Upgrading Homo Sapiens’ Natural Behavior
Main takeaways from the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear
🙊 Evolution is the problem
Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future. It’s like automating those repetitive processes so, in the future, you can have more freedom to do what you really enjoy.
Unfortunately, for evolutionary reasons, our brains don’t like caring about the future. We can’t be sure if doing exercise in the present will allow us to have a better lifestyle during the rest of our lives. We only know that watching Netflix and eating fries feels so good in the now.
The second aspect that we should take into consideration is our environment. Evolution has shown us that the most popular guy in town is also the strongest, healthiest, and the one with the nicest family. Wouldn’t we all want to be like that guy?
Well, the fact is that we imitate the habits of 3 groups: the close, the many, and the powerful. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual.
Knowing this, we can also infer that we don’t want to post a photo on Instagram. We want to show others that we’re healthy enough, wealthy enough, and nice enough. We don’t want to eat McDonald’s. We want to “have an (unnecessary) energy storage”.
In the end, it all comes down to seeking a reward. All our brains want is dopamine. But we can do better than that, and here’s how…
🏆 Winners and losers have the same goals
There are no good or bad habits. There are only effective habits which help you solve your problems.
Waking up at 5 am every day may be a goal that thousands of people have at the beginning of the year. However, does that really work for you? Does that really help you get where you want to be?
Goals are about the results we get, either we achieve it or we don’t. In contrast, habits are the inputs, tools, or systems that we use to achieve those results. They are about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement.
If we want to build habits better, we need to solve our problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.
- Identify: make a list of all the habits you already have, from the moment you wake up, until you go to bed
- Effectiveness: next to each habit, write a “+” if the habit (system) is helping you get where you want to be. Write “-” if it’s not helping you
- Identity: decide who you want to be. Ask yourself “who is the type of person who…(wakes up at 5am everyday, reads a book per month, finishes their homework on time…)?
👉 Action items
Habits are a series of automatic solutions that solve the problems and stresses you face regularly.
What we know until today, is that the best way to make or break our evolutionary-built mechanisms is by developing habits. The science behind this is can be divided into 2: the problem face and the solution face.
In the problem face, we first notice the possibility of a reward — which is called cue — and then, we wish for that reward to occur. That is the craving.
The second face is the solution to that problem or desire. This includes a response, which is the actual habit or action that we take in order to receive a reward, which satisfies us and teaches us.
- Cue: Your phone buzzes with a new text message
- Craving: you want to learn the contents of the message
- Response: you grab your phone and read the text
- Reward: you satisfy your craving to read the message
Do the obvious!
To our advantage, we can follow these action items to build effective habits, and simply do the opposite to get rid of ineffective ones:
- One space one use: you’ll be more likely to follow through your habits if you do determine a specific place and time for your habits. Don’t ask yourself to write a book when you’re likely to be occupied with something else
- Habit stacking: no behavior happens in isolation. Pair your new habit to a current habit. You may want to attach a new effective habit, to one that you already have and that is already satisfying
Changing the game
As mentioned before, our habits also depend on the people we surround ourselves with. I have personally experienced this at school, where most of my classmates weren’t really ambitious nor hard-workers. So instead of reaching my full potential, I settled down for the normal.
When starting a new habit, we often treat it as an obligation, rather than something they choose to do. Just as people, the way we see the world also influences the way we act.
- Join a culture where your desired habit is the normal behavior. You’ll rise together
- Change “I have to” to “I get to”. You transition from seeing these behaviors as burdens, and see them as opportunities instead
Repetition > Perfection
From my point of view, it’s okay to have high expectations for the future. But at the beginning, we should aim to just get started.
If I want to become the kind of person who meditates everyday for 1 hour, but I haven’t even tried it before, it may be better to start with one minute. It’s nearly impossible to become the best version of yourself in one day, yet with consistency you can become 37x better in one year (1% better each day).
But what if one day you just don’t feel like doing so? What if you’d rather not read today so you can read more tomorrow? Well, according to the book, it’s better to not break the chain. To appreciate the bad days just as you’d appreciate the good days.
- 2-minute rule: when you start a new habit, it should take less than 2 minutes to do. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist
- If you want to master a habit, start with repetition. Not perfection. Frequency > time. What matters is the rate at which you perform the behavior
- Mantra: “don’t break the chain”. Never interrupt your habits unncessarily. The “bad” days are also great
Make it unforgettable and satisfying
You want the ending of your habit to be satisfying. If you know you really enjoy staying up to date in your Instagram feed, then do so after you’ve finished your homework. Turn your obstacles into rewards.
Personally, I’ve never been keen on tracking my habits. I simply don’t find it useful. However, if this works for you, there are many apps such as Trello or Productive which help you stay accountable.
If you’re more of a visual person, the author of the book suggests using visual measures such as the “paper clip strategy” in which you pass one clip to a container every time you complete a habit.
- Use reinforcement: immediate reward to increase the rate of the behavior
- Habit tracking: don’t lose focus on the purpose behind it, don’t get lost by the numbers
- Accountability partner: this can work instead of, or together with the other strategies. Tell someone who you trust, the systems that you’ll implement and agree with them what will happen if you don’t
👊 Just Do It
Building effective habits isn’t a piece of cake, but we can hack our mindset by modifying our environment, designing rewards, being consistent and above all, just getting started! So if you aren’t already doing something to get where you want to be, close this window and get stuff done. You already know how ;)
Hey! I’m Sofi, a 16-year-old girl who’s extremely passionate about biotech, human longevity, and innovation itself 🦄. I’m learning a lot about exponential technologies to start a company that impacts the world positively 🚀. I love writing articles about scientific innovations to show you the amazing future that awaits us!
Twitter | LinkedIn | Website | Podcast | Newsletter