Atomic Habits

atomic habits

What is a habit? How can one recognize a habit?

Let’s start with a fun example

A kindergarten teacher that has worked with kids for the last 20 years of her life and today she works in a corporate office. Observing her in the corporate office, people identified that when she hears the sound of somebody exiting the bathroom she is naturally asking out loud the following question “Have you washed your hands?”

Is the sound of somebody exiting the bathroom a trigger that is causing her to ask the question about washing hands?
Is her asking this question an automatism that she has built in the last 20 years working as a kindergarten teacher?

The next example is more academic

At university, a teacher that was teaching students about photography has split students into 2 groups and each group received different projects to work on.
From the first group, each student had an assignment focused on submitting “100 photos highlighting different techniques”.
From the second group, each student had an assignment focused on quality … so they had to submit 1 photo that was best showcasing a specific technique.
At the end of the assignment, it was observed that the students from the first group that exercised techniques 100 times, had perfected their craft and submitted much better photos than the group focused on quality.
While the first group was improving and perfecting their craft, the second group was exploring theoretical techniques and talking about how to come with a better plan that will highlight a technique.

Here is another at-scale example

In a very crowded city with improvised housing and no sewerage, people were living very close to each other. At some point in their existance, people living in this city started to develop heath issues at a much higher rate than before.
A doctor started to observe the population of the city and concluded that the simple habit of regularly washing hands will drastically reduce the cause of the heath issues people were having. He also observed that people already had this habit of washing hands, but they were not doing it properly … people were just running their hands through water or washing just one hand.
The doctor intervened with the help of the government and put at the disposal of the city population free soap that was generating a lot of soap foam. People using this free soap were then constrained to wash their hands for a longer time to wash out the soap foam.
Because people were spending more time washing the soap foam, they were also cleaning their hands better … the result was that in 6 months the health issues decreased by 50% in that city.

Atomic Habits

According to James Clear (author of Atomic Habits), a habit can be broken down into the following 4 phases:

Problem space Solution Space
1.Noticing/Cue/Trigger 2.Wanting/Craving/Desire 3.Doing/Response/Reaction 4.Liking/Reward
Phone made a sound I want to read the notification message Open the phone Satisfy my desire to be connected and up to date
Entering into a dark room I want to see what’s inside Press the switch Satisfy my desire to be able to see inside the room

The 4 laws of behavior change – atomic habits:

  1. Make it obvious – highlighting triggers
  2. Make it attractive – action needs to be attractive
  3. Make it easy – action needs to be easy to execute, reduce friction
  4. Make it (immediately) satisfying – action needs to provide satisfaction

How to Build Good Habits

Building a habit depends a lot more on frequency than on time. Repetition at a higher frequency will help build a habit faster than just thinking about how to make it perfect from the first try.

  1. Make it obvious – the trigger must be visible and you must be aware of it
    1. Start with implementation details (ex: I will do [ACTION] at [MOMENT] in [PLACE])
    2. Habits stratification (ex: After [EXISTING HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]
    3. Reshape the environment to better suit the desired habits
  2. Make it attractive – action needs to be attractive
    1. Correlate an action that you already like with an action that you need
    2. Chose a social environment where the behaviours you want to display are considered normal
    3. Before doing something difficult, do something that you enjoy – create a motivational ritual
  3. Make it easy – action needs to be easy to execute, reduce friction
    1. Reduce the difficulty by reducing the obstacles for doing the action
    2. Optimize personal space. Make it favorable for the behaviors you want to build
    3. Optimize small choices that create major outcomes
    4. Use the 2 minutes rule. Reduce the behavior to 2 minutes only and start by exercising the new behavior for at least 2 minutes – this will help build frequency
    5. Automate the habits
  4. Make it (immediately) satisfying – action needs to provide satisfaction

How to Break Bad Habits

  1. Make it invisible – the trigger must be invisible so that you will never get triggered to express the bad habit
    1. Reduce the exposure to things that trigger bad behaviors
  2. Make it unattractive – action needs to be unattractive
    1. Highlight the advantages of eliminating the bad habit
  3. Make it difficult/impossible- action needs to generate a lot of friction
    1. Increase the difficulty level or the number of steps you need to do to practice the habit
  4. Make it unsatisfying – action needs to not provide any satisfaction

Role of others(friends and family) in modeling our habits

We tend to imitate the behaviors of 3 groups of people

  1. Group of close people(the inner circle)
    1. Proximity has a big impact on our behavior and we imitate the behaviors of people that are in our proximity.
    2. A lot of the times, we are not even aware that we imitate the behaviors of others and the closer we get to someone, the more inclined we are to act like them
  2. Group of people that form the majority
    1. What is considered normal in the group of people that form the majority will inhibit the will of the individual
    2. People feel pressure to conform to the norms imposed by the community
    3. The reward of being accepted by the group is usually more attractive than the reward of being right or doing the right thing
  3. Group of people with influence
    1. People are naturally attracted by behaviors that induce respect, acceptance, admiration, and higher social status
    2. We imitate the behaviors of people we admire because we also want to be like them (we imitate marketing strategies from the biggest brands, we copy the recipes of our favorite chef, we imitate the communication style of our managers…)

What about talent ?

Some people look like they already have an advantage in doing some actions … it’s an advantage to be tall if you want to be successful in playing basketball.
Talent and genes are not flexible … if you are short, it will be more difficult for you to play basketball with taller and stronger people (but not impossible).

Maximize your talent by doing:

  1. What feels good to you, but it’s difficult/unpleasant for others
  2. Doing activities that make you lose track of time
  3. Focus on activities where you tend to get better results than the majority of other people
  4. Focus on what you enjoy doing

Behaviors and habits are easier to practice when they are aligned with your native abilities. Choose the habits that fit you.

Native talent does not provide you with any shortcuts or less effort. Native talent will just point the direction where to concentrate your efforts.

Following a plan vs having a habit

People, teams, companies tend to focus more on building objectives and plans to the detriment of building positive and healthy habits.
Is it possible for one to start building the habits needed to successfully follow the plan and accomplish the established objectives?

Once you get punched in the face you will tend to rely on your habits and you will less and less follow the plan (binge on Netflix after a difficult day in detriment on following your development plan).

What good habits do you want to build for yourself?

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