Oct. 10, 2018

A Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones with James Clear

A Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones with James Clear

In today’s episode we sit down with James Clear, an author, photographer; and entrepreneur, who is a pioneer of productivity. James’ work largely aims to uncover the scientific truth behind habits and human potential in...


In today’s episode we sit down with James Clear, an author, photographer; and entrepreneur, who is a pioneer of productivity. James’ work largely aims to uncover the scientific truth behind habits and human potential in order for us to live better lives. His research is both profound and easy to understand, allowing us to take the latest scientific research into human behavior and actually use it in our own lives, starting right now.

 

Here you will find James’ latest book including many other useful resources and downloads – AtomicHabits.com Atomic Habits Book Giveaway

 

 


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Transcript

A Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones with James Clear: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

A Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones with James Clear: this A Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones with James Clear audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Srini:
James welcome to the unmistakable creative. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us.

James Clear:
Hey man you bet. Great talk to you

Srini:
Yes

James Clear:
Again.

Srini:
So you're back here for a second time because we had such an insightful and thought provoking conversation the first time. I know that you have a new book out all which we will get to in just a little bit but before we get into that I want to start by asking you what did your parents do for a living and what impact did that end up having on the choices that you've made with your life in your career.

James Clear:
Well my dad has worked in insurance for 37 years now. So he really was very young and just kind of college. He played baseball the way through college just like I did. And then he played in the minor leagues the St. Louis Cardinals for a little while. So you know as a kid I want to be professional baseball player too and so looked up to him a lot. And then after his baseball career was done he joined the insurance industry and has been there pretty much ever since. He has a pretty outward facing job. He interfaces with like all the clients and insurance agents and he's like making calls and saying people it's basically business development and marketing but as a result of this very social role which is also a good fit for his personality. I think I probably learned a lot about interacting with people and like any where we go around town he knows somebody so that like gregariousness or outgoing personality that definitely impact on me and just he's really good in his job of being kind to people like he knows all the names of the kids for these different entrants. I mean he's calling a hundred people he knows like all their kids he has picked they have pictures of us like me and my siblings up in their office and he has pictures of them and their kids. And anyway just a really good guy people person. My mom started out as a nurse and then when I was very young my sister got cancer.

James Clear:
I was five she was three and my brother was six months old. And so my mom stopped working at that time to take care of that whole situation. And then as my sister started to recover she stayed home with us for the next. I think like 10 years and it wasn't really until I was in high school that she started working again. And at that point she went back and became like an assistant in preschool and kindergarten classrooms but specializing specifically in kids who have autism or some kind of disability. And so now she has done that for a few decades and is working with those kids every day and is currently in a classroom with I think eight autistic kids and she's one of the teachers and like primary caregivers to them and I've learned a lot from her as well. I mean she's very my mom's the type of person who does not complain even if the situation is not ideal. And so she's definitely a hard worker and is used to she's used to like just bearing whatever burden is placed on her even if nobody it's kind of like invisible to everybody else because she's not complaining about it. So I learned a lot about like mental toughness from her and doing your responsibility is and just like performing up to that standard and she's played a lot of different roles and in our personal life. And so yeah they both have been incredibly formative in my experience and they're a great set of parents.

Srini:
So you open the book by telling a story that you actually shared with me the last time we spoke about getting hit in the face with a baseball bat when you're a senior in high school. And what I wonder is when you have a moment like that you still had the desire to get to the point where you wanted baseball to still be a part of your life to the point of becoming an all-American after you were dealing with such a severe injury. How in the world did you have the mental toughness and how did you even see a path to getting to to where you ended up being. Or did you even at that moment.

The Power of Progress and Small Improvements

James Clear:
Well I don't know. Like in the moment I wasn't thinking like oh I need to be mentally tougher and mentally tough or something like that. I was just dealing with it day by day. And this is something I mentioned in the introduction of the book which is that like. In a sense my hand was forced. I had to focus on you know the next moment or a small improvement or I wouldn't use this language at the time but just getting one percent better each day or something like that because I didn't really have another option. Right. Like I it was such a serious injury. I mean you know I couldn't drive for eight or nine months I was licences come over and I had a bunch of seizures. My first physical therapy session I was practicing walking in a straight line like there was just the the recovery was very slow. And because of that I had to just focus on the small ways to get better. And so I just tried to take it one step at a time or piece by piece and focus on whatever that like point on the curb was that was just like right in front of me. The next thing that I could accomplish and the biggest thing was just having some sense of progress. You know if I if I was making an improvement even who's really small at least I could see I was getting better and that was really motivating for me. So I think more than maybe being mentally tough. I just tried to be positive and upbeat and focus on how I could make progress each day.

Srini:
Why do you think people who sometimes end up in those situations don't have the ability to have that attitude and make progress. Like why is it that they don't have the persistence to get through something like that.

