In our PGP course, we try to better ourselves, make ourselves more efficient, and ready for the real world. Last year, we read a couple self-help books. This years book, Atomic Habits by James Clear, is probably the best one we’ve read. It is again a self help book, but it focuses more on why it works. Also the other ones we read were very teen-focused, which I found a little odd. This one was for all ages, and it focuses on the little things, the atomic things.
Law #1: Make It Obvious
The first ‘law’ of the book, Make It Obvious, focuses on just that, making it obvious. Each thing we do, each little habit, has different cues. For old habits, these cues can be invisible, unnoticeable. Until we can recognize the habits, and the cues that trigger them, we can’t change them.
One thing the book says to do to help you with this is the habits scorecard. The habit scorecard makes you write down everything you do in a day, and mark it as positive, negative, or neutral. Doing this helps you become fully aware of what you do each day, each habit that your brain does automatically.
I decided to only look at the mornings and nights for these, because they are usually constant, while my after school activities are constantly changing. Once I had all of these written down, I could see what needed to be changed. Each of these things I do automatically, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but cues in the environment impact each of these things. For example, waking up and going on my phone right away is not necessarily a good thing, but I can see it is triggered by my alarm going off. By changing what my alarm is in the mornings I can stop myself from going on my phone.
One thing I have been trying to do this year is read more. Using the implementation intentions from the book, and the habit stacking, I can do just that.
Implementation intentions are a kind of command system for what you plan to do. They are structured in a way that makes them very clear and to the point. I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]. By having them set out in a very specific way, you can’t really escape them. For my reading goal, I have created an implementation intention.
The next part of the process is habit stacking. Again, structured in a very clear way so as to make life easier. Habit stacking uses another habit that you do already, and makes that a cue for your new habit. After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]. The old habit that you do automatically sets you up for your new habit.
Law #2: Make It Attractive
The second law of the book, Make It Attractive, focuses on, well, making the habit attractive. The opposite also applies. If you want to break a habit, make it unattractive. There are a few ways to do this. One of the ones that stood out to me was using temptation bundling.
Temptation bundling works for me because like habit stacking and implementation intentions, there is a formula laid out for you. In this case, the formula is: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT]. This works because it again applies to a current habit. This anticipation of something you want coming after the habit you’re building can make you more likely to do it. This temptation bundling really has worked for my reading goal, because sometimes all I want to do is go to bed, but I know I should read.
Law #3: Make It Easy
The third law makes a lot of sense, and has made the habits I am trying to master a whole lot easier, hence the name, Make It Easy. This law focuses on reducing the friction of your habits, or increasing them in some cases.
For the case of the habit I want to start, the reading one, I’ve tried to decrease the friction in a few different ways. First, my book is on my bed, right beside my pillow, so when I get into bed I don’t have to get up to get the book. This also gets rid of my excuses of ‘being to cold to get the book’. I’ve also used the two minute rule, which makes the habit seem like less of a chore sometimes. Basically, what you do is make the habit into something you can do in two minutes. So even if I only read for two minutes, I have read. Sometimes I’ll start with that intention, the end up reading for the whole 15 minutes.
For the opposite side, creating more friction, I’ve been working on going on my phone less. Using the screen time features that Apple has, I set a timer for 1 hour on social media. There is no password, so I can ignore for 15 minutes, but it still creates that friction that says ‘instead of going on your phone, maybe do something else’. It doesn’t always work, but these things take time.
Law #4: Make It Satisfying
The fourth law, Make It Satisfying, has really helped with my reading goal. Using the idea of a habit tracker, I’ve been keeping up with my reading, which has been fun and rewarding.
My habit tracker is a reading planner I got for Christmas. It has monthly reading goals, a place to review books, and a bunch of other cool things. The thing I have found the most useful out of it is the weekly planner. Each day, it asks you to write down how many pages you read. Having a chain that doesn’t end is so satisfying, and at the end of the week, when you add up how much you’ve read, it really does add up!
The other part of the fourth law I’ve found helpful is a habit contract. The habit contract makes sure you do what you are supposed to do by making you report to a designated person. So now, I’m not only letting myself down if I don’t do the habit, I’m also letting someone else down.
Overall, this book was super helpful. I really like the concept of breaking things down to the ‘atomic level’, and sorting them out from there. It makes things look more achievable!