Moving Forward- Chapter Three, Atomic Habits

How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

If this is your first time here… I am working my way through James Clear’s book about creating good lifelong habits called Atomic Habits. Please click the blog button to your right to read past posts. If you like the post please hit the Like button at the bottom of the page and please consider following my blog. You can sign up at the bottom of the page.

Note: I do not receive anything for endorsing James Clear’s book. I am just a fan of good ideas and I am using this book to help me make positive changes in my life.

“By the time we become adults, we rarely notice the habits that are running our lives. Most of us never give a second thought to the fact that we tie the same shoe first each morning, or unplug the toaster after each use… After decades of mental programming. We automatically slip into these patterns of thinking and acting.”

After I read that paragraph, I starting looking at the things I do nonconsciously. Each time I put my shoes on the right shoe goes on first, but then I tie the left one before the right. When I brush my teeth, I always start on the bottom left corner, then the right bottom corner, then the upper right corner, then the left upper corner. I also discovered that I unload the dishwasher the same way every day and I make my coffee in the same linier steps each morning.

Chapter three introduces four steps to adopting better habits. The steps can also be used to get rid of a habit you no longer want. Chapter three is also an introduction to what we will be breaking down in the next seventeen chapters.

The Four Step Process

James Clear writes, “The four-step pattern is the backbone of every habit, and your brain runs through these steps in the same order each time.” The four steps work as a feedback loop, we can repeat each step countless times in one day.

Cue | Craving | Response | Reward

Cue– The cue triggers the brain to initiate a behavior.

Craving– is the second step in the process and cravings are the motivation behind every habit. Without craving a change – we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in the state it delivers. An example of this could be you are not motivated by brushing your teeth but rather by the feeling of a clean mouth.

Response– The response is the actual habit that you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action.

Reward– A reward is the end goal of every habit. We chase rewards because they serve two intentions: (1) they satisfy us and (2) they teach us. Rewards can teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future and rewards also close the feedback loop and complete the habit cycle.

Cue | Craving | Response | Reward

“Whenever we encounter a new situation in life, our brain has to make a decision. How do I respond to this?  Neurological activity in the brain is high during this period. You are trying to figure out what is the most effective course of action is in order to respond to the new situation.”

“The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. Together these four steps form a neurological feedback loop. This cycle is known as the habit loop.”

The craving step is a little confusing to me. I understand that someone could crave a cigarette or a food that they want to eat but do people actually crave the feeling they get from procrastinating? Do people crave the simplicity of leaving your clothes on the floor or crave walking into their dirty bathroom?  At this time, I am not understanding the craving behind negative habits in people’s lives or even in my own life.

The Four Laws of Behavioral Change

Clear builds a framework around the feedback loop. He calls this the Four Laws of Behavioral Change and he says it can be used to add a new habit to your life or get rid of a habit you no longer want.

 How to Create a Good Habit
The 1st law (Cue)Make it obvious.
The 2nd law (Craving)Make it attractive.
The 3rd law (Response)Make it easy.
The 4th law (Reward)Make it satisfying.

“We can invert these laws to learn how to break a bad habit.”

 How to Break a Bad Habit
Inversion of the 1st law (Cue)Make it invisible.
Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving)Make it unattractive.
Inversion of the 3rd law (Response)Make it difficult.
Inversion of the 4th law (Rewards)Make it unsatisfying.

At this point I do not have my head wrapped around the concept of the laws. Clear goes into detail on each of the four elements in the chapters ahead so I can dive deeper into trying to understand what he is talking about.

Just for fun, let’s say I wanted to stop my habit of playing video games each day after I get home. Using Clear’s how to break a bad habit, I could put the controller away in a drawer so I don’t see it when I get home (invisible) but if I was craving the game then I could just go get the controller. To make it (unattractive) I could unplug the box and put the entire console in a drawer. If that was not enough, I could ask my partner to hide the controller from me. (difficult) Maybe taking all of those steps would make playing the game (unsatisfying) because of the time and effort I would go through just to hook the console up and try to find the controller. It is an interesting idea.

Clear writes in the last paragraph of chapter three, “Your habits are shaped by the systems in your life. In the chapters that follow, we will discuss these laws one by one and show how you can use them to create a system in which good habits emerge naturally and bad habits wither away.

Up Next: Chapter Four Atomic Habits— The First Law, Make It Obvious

I am looking forward to the chapters that get more into detail about the laws.

Thanks for reading.

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