James Clear:
I don't know it's really hard to answer because it's so so difficult to distance yourself from your own experience in a situation like that. Like all I know is that you know I had this really serious injury in this very difficult period. And for whatever reason my response was to try to be positive about it and I don't know if that's genetic error or something related to my personality and it's just kind of how I'm wired or if it was learned and I had a lot of really good people around me whether my family or teammates or coaches and that you know they kind of helped lift me up and carried me along a little bit. Probably some combination of both. But I don't know I it's hard for me to say like what would cause someone to not do that. It's possible that view you haven't seen that in some cases that you haven't seen people stand up to difficulties in their life like that. Then maybe it's hard to have a model to act on you know like so I'm specifically thing about injuries. Mike you know my sister had cancer she was a survivor. My grandfather my basically my entire the entire 20 years I knew them. And yet four different heart surgeries and was essentially constantly dealing with some kind of health issue. But both of those people were central pieces of my life and they also were incredibly positive and upbeat and just like did their thing each day and didn't really complain about it. And so maybe maybe I've seen that already. And so I imitated a little bit. My own experience. But yeah I'm sure a variety of factors

Coaches and Mentors

Srini:
So you talked about parents you talked about family what role did coaches play and who you've become today. I wonder this because I know I had a ninth grade band director who I think had a really really transformative experience in my life. But it's only something I recognized like almost 30 years later.

James Clear:
Yeah. I mean I think coaches play an incredibly crucial role in in life and they have because of how they wear their insert into different people's lives. I mean they can just make a big difference especially the time that you have this coach you know like coaches and teachers which I would kind of put into a similar bucket. They interface with kids and young adults at really formative periods of time. So for me some of my best teachers were my first through fourth and fifth grade teachers they were incredible. I just had like one after the other was really great. And so I really benefited a lot from that from a very good elementary school teachers coaches. I had I had one year where I had a really fantastic coach. And you know I played sports for a variety of sports across 18 different years so a lot of the time I didn't have a really great coaches. But it was the most instructive part for me for teachers was learning about caring and seeing that someone else cared for me. That was like a really big thing for coaches. It was more about consistency and practice. You know like I can still remember the very first showed up to our college baseball team and we had our team meeting and one of the first things I learned was that if you're five minutes early or 10 minutes late. And so it was like OK promptness and being ahead of schedule and being prepared is really important in this program. And that rippled out into everything if you weren't there 15 minutes ahead of time if you weren't ready. You know practice started at 6. That didn't mean nearly tying your shoes at cement. You were like on the line ready to go at 6 and so that level of discipline and responsibility. I definitely learned a lot from my coaches in that room.

Srini:
So last time we talked I remember something very distinctive that you said about going to college. And you said that you looked at the majors in front of you and you said none of these are going to work for me. So you ended up designing your own major by just combining a bunch of different classes and I wonder what it is about your life experience or your sort of programming that made you say you know what I'm not going to choose from the options in front of me because I see something different. What enables that and why isn't that more common.

Why James Designed his Own Major

James Clear:
I think that that was one of the first entrepreneurial things that I really did you know looking back on it that's like a very entrepreneur type of decision where you're like OK here is the set of options and I don't really like any of those so I'm just going to make my own. And so I don't know why why some people do that and others don't. I think that they're one of the key aspects for me that drives that type of action or behavior is curiosity. And I definitely feel like it's wired into my personality to be curious and ask questions that kind of probe around and so as I started looking at the options for classes I was like well Icona you know like I look at say like physics. Well like I mentioned them like three of these classes not the other eight or if I will get biology like to these sounds really interesting but the other ones aren't for me. And so I was like well why is there a way that I could just combine all the ones I like and. And so that was the option for design here and major. And I think that there's also like this lateral thinking aspect that you see in a lot of a lot of entrepreneurs were there. They're kind of like looking for this trapdoor or this back way in to getting what they want. Like well most people just take the world that is handed to them. But if you do this like kind of first principles thinking you're lateral thinking exercise you just like distill it all down to its fundamental parts and then think about like what are the different combinations of ways you put that together. Whether it's a major or a physical product or a marketing campaign there are a lot of ways to do that type of thing and come up with an interesting or creative solution that works for you and kind of if it doesn't break the rules like bends the rules. And that type of thinking is very exciting and interesting.

James 5-Step Writing Process

Srini:
So I want to talk briefly about your creative process and your practice which I think will make a really sort of nice segue to talking about the concepts in the book. I think that the thing that has always struck me most about your writing in particular is how detailed and well researched it is that I think the thing that I look at it it's something I aspire to even though I do a lot of reading and I weave a lot of my own research from my reading. I look at that and think wow this is really well done. So I guess one how do you come up with your ideas too. How do you actually put them together in this way.

James Clear:
Oh thank you. Well so I guess I'll just kind of walk through my writing process. So the first thing is I think that any you're coming across ideas all the time right like maybe where we talk in this conversation and you say something that is interesting or sparks an idea for me or something like that and I think you need to have a central holding ground where you just put all the ideas in your life whether it's from a conversation or a book or whatever. And so for me that's Evernote. So I have a notebook in Evernote just titled articles. And whenever I come across an interesting idea I just dump it into there. And sometimes it's just a title for an article sometimes it's like one sentence. Occasionally I'll riff for a little while maybe a couple of paragraphs. But all of that goes in the same folder then I typically write either earlier in the morning or before lunch or late at night and whenever I'm sitting down to do that I'll go to that list and start to look through all the notes that are in there and I have literally hundreds of this plans by six or eight hundred notes that are in that folder and I start to look for ones that connect in some way. So sometimes I actually have a couple articles that are kind of in process right now they're just like holding grounds for ideas like I have one that I think is just titled Thoughts on cultural evolution. And so then like any of these thoughts about society and culture and stuff like that go into that.

