Creating a new habit and making it stick
This School of Greatness podcast with James Clear really resonated with me. I found myself nodding to it on the subway ride to work today, wanting desperately to share what I was listening to and learning with the other passengers. Don't worry, I wasn't that guy.
James' new book Atomic Habits focuses on the why and how of habits. Why do habits form the way they do? How do they actually work?
His framework consists of 4 stages:
1. Cue or Trigger: The cue triggers you to do a certain behavior. Common cues are time (e.g. waking up and brushing your teeth, leaving work and going to the gym) and location (e.g. seeing cookies on the counter and eating them because they're there). The key point James made is it's not really about the cue itself. People can experience the same cues and react differently. It's how you interpret them.
2. Craving or Prediction: The craving or prediction your brain makes - what you want to do - is contingent upon how you interpret the cues in your life. Key point: your craving or prediction depends on your current state (e.g. your beliefs, identity, social group, how you're feeling, etc.).
So how do you change how you interpret the cues? Join a group where your desired behavior is the normal behavior, and you already have something in common with that group. In my case, an example could be: joining a group of people who are in Customer Success and also care about living a healthy lifestyle. Joining a group works so well because we inherently want to belong to a tribe.
3. Response: You need to master the art of showing up first before going all in on the desired goal you want. I love this one.
Start small. REALLY small. His advice is that you should downscale any habit to fit within 2 min. The example he gave: if you want to run 3 days a week, your habit could be putting on your running shoes and stepping out the door. That's it. Just do this for a few weeks. His point is a habit must be established before you can improve it. Establish the art of showing up, then build from there.
Another tip is to prime your environment to make it easier for you to show up. When you're starting a new habit, there are a bunch of logistical details involved. By breaking your habit into 2 min chunks, it forces you to think about some of those logistics, which helps you decrease the friction to make it easier. For example, chopping up fresh fruit and veggies on Sunday so you have access to easy healthy snacks during the week. Or laying out your workout clothes the night before.
4. Reward: "Behaviors that are immediately rewarded get repeated. Behaviors that are immediately punished, get avoided." You need to add some level of immediate satisfaction for a habit to stick. You need to make it satisfying. One of the most effective forms of satisfaction is progress. He gave great examples of how companies do this today, like video games with their constant feedback (e.g. hearing the sound of accumulating points, seeing your life bar going down, etc.). This stage seems to be the hardest part of the 4-stage cycle, especially when good habits typically have longer term, less immediate results.
For me, the reward in my change in lifestyle has been more energy, clearer skin, and a leaner physique. All changes that took time to see and feel.