Habits and Behaviors: The core Driving forces of our lives.

Habits and behavior may not necessarily be at the center of your thought process and consideration, but surprisingly you are yet to realize that habits and behavior are the core driving forces of our lives for as long as you exist.

Behaviors are not confined to a fixed number as to my understanding, but the reality is that they are dynamic in the sense that they keep changing from one generation to another due to the many variants. However, the good news about our habits despite the diverse scoping, follows similar underlying principles that contribute greatly to how they are formed or created.

So many of us have gotten ourselves into habits that stifle our productivity, growth, success, and progress in life. This can surely be very daunting and as such, many usually sink into blogs, books and other resources on bookshelves and the internet seeking a lasting solution to their predicament, though this seems overwhelming. I usually find my self guilty of this as well. Down that path, it turned out very rewarding when I stumbled upon the amazing insights from a book entitled Atomic Habits by James Clear. His book (Atomic Habits) is a comprehensive guide to how we can leverage habits and behaviors in order to improve tremendously in nearly all areas of our lives.

From the book — Atomic Habits, I discovered the Four Laws of Behavior change that is the subject of this blog. The backbone of James Clear’s book is the four-step model of habit formation, the steps that dictate the foundation of each habit. This discovery to me is very thought-provoking and I am glad to share it with you.

What is a habit? You may ask……

Well, a habit is a redundant set of automatic, unconscious thoughts, behaviors and emotions that are acquired through repetition. A habit is when you have done something so many times that your body now knows how to do it better than your mind.

The process of habit formation begins with trial and error.

Try, fail, learn, try differently and with practice, the useless movements fade away and the useful actions get reinforced. Thus a habit is formed. However, habits are a double-edged sword. They can work for you or against you, which is why understanding the details is essential.

What is James Clear’s Four-step model of habit formation I mentioned earlier?

The steps are — — — (1) Cue (2) Craving (3) Response (4) Reward….is that all there is? Yes, that’s all. So breaking down the process of habit formation into these fundamental parts can help us understand what a habit is, how it works, and how to improve it.

Allow me to elaborate further on each step…….

A Cue;

A cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. It’s like a stimulus or a bit of information that predicts a reward such as food, fame, power, status, approval, praise or friendship.

A Craving;

Cravings are the second step, and they are the motivational force behind every habit. This is in direct ratio to the need or desire to obtain the reward in sight. The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the observer are what transform a cue into a craving.

A Response;

The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action.

Whether a response occurs, it depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior. If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than you are willing to expend, then you won’t do it. Your response also depends on your ability. It sounds simple, but a habit can occur only if you are capable of doing it. If you want to dunk a basketball but can’t jump high enough to reach the hoop, well, you’re out of luck.

A Reward;

Finally, the response delivers a reward. Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us, in particular, our craving and (2) they teach us which actions are worth remembering

In the future. For instance, Food and water deliver the energy you need to survive, getting a promotion brings more money and respect, so obviously these are really worth remembering.

Take note that these stages/steps lead into a feedback loop that takes effect in our minds every moment you are alive.

This “habit loop” is continually scanning the environment, predicting what will happen next, trying out different responses, and learning from the results.

These four Steps are where James Clear derives the Four Laws of Behavioral Change, which is a practical framework that we can use to design good habits and eliminate bad ones.

Each step is like a cog wheel that influences human behavior. When the cogs are in the right position, creating good habits is effortless, when in the wrong position, it’s nearly impossible.

The Four Laws of Behavior change state;

for instance, to form a good habit you have to……..

  • Make the habit’s Cue Obvious.
  • Make the habit’s Craving Attractive.
  • Make the habit’s Response Easy.
  • Make the habit’s Reward Satisfying.

for the case of breaking a bad habit, you have to……..

  • Make the habit’s Cue invisible.
  • Make the habit’s Craving unattractive.
  • Make the habit’s Response difficult.
  • Make the habit’s Reward unsatisfying.

The laws seem so easy on the surface considering the length of each phrase but allow me to delve into each of those Laws to give you a clear picture so as to propel you into making the necessary adjustments in your life.

Alright, let’s get into that right away……………..

1st Law: Make it Obvious.

According to James Clear, you have to begin with an awareness of your habits both the positive and negative ones. You then write them down on paper (habits Scorecard) and tick those you realize will benefit you in the long run while you crossing out those that deliver instant gratification in the present whereas in the long run ruin your life.

When you have marked out the habits you would love to take on, you then work out a plan stating clearly when and where to act (implementation Intention). This leverages both the Time and Location cues. You can also Use the habit Stacking strategy, that helps you build a new habit on top of a habit that you currently have. i.e. After [CURRENT HABIT], I will do [NEW HABIT]

Making the cues Obvious is dependent on your awareness with the most common cues that trigger your behaviors. These cues are mostly the visual cues, therefore, you have to pay great attention to your environment and then carefully arrange it in such a way that the available cues are very obvious for you to trigger a positive behavior.

the case of breaking a bad habit, you have to ensure the Cues that trigger your bad behavior are invisible, Reduce your exposure to them and endeavor to remove those cues from your environment.

2nd Law: Make it Attractive.

  • You can use Temptation bundling. This is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do. i.e. after [CURRENT HABIT], I will do [HABIT I NEED] and after [HABIT I NEED], I will do [HABIT I WANT].
  • Note that the culture we live in determines which behaviors are attractive to us. We tend to adopt habits that are praised and approved of by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong to the tribe.
  • One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
  • The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
  • If a behavior can get us approval, respect, and praise, we find it attractive. However, we ought to be conscious of the culture because we tend to imitate the habits of three social groups: the close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (those with status and prestige).

3rd Law: Make it Easy.

  • Human behavior follows the Law of Least Effort. We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.
  • Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.
  • Reduce the friction associated with good behaviors. When friction is low, habits are easy.
  • Increase the friction associated with bad behaviors. When friction is high, habits are difficult.
  • Prime/ prepare your environment to make future actions easier.
  • Use the Two-Minute Rule. Downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less.
  • Automate your habits. Invest in technology and onetime purchases that lock in future behavior.

4th Law: Make it Satisfying.

  • We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying because the human brain evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards.
  • The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.
  • To get a habit to stick, you need to feel immediately successful — even if it’s in a small way. For example, you give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit.
  • One of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress. You could, therefore, use a habit tracker.
  • A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit — like marking an X on a calendar.
  • Never miss doing a new habit twice. When you forget to do a habit, make sure you get back on track immediately.
  • For the case of breaking a bad habit, you can just simply change the strategies mentioned under each law to the opposite phrasing.

At this point, I hope I have made everything clear to you on the subject of the laws of Behavior change.

However, One of the most surprising insights about our habits, you don’t need to be aware of the cue for a habit to begin. You can notice an opportunity and take action without dedicating conscious attention to it. This is what makes Habits useful but also what makes them dangerous. As habits form your actions come under the direction of your automatic and non-conscious mind.

If a habit remains mindless, you can’t expect to improve it.

As Psychologist Carl Jung said, ‘until you make the non-conscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Having digested exhaustively the four laws of behavior change and the unseen role of habits in our lives, the research made by James Clear elaborates even more and I would recommend that you read his book Atomic Habits for more insights. I Surely believe that you have got a deep understanding of the way habits are formed and how well you can use that process to your advantage to make you successful in nearly all major areas of your life. I appreciate your patience up until this point.

Thanks so much for your time may God Bless you abundantly.

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Kind Regards from me,

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Roland Sankara

Roland Sankara

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Fullstack Web Developer | Technical Writer | Passionate about tech mentorship