James Clear:
But then occasionally I'll go through and just try to find ideas that are on the same topic so let's say that you know maybe have five things that are related to creativity. So pull those ideas and put them into the same note and then an article starts to kind of loosely take shape. But I can see which holes are there and what things I need to research a little bit more. So then maybe I'll pick up a book or go do some research on some of the things that are missing or some questions I have. And as that starts to build out a little bit and gets closer to like a thousand or 2000 words then the article kind of you know I start to basically move it around in chunks. I kind of break it into like say all right there are five sections and Zardoz kind of like the introduction and then I make this point and then make the next point. And then I have some kind of practical takeaway and then there's the conclusion. And it's not always five pieces but I kind of chunk the article out like that and then I'm you know kind of like moving those chunks around to figure out like broadly where do they fit. And once I get to that point I usually put it into wordpress so I can see what it actually looks like on the page. It's going to be published and that's really when the real work begins for me. So all of that kind of precursor to getting to that point is mostly a collection of ideas and just trying to get the general shape of the article.

James Clear:
But I haven't really thought carefully about like the line by line writing. And once I get to this point then I'll I'll start at the top and I'll read the first sentence and if that's and sounds good then I'll read the second. That sounds good. Read the third and at some point I'll get to a sentence that doesn't sound good or doesn't work well and all ended that sentence. And then once that's done I'll go back to the top and start again from the top and read it again. And I just do that endlessly until I get all the way through the article. And so by the time I finished I mean it's really not much of an exaggeration I probably have read the article 50 or 100 times. And so what ends up happening is that it kind of like the article sort of shapes itself or writes itself in that way where I'm just I'm reading it out loud and seeing how it sounds. Each time I go through it and usually I end up cutting a lot. So like the most recent article I published it's around 2000 words but it started as 6000 and that's a pretty typical result for me is that I'll cut an article in half or so and so. So yeah that's mostly my process. I mean I don't really consider myself a great writer I think I'm a better editor but it's that it's that process of editing and refinement that's like the real work

Srini:
Well it's funny I don't consider myself a great writer. I just say I'm a disciplined writer. Like I think that's you know my key to that has been volume which I know we'll talk about systems versus goals care because you alluded to that in the book. One of the things so the outside of research. Do you have a place where you document the books that you're reading or any of that stuff so that you can weave it into stuff.

James Clear:
Yes so I actually have a format for when I add things to Evernote so specifically say let's say for example that. So one great thing that happens for me a lot of the time now is I'll share an article and then a reader will reply with either link I should read or a piece of research I missed or just an idea that they had. And so what I'll do is I'll put it into Evernote but I will essentially format that piece then and save that little sentence it'll be like you know a quote with two sentences from that email they sent and then I'll say from and then up with the reader's name and then like maybe link to either that email or the article that they pointed me to or something like that. So I effectively keep the sources in line as I'm adding them to Evernote and so as the article is taking shape all of those things are right there for me so I don't go back and look at them again and then I like to have a lot of citations in my articles and writing so that's a somewhat rare i guess. And the blogs Hiromu a lot of times to just write whatever they want in their blog. But but I I think it's important not only just to cite the people who get these ideas from because almost all the ideas I write about are not ones that are generated by me but but also it helps me for the process of writing a book. Because if I'm going to integrate an article or utilize a piece of it for a section of a book later then all the sources can just come over easily

Srini:
Well let's do this let's actually talk about the concepts of the book. I think that where I want to start was with part of your story that I know you know this is something you said in the book is that changes that seem small and unimportant first will compound into a remarkable result if you're willing to stick with them for years. We all deal with setbacks but in the long run the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our habits with the same habits you'll end up with the same results with better habits. Anything is possible and I think your exemplary of that in so many ways. Because I remember having a conversation with you where you said you decided that you would publish twice a week. And I remember reading in the book you said it was like from a thousand readers to 30000 to now hundreds of thousands.

How a Simple Writing Habit Transformed James Clear's Blog

James Clear:
Yeah it was really that simple writing habit of publishing every Monday and Thursday that changed the trajectory of the business. So I wrote the first article on James the dot com on November 12th 2012. And then I continued with that twice a week pace for the next three years until I signed the book deal. Really it was when I switch and. Yeah. So I mean the consistency was the biggest thing. You know and this is true. I think this applies not just the writing of course but to any area of life that it's like especially in the beginning

Srini:
Yeah.

James Clear:
Put in your reps is one of the most important things. I mean for an artist or creator of some sort. You need to put in Rhapsody can develop your taste seeking. Figure out what your voice is as a writer but you can apply it to other areas. I mean if you go to the gym like you need to just put in your reps and not worry about the weights so much of the results so much you can build like a foundation of strength or so that you can be in a position to actually handle greater stress later on. And you know in a lot of ways you also I think actually Sharina you've written about this idea before as well which is that the other advantage of putting your reps in is that you you kind of genius only shows up when you when you show up enough times to get the bad ideas out of the way and then every now and then a good one rises right so you kind of like create a lot of junk to come up with something really good every now

Srini:
Yeah

James Clear:
And then.

