Let’s face it; we often tell ourselves promises of future behaviours we would abide. To ring a bell, the most common experience that we share is the New Year’s resolution, where we make radical “to-accomplish” lists in hopes that we become the version of ourselves we envision to be.
While setting a goal provides a good headstart, I always find myself keeping up with my resolution’s list for an initial period only to slip into a state of procrastination over time — the comfort of my old habits triumphed my motivation to implement new habits.
Then, it daunted onto me that a to-do list is not sufficient for a shift in a desired behavioural change.
So, What Happened?
I came across Atomic Habits by James Clear and decided to add it to my list of non-fiction. Albeit it is not an overnight success, tiny changes to my habits paved the way for remarkable results.
For starters, I implemented Clear’s techniques to one of my long-standing resolutions: getting in shape.
Note: There were other solutions recommended in the book, but I only focused on specific techniques that I found to be effective for me.
The 4 Laws of Behaviour Change
In his book, Clear listed down four laws for a habitual change to which I will be illustrating the actions that I took in relative to each of them.
1. Make it Obvious
Pointing and Calling Technique
The best way to start a habit is to be aware of them because too often, we perform routines on auto-pilot mode. I used a habit scorecard and rated my daily habits based on their impacts. Upon completion, I realised I did not allocate a pie of my time to exercise, which called for a turning point.
To start a new habit, Clear recommended the “I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].” I wrote down on a sticky pad that (on every alternate day), I will work out for 30 minutes at 6:30 P.M. in my neighbourhood’s park. As Clear put it,
“When the moment of action occurs, there is no need to make a decision. Simply follow your predetermined plan.”
Redesign the Environment
We do not perform our desired habits by waiting for a dosage of motivation to be given to us. Instead, we make that motivation happen. Cues trigger habits, and our environment influences cues.
30 minutes before the time I would exercise, I set a reminder on my phone that will prompt me to lay out my running shoes by the door. Whenever I am done with my tasks for the day and see my shoes, I am more inclined to put them on and start exercising.
2. Make it Attractive
Tying a reward to a habit drives the creation of dopamine and hence, our motivation to act. Clear took a step further and said that pairing a habit that you need to do with a habit that you want to do makes it more attractive. To incentivise the new habit, I modified my habit ritual to:
- After I have finished studying [CURRENT HABIT], I will work out for 30 minutes [HABIT I NEED].
- After exercising for 30 minutes [HABIT I NEED], I will check Twitter [HABIT I WANT].
Reprogram the Brain to Fix Bad Habits
Hard habits are difficult to stick by, but the situation flips when you change a word. As Clear mentioned, “You don’t “have” to. You “get” to.” Instead of viewing exercise as a task that drains energy, I went from telling myself, “I need to exercise” to “It’s time to get agile.” True enough, I did not feel like it was an obligation but an opportunity.
3. Make it Easy
The Two-Minute Rule
Perform a habit for two minutes, not more, and not less. This rewires our attention by emphasising the need to show up for a habit instead of focusing on the end goal too much.
Exercising can seem like a daunting task given its delayed results, yet, with this rule, it ritualises the beginning of the habit of a more extensive routine and eases me into my exercise routine even on days when I am tempted to give it a miss.
4. Make it Satisfying
Use a Habits Tracker
By simply indicating an ‘X’ on my planner, I was able to see the number of days where my exercise streak was kept intact. Whenever I look at my calendar, I’ll be reminded to exercise again.
Tracking the habit of exercising not only displays my progress but also makes the habit satisfying. Like checking off tasks on our to-do list(s), crossing an ‘X’ increases allows me to watch my habit grow, and thus, I am more determined not to break my exercise streak.
Atomic Habits is a power-packed book that details a plethora of practical tools and strategies to strengthen the building blocks of a habit system. Quoting from Clear himself:
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.”
Thank you for reading!