We perform many actions without strategic goal-planning, without conscious decision-making, but through habits. Good habits pursue our goals. Bad habits thwart them. We can apply psychology to create systems in our daily lives that break bad habits and reinforce good ones, moving us toward the goals we want to achieve.
We are strategic achievers—we cast vision, develop measurable goals, and track our progress. But many of our plans lose momentum and fizzle out. Our strategy lacks a tool for harnessing our instinct to perform daily routines that make consistent progress towards systematically achieving our goals. Our strategy lacks habits.
Habits embed deep into our psychological nature, enabling us to make myriad non-conscious decisions throughout the day. Consider, for example, how few conscious decisions we make in our morning routines. These actions happen automatically—and let’s be honest, we’ve all gotten very good at eating breakfast, brushing our teeth, and driving to work. (And for those of you who haven’t, the rest of us have noticed, and we’re giving you “Atomic Habits” for Christmas.)
The instincts that enable our impressive morning routines can create equally effective rhythms for our work. We construct these rhythms by engaging the psychological feedback loop that underpins our habits; we notice a Cue, which produces a Craving, provoking a Response that culminates with Reward. And that Reward provides feedback that reinforces our non-conscious desire to repeat the habit loop. So, to build desirable habits, we must make Cues obvious, Cravings attractive, Responses easy, and Rewards satisfying. To stifle unwanted habits, we must do the opposite.
Using this framework, we can prime our non-conscious instincts to perform daily routines that make consistent progress towards achieving our strategic vision.
Reading “Atomic Habits” felt like an epiphany. I regularly set measurable goals for my personal and professional life, but my progress towards achieving them has slowly decelerated. Why? Because habits enable steady progress, and—after moving across the country, starting a new job, and other life changes—all of my good habits had disintegrated. “Atomic Habits” did more than reminded me of the value of these habits, it showed me how to re-build them.
The real meat of the book: translate your vision into goals, design routines that pursue those goals, and reinforce those routines through the psychology of habits.
I’m using that framework to improve my health. I want to be healthier, so I’ve set a goal to work out three times a week, and I’ve built a gym visit into to my Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday routine.
Cue: I tap into an existing Cue—late each afternoon, my brain get’s tired and I need a break.
Craving: I’m replacing my old Craving—surf the internet—with a new craving to go to the gym.
Response: I pack up my bag. This Response inhibits my old Craving and triggers a chain of non-conscious actions—walk to my bike, ride to the gym, go to the locker room, change clothes.
Reward: I Reward myself for getting to the gym and changing my clothes—I get to listen to a podcast. And, given that I’m listening to a podcast in my gym clothes, I might as well work out.
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