If we want to ensure that we are living a healthy lifestyle, then we ought to from time to time introspect our habits, for it is our habits that define who we are. Our sleeping habits, our eating habits, our working habits, our leisure time habits, our exercising habits; for our life is built on and around our habits. We seldom realise how much of our life is spent on routines and habits that we adopt.
The reason I say we should regularly introspect is that we repeat certain behaviours regularly, without ever thinking about improving them. Perhaps we fear the change. It is a well-established fact that we fear big changes, knowing well that big changes would be difficult to maintain in the long run. To overcome this dilemma, James Clear in his book, Atomic Habits, An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones (Random House Business, 2018), provides many solutions and argues that we should not overburden ourselves.
He proposes that we could aim to make just a 1% improvement daily. If we made a 1% improvement daily, after one year we will see over 37% improvement. Even minor improvements done daily consistently can have a big impact in the long run. This shows that success does not require huge changes. We just need to control our fears, everything we want is on the other side of fear. So, we do not need to focus on the fear, but on the positives we achieve or can achieve, this will help build confidence and will provide the motivation to bring more positive results. As James Clear says, “fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.”
Self-growth is related to life choices. As explained in the book, “our habits do not choose us, we consciously choose our habits.” We just need to make that tiny decision and repeat behaviours regularly. Over a long period, we either reap benefits or self-inflicted damage. “Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy,” says James Clear.
How to make a meaningful change?
So, let’s assume that you wish to change some of your habits. Deciding to change would be the easy part. Which strategy to adopt to ensure maximum chances of success? Many people try to set goals but James Clear advises against a goal-oriented approach. Questioning, what happens once the goal is achieved? Then what? Secondly, he argues that “a goals-first mentality is that you’re continually putting happiness off until the next milestone.” He prefers a systems-first mentality. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.
The problem isn’t you. The problem is your system.
I agree with him when he says that, “bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change.” What he is pointing toward is the belief system. “Behind every system of actions are a system of beliefs.” So, if you want to be an athlete, you need to believe that you are an athlete. You change your identity. Thus, “the first step is not what or how, but who. You need to know who you want to be.”
“The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.”
So, once you believe that you are an athlete, you adjust your behaviour and do as athletes do. You stop compromising on your sleeping habits, eating habits, exercise habits, etc. The stronger the belief, the stronger your chances of success in changing the habit. Just ensure that your new habit is as attractive as possible. That you enjoy repeating it. As James Clear says, “habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. When dopamine rises, so does our motivation to act.” When we enjoy something we want to do it again and again. “It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike.” This is probably why so many people become addicted to exercising in the gymnasium. They become addicted to dopamine surges.
Not all habits are equally thrilling. Many habits are low intensity and do not evoke strong emotional responses e.g., procrastination. James Clear writes that “the Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.”
If we want to stop procrastination, we could use this approach; to reward ourselves when we achieve and maybe punish when we procrastinate, albeit the punishment could be symbolically minuscule such as 10 dollars to charity for each day spent in procrastination. Not always but sometimes you realise, what leads to procrastination is the environment. Changing and creating an environment that helps in doing the right thing reduces the chances of prolonging procrastination.
When you want to make some changes, you need to start by having some incentives at the beginning. But incentives go only so far. If you want to bring about long-term changes, then as mentioned above it’s about choosing a new identity. And this is probably the central theme of this book, “incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.”
In my view, the book is insightful, thought-provoking, and powerful. It is one of the most inspiring books on human psychology and behaviour. The book is aimed at the general reader and is very easy to read and understand. You can tell James has written it with his heart and mind by the number of tips and ideas included in it for changing habits. It is certainly a comprehensive book on human habits. Don’t forget that good habits help in Restoring The Mind.
Stay safe stay happy.