Habits are behaviours that we perform automatically, with little or no thought. From making a coffee when we get up in the morning, to brushing out teeth before bed at night, our habits subtly guide our daily lives.
As a result, you may not realise how much power there is in habits. If repeated every day, even the smallest actions can accumulate force and have a huge effect. So understanding and embracing habits is a great way to take control of your life and achieve more.
The Power of Atomic Habits
Success is the product of daily habits. Getting 1% better every day counts for a lot in the long-run. The important thing is whether your habits are putting you on the right path. Be concerned with your current trajectory, and not with your current results.
If you want better results, focus on your system instead of your goals.
Goals vs. Systems
- Goals are the results you want to achieve. Systems are the processes that lead to those results.
- Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
- Goals restrict happiness, e.g. “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy.” Systems make you fall in love with the process rather than the product so you don’t have to wait to permit yourself to be happy.
How your habits change your identity (and vice versa)
The three layers of behavioural change:
- Outcomes: changing your results - most of the goals you set are at this level
- Process: changing your habits and systems
- Identity: changing your beliefs
The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.
It’s helpful to think of your habits as an election. Each time you do a good habit or action you are casting the vote for the type of person you want to become. Each time you do something undesirable, you are casting a vote in the opposite box.
The goal is not to be perfect - it is to win the majority.
The best way to start a new habit
The two most common cues that can trigger a habit are time and location.
Implementation intention: pairing a new habit with a specific time and location – “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”
For example: “I will exercise for one hour at 5 p.m. at my local gym.”
Habit stacking: pairing a new habit with a current habit – “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
For example: “After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute.”
Make your cue highly specific and immediately actionable: “After I close the door”; “After I brush my teeth”. The more tightly bound your new habit is to a specific cue, the better the odds are that you will notice when the time comes to act.
Motivation is overrated; environment matters more
Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. Habits are context-dependent. Small changes in context can lead to large changes in behavior over time.
Make the cues of good habits obvious in your environment:
- Want to practice guitar more frequently? Place it in the middle of the living room
- Want to drink more water? Fill up a few water bottles each morning and place them around the house
Tracking your habits
Another helpful tool for keeping a habit is a habit tracker. There are many ways to measure your habits - even a simple Excel spreadsheet will do.
The Golden Rule: Missing one day of a habit is fine, but never let yourself miss two days in a row.