This post will focus on the second (make it attractive) & third (make it easy) law of James Clear - another important step towards implementing new good habits into your daily life that will bring you closer to your goal!
This is the second part of the Atomic Habits for Computer Scientists series, based on the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. If you missed the first part (basics & law 1: "Make it obvious"), please have a look here . 🙂
In this little series I would like to dive into all four laws from the book, so stay tuned, if you liked this post!
Short Disclamer: I have listened to the English audio book version and James Clear's blog is also written in English. So there is quite a mix of German and English in the German version of this blogpost (not in this one - obviously).
Now that some time has gone by since the first part of this series, my goals have also changed, which results in different habits. So here are the new goals, which I wanted to establish aside from my 40h work week:
- Upload content to my Instagram account 404InformatikerinNotFound 2-3 times per week
- Reply to customer requests within one day
- Work on customer projects promptly
- Again regularly - 1-2 times per week - doing sports
- Daily meditation, reading & daily reflection in my notebook
Law 2: Make it attractive.
„Use temptation bundling.James Clear – Atomic Habits
Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.“
In his book James Clear suggests bundeling things you like with things you need to do. For this he gives the advice to create a list with 2 columns with the following contents:
- The things you like & that are tempting to do.
- The things you have to do, but you'd rather procrastinate.
The next step is to skillfully combine these two columns. For me, for example, this was the result:
- Listen to Kalyn's Coffeetalk Podcast only when I'm going for a run
- Having my favorite tea only for my work as a freelancer at home
To be honest, I find it easier to put something on top of tasks that are less 'top-heavy' that make it more attractive, such as sports or cleaning. If you're too focused on one thing, it's hard to feel the difference that the new attractiveness factor adds.
Alternatively, the attractiveness factor can also be added within a time delay:
„After [habit I need] I will [habit I want]”James Clear – Atomic Habits
- After [I finished replying to customer requests], I will [start my night/evening routine].
- After [I'm on top of my Instagram game], I will [also use my personal Instagram].
The problem, of course, is self-control.
Environment oriented habits
„To change your habits, join a culture where your desired behavior is normal & you have something in common.“James Clear – Atomic Habits
James Clear mentions three kinds of people that we imitate naturally without consciously doing it:
- The close - friends & family are the biggest influence.
- The many - If you are unsure how to behave, you orient yourself to the broad masses.
- The powerful - status & prestige. The human being wants to feel acknowledged, accepted & appreciated. It imitates patterns of behaviour of the powerful.
In order to get closer to your desired habits, you should look for like-minded people who have a positive influence on you. It does not matter whether you have not yet integrated this habit into your everyday life, or whether you are already fully involved & would like to maintain this habit.
To meditate daily I benefited from a buddy who uses the same meditation app as I do. For my sports goals, my boyfriend serves as an inspiration who regularly does sports. To take care of my Instagram account regularly, I was influenced by the Instagram-/YouTube channels I follow who regularly produce content.
Law 3: Make it easy.
The third law of James Clear addresses the problem itself - make it easy!
„Don’t ask ‚how long does it take to build a new habit,‘ ask ‚how MANY [reps] does it take to form a new habit.‘!“James Clear – Atomic Habits
How many times do you really think about brushing your teeth? Probably not anymore. It's the same with other habits. The more often you do them, the easier & more automated they will become.
Meanwhile, I hardly think about it anymore when I get on the tram in the morning to get to the main central station & reach out for my notebook immediately. It's similar when I get on the train to the office, put my headphones on & start the headspace app. As soon as the meditation (~10min) is over, I read the rest of the driveway, so all these things are done before I arrive at the office - the more this part of the morning happens, the easier it got. Especially for these new habits, I recognized that after about three weeks, they almost run by themselves. This observation goes with the well-known 21/90 rule, which tells that it takes 21 days to establish a habit & 90 days for it to become a lifestyle. However, James Clear quotes a study in his book that shows that at least 66 days have to pass until a new habit is established.
„Reduce friction. Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits.“James Clear – Atomic Habits
The less steps there are between you & your new habit, the easier it is to do & maintain them. Nobody wants to clean up the desk for three hours before they have to work on it. Similarly, I have also done it with my new morning habits, which I have scheduled for my commute. All I need is a in reach in my backpack. My book & notebook don't leave this backpack after work, so I don't have to think about it in the morning. The bookmarks are exactly where I will continue the next morning & the pen always sticks to the notebook - no excuses possible!
„Prime the environment. Prepare your environment to make future actions easier.“James Clear – Atomic Habits
It is also important to prepare the environment appropriate. Similar to the previous tip to reduce the number of steps, the environment should also be suitable for the new habit. For example: When I leave the apartment in the morning to head to the office, I make sure that the desk is always tidy so that I only have to sit down and get going after work. This also means that I dock the Surface on the docking station so that the battery doesn't run low in the evening. The tea cup is also ready for use & the chair should be free so that you can sit on it (everyone knows the moment when the chair/sofa becomes a walk-in closet...). My work journal is also ready to take notes on work progress or to look up key points about the project. Here, too, excuses like a three-hour procrastination deep clean are hardly possible.
„Use the Two-Minute Rule. Downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less.“James Clear – Atomic Habits
Each task can be split into several work steps. Each of these steps should not take longer than two minutes to keep it as simple as possible. An example from my remote work for a customer on a Django web application:
- Boot the PC
- Launching the VPN
- Connecting to the Remote PC / Virtual Machine
- Launching the IDE
- Opening the e-mail mailbox (task description)
- If necessary, analysis of the bug in the live version of the web application (> 2 min)
- Implementation & testing on local host (> 2 min)
Most of these steps take a maximum of 2 minutes. Thus each single task becomes easy & manageable & one tends much less to postpone the big task for hours / days. The steps that take longer than 2 minutes can also be split into smaller subtasks that vary depending on the task.
„Automate your habits. Invest in technology and onetime purchases that lock in future behavior.“James Clear – Atomic Habits
As a final tip in this chapter, James Clear gives you a suggestion that you can keep your habits in everyday life long term by making investments. For sports you can simply invest in comfortable sportswear or a fitness membership in a nearby fitness centre. But how can this be implemented in everyday life as a computer scientist? In my everyday life, for example, this would be the annual investment in the Chrome Extension Momentum-Dash, with which I can easily organize my To Dos. When I open a new tab in Chrome, these To Dos are displayed each time, which would make it difficult to 'accidentally' forget them. The same applies to other programs that keep you on track, make your work easier (third law), or more attractive (second law).
In my opinion, not all four or three laws can necessarily be applied simultaneously to every (new) habit. With some habits it is much easier to make them attractive (second law) than easy (third law) or maybe it is even easier to make the habit obvious (first law). In my opinion, different goals require different approaches, but it is not wrong to check each approach for each goal. In the end, Atomic Habits is not magic either, because to achieve one's own goals one still needs a good portion of self-discipline & willpower.
The next blog post will deal with the fourth & last law "make it satisfying", which sustainably supports the success of the first three laws. In addition, there will be a final article on how to fight bad habits by inverting the laws.
Let me know how you like the series! Which goals do you want to tackle with it?