Srini:
Yeah absolutely true. I mean that has definitely been my experience. And it's funny because it was going back to Korea and it made me decide OK you know what I've stuck to a thousand or a day I think now it's time to move on to publishing two times a week and seeing what happens. I think the thing that get in the way of most people is they get frustrated because they're not seeing a result from that effort. And so often it's just like the inflection point is right around the corner but nobody wants to stick with it. What would you say to people who are in that situation where they are like OK I'm doing this thing consistently. I've done it consistently for a long time. But I'm feeling a level of frustration that I didn't think I would

Habits are the compound interest of self improvement

James Clear:
Well so in that time candidates are afraid of this is the plateau totally potential and something that's pretty common for a lot of habits. And you know you mentioned earlier that quote from the book about habits compounding over time. And I like to refer to habits as the compound interest of self-improvement which is what I mean that like the same way that money multiplies through compound interest. The effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them over time. But it's not a linear curve it's not a straight progression. We think we as a lot of time we have this expectation that if we put in a little bit of work then we'll get a little bit of results. So if we put in a massive amount of work then we'll get massive results and we do we think that it should be like this just linear step function going up and it often is not that way at all. It's much more kind of like the hockey stick curve where there's like this valley of death early on and you're putting all this work in but you don't really see any results. And the most I mean is the hallmark of any compound process which is the most the most powerful outcomes are delayed. You have to wait for them. And so I like to use the story of the metaphor of heating up an ice cube. It's kind of like you know you're in a room it's cold. You can see your breath it's like 25 degrees. There's this ice cube on the table and you heated up the 26 degrees 27 28 29 and still nothing has happened the Ice Cube sort of sitting there 30 31 and then you go from 31 to 32 degrees.

Latent Potential

James Clear:
This is one degree shift. No different than all the other shifts that came before it. But suddenly at this phase transition and the ice cube melts and the process of building better habits and getting results is often a lot like that. You know like you you put in work for a couple of months and you're like well I've been you know I've been working out for three months. Why is it my body change. And it's often like if you complain about working for a little while and not seeing results it's kind of like complaining about hitting an ice cube from 25 to 31 degrees like the work is not being wasted it's just being stored and you need to continue to stick with it to you to cross that threshold and unleash that kind of latent potential that you're that you're building up and I can be really hard to remember in the moment. You know I mean this is one of the things that's frustrating or challenging about building a better habit or changing your life in some way or working on a new project is that those those outcomes are delayed but the work that you're putting in today often counts for much more than the immediate result that you realize. And so that becomes key to stick with it over the long run.

Srini:
Yeah. I mean even my own book launch when it didn't live up to expectations I kind of saw that OK we've passed that threshold that most people don't. Of a thousand copies and I said All right you know what we're good at the New York Times bestseller list it's time to switch to playing the long game. Think of it. You know OK how am I going to sell small amounts every week as opposed to a ton of them in one go.

Behavior and Outcomes

James Clear:
Well this is I mean people you can just see this playing out. It's like fairly obvious when you think about your normal habits like any any behavior produces multiple outcomes across time. And so it produces both often an immediate outcome and an ultimate outcome. So like if you know bad habits are usually the case where the immediate outcome is favorable. So like you you eat a cookie right now and it's sugary and tasty enjoyable. And so the immediate outcome is favorable. But the ultimate outcome is if you continue that habit then you know a month from now or a year from now you'll gain weight. So the ultimate outcomes unfavorable good habits are often the reverse the immediate outcome of working really hard on a book launch is that you're tired. And it took a lot of time and effort. The ultimate outcome might be that you sell more books a month from now or a year from now from that interview that you recorded. And you know people are still listening to them and so on. Same way with going to the gemlike VM was the immediate outcome for working out for a week straight. I mean it's not really a whole lot. Your body doesn't really look different scale is usually about the same. You're tired. So were the immediate outcomes often unfavorable. But if you continue the habit then a month from now or a year from now you'll be in shape. And so a lot of the challenge of building good habits and sticking with good habits and breaking bad ones is figuring out ways to take the long term consequences of your bad habits and pull those in need immediate moment. So you feel a little bit that pain right now and have a reason not to do it. And finding ways to pull the long term rewards of your good habits and take those benefits and bring them into the immediate moment so you feel a little bit of pleasure and have a reason to repeat it right now. And that's one of the central challenges for changing habits

Srini:
Definitely will. I'm going to totally steal that habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. But I will make that link your book and this interview and when I mention it that

James Clear:
Nice. Glad

Srini:
That

James Clear:
You enjoyed

Srini:
Sounds

James Clear:
It.

Srini:
Like is

James Clear:
Feel

Srini:
Just

James Clear:
Free.

Srini:
What we're talking about ideas for blog post. The moment you said that I was like that's a blog post. It was funny because the same experience with Chris Bailey when he said the state of your attention determines the state of your life. So Chris I'm going to steal that but I'm going to link your book when I publish it.

James Clear:
There you go. Sounds good.

Srini:
But you know I think this really is indicative of the sentiment expressed in the book where he said you should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results. And yet if you look at the world we live in we live very much in a results oriented world where we've quantified our humanity with you know fan and follower accounts the way you're measured as a result if you look at a job description it says results oriented person. How do you find that balance. How do you find that balance between being committed to the results that you want. But concerning yourself with your current trajectory

Outcome Based Habits VS Identity Based Habits

James Clear:
Yeah that's a great question. So I think the way to find the balance is buy and I divide this up in the second chapter the book where I talk about outcome based habits versus identity based habits. So outcome based habits are habits that are built around the result. And this is usually the way that people go about the process of change. They think about you know like what kind of outcome do I want to achieve. You know I want to lose 20 pounds next six months or I want to earn six figures this year or one to whatever it is and then they come up with a plan for achieving that. So I want to earn six figures that means I need to make like 20 sales calls a day or something like that or else I want to lose 20 pounds I need to follow this diet and go to the gym four days a week. And they don't really give any thought to the third level of behavior change which is what I would call your identity. So it's all about the outcome and the process but not really about the identity. I think the reverse is actually a more productive way to focus on this for the long run. So the question you can ask yourself is right. You know I want to lose 20 pounds in six months. Well who is the type of person that can lose weight. Well maybe it's the type of person who doesn't miss workouts. And so then you focus on building that identity first you start with saying OK I want to become the type person who doesn't miss workouts and then the habit that you can perform well now can be very different it doesn't have to be something super impressive like you could just if you have a really busy day you could just do five push ups and it's easy to dismiss that if you have a results only mindset because you're like well five push ups isn't going to get me in shape.

