James Clear: Atomic Habits, How Small Change Your Life | E265
James Clear: Atomic Habits, How Small Change Your Life | E265
James Clear has been writing at JamesClear.com about habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement since 2012. He is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, which has sold millions of copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 50 languages. His popular “3-2-1” email newsletter is sent out weekly to more than 1 million subscribers.
In this episode, Hala and James will discuss:
– The accident that changed his life
– His accomplishments on the ball field
– How to incorporate habit stacking into your routines
– His journey from blogging to best-selling book
– How he built his successful email newsletter
– Making habits research accessible to readers
– The runaway success of Atomic Habits
– His next book project
– Habits as the compound interest of improvement
– The importance of identity-based habits
– Why fixating on goals can be unhealthy
– How to break a bad habit
– And other topics…
James Clear has been writing at JamesClear.com about habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement since 2012. He is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, which has sold millions of copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 50 languages. Clear is a regular speaker at Fortune 500 companies and his work has been featured in places like Time magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and on CBS This Morning. His popular “3-2-1” email newsletter is sent out weekly to more than 1 million subscribers.
James’s Website: https://jamesclear.com/
James’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesclear/
James’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/JamesClear
James’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jamesclear/
James’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jamesclear/
James’s Newsletter (The 3-2-1 Newsletter): https://jamesclear.com/3-2-1
James’s Masterclass (Small Habits that Make a Big Impact on Your Life): https://www.masterclass.com/classes/small-habits-that-make-a-big-impact-on-your-life
James’s book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones: https://www.amazon.com/Atomic-Habits-Proven-Build-Break/dp/0735211299
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[00:00:00] Hala Taha: hello, Young and Profiters. Welcome back to the show and happy new year. And speaking of the new year, we're all trying to form healthy habits right now. And good habits are so important and especially hard to keep this time of year. But luckily for us, we've got an expert on habits for today's show.
and he's none other than James Clear.
He's going to take us through some surefire ways to build good habits and break bad ones. James Clear is a writer, speaker, and behavioral science expert focused on habits, decision making, and continuous improvement.
He's the author of the number one New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits, and the popular 3 2 1 email newsletter. James, welcome to Young and Profiting Podcast. to Young and Profiting Podcast.
[00:01:52] James Clear: Hey, thank you so much. Pleasure to talk to you.
[00:01:54] Hala Taha: So I'm really excited for this. I've been wanting to have you on since 2018, since you released Atomic Habits, and I've interviewed all the greats in this field. Charles Duhigg, B. J. Fogg. Nirael, and so really happy to have you on the show to discuss habits as well.
[00:02:10] James Clear: thank you so much. This will be fun.
[00:02:12] Hala Taha: When I was doing research about you, I found out that you actually had a dream of becoming a professional baseball player when you were growing up. Can you tell us that story and how those dreams ended up turning out? Sure.
[00:02:26] James Clear: So my dad actually did play professionally.
He played in the minor leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals. And so of course I grew up looking at him and thinking about that and I played a variety of sports growing up and certainly dreaming of being a professional athlete is nothing unique for a lot of little kids, but yeah, it was definitely something I was excited about.
I also dreamt about being an astronaut, I don't know, some kind of combo baseball player astronaut, but um, it was great. Sports were a big part of my life and I ended up playing baseball all the way through college. When I was in high school, I suffered a real serious injury. I was hit in the face with a baseball bat and it was an accident.
My bat struck me right between the eyes. Broke my nose, the bone behind my nose shattered both eye sockets, and I ended up having a very long recovery. I couldn't drive a car for nine months. It was a year before I got back on the baseball field. I had double vision for weeks. Physical therapy session, I was practicing basic motor patterns, like walking in a straight line, and it was the first time in my life where I was really forced to start small.
You know, like I wanted to just flip a switch and go back to being a normal young healthy person. But I had to focus on little things like can I have a good physical therapy session today or maybe a couple months after the injury, I couldn't do much physically, but maybe I could study and try to get a good grade on a test or eventually, you know, like I said, I started driving again or got back on the baseball field.
And about a year later, this was the first time where I started working out consistently. First was pretty modest, like two days a week, I think. Then eventually it became three or four and training with the team in the gym and all that. So I ended up barely playing in high school. I weaseled my way onto a college team, came off the bench my freshman year, was the start of my sophomore year, team captain junior year, and then senior season, I ended up being named to the academic all America team, which is about, I don't know, 30 players around the country.
And I never played professionally. I don't think there's anything necessarily like heroic about the story or anything, but it's just that I look back on it now, and I feel like I fulfilled my potential. And I think that at some level, that's all any of us are looking to do. You know, we all face challenges in life, and this injury was one of mine.
And I think we want to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and feel like, despite the cards that I was dealt, or the things that I faced, I was able to make the most of what I had available and your habits are one of, if not the best way of doing that. And so this injury was a way where I kind of had to live those principles out throughout the next five years and recovering from it.
