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James Clear

Success Habits: The Proven Way to Achieve Your Dreams

Listen to James Clear and Learn about the Proven Way to Achieve Your Dreams

“People want outcomes. They want to earn more money or lose weight or be more productive or reduce stress, but the outcome is not the thing that needs to change — it’s the system that precedes it.” – James Clear

It’s 8:00 AM and you walk into the office. Let’s say you get to work in the morning. You say hello to your coworkers and make your way toward your desk. But before you get there, you walk by the box of doughnuts left out every morning for employees to have for a breakfast treat.

You really want to lose a few pounds, but those doughnuts look awfully good. So, you take one. For a minute, it tastes great! You enjoy that sweet, sugary goodness and go about your day.

But soon, the guilt sets in. We’ve all been there — me included! You start to feel bad about indulging in that doughnut, because even though it tasted really delicious for a minute, you know it didn’t help you lose any weight.

Maybe then you resolve to do better tomorrow. You tell yourself you’re going to resist that temptation and stick with a healthier breakfast. You’re going to walk right by that box of doughnuts and not look back!

But then you get back to work the next morning… and you just can’t help but take a delicious doughnut because 1) they’re delicious and 2) they’re free.

You’ve gotten into a bad habit. Now, maybe this scenario doesn’t sound exactly like yours, but we’ve all got bad habits we’re trying to break. For some of us, it’s unhealthy foods like doughnuts. But for others of us, it’s spending too much time bingeing TV on
Netflix. Maybe it’s staying up too late. Maybe it’s letting your bedroom get too messy.

Whatever your bad habits are, I’m not judgin’! Bad habits can be really hard to break, and good habits can be really difficult to develop. But it can be done, I promise you. My guest today is here to tell all you School of Greatness listeners exactly how.

Who Is James Clear?

James Clear is a researcher and expert writer on the subject of habits — both good and bad! He writes a weekly newsletter at jamesclear.com that reaches almost half a million readers. He provides his audience with fresh ideas on how to live a healthy life, both mentally and physically, so I’m really excited about this James Clear podcast episode.

James Clear’s new book, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones is an awesome source of information, and it’s been many years in the making. In fact, James Clear told me about how this book (and his writing career as a whole) is really the result of his taking his own advice.

“Early on I had a feeling … I’m like, ‘Who am I? I’m just a guy, who am I to write about this?’ And I had a friend tell me, ‘The way you develop expertise is by writing about it every week.’ So I wrote a new article about habits every Monday and Thursday for three years, and that was how I developed the expertise on the topic — by writing about it.” – James Clear

James Clear realized that habits are a big part of our life. They can help us to become the person we want to be. But they can also hurt us, and make it harder to reach our goals.

James Clear has also worked hard to approach his study from a unique perspective. A lot of self-help books and podcasts focus on the “how” of our habits. How can we overcome them? How can we motivate ourselves to change our bad habits and reinforce our good ones? On the other hand, a lot of more academic and scientific resources deal with the “why” of our habits. They explain the science behind the way our brains work and how our biological processes influence our actions.

James Clear’s approach combines the two. He really wants his audience to have an understanding of why their brains form the habits they do and what we can do about it.

“It’s a combination of me reading the scientific literature and reading the research and then trying to distill practical insights from that and testing things in real life as a weightlifter, a travel photographer, a writer, an entrepreneur, and seeing what that looks like and then putting the two together. I think you need both.” – James Clear

James Clear set out to learn everything he could about how habits are made and broken. He’s collected a lot of great knowledge over his years of research and writing. And today, he’s here to share that information with you.

“Master the art of showing up.” @JamesClear  

Habit and Identity: Become the Person You Want to Be

To get started, James and I talked about what exactly our habits are and how they’re formed. He likes to compare our habits to the idea of compound interest.

“‘Habits are the compound interest of self improvement.’ So, the same way that compound interest accrues through finance, the effects of your habits multiply over time.” – James Clear

So whatever our habits are, their effects tend to get bigger and bigger over time. That’s why the more often we allow ourselves to indulge in sugary treats, the more we gain weight. That’s also why the more we get out to the gym, the easier it is to make time for that workout.

But why are some bad habits so much easier to fall into than good habits? Turns out, James had a really great answer to that, too:

“And that’s actually a crucial point that I cover in the book, which is: Habits that are immediately satisfying are more likely to be repeated. And so, pretty much any behavior produces outcomes across time. Like, if you eat a doughnut right now, it’s tasty and sugary, but in the long run, you gain weight. And so the immediate outcome is favorable, the long term outcome is unfavorable.” – James Clear

So, if we tend toward behaviors that feel good immediately, how can we build habits that will have better long-term effects? We all want to be the kind of people who make healthy eating choices, keep our rooms clean, and exercise a little every day. But if those things are less fun immediately, then how can we motivate ourselves to do them? Can we change our thinking so that we get that immediate satisfaction from making healthy decisions?

