Habit Forming

Posted on August 1, 2019

Habit loop

What I’m listening to – Atomic Habits by James Clear

What I’m watching – Presidential debates (more accurately foodfights)

What I’m doing – Planning for a much needed vacation!

For a while I have been setting my alarm to get up early and exercise. The mornings tend to be my favorite time to exercise because I get out while it’s cooler and fewer people are around. I stick my earbuds in and either listen to music or GovLove. This time is special to me so I readily pop out of bed even on days I am tired and want those extra few minutes of sleep.

This habit has been positive for me in feeling healthier, getting some thinking time, and enjoying the beautiful place I call home. I’ve even greeted our neighborhood trash bear a few times this summer! It occurs to me that I am not alone – many of us get up early to squeeze in a run, walk or time at the gym. Exercise helps lift the mood, give us perspective, keeps us healthy and provides the excuse we might need to eat what we feel like.

Habits are the foundation of how we live our lives and conduct our work. As a parent, I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about my sons’ habits and considering ways to influence their development through habits. As a local government professional I think about habits in influencing my peers and organization to improve.

All of this led me to read Atomic Habits by James Clear. The book is a user’s guide to making small changes to habits that build over time – breaking bad habits and replacing them with good ones. Clear documents his self-improvement recommendations with research and personal experience. His story started with his recovery from a life-threatening high school injury to eventually become an academic All-American baseball player.

Clear refers to habits as the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day. According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviors on any given day.

Work habits form the currency for getting the work done. Using situational interviewing, we seek to learn about potential candidates on their habits. When we offer counseling, we are critical of individuals’ habits – reliability, organization, communication, initiative, etc. Without good habits we won’t achieve the results that will improve our communities. Here are some tidbits from James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

Clear uses a four step process for habit development that includes:

1. Cue – a small bit of information that triggers the idea that a reward can be found
2. Craving – the motivation to change or do something to obtain the reward
3. Response – though or action needed to obtain the reward
4. Reward – satisfying (and affirming) feeling that you get from the action, along with a lesson of whether to do it again or not

Clear further offers a secondary four step process that he suggests for sustaining behavior change:

1. Make it obvious – putting fruit out instead of cookies prompts your brain to take the low-hanging fruit (pun intended)
2. Make it attractive – Start with the fruit you like the most so you’ll actually want it
3. Make it easy – Focus on fruit that’s easy to consume so you won’t get discouraged
4. Make it satisfying – If you enjoy the fruit and feel good about the choice you’ve made it is reinforcing

There are a ton of great tips and information on habit development on James Clear’s website – jamesclear.com – but it struck me how useful the tools of habit formation can be on a personal and organizational level. Good luck with this stuff, it’s habit forming!

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