I did not have a language for it at the time. If you would come up to me, I never would have said some of the stuff I say now, like, Oh, I'm just trying to get 1 percent better each day or, you know, I was trying to focus on the system and not the goal or things like that. But having that background. gave me, I think, a lens for thinking about these concepts and problems.
And 10 years later, when I started writing about habits, I had a little bit of personal experience to draw upon. And I do think that I generally try to write about things that I have to live. And the living of the concepts, I think, makes the writing better. Because the truth is, I've struggled with all the same things everybody else struggles with, you know, like, do I procrastinate?
Sure, all the time. You know, have I focused too much on the goal and not enough on the system? Yeah, of course. And so, at some level, everything that I share in Atomic Habits, and the concepts that we talk about today, they're all reminders to myself, to try to pull myself back to center, and to remind myself what to focus on, and hopefully, Build some good habits along the way.
I love this
[00:05:55] Hala Taha: story. And I just want to stress to everybody tuning in of how crazy this accident was when you were younger. I want to read a quote from your book. You say, I have no memory of the moment of impact. The bat smashed into my face with such force that it crushed my nose into a distorted U shape.
The collision sent the soft tissue of my brain slamming into the inside of my skull. Immediately, a wave of swelling surged throughout my head. In a fraction of a second, I had a broken nose, multiple skull fractures, and two shattered eye sockets. So that's super heavy and I know that when I was young, I used to feel like invincible.
I used to feel like I could never get sick, sort of like untouchable. So I have to imagine that having such a near death experience at a young age must have shaped your mindset about the world at the time. You mentioned before that you didn't really know it at the time, but do you think it did shape the way that you view the world or how you react to the world?
[00:06:50] James Clear: Well, certainly we were all a product of the experiences that we go through, and I definitely learned things from it. And yeah, I look back on, I think I was very fortunate to have people around me who had a really positive mindset. My parents, my grandparents, and so they were really encouraging me to focus on the elements of the situation that I could control, focus on making a little bit of progress.
One of the first things I said when I regained consciousness the next day was that I never asked for this. Well, you can really spiral and get into this pity mentality or victim mentality, you start to feel like, why did this happen to me? And they did a good job of helping me cut that off and focus much more on the positive side of things and how I was improving each day.
And I never really let my mind go to a place where it was like, Oh, what if I never recover fully? Or what if this is permanent? Or what if, you know, I don't know, something terrible comes to this. I'm reminded of that. There's this interview with Michael Jordan where a journalist is kind of asking like, Hey, you take all these big shots.
Like, you know, what happens if you try to take the game winning shot and you miss. And his reply was something like, why would I think about missing a shot I haven't taken yet? And I always like phrases like that. I'm not going to sit here and worry about all the things that could potentially be that will probably never turn out.
I'm going to focus instead on what I can control in the moment, how I can stay positive right now and continue to make a little bit of progress. And then we'll see where that ends up taking me, but I'm not going to sit here and try to predict the future or worry about what will or won't happen.
[00:08:14] Hala Taha: And can you talk to us about the small habits that you took in that time, not knowing that you were following your habit formula, but what small habits or what consistent actions did you take so that you could eventually become a pitcher again?
[00:08:28] James Clear: Well, obviously a lot of them were physical. So early on, it's just physical therapy, what the doctors and physical therapists are asking me to do, trying to do a good job of taking care of myself and recovering and so on. About a year later, it shifted much more back into baseball, rebuilding skills, trying to Regain some of the time that I had lost and get back to where I was before.
And then eventually it became more about strength training, continuing to grow into my body, habits that were related to the mental side of the game and confidence and all that. And I would say each of those elements sort of came along as each year passed. And it really wasn't until five or six years later that I felt like I was more fulfilling my overall potential, uh, and what I had.
And so it was a long, slow road, and it was not any single habit. I mean, it was the collection of many habits. And I say this at the end of Atomic Habits, which is The holy grail of behavior change is not a single 1 percent improvement or a single small habit. It is a thousand of them. And that's really what I mean when I talk about building a better system.
It's not about making one change and thinking that will transform your life. It's a commitment to making many small improvements, accumulating them and aggregating them together and then trusting that collectively as a system, you're going to end up in a really strong and positive place.
[00:09:42] Hala Taha: And that's what you call habit stacking, right?
[00:09:45] James Clear: habit stacking is a specific strategy that you can use for helping to do what I'm describing here. So, let me just zoom back for a second before I share that. My view is that there is no one way to build better habits. There are many ways. And my job is to lay all the tools out on the table, and if I can give you a more full toolkit, then you can sit there and decide, you know what, I think for my situation, or for this circumstance, what I need is the wrench, or what I need is the hammer, or what I need is the screwdriver, and so on.
