July 31, 2023

Two Great Books on Habit Formation

Some reading recommendations if you're looking on the best way to start new habits or stop bad ones

If there is something in your life that you’d like to change, whether that’s adding something positive or removing a negative aspect, creating new/good habits or stopping bad ones is key to achieving this.

As anyone who’s tried to start exercising 5 times a week (having done nothing for years) or stop smoking will tell you, that’s easier said than done in practice. Luckily, there are some great books that can help you with this. I’ve read and used the techniques in these books, so I think you’ll get a benefit too!

Atomic Habits - James Clear

This is the most recent book on habit formation/breaking that I’ve read. I particularly like the 4 ‘laws’ of good habit formation are built up step by step:

  1. Make it Obvious
  2. Make it Attractive
  3. Make it Easy
  4. Make it Satisfying

And the opposite, breaking bad habits:

  1. Make it Invisible
  2. Make it Unattractive
  3. Make it Difficult
  4. Make it Unsatisfying

The author doesn’t claim that you can be wildly successful at anything you want if you develop the right habits - no habit will make me 6 foot tall or a pro-basketball player - but smartly suggests targeting areas that suit your natural skills.

The Power of Habit - Charles Duhigg

The second book I realy liked is by Charles Duhigg, a NYT reporter who used the techniques detailed in his book to lose 12 lbs (~5kg). He describes the habit ‘loop’ as:

  1. Cue: A trigger that tells your brain what habit to use.
  2. Routine: A physical, mental or emotional action you take based on the cue.
  3. Reward: Completes the loop - the reward that means you want to do it again!

As Duhigg himself says: “To change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.”

His story about getting up from his desk every day at 330 to get a cookie and chat in the cafeteria, only to realise after some experiments that it wasn’t the cookie he craved at that time, but the social connection of chatting, was very insightful to me. I love n of 1 experimentation!

These approaches aren't contradictory, but the subtle differences between them may mean one suits you better (or worse) - experiment and see what works!

What both do books/approaches do have in common is the importance of writing down and tracking habits. That can be as simple as marking it on a calendar - the psychological impact of seeing all those checked-off days is extremely rewarding.

For those who want something more detailed than that, I've created a habit tracker journal/sheet (Printable PDF) that makes it easy to track and plan your habits. Check it out here!