Atomic Habits

I discovered that the missing piece of the puzzle to accomplishing my desired goals was atomic habits. It should have been obvious to me, and it was, but I didn’t realize the consequential difference between acknowledging the need for habits and having the right knowledge of how to build them. If you are like me, you want to be productive and feel successful. You want to achieve your goals. But you also know what it’s like to fail in achieving a goal. The frustration. The pain. The being upset. Yes, all the feelings that come with it. And here is what we have been missing: atomic habits.

Habits are those actions you do without noticing anymore. They are an extension of you and happen easily and effortlessly, somewhat like breathing or walking, but not exactly. The hard part is realizing that small, consistent, repetitive actions over time create habits. Contrary to what we may think, the championship-level effort we spent “one-day, one-time” does not create a habit––that was an event. Events are not habits. Events are one-time occurrences. We get lucky or don’t “one day, one time”. That is why “one day” in the gym or “one day” eating healthy food or “one day” studying for the exam doesn’t give us the results we want or expect. The results that prove we have met our goals come from the labor of tiny, incremental actions compounding over time. Little actions, consistently, over time, get you to your results. In that space, you achieve your goals, sometimes without even noticing the “one day” it happened. You just became the type of person who gets those results. Your identity has evolved so that those tiny, repetitive actions shine a new image of who you have now become.

This has all come to my mind as a result of reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. Actually, I first listened to it on Audible a few times! You can see his work here: What James Clear has done is show us an operational system of how to build good habits and how to break bad habits. It truly has opened my eyes.

Let’s take a look at this figure below from Atomic Habits. It shows the three levels involved in achieving goals (also known as outcomes).

To me, it has become clear what my problem is. At the third and deepest layer, I imagine and believe in a future version of myself (desired identity) who is better than my current version of myself (actual identity). In this state of desire, I wish or give myself a goal or desired outcome (this is the first and outermost level). For example, I say to myself: “I want to save $25,000 this year.” However, the bridge between my identity and my desired outcomes is the process required to get there–in other words, habits (the second or middle layer). Habits are the boat that carry me from this side of the land across the sea to the island of results.

So, how do we build habits? Well, James Clear puts it forward very simply: In four simple steps he calls Four Laws of Behavior Change.

So, again, to make the point clear, how do we achieve our goals? The “stuff” you need to do must meet the 4 criteria of being obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. For example, the reason we have bad habits, like spending too much time on social media is because:

  1. It is obvious – we get notifications on our phone, which is almost always in our sight of view
  2. It is attractive – we like what we see and it draws our attention to celebrities, images of wealth and beauty and drama, and so on
  3. It is easy – how much effort does it take to scroll up and down the pages of Facebook or Instagram? With one finger and one eye we can spend hours laying in bed or on the couch with our phone, wasting our precious limited time
  4. It is satisfying – Our desires, ego, fears, and anxieties get fed by what we see and hear on the pages of social media, which make us come back for more, like addicted people

So, you can clearly see my point– the reason social media is powerful is because making its use a habit follows and meets the criteria of 4 Laws of Behavior Change.

Thus, I challenge you and me today to apply the 4 Laws of Behavior Change to good use in our lives. Let’s put into practice Atomic Habits (small, repetitive, consistent actions over time) to get the results or outcomes we desire and thus achieve our goals. I’ve started already to apply this knowledge of habits to my goal of getting healthier and losing weight––and have lost 10 pounds over the last three weeks. It’s not earth-shattering but it’s a start!

Friends in learning, we can do this!

Dr. Joel Tapia

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