So I'm trying to equip readers or empower readers with more strategies that they can use for dealing with the issues that they face and the habits they want to build. Habit stacking is one strategy that you can use. So you mentioned that you've interviewed BJ Fogg before, so this is an idea that comes from BJ.
So he's a professor at Stanford and he has this concept, this little tiny habits recipe and the insight was really smart. He says a lot of the habits that you're trying to build, they can be more successful if they're linked to or connected, built on top of habits that you already have. So as an example, Let's say that you're already in the habit of making a cup of coffee every morning, and you want to get into the habit of meditating.
Well, you could stack those habits together. So your habit stack could be something like, After I make my morning cup of coffee, I will meditate for 60 seconds. So now you have this very clear place where you're inserting the new behavior. And this is one of the things that a lot of people struggle with.
They want to build a new habit and they try a little bit, but then it doesn't quite work out or they can't seem to get going. And they feel like what they lack is motivation, but often what people really lack is clarity. They don't know clearly when and where the habit is going to occur. We kind of wake up and go through life with this vague sense, this general notion of, I hope I feel motivated to work out today, or I hope I feel motivated to write today.
And by choosing a habit stack, or by choosing a specific place to insert the behavior into your life, now it's not ambiguous anymore. You know exactly, I meditate for one minute after I make the cup of coffee. Now, once you get good at this, you can start to chain them together so you can come up with a little morning routine.
Something like, I make my cup of coffee, after I make my cup of coffee, I will meditate for 60 seconds, after I meditate for 60 seconds, I will write my to do list for the day, after I write my to do list for the day, I will immediately begin working on the first item. So now you have this little stack where nothing takes more than 30 seconds a piece.
But you're only six minutes into your day and you already feel like you have some momentum and you're moving forward. So that's one of the many strategies that you can use for building new habits.
[00:12:17] Hala Taha: Awesome, and this is basically a teaser to the later half of our conversation. So I'm excited to dig into all those strategies, but first James, you are a very famous author and public speaker, and your main topic is building habits.
And before you started writing about habits, you were actually a practitioner of studying habits yourself. You used to do personal experiments and write down your notes. So what first got you interested in habit formation?
[00:12:44] James Clear: Well, when it really started early on, it was just a Word document that I had for myself, and it started as some notes, like it was kind of like James thoughts on habits.
And eventually that document got to be like 60 pages long, and it was just a collection of different thoughts and notes and things I was observing. And once it got to be that long, I was like, man, I should Published at least something of this. I should like try to take a little piece of this and turn it into an article or something.
And so I started writing on JamesClear. com and posting these short blog posts there, two or three thousand words, and I would do that every Monday and Thursday. And it was really that writing habit of publishing every Monday and Thursday for the first three years that launched my career. That was really the thing that started it all.
So it began as like a personal interest, and then within about three months, some of those were going over well, and I was getting a little bit of feedback from readers. Not a ton, but just, you know, I would write something, I'd get a few emails from people who liked it. And I was like, okay, clearly I'm, there's a little bit of signal here.
You know, I was like on to something, and the feedback was better than some of the projects I had worked on previously. And And now I was interested in it, not just for me, but also for the reader's sake. And so I just started exploring that topic and that content more and more, trying to come up with interesting strategies, share useful stories.
My format that I settled into after the first year was a James Clear article is an article that starts out with an interesting story, probably an unexpected one, or that leads to some kind of insight that you're not really thinking it's going to head toward. And then I unpack that main insight or principle.
And then after that, I followed up with a bunch of really practical examples of what it might look like to use that in your daily life. So that general strategy or that general format of story, principle, insight, or story, principle, action step. I followed that a lot for most of my articles and then eventually that led to the interest of agents and publishers and ultimately the book deal that led to Atomic Habits.
[00:14:39] Hala Taha: Amazing. And you also started an email newsletter list, correct?
[00:14:44] James Clear: Yeah, that's actually probably one of my real skills. I didn't know this at the time, but it turns out that I was pretty good at building an email list. So I started writing weekly. I started the email list from the beginning and it grew quickly.
That was one of the main signals, probably the main signal that I used for whether things were going well or not was, was I adding more email subscribers? And over the first two years, it became one of the fastest growing blogs online at that time. And by the time I signed the book deal, Got 220, 000 subscribers by the time the book came out, it was closer to 450 or 500, 000.
And now, you know, we're almost 3 million people read the newsletter each week.
[00:15:24] Hala Taha: It's so incredible. And email newsletters are so underrated. I've had so many accomplished people come on this show that really started off their whole careers based off this email newsletter list, Jenna Kutcher, Amy Porterfield, like the list just goes on and on of these business influencers who really started with an email newsletter list.
What does the value of your list mean to you today? Like how would you value your email newsletter list today? Three million subscribers you said.
