How I Used Atomic Habits in My Own Life
Realizing that most of my clients have some habits that they are proud of and others that they hate, I became more and more curious over the years. Habit formation/change is a big deal and I was interested in learning about the research that’s been done on it. I sought out several books on the subject, and Atomic Habits by James Clear was the one that resonated most strongly with me.
James Clear provides some great guidelines on how to change our habits, both those we want to cultivate and those that aren’t serving us. I took his template of ‘How to Create a Good Habit’ and ‘How to Break a Bad Habit’ and went to work on two habits that I want to change for myself.
“Getting curious about our behaviours while being accepting of yourself is the key to healthy self-discovery.”
To create a good habit, Clear breaks it down into Four Separate Laws:
1. Make it Obvious
2. Make It Attractive
3. Make it Easy
4. Make it Satisfying
One habit that I wanted to create for myself was drinking a ‘greens drink/greens powder’ every day, which is something I took away from Episode #6 of my podcast I Think, I Can. On this episode I spoke to Liana Warner-Gray about foods that reduce anxiety, as well as having incredible health benefits, including cancer prevention. Super simple to add that to your life, so why not? Using the template provided, I went to work.
Make it obvious: I decided to drink the powder at lunch time, therefore I needed to place it in a spot that allows me to see it every day at lunch, otherwise I know I will forget it. I am usually starving at lunch so I often grab some almonds when I enter the kitchen (which may or may not be a bad habit ?? stay tuned…) before preparing my lunch. So right beside the almonds is where you will now find my greens powder.
Make it Attractive: The beautiful green colour makes me think of a lush forest and springtime, which is very attractive to me.
Make it Easy: Again, once reminded, it is easy.
Make it Satisfying: I don’t particularly love or hate the drink, but I guess I make it satisfying by visualizing how all the cells of my body are just singing out loud – Thank you! That is just what I needed!
Okay – that was pretty easy. Now, onn to the next task: How to Break a Bad Habit. Right away I know that this is not going to be as easy.
I had to really think about this a bit…because there are a few things related to my diet that I don’t think are particularly good but I might need to consult with my guest from Episode #11, Patrick Laine, an Optimization Mentor and Coach about that one. Instead, I chose a habit that I mentioned to you in a previous post that I don’t think is helpful to me – watching cooking videos.
I mean, I’ve admitted in a previous newsletter that I hate cooking, so what is the point of watching these videos? PLUS, what is even worse, is I do it in bed! On my laptop! Here I am, preaching all about sleep hygiene, telling my clients to NOT take electronics to bed, etc. etc. and now you just found out this therapist does it as well. This is so embarrassing. I am now walking the walk of shame, so please forgive me.
According to Clear, the Four Laws of Breaking a Habit are:
1. Making it Invisible
2. Make it Unattractive
3. Make it Difficult
4. Make it Unsatisfying
If you’re having trouble determining how to decide whether a particular habit is working for you or not, here is a question Clear suggested to use: “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?” Ouch… Doesn’t that just make you lower your head somewhat? That question hit me hard. So I did my best to apply his template to my cooking video situation.
Make it unsatisfying: Well, that seems pretty natural. When I end up shutting the light off at night, I do feel unsatisfied. I am disappointed in myself because I likely stayed up at least 30 minutes longer than I would have wanted to and obtained absolutely nothing out of it. I am not engaging in the activities of ’30 min supper ideas’ or ‘meal prepping made simple’ – so it was a waste of my time.
Making it Invisible: Okay – that seems easy. I don’t bring my laptop up to my bedroom OR I do not allow any video to play on my laptop. In other words, shut off my WIFI so I read only. I chose READ ONLY and test if I can maintain this and not be tempted to turn on the WIFI.
Make it unattractive: Hmm, the only idea that comes to my mind is identifying myself as someone that mindlessly ‘scrolls’ or ‘wastes their time on social media’ even though watching a cooking video could be arguably different. The only way it would be different is if I was in fact a cook OR loved cooking. Neither one of those statements is true. So, it is truly an act of aimlessly zoning out. I don’t like identifying myself like that, so it is unattractive to me.
Make it difficult: This seems similar to Law #1, make it invisible. However, I think leaving my laptop in my office and out of my bedroom would make it extremely difficult because once my body hits those sheets, I ain’t getting out.
One week later, my results:
Habit Formation: drink a green’s drink every day. It is a win for the greens drink!! Make it obvious works well for me. I think it was highly attractive for me because I used visualization as well, seeing all those phytonutrients and vitamins being sucked up by my cells worked for me. It may not work for everyone, but it worked for me. The greens drink is also time saving and perhaps cost saving. How many of us throw green produce away because of not meal prepping well (yup, that’s me).
Habit Ending – Not the best. I am still unravelling this a bit, to be honest. I sort of stacked ending a bad habit with the idea of forming a new good habit (reading a book). So I went to Chapters and bought a book that I thought I would really like. It turned out I didn’t. I have another one on order that I will try, and that way I can see if it is just the book or maybe I am not a reader? That is something I need to figure out and speak on a bit more on another post.
After trying the reading a couple of days and seeing it wasn’t satisfying for me, I opened up the laptop. For the next several nights I tried only reading. When I say reading – I don’t mean reading a book. I am usually learning (by reading blog posts, articles, etc.) on topics I am interested in (pertaining to health and happiness). However, in reality, most websites have videos attached to them. So, before I know it – I am watching a video on the topic. I guess that is not bad…or is it? This is what I mean about my need to unravel it more. After all, one could argue ‘how is this any different from watching TV?’. It doesn’t matter whether I am watching a YouTube interview or the Nature of Things on TV, I am watching a screen and it is screen time.
I am not going to get too deep into this – but I think it is the fact that the ‘identification of being someone that watches a screen at night prior to bed’ is not distasteful enough for me. Which is sort of concerning. Or is it?
As I said, I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole because this post is already long enough… but it is making me think…and that, my friends, is a good thing. Getting curious about our behaviours while being accepting of yourself is the key to healthy self-discovery.
Maybe finding the right book is the answer for me. Maybe I am not a reader when it comes to books. Maybe I take information in better by listening to books (lectures, webinars, and yes, Youtube videos). At this moment, reading or watching /listening to topics on my laptop in my bed is NOT unsatisfying or unattractive enough to break the habit. I did stop watching cooking videos however, so perhaps it was a win.