James Clear:
But sometimes it's not about the result. Sometimes it's about reinforcing being that type of person. And the value of casting a vote for that identity of doing five push ups even on a day when you're busy or when the circumstances were ideal is that you start to believe that about yourself. And so then you turn around and you have like every reason to go to the gym each week because that's just who you are. You're the type of person who doesn't miss workouts. And the same thing can be said for pretty much any other habit. No like the goal is not to write a book. The goal is to become a writer. Goal is not to run the marathon the goal is to become a runner. And once you adopt that identity it's very empowering place to approach your daily habits process from. Because it's it's one thing to say like I want this but it's something very different to say I am this and. And so in a sense true behavioral change is really identity change because once you've adopted the identity you're not even really pursuing behavior change anymore you're just acting in alignment with the type of person you already believe you are.

Srini:
So you talked about a two step identity change process. Can you tell us exactly what that is for somebody who wants to do this. I know you kind of alluded to it just now we've got kind of a framework level but how do you actually apply this tactically

The Process of Identity Change

James Clear:
Yeah. So I hinted at a little bit the two steps are the first step is to decide who you want to become or what you want that identity to look like. And that can be you know those are big questions and so sometimes people get a little hung up on those. I mean you can do exercises like what are my core values or my principles or some of those like Big Picture exercises and that can help. But there's also really strategic way to do it which is you just say OK maybe I don't know the identity but I do know what kind of results I want. Let me start there. OK. What's the result I want I want to make six figures next year. Right. So then who is the type of person that could do that. And that's the question that kind of clarifies what that identity looks like. Well maybe the type of person who makes six figures is the type of person who you know like makes three sales calls every day. And so then you're focused on the second step which is OK I want to become the type of person to make sales calls every day and then the second step is you start to try to carve out like some small win that reinforces identity some small habit that cast a vote for being that type of person. And that's where the usefulness of small habits really comes into play. It doesn't have to be something huge insignificant to reinforce the identity as long as it makes you feel like yeah I'm I'm being that type of person. Then it can be valuable. And so it's really a combination of clarifying what you what you want your identity to be and then finding small wins that reinforce that desire that.

Srini:
Crude. Let's talk about one other huge part of the book which are the four laws of behavioral change. Can you explain to us what they are and how they apply to our lives and how they help us to change our habits.

James Clear:
Sure. So in the book I lay out this four step process that describes essentially how all human behavior works. But certainly how habits work. I don't know. There are probably some outliers and use cases that don't fit but it's pretty extensive in the application that it has. And each of those four stages has a law associated with it or what I call the four laws of behavior change and effectively you can think of them like different levers that you can pull and when the levers are in the right positions building good habits is easy. And when they're in the wrong positions building good habits is really hard. And so which tools you kind of pull out of your toolbox depends on the situation. But all four can be very useful for building better habits. So to run through them real quick. The first law behavior changes to make it obvious you want the cues or the prompts of your habits to be as obvious as possible. The second is to make it attractive so the more attractive an opportunity is the more likely we are to perform it. The third is to make it easy the easier habit is the more likely you will be to complete it. And the fourth is make it satisfying and the forethought behavior change is really about getting you to repeat a behavior in the future. If a if a behavior is satisfied you have some kind of positive emotional signal associated with that. Then it's like it tells your brain hey it's all good news again next time. So you really need all four for Abbott to stick. And then the great part about this framework is if you want to break a bad habit you can just invert those four laws. So for good habit you want to make it attractive make it obvious make it easy make it satisfying for bad habit you want to make it invisible make it unattractive make it difficult make it unsatisfying. And of course the book has over many many ways to to debate this

Srini:
Awesome. Well let's talk briefly about this notion of systems versus goals. I think that to me that's one of those things where when I saw that it was like Well yeah my own life is as perfect evidence of this. And I think that people often set goals but they don't realize that systems really make goals possible in fact often you tend to exceed what the goal is when you have an effective system.

How to Set Goals

James Clear:
Yeah this is weird. I mean just so first of all this is coming from someone who is for many years was very goal oriented. Like I would set goals for the grades I wanted to get in class for the amount of money I wanted my business to earn for the number of e-mails and scarves. Now like all kinds of stuff. But at some point I realized that you know I've been setting all these goals and some of them I accomplish but a lot of them I fail on. And so it was like Well clearly having the goal wasn't the thing that determines my success. And you see this in a lot of different domains. You know like the the winners and losers in any particular area. A lot of the time they have the same goals you know so like every candidate who applies for a job has the goal of getting the job. Every Olympian has a goal of winning the gold medal like they all want the same thing. So the goal is the same between the people who succeed and those who don't. Then the goal cannot be the thing that actually makes a difference for achieving progress. So I started to ask like well what would that be that thing. And Scott Adams one of the first DeWyze I'll talk about this the cartoonist by Dilbert. But there's this kind of idea of the tined systems versus goals. And so I think goals are useful. I think they're useful for setting a sense of direction for figuring out like what area you need to focus on but they're really they're mostly useful in that like directional sense of where to focus your attention energy.

