The Simple Science Behind Building Good Habits and Breaking Bad Ones
Let’s be honest. Building good habits and breaking bad ones isn’t easy. We can read a thousand blog posts and books about the science of habits and the various ways to build good ones and break bad ones. But in the end, it still feels like a tremendous effort to do so.
This is because changing our habits isn’t just about learning new information. It’s about reprogramming our brains so that we instinctively do what’s necessary to succeed instead of what feels natural or easy at the moment.
Fortunately, there are proven methods for making this process much easier. In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear explains how successful people have simplified the process of developing and breaking habits by thinking about them at the atomic level.
The Habits of Successful People
Successful people have formed certain habits over time. These habits got them where they are today, and they will help them get even further in the future.
Unfortunately, we often look at successful people and assume that their habits are completely different from our own. We’re so focused on what they do that we completely ignore how they do it. While the habits of successful people vary greatly, they do share a few common traits.
First, they are consistent. Successful people follow the same pattern every time they want to build a new habit or break an old one. They don’t rely on motivation to get the job done; they use discipline instead.
Successful people also have realistic expectations for what it takes to form a lasting habit. They know that change takes time, and they have patience with themselves and their process of change.
Organizing the Process of Change
Successful people realize that the process of change is complex, and there are lots of different aspects to consider. To make this process easier, we can divide it into three parts:
- The cue – The trigger that causes us to react and take a specific action.
- The desire – The reason we want to take that action in the first place.
- The routine – The actual behaviour that we take once we’re triggered.
When we understand how these three elements of the process interact, we can build habits that are much easier to stick with in the long run. And the best way to do this is by finding your coaches. This is the one thing that successful people do differently.
Building Good Habits
When we build good habits, we’re doing two things at once. We’re creating a new neural pathway in our brains and making it easier to take consistent action in the future.
There are a few different ways that successful people make it easier to form those new neural pathways. First, they use consistent cues that are easy to spot and notice. They also make the desired action easy to do. And finally, they put their new habits in an environment that supports their growth.
Successful people also create easy ways to track their progress. This helps them stay motivated and encourages them to keep going even when the path to success is long and difficult.
Breaking Bad Habits
Breaking bad habits is a lot like building good ones. We’re not just trying to stop something we’re doing; we’re also trying to create a new neural pathway at the same time.
The best way to make this process easier is to find new cues, new reasons, and new environments. You can also use what you know about building good habits to make it easier to stop doing something that’s not serving you.
If a bad habit is causing you stress, for example, you might use relaxation techniques to calm yourself down. Or if you have trouble sticking with a diet, you might put your food in a different place so you’re not as tempted to eat it.
Reviewing and Continuing
After you’ve been building good habits and breaking bad ones for some time, you’ll notice a few things.
First, you’ll start to see your progress. You’ll also feel like you’re getting better at the process of change itself. This is the point where you need to review the process and make a few adjustments. Once you understand how the process works, you can experiment and try new things. You’ll know what has worked in the past, and you’ll know what hasn’t been working. With that knowledge and the ability to experiment, you can continue to break bad habits and build good ones for the rest of your life.
Finding Your Coaches
If you’ve been building good habits and breaking bad ones for a while, you’ll start to notice something. You’ll see that certain actions and thoughts lead you towards progress while others lead you away from it. These are the actions and thoughts that you should pay special attention to.
When you find yourself consistently making progress, put more energy into those actions and thoughts. And when you find yourself consistently struggling, focus on changing the way you engage with the world around you.
Your coaches are the thoughts you think, the actions you take, and the environments you spend time in. They are the masters who know when you need to get on the path and when you need to get off of it.
There are three steps to forming lasting habits:
– Identify your current state
– Identify your desired state
– Create a system for transitioning from one state to the other
The best way to make this process easier is to simplify it at the atomic level. When you break down your process of change into smaller and smaller pieces, you’ll see that it’s less overwhelming and much easier to manage.
Successful people simplify their process of change by focusing on their cues, desires, and routines. They make it easier to form new habits by using consistent cues, making it easy to take the desired action, and putting those new habits in an environment that supports their growth.