[00:15:50] James Clear: It's the backbone of my business. The email subscribers are the real audience. Everybody else, people who follow me on social media or read a post or browse something online or come through a Google search, I consider that to The equivalent of like window shopping or like walking around inside a store and then heading back out there, engaging with it.
They're seeing it, but the people who go to the cash register and actually check out, that's your real audience. And for me, those are my email subscribers, so. Everything is basically based around the email list. Like my whole website is optimized for that. My social media is optimized for that. It is all designed to drive more people back to email so that I can have an ongoing relationship with them.
The great thing about email is how flexible it is. I can send whatever message I want to them. So if I start a podcast, I could tell them about it. If I launch a new book, I could tell them about it. If I have some interesting thing going on on Instagram, I could tell them about it. Whatever you're doing or whatever project you're working on, you can use email to relay that message, and that is not necessarily true, or at least you get into more convoluted ways of trying to do that on various social media platforms or other ways of communicating.
So, I think all that to say, I value email really highly. It's been the number one priority for me from the start, and I would say it remains the number one priority now.
[00:17:11] Hala Taha: I totally agree. I think it's such an important channel, and I think the only other channel in this digital space. That compares to it is really podcast because you also sort of own your feed, own your subscribers.
It's a little bit similar, but email, in my opinion, to your point, is the best still.
[00:17:26] James Clear: Podcasting is great and probably the connection with the audience is deeper. You know, it feels like you're having a personal conversation. The challenge with podcasts are they are much harder to grow than an email list, and you don't have a direct link that you can click on, and so it's harder to drive people to a particular page.
You need to either read out a URL or try to come up with some alternate way of getting the traffic to go somewhere. So relative to the size, if you had like a hundred thousand email subscribers or a hundred thousand podcast listeners, I would think almost always you'll be able to drive more people with the email than with the podcast, but they both serve a purpose and podcasting probably leads to a deeper connection, even if it is a little harder to drive traffic to a particular place.
Totally agree with that. Podcasting is really good for engagements. And people are super engaged, but when it comes to clicks and conversions, email is where it's at. So let's talk about the Habits Academy. So in 2017, you launched the Habits Academy. It's a premier training platform for organizations and individuals interested in building better habits for life and work.
[00:18:39] Hala Taha: What did you learn from the Habits Academy and your experience with that in terms of what it takes to make habits work for the real
[00:18:44] James Clear: world? Well, It's taken a lot of different shapes. So it started as a series of workshops that I did online. So I would run a workshop every quarter. One would be about procrastination.
Another one would be about habit formation. Another one would be about productivity or whatever. And eventually those workshops and the material that I put together became the start for the habits Academy. And then habits Academy turned into this like larger portfolio of classes and segments and learning material about building better habits.
And I had that run for a couple years and a lot of different businesses and teams and stuff went through it. And then, uh, we just recently have closed it down because I partnered with Masterclass to create an updated version of my Habits training material. And so, the most recent version is on Masterclass.
But then now, I am taking a lot of the ideas that I have built upon from the Habits Academy and all these other sources And a lot of the lessons that I've learned from speaking to, at this point, I think, 200 plus Fortune 500 companies and transformed that into a habits app. So, we have a new app called Atoms, A T O M S, and it's all about habit tracking, tracking your habits, and getting daily lessons and insights from me about building good habits and breaking bad ones.
And so there have been many different things that have come out of that work, but the app is now like the central holding ground for all of that.
[00:20:09] Hala Taha: Oh, awesome. And shout out to Masterclass. They're a long term sponsor. If you guys want a discount, go to masterclass. com slash profiting. So let's talk about your book, Atomic Habits.
Obviously it was like one of the most viral business books of all time. I remember I was going to Amazon reviews. And I saw that you have almost 120, 000 reviews by far, the most Amazon reviews that I've ever seen on a book. So congratulations on all its success. And when you put this book out, you said that it's like an operating manual.
You didn't want it to feel like an academic research paper. So why did you feel like you needed to make Habits more accessible to your readers?
[00:20:50] James Clear: Well, partially that's my style. The thing that I care about the most is can I actually use this in daily life? I'm kind of scientifically minded. I have an undergraduate degree in biomechanics.
So I, you know, I was always sort of like a science guy and I like that part of it. I really want the ideas to resonate and to align with what the research on the topic says. As an individual, what I care about the most is can I use these ideas in daily life? And so That was part of my big draw, or my big interest in the topic.
And then I also think it's a big part of the value that I provide. I don't do the research. I'm not a researcher, I'm not an academic. I'm also not a journalist, so I don't really do like a lot of the interviewing and whatnot. So if you look at some of the other people that are in the space, they do a better job of those things than I do.
My value that I provide is being a bridge between the academic research or the reporting and journalistic work and Daily life. So how do we take these concepts and turn them into something that I can use in my daily life and work? And that was one of my guiding lights as I wrote Atomic Habits. I was just constantly coming back to this question How can I make this actionable?
