful—even if it’s in a small way. So come up with a way to reward yourself for performing the behavior.
Afterall all is said and done, there is no magic bullet for behavior change. Any kind of meaningful change takes time, intentionality, commitment, and consistency. Some days will be harder than others and what works for me might be different for you. So just get started. Until next time, Remember, It’sALearningLife.
P.S. If you want to learn more about behavior change, breaking bad habits and building better ones, check out James Clear’s website for more insights.