James Clear:
Once you understand what area you want to work on it's become more or less useful to put the goal on the shelf so to speak and just focus on your system. And so what I mean by that. Well like you know if you were a you know if your coach your basketball coach your goal might be to win the championship but your system is how you recruit new players and coaches. We do a practice each day the type of recovery techniques used for your team and all of that. All those habits put together make up the overall system and this is actually one of the reasons why I chose the phrase atomic habits for the book which is that atomic can mean multiple things like on the one hand yes it means tiny or small. And that's part of my philosophy that habit should be small and easy to do. But atomic can also mean the fundamental unit of a larger system. So atoms and molecules molecules fill in the compounds and so on. And that's really what you're looking to build ultimately it's not a single one percent improvement. It's like a collection of them of a collection of small habits that are organized in the same system and working toward the same fundamental direction or goal.

James Clear:
And it's really more much more about focusing your energy and attention on building a better system than on worrying about the results or a particular goal. Part of this is because what you just mentioned which is that you know sometimes you'll overshoot the goal. If your systems are really good you will achieve much more than you thought you were capable of. But the other thing is that goals achieving Goal really only fixes something in your life for the moment and then change your life for the moment. You know if you if you get really motivated to clean your room like this messy room right now well you spent a couple hours on that. Like you might end up with a clean room but if you don't change the sloppy and messy habits that lead to a dirty room in the first place then two weeks from now you end up with a dirty room again. And so this is just kind of like one of the ironies of life a lot of the times we that we think that what needs to change are the results but the results aren't the thing that needs to change. It's the process behind the results. It's the system behind the goal that we need to shift. And if you can change the inputs the outputs often change themselves. So it's much more about like leading with systems first mentality than a goals first mentality.

Srini:
Well you brought up a messy room which I think is really a perfect segue to talking about the role of environment which we've beat to death. You're on Mystikal here to have a dedicated entire chapter of my own book to this because I believe it's a powerful but I love what you said about this you said you don't have to be the victim of either my fireman. You can also be the architect of it. Talk to me about your perspective on the role that environment plays in behavior and how a person becomes the architect of their environment.

James Clear:
So I think that this cover is covered in Chapter 6 and 12 of atomic cabinets and it influences both the first law of behavior change so make it obvious. And the third law make it easy. And let me just give you two quick examples. So for building a good habit for a long time I brush my teeth twice a day. But I wouldn't floss consistently. And I realized that one of the issues was that the fossils like hidden away in the drawer in the bathroom and I just wouldn't remember to take it out. And then the other issue sounds kind of silly but I didn't like the feeling of wrapping the floss around my finger. And so what I did was I bought some of the premade Schlosser's and I got a little bowl and I put them in the bowl and set it right next to my toothbrush on the counter. And so as soon as I finished brushing my teeth I put a toothbrush down picked floss her up floss and then I was done and that was pretty much all I needed to do to build that habit. You know I did that couple of years ago I've been flossing twice a day for three years now and it was really just I need to make it more obvious. So take it out the door and put on the counter and I need to make it a little easier. So remove the friction of wrapping around my finger and just kind of have the premade one

Srini:
That's

Environment Design

James Clear:
There. So that's an example of Environment Design for building a good habit if you want to break a bad habit. Then again you just want to invert these laws. You want to make it invisible make it difficult and take the habit of like watching television or playing video games or something like that. Well if you walk into pretty much any living room all the couches and chairs face the television. So it's like what does a room designed to get you to do. And if you can take a variety of steps here you could like move a chair a doesn't face the TV or something you could take the TV and pull inside a cabinet or wall unit so that it's behind the set of doors and you're less likely to see it. You could take the remote control and put it in a in a drawer in the coffee table or something like that and all that is reducing exposure. So making it more visible or making it less obvious. But you also could increase the friction associated with the task. So like you know you could take the remote control batteries out and so that adds an extra five or ten seconds each time you turn on TV. Maybe that's enough time for you to be like Do I really want to watch us. Or am I just turning on mindlessly. Or you could unplug the TV after each use and then only plug it back in. If you can say the name of the show that you want to watch out loud so you aren't allowed to just like pull Netflix up and find something. And if you really want to be extreme about it you could take the TV off the wall and put in the closet and only take it out when you really want to watch them.

Srini:
Yeah.

James Clear:
But the point here is that there are varying degrees. Right. And you're just trying to make the you're trying to increase the steps between you and your bad habits and reduce the steps between you and your good ones. Now if you live in an environment where the good choices the obvious easy choice and the bad choices. Higher friction and less obvious than imagined the cumulative impact of making like 100 of those little choices. You're kind of constantly being nudged in the right direction. And so the power of environment zine from a physical standpoint is that it can make the good choices easier and the bad choices harder. And then of course there's the whole social environment to which I kind of think about separately.

Srini:
Yeah.

James Clear:
But but those are two ways to to utilize environments

Srini:
Well

James Clear:
To deal better habits.

Srini:
Yeah it's interesting. I think that you know for me it was one of the simplest things I was like you know one up for you know for two years I've been writing books and I've basically wore a black T-shirt and jeans every day for two years I was like you know what. Finished with two books. New chapter new uniform. And I was like Alright I'm going to dress better. And it's interesting by just changing that one thing look and that is how differently I carry myself and just how differently have behaved throughout the day by putting on a nicer shirt. Because when you're working from home if you're like in your pajamas or whatever you kind of have this. I think we fail to recognize that almost all are physical objects have associations with them.

Stop viewing our environment as filled with objects and start thinking about is filled with relationships.