How can I make this practical? How do I make this useful for people? What would it look like to take this and use it on a day to day basis? And so the whole book is designed around that concept. I also felt like there are many great books that have been written about habits and there are many more that will come in the future, but one of the gaps that was in the market was that there were a lot of books that talked about what habits were or how they worked, but there weren't as many that talked about specifically what to do if you want to build them.
And I was like, well, that's a gap that I can fill. So I think the combination of those things led to that style.
[00:22:32] Hala Taha: And did you realize, when you put this out, did you have any idea that you would have one of the most viral business books of all time?
[00:22:40] James Clear: Well, I don't think any author could reasonably expect an outcome like that.
Of course, I hoped that it would do well. I sort of had three different levels in my mind. My like, I won't feel like this is a failure. This will have been worth my time if I sell 5, 000 copies. That was my baseline. Then I had what I really wanted to do and what I thought I could do, which is I thought I could sell 100, 000 copies.
Between my email list and working really hard and doing a lot of interviews, I feel like it might be a little bit of a stretch, but I think I can figure out a way to do that. That was my target and what I was shooting for. And then my big dream was, well, what if it could sell a million copies ever? The big question here is like, over what timeframe?
A lot of people talk about selling a million copies, but it's like. Over what? A year or over 25 years? Those are very different numbers. And so I was like, well, if I gave myself 25 years, maybe I could figure out how to do that. And so, those were the numbers I had in mind. Now, of course, I never expected for it to sell 15 million copies in 5 years.
I'm just glad that I was able to do the best I could and to produce something useful. And then, um, really, it's been up to the readers to determine the outcome of the book. My job as a creator is not to judge the work. My job is to do the work. My job is to try to, like, produce the best thing that I can, and share it with people, and hopefully it's useful.
And then it's actually the reader's job to determine whether it's successful or not. In a sense, I wrote the book, but I didn't create the success of it. The readers did by sharing it with other people. I wrote it, but I didn't sell 15 million copies. The readers did. They're the ones who recommended it to their friends and family.
They're the ones who bought it as gifts for people. They're the ones who told somebody about it at a party. So It's actually by producing something really useful and driving word of mouth that the audience figures out how far this is going to go with the success
[00:24:27] Hala Taha: of your book and all the feedback that you've received with all these reviews and all the fans that you have.
Do you ever think about? Okay, I've got all these different ideas for like a sequel. Are you thinking about another book?
[00:24:39] James Clear: Yeah, I don't want to write a book just because I can get a book deal. I'm only going to write a book because I have something to say. There's a balance between all of this. I have a lot of people ask, are you worried about a second book?
Like did not following up, you know, the sophomore slump sort of thing, or like it not being as good as atomic habits. And my reply is, I don't think it needs to be like that. Atomic habits can just be a project that went really well. And. I did my best and tried really hard and I'm glad that it's gone well and it's been useful for people.
And now I can move on to the next thing and do my best and try really hard and hopefully that'll be useful too. I do feel like I have written my habits book, so I don't think I have multiple books about habits in me, but I will probably write about something that plays nicely with habits or is kind of adjacent to it.
So I don't know, I'm exploring different ideas right now. I kind of have three different manuscripts in various states of disarray. So we'll see, but I'm slowly working on it.
[00:25:35] Hala Taha: Awesome. I'm sure whatever it is, it's going to be a breakout success, just like Atomic Habits was. So the heart of your book, Atomic Habits, is that the idea that small habits can make a big difference.
Why don't we start there? Why do you believe that's true? Well,
[00:25:50] James Clear: time will magnify whatever you feed it. So if you have good habits, even if they're little and seem relatively minor on any given day. You'll continue to put yourself in a stronger position day after day in many ways. If you have good habits, you're on the right trajectory and so all you need is time.
You just need some patience. But if you have bad habits, time becomes your enemy. And every day that goes by, you kind of dig the hole a little bit deeper. And so this idea that small habits can make an enormous difference, what it really is about is about emphasizing trajectory rather than position.
There's a lot of discussion about position in life. How much money's in your bank account? What's the current number on the scale? What's the stock price? What are the quarterly earnings? We have like all these ways of measuring your current position. And then if the measurement isn't what you wanted it to be, or you haven't achieved what you set out to achieve, you kind of start judging yourself or feeling guilty for it, or you feel bad about it.
And what I'm encouraging is to say, listen, just for a minute, let's stop worrying so much about our current position and instead focus a little bit more on our current trajectory. And this is why one of the key things I talk about in Atomic Habits is getting 1 percent better each day. Are you getting 1 percent better or 1 percent worse?
Is the arrow pointed up and to the right or have you flatlined? Because if you're on a good trajectory, even if it's a very modest gain on any given day, all you need is time. And if you're on a bad trajectory, even if you're in a pretty strong position right now, it's not going to end well. And so building better habits, making these small improvements, it's really about getting you on a path that can lead to where you want to go.
