Lifestyle — November 1, 2019 at 4:00 pm

What’s Next? Atomic Habits by James Clear


Editor’s Note:  At EXIT Realty, we strive to bring our readers the best in thought leadership through our series, “What’s Next?” featuring books and documentaries we think you’ll enjoy. We are not affiliated with the authors/producers. 

By Chad Morris, Staff Writer

Have you ever felt inspired to make changes in your life, only for that newfound motivation to fizzle out and have everything revert back to the way it was? What is it that causes good habits to slip and bad habits to stick? That’s the subject of author James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. Here’s an overview of one key concept from the book, the habit loop, to help you build better habits and make changes that last.

Understanding the Habit Loop

The habit loop is a four-step process by which habits are executed. As a demonstration, here’s a negative loop for someone addicted to social media on their phone:

  1. Cue: the trigger – It could be a phone notification, a lull in conversation, a stressful event, a difficult task this person wants to avoid, etc.
  2. Craving: the motivating force – They start feeling anxious or fear they’re missing out.
  3. Response: the resulting habit – The person pulls out their phone.
  4. Reward: the induced pleasure – Refreshing the newsfeed causes a rush of dopamine and alleviates these new feelings of anxiety. The person feels content and the brain registers that next time this person feels anxious, they should check their phone.

Hacking the Habit Loop

A behavior becomes a habit only when it completes all four steps of the loop. Knowing this, you can design your environment to ensure that positive habits complete the loop and stick, while negative habits do neither.

Cue: Make positive habits obvious.

First, write your daily habits and list the cues for each. Next, strategize to put positive cues in plain sight as a continual reminder. If you’re a real estate agent who wants to start a daily prospecting habit, put an abacus at your desk and move a bead with each call. The abacus becomes a visual cue that reminds you to get on the phone. You can also try habit stacking by anchoring your new habit to an existing habit. If you want to keep up to date on local market and industry trends, you can anchor reading with drinking your morning coffee. That way, your existing habit becomes the cue for your new habit.

Craving: Make positive habits more attractive.

Temptation bundling is a strategy in which you link together an existing habit that you want to do with the new habit you have to do, such as watching a specific TV show while riding a stationary bike. By bonding these two habits, you’ll be excited to hop on the bike because it means watching the next episode. Temptation bundling incentivizes the habit you need by linking it to the habit you want, while habit stacking is grouping a routine habit with a new habit you may otherwise forget to do.

Response: Make positive habits easy.

New habits tend to require less willpower with each successful repetition, until it eventually normalizes in your routine. With a new habit, repetition is more important than perfection, so focus on guaranteeing you routinely do your habit by eliminating friction and avoiding overindulgence. For example, if you’re hungry and the only healthy snacks in the house are unpeeled whole carrots, that friction can end with you eating cookies instead. Similarly, if you try to meditate for 20 minutes early on instead of a shorter 10-minute time frame, that overindulgence can burn you out and put you off your next session. Don’t stress over how to get the most from your habit right away; make a point of ritualizing your new habit, then work out the finer details once it’s a natural part of your routine.

Reward: Make positive habits satisfying.

Your brain has a soft spot for immediate gratification—you don’t get the same chemical reward from contributing to your retirement plan that you do from buying something new and shiny today. Knowing this, you can incorporate instant gratification through rewards to make your new habits more satisfying. Your reward should align with your goals—so don’t celebrate exercising with a slice of pie—and you should time the reward to immediately follow the habit, thus creating a positive association between the two. So, if you dread your Monday morning email inbox, you could work through it all morning, and afterwards take a friend, colleague, or client to a favorite restaurant nearby for lunch as a treat.

If you found this information interesting or helpful, be sure to check out the book, Atomic Habits. The habit loop is just one of several concepts to help you build good habits and break bad ones.


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