James Clear:
This is so I think it's crucial point. So I talked about in the book that we should stop viewing our environment as filled with objects and start thinking about is filled with relationships. It's really about the relationships of the associations that you have with those objects that determines how you respond and how they impact or influence your thinking and your habits and so on. You know for one person their couch might be the place where they read a book every night for another person their couch may be the place where they eat a bowl of ice cream and watch Netflix for an hour. And it's the object is the same but the relationship that you have with it can be different and that it can heavily influence your habits. And it also this this provides a little bit of an insight into what we need to do when we're building new habits which is that if you try to build a new habit in an environment where you already have a lot of these relationships a lot of these associations that it's kind of like you're trying to fight or overpower the stimuli or the associations that are already built and that can be a challenging thing. So it's often easier to build a new habit in a new context.

James Clear:
So you know for example if you wanted to start the habit of journaling maybe you go to a new coffee shop that's like close to where you were. You just don't usually go in there. And now that becomes the space where you journal and you don't have any previous associations that you're trying to overcome with that space or in your in your personal. You know if you're in your apartment or home or whatever you could do this just by carving out like a corner or something you know you can like get a new chair and put it in the corner and that is now like the reading chair. And you never like browse on your phone your iPad you don't watch TV when you're in that chair. All you do is read and similar to you putting on a nice shirt and kind of like flipping this mental switch and getting in the mode to work and be professional. We can do the same thing with our spaces by creating a space where only one thing happens in this context it becomes easier to to route the habit in that physical part of the environment.

Srini:
Wow. So I want to ask you about one more thing because I remember right after reading about this I immediately told my friend Mike about it. No. So you said a commitment device is a choice that you make in the present that controls your actions in the future. It's a way to lock in future behavior bind you to good habits and restrict you from bad ones. And I remember the story that struck me despite numerous efforts to reduce my social media use and I've gotten really good. I've checked. I remember looking at rescue time yesterday saying oh wow I spent a total of an hour and 46 minutes on Facebook and all of September. That's progress. But I loved the story you told about your assistance. Could you share that with us.

James Clear:
Yes so I. I've been working on Tommy Cabot's for three years now and I signed the book deal and did some research and writing for the first year and I realized that like Ma'am there's a lot of work that I need to do here and I need to stay focused. So for the remainder of the project we created this internal rule for me where every Monday my assistant would log me out of Facebook Instagram and Twitter and then reset all the passwords and wouldn't tell me what they were and then I would work all week and then on Friday she would give me the passwords and I could log in and browse social media over the weekend and use it. And then on Monday we would do it all over again. And it ended up being super effective. I mean is this a really nice thing and got me to work hard in the book and actually enjoy it you know and now here we are three years later with the Longy

Srini:
Yeah. What did you notice during that period of not having access to special where the times where you found yourself trying to go there only to discover that you couldn't open it because you don't have your passwords.

James Clear:
Well. What's funny is that it's interesting how quickly you get deconditioned how much you realize like oh actually I don't need this that much. I remember this I saw I lived abroad a few years ago and this was I guess this is maybe eight years ago now. And at the time there wasn't I mean the iPhone had barely launched like there wasn't like this extensive network of cell phone towers and so there is now. And so anyway I just didn't have a cell phone for a few months. I was living abroad and I think I was like three months. And I remember there were like two times in that three month span was like Man I really wish I had a phone right now. But the rest of the time it's remarkable how quickly I was just like yeah I guess I don't need it. How big of a deal. Which sounds crazy now because I think the average adult film like 150 times

Srini:
Yeah.

The less friction that is associated with the habit the more likely you are to perform it.

James Clear:
A day. So that number just goes up every year you know we just get more and more addicted to them. But I think that it's an instructive thing when thinking about habits in general which is that so you know the third law behavior changes make it easy. And so the less friction that is associated with the habit the more likely you are to perform it. So you know if your phone is on you all the time you're in check all the time. If social media is easy to get to and there's no friction with and you just happens grimaces you open your phone or go to Twitter as soon as you think of it. Then you're going to do that all the time. And so I was just trying to find a way to increase the friction associated with the task. And what you realize is that when it's harder to do you don't actually want to do it that much like I didn't I do this thing right now where I keep my phone in another room

Srini:
The

James Clear:
Outside of my

Srini:
Same.

James Clear:
Office in the mornings. It was pretty much until last I tried to do to lunch everyday. And what's crazy is I'd never go upstairs to get it. You know it's not that far away it's like 45 seconds away but I just decided I don't want it for it was on me. I would check it every three minutes but when it's not on me it's not worth 45 seconds of work. So it's kind of. In that way social media and phones occupy an interesting space in our lives where we We want to do them but only a little bit. And so in that way I think it's kind of like. Social media and phones are often like a mental candy in our information diet. And more difficult things like reading books or writing an article Is kind of like the healthy food in our information diet. And if you get rid of the mental Candy. A lot of the time you'll be like Oh I actually did not eat something healthy.

Srini:
Well you know I was I wanted a physical copy of your book instead of the digital one.

James Clear:
Third yup

Srini:
It's funny you say that because I was thinking about you know so they rolled out iOS 12 and I was like OK you guys completely failed here because what you did was you created a way to set up friction. But you also made it virtually you know like effortless to completely ignore the friction because it comes up with a message that says Do you want to ignore the time limit for day. Now I don't know if they have a way to undo that but I was like this is kind of a fail. When you consider the behavioral science involved here

James Clear:
What. So wait how's it work

Srini:
So

James Clear:
Again.

