How to Change Your Habits

Tuesday, March 7, 2023
• Published by
Cory McCabe

There's a science to habit-building

Have you ever wanted to kick a bad habit, but it always seems to come back? Or build a new one, but you fall out of it after 2 weeks or 2 months?

Well, same here.

One month ago, I started reading a book called Atomic Habits, by James Clear.

This is a book I've been meaning to read ever since it was published in October of 2018 (almost 5 years ago). If I'm not mistkaen, my oldest brother did some uncredited advising around the title of the book—it may have been named something else entirely.

I have't finished reading it yet, but the biggest thing I'm internalizing is this:

"Your habits shape your identity, and vice versa."

I'd suggest reading that again. It's simple, yet quite eye-opening when you think about it.

Of course, since that's a bit of a paradoxical statement, you'd want to open the book to understand the how and why behind the statement.

Title: Three Layers of Behavior Change. An target illustration of a target with the center representing, "Identity," the middle ring representing, "Process," and the outer ring representing, "outcomes."

James demenstrates the difference in approach to changing one's behavior (habits), showing how people tend to view goals through an outcome-based lens, whereas he makes the case for taking an identity-based approach to behavior change.

Here's a powerful exerpt from the book:

"Imagine two people wanting to quit smoking.

When offered a cigarette, the first person says, “No thanks. I’m trying to quit.” It sounds like a reasonable response, but this person still believes they are a smoker who is trying to be something else. They are hoping their behavior will change while carrying around the same beliefs.

​The second person declines by saying, “No thanks. I’m not a smoker.” It’s a small difference, but this statement signals a shift in identity. Smoking was part of their former life, not their current one. They no longer identify as someone who smokes."

Building good habits & breaking bad ones

In the 3rd chapter of Atomic habits, James talks about the four stages all of us go through that influence nearly everything we do; cue, craving, response, reward.

Example 1:

Example 2:

With that, he then outlines what he refers to as The Four Laws of Behavior Change:

How to create a good habit

  1. Make it obvious (cue)
  2. Make it attractive (craving)
  3. Make it easy (response)
  4. Make it satisfying (reward)

How to break a bad habit

  1. Make it invisible
  2. Make it unattractive
  3. Make it difficult
  4. Make it unsatisfying

Even without picking up the book for yourself, feel free to try out this approach!

I imagine you might see more success while having a better grasp on everything the book has to say, but some of us can do a lot with just the key concepts.

A question for you…

What's something you've always wished was a part of your life, but have either never made any attempts, of have tried and failed?

This could be:

  • Speak another language fluently
  • Learn a skill (VFX, play an instrument)
  • Pick up a hobby (rock climbing, hiking, tennis)

My hope is that you'll see that thing in a new light with the little we touched on today.

Start with the belief that it IS attainable, and then, as we learned from James Clear today, shift your view around it from being outcomes-based and instead identity-based.

Who do you wish to be?

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