In my last post, I talked about the book I’m (still) reading, Atomic Habits by James Clear. I mentioned some of his ideas about mindset and how to change habits.
Today, I’ll talk about a few more of those things he discusses about both how to create desirable habits and how to break undesirable ones.
Here’s one of the primary ideas he expands on.
To create a new habit: make it OBVIOUS, make it ATTRACTIVE, make it EASY and make it SATISFYING.
To break a habit, do the opposite: Make it INVISIBLE, make it UNATTRACTIVE, make it DIFFICULT and make it UNSATISFYING.
Here are some examples from my own life.
When I was 29, I quit smoking. I had wanted to do so for a while and I was in the new job I referenced in the previous post. At this company, no one smoked, making smoking invisible. (A major tobacco company was the biggest client of the company I had been at right before, so smoking was quite acceptable there, but not at this new job.) So, that gave me some incentive. It was becoming unattractive.
At this time, buildings were limiting the places people could smoke. The building I worked in allowed it in the restrooms, but nowhere else inside the building, which made it difficult.
There was a woman who I guessed to be in her 60s, remember, I was 29 at this time. This woman went into the restroom every day with her cup of coffee and her cigarette, presumably to enjoy them together. That was most unattractive to me! Bringing coffee into the bathroom stall! Plus, she had wrinkles around her lips, and I didn’t want to get to be her age and have those as well. (due to my success of stopping smoking at a young age, I avoided those wrinkles, although I do have some others!)
I remember going out for lunch one time, and smoking in my car. When I got back to the building, I rode up in the elevator with my boss and one of the other senior members of the team, and I was mortified that they might smell smoke on me. That was pretty unsatisfying.
So I quit. And while it was incredibly difficult, it was such a relief to me to not have to be driven by that addiction anymore. I quickly started thinking of myself as a non-smoker and living that identity. This concept was referenced in the first post.
Here are some other concepts that he outlines in the book:
- Having triggers to help incorporate new habits. I think a lot of us do this intuitively. Some electronic wearable devices will remind you to get up and move around. I empty the dishwasher in the morning while the coffee is brewing. Things like that.
- Being part of a culture where your desired behavior is the norm. Leaving a job where smoking was the norm and joining one where it was the exception was a huge part of my success in becoming a non-smoker.
- Getting rewarded for doing the desired behavior or punished for doing the undesired one. HA! He tells a great story in the book about an entrepreneur who wanted to change his eating and exercise habits. As an entrepreneur, he could wear jeans whatever he wanted to work. He signed a quarterly contract with himself, his wife and his trainer saying that if he didn’t take certain actions toward getting healthy, he would have to wear dress clothes to work for the rest of the quarter.
- Tracking your habits. Studies show that people who write down everything they eat are more likely to lose weight than those who don’t.
Currently, I’m participating in a “squat challenge.” I’m a part of a Facebook group where a group of us are all doing 5 sets of 25 squats each day for 8 days. Since I’ve been locked in the house, and it’s been too hot to exercise outside, I’ve been looking for ways to just incorporate more movement into my daily life. This seemed like a good way to do that. The first day, I had a little trouble remembering to do them, so I decided that I would do 1 set of 25 squats each time I go to the bathroom. My trigger is going to the bathroom. I’m tracking my sets in lipstick on the bathroom mirror because I think that’s fun, and because if I don’t track them, I’ll forget how many I do. It’s quite satisfying to mark each set off. I’m part of a FB group, a culture, where the norm is that we all do these squats and posting in the group keeps me accountable. I’m not really sore from doing the squats, but my muscles are a bit tired and I like that feeling – it’s a sort of reward, as is knowing that I’m taking an action in support of my health.
Finally, one thing that I found REALLY interesting was this:
He talks about having a conversation with an elite coach who had worked with “thousands of athletes during a long career, including a few Olympians.” The author asked the coach what the most successful athletes do that others don’t. After discussing the usual factors, like discipline in training, the coach said, “At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.”
Being able to handle the boredom of doing the same thing over and over and over. How many things have you stopped due to boredom? And what are the things that you continue to do, over and over, despite it being tedious? Let’s talk about it in the comments!
Clear, James (2018). Atomic Habits. Avery, an Imprint of Penguin Random House