July 16, 2023
7 min read
Sometimes, we fall into the trap of believing that achieving a happy life requires drastic changes, when in reality, more often than not, making small improvements to our daily routines and actions is all that is necessary. It is empowering to recognize that habits play a significant role in shaping our lives, and by making adjustments to our repetitive behaviors, we can change our destiny. However, it can be challenging to stick with a habit long enough to reap its benefits. To address this, we will explore the best book in this field - "Atomic Habits" by James Clear - and extract the precise framework for developing positive habits.
Our habits define who we are. If we exercise daily, we become individuals who prioritize our health. By dedicating quality time to our spouse each evening, we demonstrate a commitment to our marriage. Similarly, consistently working towards financial goals establishes us as individuals who value our financial future. To improve our lives, we can adjust our identity and start behaving like the person we aspire to become. The book provides an example of a smoker looking to quit. They can adopt the identity of a non-smoker or a smoker actively quitting. The person who confidently responds, "I don't smoke," when offered a cigarette is undeniably more likely to succeed than someone who simply states, "I'm trying to quit."
At times, significant changes in identity can greatly benefit from a change in environment. This could involve distancing ourselves from friends who hinder our progress or even relocating to a new place. A well-known example is the case of American soldiers addicted to heroin during the Vietnam War, who successfully overcame their addiction upon returning home since their triggers were specific to their wartime environment. This principle applies to cultivating positive habits as well. For instance, if our goal is to spend more time outdoors daily for improved eyesight, mood, and overall health, it would be more challenging to achieve this in a densely populated city. In such cases, making a significant change, such as moving to a seaside location, can make a significant difference.
Choosing an identity and adjusting higher-level environmental variables, if necessary, is the first step. Next, we need to determine which habits will result in the most significant long-term benefits. I believe that habits focused on health should take priority since they make it easier to develop other habits when we have a healthy body and mind. The positive effects of consistent self-care, such as improved mood, mental clarity, and increased energy, contribute significantly to an overall sense of well-being.
To make health habits more accessible, I categorize them into four baskets or categories: sleep, nutrition, body, and mind. Often, these habits overlap, leading to multiple benefits. For example, improving sleep quality also enhances mental health.
Personally, I actively seek sustainable habits that I can incorporate into my daily life for years to come. In the sleep category, this involves going for a morning walk outdoors and exposing myself to natural sunlight immediately upon waking up. Regarding nutrition, I have been practicing 16 hours of intermittent fasting for years, which is a simple habit that prevents overeating. To stay fit, I alternate between 30-minute runs and 30-minute gym workouts, incorporating stretching exercises as well. For peace of mind, I consciously avoid working after dinner. While these habits have proven effective for me, it is important to note that each individual has a unique lifestyle and personality. Your circumstances and preferences may lead you to discover other health habits that are easier to maintain.
The book presents four laws for building effective habits, starting with the first law: making it obvious. This involves carefully planning habit implementation - determining what exactly we will do, when we will do it, and where. For example, we can set an implementation intention to go for a 30-minute walk on the beach right after waking up. Additionally, habit stacking can be beneficial, whereby we complete one habit directly after another. For instance, after finishing gym exercises, one could go to a sauna. Furthermore, designing our environment to support our desired habits is crucial. Personally, I choose to live in apartments with a separate room for a home office. This makes it easier to stick to the habit of avoiding work after dinner, as work remains confined to that particular space. Similarly, it enhances productivity since the office is solely dedicated to work and not entertainment.
The second law is making habits attractive. One effective strategy is to link an action we want to do with a habit we need to do. For instance, I only allow myself to drink a second cup of coffee when I am working on an important task that requires concentration. Another example is structuring the day in a way that allows for quality rest in the evening. By completing all important work as early as possible, I can ensure a peaceful evening. Additionally, humans have a natural inclination to be part of a tribe, which we can utilize to our advantage by joining groups of individuals who share our desired behaviors. Examples include participating in group exercise classes like yoga or martial arts.
The third law is making habits easy. We can achieve this by reducing friction. For example, the gym and a running route are within walking distance of my home, making it convenient to maintain exercise as a daily habit. However, if I had a hill or a mountain near my house, I might opt for hiking instead of running to minimize friction. Additionally, we can prepare our environment in such a way that future actions become easier. For instance, dedicating time to food preparation ensures that we have healthy meals readily available, eliminating the need to order food. Separating planning from execution can also be helpful. By planning tasks for the week in advance, we can simply execute them without the need for constant decision-making or doubts. Furthermore, the two-minute rule emphasizes starting habits in the simplest possible manner. For running, the two-minute rule would involve putting on our running shoes and leaving the house. The idea is to make habits as easy as possible to initiate and master the habit of showing up consistently. When building a new habit, we should always consider how one-time actions or purchases can facilitate the process. For instance, since gym was not conveniently located near my previous residence, I invested $100 in a home workout setup to ensure that I could still have effective workout sessions on days when I did not feel like going to the gym. If you live in a bicycle-friendly city, purchasing a bicycle can make it easier to stay active by incorporating cycling into your daily commuting routine.
The final law is making habits satisfying. One approach is to reward ourselves immediately after completing a habit. This could involve relaxing in a sauna or treating ourselves to some delicious fruits after a gym session. Additionally, tracking our progress is a rewarding experience. Personally, I use the Increaser app (found at increaser.org) to track my habits and observe my progress. This app helps me maintain my streak and motivates me to never skip a habit twice. Moreover, the app provides a suite of productivity tools that will definitely enhance your work efficiency.