I really like that question of, can my current habits carry me to my desired future? You know, and if they can, then great, maybe you just need to be patient and let the days work for you. But if they can't, then something needs to change about your trajectory, and so your habits are one of the things that set you on that path and determine how far you're going to go and whether you're improving day in and day out.
And so, for all of those reasons, I like to refer to habits as the compound interest of self improvement. The same way that money multiplies with compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them across time. Many of your outcomes in life, many of the results that we all so badly want to have, they're kind of like a lagging measure of the habits that precede them.
So your bank account is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your reading and learning habits. Even little stuff like the amount of clutter in your living room is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. And so, we also badly want better results in life, but the somewhat ironic thing is that the results are not actually the thing that needs to change.
Fix the inputs, and the outputs will fix themselves. Adjust the habits, and you'll be set on a different path and carried to a different destination, naturally. So, This concept of getting 1 percent better each day, it's really a philosophy and attitude and approach of
showing up, trying to make some small improvement and trusting that that little improvement can compound in something much greater over a broad span of time.
[00:28:54] Hala Taha: Yeah. And something that you briefly mentioned is that it can actually hurt you in the reverse if you've got bad habits or if you make mistakes over time, that can also compound as well.
[00:29:05] James Clear: Sure. I think we all have felt this. Habits are a double edged sword. They can either build you up or they can cut you down.
And I think that's a good reason for understanding what a habit is and how it works, so that you can be the architect of your habits and not the victim of them. You know, a lot of people feel like they're the victim of their habits. They're happening to them, they don't even realize what they're doing, and they turn around like, Oh, I can't believe I did that again.
And if you understand how a habit works and the various strategies that you can use to design them, Now, all of a sudden, you can take control of the process and you can start to design your behavior to benefit you rather than hinder you.
Let's talk about the different types of habits. You talk about outcome based habits versus identity based habits.
[00:29:55] Hala Taha: Can you talk to us about the difference between the two?
[00:29:58] James Clear: Well, outcome based or results focused or results based, like, this is usually where people start when they want to change their behavior. One of the first things you ask is like, well, what do I want to achieve? And it could be things like I want to reduce stress or I want to lose a certain amount of weight in the next six months or whatever.
Like we all have stuff like that. I want to double my income. And then the natural next step is, well, if that's what I want to do, let me come up with a plan for doing that. If I want to double my income, maybe I need to make 10 sales calls a day. Or if I want to reduce stress, then maybe I need to meditate every morning.
And so usually the conversation stops there. And we implicitly in our mind without really saying it, but we just sort of think, you know, if I'm able to do this and get this result, I'll be the kind of person I want to be, or I'll be happier or I'll be more satisfied. I'll have fulfilled what I wanted. And what I'm encouraging is actually to say, let's start that process in the reverse.
So let's start with not what do I wish to achieve, but who do I wish to become? Who is the type of person I want to become? This is what I call identity based habits. What is the identity that I want to have? And then which habits reinforce that identity? For example, you could say in the results or outcome based mindset, I want to write a bestselling book.
But the identity based mindset is I am a writer. what is the type of habit that reinforces being a writer? And as long as you're doing that, you can start to feel successful. Or you could take a very classic example, you know, getting in shape is probably one of the most common habits. On the one hand, you could say, I want to lose 30 pounds in the next six months.
And that leads you to a whole sort of array of habits that you're trying to build and things you're trying to do. But if instead you start by asking yourself or saying, I want to become the type of person who doesn't miss workouts, that's my identity. Well, now you can see how different those two things are.
I mean, if you're just trying to focus on being the kind of person who doesn't miss workouts, you can feel good even if you do five pushups. That helps feed that identity. So ultimately, the reason that I think that habits really matter, we often talk about habits as mattering because of the external results they'll get you.
Habits will help you Get fit, or be more productive, or make more money, or reduce stress, and that's true, habits can do all that stuff, and that's great. But I think the real reason, the true reason that habits matter, is that every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. So, no, doing one push up does not transform your body, but it does cast a vote for, I'm the type of person who doesn't miss workouts.
And no, writing one sentence may not finish the novel, but it does cast a vote for, I'm a writer. And individually, those are small things, but collectively, if you keep showing up in small ways, day in and day out, you keep casting votes on the pile, you build up this body of evidence for being that kind of person.
And so your habits are how you embody a particular identity. You know, every day that you make your bed, you embody the identity of someone who's clean and organized. Every day that you study for 20 minutes, you embody the identity of someone who's studious. And doing it one time probably doesn't mean that much, but if you do it every day after six months or a year or two years, at some point you cross this invisible line and you're like, well, I guess that is part of who I am.
And I think this is ultimately where we're trying to get to, which is you take pride in that aspect of your identity. I'm a runner, I'm a writer, I'm a meditator, I'm the type of person who finishes what they start. Whatever it is, you take pride in that being part of your story. And once you take pride in it, you'll fight to maintain the habit.
