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The 4 Components of Your Habits & How to Adopt New Ones

Updated: Jan 5

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Fill in the blank, “I wish ______ would become part of my routine.” Whether it’s a cleaner home, saving money, eating healthier, or whatever habit you long for Atomic Habits by James Clear walks you step by step to making that habit part of your routine. If you are looking to form better habits, or to shake off bad ones, or simply to gain self-awareness for the choices you make; this article is what you’ve been waiting for!

Often when we have a goal, we start out strong with pure intentions, but eventually fizzle out and go back our old ways. If you are guilty of this, you are not alone! This feeling of making drastic changes for drastic and faster results is one of the most common mistakes made when trying to adopt a new habit. The secret to creating a new habit is to make small behavioral changes, which over time will lead to big results. Small habits with repetition are the key for long-lasting change. The best way to enforce small habits is by focusing on your trajectory, not your real-time immediate results. If you have committed to a small change in your life but find yourself feeling down about the lack of progress in real-time, it is crucial to remind yourself that you are on a sustainable path in the right direction.

How are habits formed and how do I measure my trajectory? Habits have 4 components:

1) A cue/trigger that gets you to act. For example, you walk into a room that is dark.

2) A craving, desire, or need for change. In this case, instead of darkness, you want to be a room of light.

3) A response, the action itself. Such as, turning on the light.

4) Lastly, the reward, is the positive feeling you get from completing the habit. In this example, you now feel comfortable because you can see your surroundings.

Reflect on your habits and you will find that each habit follows this process—for example, the habit of brushing your teeth in the morning. Waking up is your trigger/cue, feeling refreshed is your need for change, brushing your teeth is the action, and having fresh breath and feeling ready for the day is your reward.

By understanding how your habits are formed, you can integrate realistic, productive, and sustainable habits. The best way to integrate new habits are by changing your environment and utilizing the cues/triggers that already exist in your daily routine. Clear explains that perfecting these triggers requires implementation intention, which moves your intention from a vague desire into a trigger for action. For example, instead of wishing you had time to make your bed every day, you set an implementation intention to immediately make your bed each morning before you use the restroom and brush your teeth. It may surprise you how impactful this actionable plan and intention is, which is also enforced by helpful reminders and obvious cues in your morning routine.

In addition to altering your environment, you are also more prone to stick with your new habit if it has an enticing reward. Now that you have a better understanding of how habits are made, and how you can utilize cues/triggers to your advantage- let’s dive deeper into the reward side of habit building. You will be much more likely to follow through with your newly adopted habit if you pair it with something you look forward to. For example, if you find yourself dreading the treadmill, perhaps you pair it with your favorite podcast and only allow yourself to listen to the podcast while you are on the treadmill. This concept is called temptation bundling, where you take an unappealing idea and link it with something you are attracted to. Over time, the long-dreaded treadmill will become a pleasurable activity due to the power of your reward. Creating positive habits is much easier when you pair an unattractive task with an enjoyable one.

Clear also further explains the importance of these steps when creating new habits:

1) Reduce friction: A beneficial behavior that easily turns into a habit. Or on the contrary, you can increase friction and raise tension/inconveniences to kill a bad habit.

2) Adopt the 2-minute rule: Any behavior can turn into a habit if doable within two minutes. For example, instead of setting the goal to exercise every day, set the goal to complete two minutes of ab exercises right before bedtime. This rule is an easy way to build achievable habits and is the perfect example of small accomplishments leading to big results.

3) Make behavioral changes that are immediately rewarding, habits need to be satisfying and this immediate reward can be challenging. Clear used the example of a couple who wanted to save money, eat out less, and cook more at home. These are goals that require time to see results so they made behavioral changes that provided immediate rewards. Each time they avoided eating out, they transferred $50 into a new saving account called “Trip to Europe.” This savings account provided the immediate reward for a long-term goal.

4) Utilize habit tracking: A simple system that allows you to cross off your small behavioral changes, such as a calendar, checklist, or diary, which will hold you accountable and also provide immediate satisfaction.

5) Develop a habit contract: A negative consequence if you fail to stick with your habit, one that is shared with your friend, partner, or coworker to ensure your accountability.

Atomic Habits by James Clear provides the tools and step-by-step changes for you to finally stick with the habit you’ve longed for or to break the habit you’ve desperately tried to ditch. This book will help you create small behavioral changes that are embedded in your daily routine, leading to sustainable and rewarding results… change is within your reach, click here to make it your new reality.

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