obvious, easy, attractive, satisfying
To change habits successfully, you must:
- Change the right habits; and
- Change habits the right way.
To change the right habits, focus on identity (who) and processes (how), not outcomes (what):
- Outcomes are what you get (What: “”).
- Processes are what you do (How: “”).
- Identity is what you believe about yourself (Who: “”).
I want to read books
I’ll read every day
I am a reader
Every moment, every choice drives a powerful feedback loop where:
- Your habits shape your identity; and
- Your identity shapes your habits.
New identities require new evidence. To change yours, first ask:
What kind of outcomes do I want?”
What kind of person do I want/need to become?”
What quick wins/habits can I work on to reinforce those beliefs?
Then get to work and correct your trajectory every day by asking:
- “Am I becoming the type of person I want to become?”; and
- “What would the kind of person I want to become do in this situation?”
To change habits the right way, make good/bad:
- Cues: Obvious/invisible;
- Cravings: Attractive/unattractive;
- Responses: Easy/hard;
- Rewards: Satisfying/unsatisfying
NOTE: Before you change anything, use a habits scorecard to build awareness of existing responses:
- Point-and-call – Write a granular list of your daily habits;
- Evaluate net long-term outcomes – Label each habit as good (+), bad (-) or neutral (=);
Then re-arrange, add to and design new, written plans of action by:
- Setting clear implementation intentions:
- “I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]”.
- Habit stacking:
- “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]”; or
- “When I [ACTION], I will [NEW HABIT]”.
TIP: Make your new habits as specific as possible (what, when, how, how much).
Then to maximise your odds of success…
1 – How to make habits obvious/invisible:
Pick existing cues that:
- Occur with the same frequency (daily, weekly, monthly) as your desired new habit; and
- Are highly specific and immediately actionable.
(Re-)design cues to be:
- Visual – Vision is our most powerful sense; and
- Obvious – Make it easy to spot them
Engineer your environment to minimise reliance on will-power and self-control:
- Move yourself someplace without competing/undesirable cues;
- Remove competing/undesirable cues from your environment;
- Fill your environment with your new/desirable cues; and
- Avoid creating contexts that trigger multiple habits.
2 – How to make habits attractive/unattractive:
Combine habit stacking with temptation bundling to pair actions you want with actions you need:
- “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED].“
- “After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].“
Proactively manage band-wagon effect:
- Be aware that you have a strong natural desire to conform with:
- The close – the people directly around you;
- The many – the culture/society you immerse yourself in; and
- The powerful – the successful people you look up to.
- Use this to your advantage. Proactively join groups where:
- Your desired behaviour is already a norm; and
- You have something in common with the group.
- Good habits – to highlight benefits (“I get to”) instead of drawbacks (“I have to”).
- Bad habits – to highlight drawbacks instead of benefits.
Use motivation rituals:
- Practice doing something enjoyable before a difficult habit; then later
- Use the enjoyable action to trigger cravings for the difficult habit.
3 – How to make taking action easy:
Show up and get started.
- The best way to start, is to start;
- Don’t get caught up in planning or perfectionism;
- Identify and start with the easy, 2-minute version, then build on those wins.
Engineer your environment to make it easy to perform good habits:
- List and take any one-time actions that will pay-off again and again;
- Schedule habits for times and places that fit easily into your existing routine;
- Organise and lay out what you need in advance so it’s easy to access;
- Use technology to automate/incentivise good behaviour.
(Do the opposite to make it harder to perform bad habits)
Examples of decreasing (↓) and increasing (↑) friction:
- ↓ Lay your gym clothes out the night before;
- ↓ Prep healthy foods/snacks on the weekend;
- ↓ Pay for a gym session ahead of time;
- ↓ Automate e.g., prescriptions, savings, meal delivery;
- ↑ Leave your phone in a different room;
- ↑ Delete social media apps and games;
- ↑ Take the batteries out of your remote control;
- ↑ Put your WiFi router on an outlet timer.
4 – How to make habits satisfying:
Reinforce good behaviour with instant and pleasurable rewards.
- EITHER make the action itself satisfying and pleasurable e.g.,
- Invest in tools that are satisfying to use;
- Make progress satisfying and visual (e.g., with habit trackers); or
- Design the habit so it’s satisfying to perform.
- OR instantly reward yourself for taking the desired action e.g.,
- Transfer money towards buying something you want; or
- Treat yourself to something you enjoy.
(Note: Be sure the reward doesn’t conflict with your identity or another habit e.g., getting a bowl of ice-cream when you’re trying to lose weight)
Use accountability partners to create immediate social rewards/costs for taking action.
Use a formal habit contract to strengthen (dis)incentives:
- Set (e.g., financial) penalties for performing bad habits/missing targets;
- Put the criteria and penalties down in writing; and
- Find a judge to co-sign and hold you accountable to the contract.
Keep streaks alive by rebounding quickly when your habits break down:
- Don’t think “all or nothing” – is always better than
- Never miss twice – make a commitment to never miss two repetitions in a row.
8 – How can I stay motivated when building habits?
When you start a new habit, make it easy so you’re more likely to stick with it.
As you start learning a habit, get into flow by aiming for The Goldilocks Zone.
- Review and adjust the challenge so it sits on the perimeter of your ability;
- Aim for a 50/50 ratio between failure and reward.
As you approach habit mastery:
- Show up and keep going even when the work isn’t exciting.
- Don’t be an amateur – don’t let “” get in the way of your progress.
- Be a professional – show up and stick to the schedule even if your don’t feel like it.
- Reflect and review regularly; ask:
What went well?
What didn’t go well?
What did I learn?
Once you’ve mastered a habit:
- Master the next one; practice new habits deliberately until you master the field;
- Redefine and expand your sense of identity:
- “” → “”
- “” → “”
I am an athlete
I’m the type of person who is mentally tough and loves physical challenges.
I am a CEO
I’m the type of person who builds and creates things.
And finally, manage your expectations:
- Habits take compounding effort and produce compounding results;
- The most powerful outcomes in compounding are delayed;
- Accept that noticeable change can take years, until you cross a critical threshold…
- …before it happens all at once.