If you take pride in the size of your biceps, you can never skip arm day at the gym. Or if you take pride in how your hair looks, you have this long haircare routine, you do it every day. And so, it's really trying to get to the point where you see that as part of your story. And so true behavior change is really identity change.
It's really getting you to shift the narrative you have about who you are and what's normal for
[00:33:56] Hala Taha: you. Yeah. So as I think about this, the identity aspect of this is what makes it long term. When you believe that you are changing into this different type of person, it's more sustainable. It's more long term results.
Whereas if you have a goal, it's more like short term. Can you talk to us about the problem of goals and also the goals related to our happiness and unhappiness?
[00:34:18] James Clear: I think you're right. I think that goals can be really useful. But they tend to be good for clarity and motivation figuring out what to optimize for, particularly in the short run.
Let's say somebody decides to have a goal of running, uh, 5k. Alright, so they sign up for the race, they train for a few months, and then the race comes and they run. And now the goal is gone, and so they don't run, and then they turn around, they look around, it's been like three months, they're like, oh, I haven't run, you know, in three months now.
And you get this yo yo effect, this back and forth pattern a lot with habits, where people will pick a goal, and they'll kind of work toward it, and then the goal passes, and then But if you have the identity of I am a runner, well, you might still train for the 5k, but once the race is over, you're like, well, this is just kind of part of who I am, it's part of what I do, and so you keep running each day.
And, of course, it doesn't always work that perfectly cleanly, but that is the general idea, is that once you start to see it as part of your normal day, as part of who you are, you have every reason in the world to continue with it, because this is just part of how you act. The other thing with goals is that we're always promising to ourselves that we'll be happy once we do something.
We'll be happy once we complete the 5k, once we finish the book, once we make a certain amount of money. And if instead you make it more about the identity, now you can be happy in the moment. You can be happy anytime that you are running, because that's part of who you are, and it feels good to be aligned with the type of person that you want to be.
It feels good to perform a habit that reinforces your desired identity. And so you can feel good in the moment while also working toward the long term outcome. And I think that's another reason why I like that strategy.
[00:35:55] Hala Taha: Yeah, makes total sense. Okay, let's move into the process of building a habit. You divide it into four simple steps.
Cue, craving, response, and reward. Could you go over that at a high level
[00:36:06] James Clear: with us? So, every habit goes through these four stages. Cue, craving, response, reward. Cue is kind of something you notice, like maybe you see a plate of cookies on the counter. It's a visual cue. The next thing that happens, there's a craving.
Your brain predicts, oh, that cookie will be sweet, sugary, tasty, enjoyable. And so that gives you the motivation or the desire to walk over, pick it up and take a bite. So that's the response. And then finally, there's a reward. Oh, it is in fact sweet, sugary, tasty, enjoyable. Now, not every behavior in life is rewarding, right?
Sometimes things have a cost or a consequence. Sometimes they're just kind of neutral, they don't really mean a whole lot. But if a behavior is not rewarding, if there isn't some sort of positive emotional signal associated with the action, it's really hard for it to become a habit. So your brain needs some reason to remember it and say, Hey, this is worthwhile, you should repeat those steps in the future.
So you can kind of imagine those four stages, Q, craving, response, reward, like going around a clock. And the more that you go around and around and around and around, the tighter the behavior becomes. Now, what I like to do is operationalize this. So how do we turn this into something actionable? So if we take those four stages, and that's kind of the real brief overview of the science of habits.
If you're interested in much more, obviously, atomic habits covers that in much greater depth. But I've come up with what I call the four laws of behavior change, and there's one for each of those four steps. So the first law is to make it obvious. You want the cues of your good habits to be obvious, available, visible, easy to see.
Easier it is to see or get your attention, the more likely you are to act on it. The second law is to make it attractive. The more attractive or appealing a habit is, the more motivating or enticing it is, the more you're going to feel compelled to do it. The third law is to make it easy. The easier, more convenient, frictionless, simple a habit is, the more likely it is to be performed.
And then the fourth and final law is to make it satisfying, more satisfying or enjoyable a habit is, the more rewarding or pleasurable it is, the more likely you are to repeat it. So, make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, make it satisfying. Now, there are many ways to do each of those four things, and Atomic Habits covers all that in much greater detail, but that's like the big picture view.
And so if you're sitting there, if you're listening to this and you're thinking, You know, I have this habit. I keep trying to build it, but I keep procrastinating or maybe like in a business context, you might think, you know, we have this behavior. We keep asking people to do it, but they only do it every now and then you can just go through those four laws and ask yourself, how can I make the behavior more obvious?
How can I make it more attractive? How can I make it easier? How can I make it more satisfying? And the answers to those questions will reveal different steps that you can take to increase the odds that the habit's going to occur. So you can sort of use those four laws of behavior change as a guiding principle for trying to shape the habits in your life.
