Building Better Habits

These are my notes on an interview with James Clear: Designing Your Environment to Shape Your Behavior

  • Improving habits basically means overcoming your orientation toward immediate gratification to instead improve delayed returns.
  • To create habits that stick, you need to:
    • Make it obvious
      • This is the cue/trigger to remind you to do the thing
      • Design your office/home/desk/etc. to encourage the habit you want
      • E.g., don’t hide your fruit & vegetables in the crisper drawer, put them on the counter!
    • Make it attractive (the more attractive it is, the more you crave doing it)
    • Make it easy (the lower friction it is, the better)
    • Make it satisfying (he more satisfying it is, the more you want to repeat it)
  • The goal of doing these is to remove willpower from the equation
    • People who are successful in maintaining good habits are the ones who do not face temptations… not the ones who are magically more strong-willed
    • Willpower can’t sustain you long term
    • Resisting negative cues in your environment is very fatiguing
  • For negative habits (stuff you want to stop doing; “habits of avoidance”), do the opposite:
    • E.g., make it non-obvious—don’t tempt yourself by seeing it!
    • A few approaches to making the negative habit satisfying:
      • Replace the bad habit with a good one
        • This is important: you need some sort of reward for doing the new thing
        • It still needs to satisfy the same craving that you used to have
        • It can’t just be about having willpower to resist doing the original thing
      • Increase the friction massively to do the bad thing (remove the exposure to trigger yourself)
      • Make “doing nothing” more satisfying than doing the bad thing
        • E.g., instead of buying a coffee, every time you were going to buy one, put $5 in a savings account
        • Gives you a benefit for when “nothing happens”
  • For big, important, key areas of your life, you can start by making the habit really easy (and basic), and make it successively more difficult to get the “reward”
    • E.g., start with 1 minute of working out a day, scale up to 30 mins or whatever
    • Only applies to areas you want to be truly great
    • For most things, good enough is good enough (it’s not worth being the best flosser ever)
  • Reaching more abstract goals (e.g., write 25 blog posts this year) by shaping your habits
    • The key is to make it *feel* immediate and concrete
    • Give yourself a strong visual of your progress
      • E.g., start with two bowls, one full of paper clips; each time you take the action, you move one paper clip over; your goal is to move all the paper clips from one jar to the next
      • Habit trackers work the same way
        • Putting an X on the calendar is satisfying
        • Each X reminds you to do it again
  • Automatic habits (stuff you do without even being aware of it) can lead to really important routines
    • You want to make the first 2 minutes or so of your important routine effortless
    • E.g., if I get home from work and put on my workout clothes, going to the gym becomes automatic and easy; but, if I have to make a conscious decision to put on my workout clothes, it might not happen at all
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