Srini:
Ios 12 ruled out a thing to help people reduce screen time and you can set time limits on the apps but when you hit your time limit it says you know do you want to ignore the time limit for five minutes or do you want to ignore the time altogether for today. And I was like OK well this is completely a field like who didn't take into account human behavior when they designed this

James Clear:
Right. Yeah if you can just opt out instantly

Srini:
Yeah I was like

James Clear:
It's

Srini:
That's

James Clear:
Like

Srini:
That's

James Clear:
Well

Srini:
Kind of the kind

James Clear:
Much

Srini:
Of defeats

James Clear:
Friction

Srini:
The purpose.

James Clear:
A creative.

Srini:
So I have two other questions and we'll all wrap things up here. I was just getting to the end of the book today and you talked about the paperclip method and I thought to myself OK you know what. That's a really interesting way to show yourself visible progress and I thought OK I'm going to get a jar of marbles or a couple of jars of marbles for the things that I want to do. So can you talk about that briefly.

A tactic for making habits more satisfying and increasing the odds are you going to stick to them

James Clear:
So this is just a tactic for making habits more satisfying and increasing the odds are you going to stick to them. And that's what I call the paperclip strategy. I first came across it from this guy named Trent Durst. And he was this young stockbroker's site. One of the first jobs maybe 23 24 years old and he within two years he got the largest book of business in the firm. And the way that he did it was just this simple habit where he had two cups or mugs or little bowls on his desk and one of them was empty and the other one had a 120 paperclips in it. And each day he would pick up the phone and make a sales call and then put the phone down move the paperclip over. He would do this all day long until he had moved 120 paperclips. And so that one habit that kind of fundamental habit of just making sales calls each day was the thing that led to him being successful in the firm then he got a promotion this bigger drop off. And that strategy of some type of visual measurement some type of visual tracking can be a really useful way to make habits more satisfying.

James Clear:
Give me a reason to repeat them in a moment. You know so I don't think you need to measure every habit and I talk a lot more about measurement. So I'll leave it for there. But for some habits for the ones that are important for you it is really helpful to measure a few of them. And one of the things that measurement does is it makes your previous actions your previous identity visible and it makes your progress visible and that's a really powerful thing because there are some days where naturally you're going to wake up and not feel like working hard or you feel sluggish or you just don't feel like it made much progress. You're kind of like why would I bother working on this again. But if you can look at the ban of paperclips and see how many you've moved over or if you do have a tracking and like a calendar and you make an X on that day and you can look back and say oh you know they're 15 days this month showed up and I did yoga or I showed up and I wrote a blog post. Well I have like actual visual proof of the type of identity that you had recently of the type of person that you bet.

James Clear:
And that can be a very motivating thing for getting you to stick with it. And then the the last thing that does which is the fourth lobby change make it sounds fine is that it gives you just a little bit of immediate satisfaction in the moment and that can be really nice when you you know like I track all my workouts for example and the feeling of writing down my last set and closing the notebook and knowing that I just launch another workout. There's a little bit of satisfaction there. Feels good. Like maybe my body hasn't changed yet. Maybe I haven't gone as strong as I want to be. I need to show up for a few more months still. But I get the immediate satisfaction of tracking it right now. And so when you layer all that stuff together little strategies visual measurement strategies like the paperclip strategy or a bowl of marbles like what you suggested or have a track you know a calendar. Those are all really useful ways to make it a little more satisfying the moment and to increase your motivation over the

Srini:
Wow. Well I think that makes a fitting end to a conversation that has led to many ideas for me and I'm guessing it will for a lot of other people so I want to finish with my final question what are your Vergi mass before what do you think it is that makes somebody or something unmistakable.

James Clear:
I think it has to do with the authenticity of your own experience. So there are 107 billion people I think who have lived throughout history and there are about 7 billion alive right now. So the historian now Fergerson has this great quote. He says the dead outnumber the living 14 to 1. Now it's more like 15 1. But the only reason that we have incredible crazy things in modern society why we have airplanes and podcasts and the Internet and all these other advantages of the modern world is that those hundred seven billion people have tried something and experimented and tested a little bit and sometimes a lot of times that fail. But occasionally they came across an idea that was insightful and worked. And it's kind of like this huge mountain of cumulative knowledge that we've all just been adding to over the span of human history. And the advantage for you and I as we get on top of that meme. We don't start down the bottom again. We get all the inherited lessons and insights from the people who came before us. And so if you what can you add to that mountain. Basically you know what something part about here was some part about your authentic experience. You can take this knowledge that has been inherited by us that you can just imitate from all the other people and add your little bit of magic to it. And I think that if each of us can do that if you can look at just a grain of sand to that pile then humanity is better off for it and you'll be unmistakable because of it because it's the grain of sand that you edit and nobody else did.

Srini:
Awesome. Well I can't thank you enough for taking the time to join us and share your story and your insights with the listeners this has been phenomenal. Where can people find out about more about your work. And the book

James Clear:
Yeah thanks Rooney Well so the book is called Atomic Cabot's and you can find it at Atami Cabot Stockham. And in addition to the book being there I have a secret chapter that's not included in the book and get that there are some templates downloads exercises help me implement some of the ideas chapter by chapter. Audio commentary from me I'm like why I chapter and what I was thinking behind it and a variety of other bonuses and whatnot. But anyway all that is atomic habit Stockham.

Srini:
Awesome and for everybody listening. We'll wrap the show with that.

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