I love that.
[00:38:52] Hala Taha: And by the way, guys, his class is also on Masterclass. I'll link that in the show notes. It's 10 different video lessons. It's awesome. So I'd highly recommend you guys check out Atomic Habits and James Clear's class on Masterclass. Okay, let's talk about breaking bad habits before we go. I know we only have a couple minutes here.
Can you just walk us through how we can break a bad habit? Sure.
[00:39:12] James Clear: Building a good habit, just to recap from a minute ago, make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, make it satisfying. If you want to break a bad habit, then you just invert those four. So rather than making it obvious, make it invisible.
Unsubscribe from emails. Don't keep junk food in the house. If you're trying to follow a new diet, don't follow a bunch of food bloggers on Instagram. Reduce exposure to the Q. Rather than making it attractive, make it unattractive. I will say this is the trickiest one, the hardest one when it comes to breaking bad habits.
And I think it's better to focus on some of the others. Rather than making it easy, make it difficult. So increase friction, add steps between you and the behavior. You can imagine if there's a bag of potato chips right next to you in the pantry, that's a lot easier to eat than if they're three miles down the road at the grocery store.
So the more friction between you and an action, the less likely it is to occur. As another example of that, one of my little habits that I try to break is checking my phone all the time. And it's tricky because phones are useful. They conserve a purpose. And so what I've come up with is I leave my phone in another room until lunch each day.
Now I can't always do that, but I can probably do it seven out of 10 days. And I have a home office, so my phone is only like 30 seconds away, but I never go get it. And I always think that's so interesting. If it was right next to me, I check it every three minutes. So I wanted to check it in that sense, but I never wanted it so bad that I would walk 30 seconds down the hallway to go get it.
So introducing a little bit of friction can often reduce the habit to the desired degree. And then the final version for breaking a bad habit is rather than make it satisfying, which is what you want to do for good habits, make it unsatisfying, layer on some kind of cost or consequence to the action. So to break a bad habit, make it invisible, make it unattractive, make it difficult, make it unsatisfying.
And again, There are many ways to do each of those four things that gives you the big picture view. Well,
[00:41:05] Hala Taha: James, we are out of time. We had so much more to cover. I'll make sure that I cover as much as I can in the outro. You guys also have access to his book. You guys can get masterclass. I'll put all the links in our show notes.
James, thank you so much for joining us on Young and Profiting Podcast.
[00:41:21] James Clear: Great. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.
[00:41:22] Hala Taha: Man, my time with James Clear was cut so short today and honestly, I'm so bummed about it. I had so many questions prepared for him and we really only hit the tip of the iceberg with him. But I wanted to recap some of the wonderful insights he offered and I can cover some of the content that we didn't get to cover in the conversation in this outro.
First, I love how he talks about habits as the compound interest to self improvement. I love it. The effects of good habits build on each other and multiply the longer you keep them. Good results are a lagging measure of our good habits. You fix the inputs to the process and the outputs will fix themselves.
And for that same reason, James says it can be counterproductive to be focused on outcomes, or even on your goals. Goals represent a promise to ourselves that we'll be happy once we do something. Once we finish a project or once we make a certain amount of money, as a result, it's hard to be happy in the moment, to be happy with the process and the journey.
But James says that if you make your habits a part of your identity, then you will be far more fruitful. Every action you take is a step toward becoming the type of person you wish to become. In his book in Masterclass, James lays out some great techniques for building these types of identity reinforcing habits.
Those include habit stacking, which is identifying a current habit you already do each day and then stacking your new desired behavior on top. For instance, meditating for two minutes while you wait for your coffee to brew. Temptation bundling, linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
For example, watching your favorite Netflix show while you get in a 30 minute run on the treadmill. The two minute rule when you start a new habit, just do it for two minutes. Read before bed each night becomes read one page and then hopefully you get some momentum. And finally, commitment devices. A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future.
For example, to minimize your meal portion, ask the waiter in advance to split your meal and box half of it to go. Thanks for listening to this episode of Young and Profiting Podcast. Want to create another healthy habit that will benefit yourself and others? Every time you listen and enjoy an episode of this podcast, share it with your friends and family.
Just hit that share button and text a link to this episode to someone that you know who you think could benefit from our content. And why not drop us a five star review on Apple Podcasts while you're at it. Help us make sure that others can find us and create their own listening habits. You can find me on Instagram at Yap with Hala or LinkedIn by searching my name.
It's Hala Taha. Before we go, I did want to shout out my amazing production team, our ad ops and sales team, our social media team. You guys are awesome. Thank you so much for all your hard work in 2023. And I'm really excited for this upcoming year and excited to see all of your hard work. This is your host, Hala Taha, a.
k. a. the Podcast Princess, signing off.
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