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Two More Rules of Habit Formation

by Beth on February 15th, 2021

In my last post I discussed the first two rules for creating good habits from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, 1) make it obvious and 2) make it attractive. Here are the other two rules:

3. Make it easy – Habits are formed based on frequency, not time. So forget the idea that it takes 21 days to build a habit! Each time you repeat a behavior, specific neurons in your brain fire. The more they fire together, the stronger the connection becomes, eventually making that behavior automatic. The easier it is to do something, the more likely you are to do it. Making a behavior easy will lead to more repetition and faster habit formation. 

One way to make a behavior easy is to do the minimum necessary to ritualize the behavior. Start by meditating or journaling for 2 minutes or practicing yoga or walking for 5 minutes. The key is to master the habit of showing up. Then you can start doing more. Taking that first step gives you a sense of confidence and momentum, making it easier to take the next.

Another way to make a behavior easy is to reduce friction. Your are more likely to go to the gym if it’s near your home. Chopping veggies on the weekend makes it easier to eat them during the week.

4. Make it satisfying – We are more likely to repeat behaviors that provide immediate rewards. Humans have a present bias, which means we value the present moment or instant gratification more than we value the future. This makes it hard to form habits that are good for us because many of the behaviors that provide long-term health benefits don’t have immediate rewards. So we need to find ways to add something positive to behaviors that pay off in the long run.

One way to make good behaviors more rewarding is to celebrate each time you do them. After each workout do a fist pump or a happy dance or shout “hell, yeah!” Anything that generates a positive emotion will reinforce that behavior.

Making progress is also satisfying, so tracking good behaviors can act as a reward. Put a star on your calendar every day you meditate or record how much time you read or how many vegetables you eat each day in a journal. I downloaded a habit tracker app in January and it’s very satisfying to see my streaks!

Your daily behaviors determine the person you will become. You can become a happier, healthier person by making beneficial behaviors more obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.

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