In his astoundingly successful book Atomic Habits, author James Clear preaches what he practiced. His theory is simple: small changes, done over time, can lead to big results. The “atomic” reference in the name suggests this smallness. Through a series of small changes, he believes that people can change their personal identities to encompass the person they want to be. He’s broken the process into a formula that carried him from a near down-and-out accident victim to a star minor-league baseball player. He believes that if he can overcome that kind of adversity, most others can too.
With any new year comes an opportunity for reevaluation and commitment. Most of us go into the new year with the intention of trying to make something about ourselves better than the year before. This idea of essentially building on a clean slate is as old as recorded time. People throughout history have always been fascinated with beginning again and new opportunities. However, as most know, the best intentions don’t always produce the best results. Some of us begin to make changes and fall short of our goals, sometimes soon after implementing “life-altering” changes. The magic in Clear’s book is that the same formulas that drive building habits can be inversed to help us overcome bad habits.
Here are Clear’s “laws” for creating a good habit:
- The 1st Law: Make it obvious.
- “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”
- Use habit stacking: “After I [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
- Design your environment. Make the cues of good habits obvious and visible.
- The 2nd Law: Make it attractive.
- Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
- Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
- Create a motivation ritual. Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.
- The 3rd Law: Make it easy.
- Reduce friction. Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits.
- Prime the environment. Prepare your environment to make future actions easier.
- Master the decisive moment. Optimize the small choices that deliver outsized impact.
- Use the Two-Minute Rule. Downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less.
- Automate your habits. Invest in technology and one-time purchases that lock in future behavior.
- The 4th Law: Make it satisfying.
- Use reinforcement. Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit.
- Make “doing nothing” enjoyable. When avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits.
- Use a habit tracker. Keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain” of the habit.
- Never miss twice. When you forget to do a habit, ensure you get back on track immediately.
As an example of inversing the laws to break bad habits, here’s an example of the first law:
- Reduce exposure, and remove the cues of your bad habits from your environment.
Using these laws and their respective inverses, you’ll not only create a new desired habit but also manage to maintain it. Keeping our habits going for a long time is one of the biggest challenges in developing new desired behavior.
The point is this: We’re busy at UMC, and finding time to make big changes is understandably difficult. However, by starting small and building on our habits, by making changes not only to what we do and instead to who we are, we begin a journey that earns achievable results, no matter how difficult our schedules or the demands on our daily lives. If anyone can accomplish great things, it’s this team and all of those that make our hospital system great.
Clear, J. (2021). Atomic Habits: Tiny changes, remarkable results: An easy & proven way to build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. CELA.