James thinks so. He says:

“I talk about this concept I call ‘identity based habits,’ and, essentially, the ultimate form of immediate gratification is the reinforcement of your desired identity. So, you go to the gym, and you’re reinforcing the identity of, ‘I’m the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts,’ … so you want reinforcements that align with your principles and values.” – James Clear

So according to James, the key to building good habits is to change our thinking a little bit. We may think that the immediate outcome of eating a doughnut is more fun. We think that a sugary treat will make us happy. But if we realize that by eating that doughnut we’re reinforcing the identity of someone who doesn’t make healthy eating choices… well, that will make us feel worse.

If, instead, we have a nice healthy breakfast, we’re reinforcing the identity of a person who makes healthy choices. That’s the desired identity, right? So if we realize that making good choices will immediately make us feel good about the identity we’re reinforcing for ourselves, we can get that instant gratification and keep building those good habits to become exactly who we want to be!

The Five Best Habits

So what are some good places to start? James and I talked through his top five non-negotiable habits, and I think they could be really helpful for all of us.

The first habit James mentioned was exercising. Maybe that’s not a big surprise to you, but it is still super important. Now I know James likes to do a lot of strength training, but for you it might be something different. You might like running or bicycling or dancing or something else! The important thing is that you’re moving and getting a “physical outlet,” as James says.

Now, this next good habit is a big deal, and even though James didn’t mention it first, he did call it the “ultimate habit” …

“The ultimate habit is reading, because if you build a habit of reading, you can solve pretty much any other problem. You want to learn to be a better podcaster? You can read about that. … And so what you need is to develop a habit of reading, and then, whatever problem you’re facing at the time, you have a method for solving that.” – James Clear

Reading is a big deal. Just like you have to exercise your body, you have to exercise your mind, and reading is a great way to do that. Making just a little bit of time every day to read a book is an awesome habit to build.

Right alongside that is James’ third non-negotiable habit: writing. Remember that James only became an expert on the subject of habits by reading up on them and writing his newsletter every week. He exercised his mind and gained a lot of knowledge, just by developing those great habits.

The fourth major habit for James is going for a walk every day. And this is different from daily exercise. Exercising is about really working out your body and trying to improve your physical fitness. This daily walk that James mentioned is more about getting outside and clearing your head.

“Well, you see this with anybody who does creative work, in particular, there’s just something about getting outside and walking. … when your body is moving, it’s very hard for you to not be active mentally.” – James Clear

So get in the habit of going outside just a few minutes a day and taking a nice walk! And if the weather is bad, take a walk around your office building or even just around your house. Getting your body moving is a great way to stay mentally active so you can keep bringing your best to your work.

And finally, James’ last non-negotiable habit: sleep. James says, “my cardinal rule is that I don’t cheat myself on sleep.” Seriously, getting those eight hours can make a huge difference in your productivity and well-being. Make it a habit to get to bed and wake up on time.

So How Can You Get Started?

So we’ve talked about how we can change our thinking and about some great habits we can all go ahead and get started building in our lives, but what are some practical things we can do right now?

Of course, James had a couple of really great pieces of advice.

One thing that’s incredibly important as you’re trying to start and reinforce good habits as a community. Check out what James says:

“So the key, I think, is to join a group where your desired behavior is the normal behaviour and you already have something else in common with that group.” – James Clear

James used Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness as an example. Steve runs a community for people who want to get in shape and who also have a shared excitement for things like Star Wars and Batman. The people in the Nerd Fitness community are already friends because they bond together over their shared favorite movies and comics, so they can be really mutually encouraging as they get in shape.

This idea can work no matter what good habit you’re trying to get into. Are you trying to go to the gym more often? Find a group of people from your workplace or school who like to work out and go with them. You’ll make some great friends and have people holding you accountable to your new habits.

The other you can do is make the new habit “frictionless,” to borrow a word from James. Let me explain: James says that the best way to get a new good habit going is to simply to make it easy.

“… the easier a habit is, the less friction there is associated with the habit, the more likely you’re going to be able to do it. … Make it as easy as possible.” – James Clear

Now, there are a ton of ways to make good habits as easy to start as possible. One is to follow James’ “Two-Minute Rule.” That’s where you should down scale your expectations to whatever you can do in two minutes. James uses the example of someone who wants to develop a habit of running. That person might make it a goal simply to spend two minutes putting on some good running shoes and stepping outside… any actual running is extra. That way, the goal is set low, and the person is less likely to become discouraged and abandon the habit of running.

James says that you can also optimize your environment to support your new habit. Let’s go back to the example I used in the beginning. Let’s say that every day you walk by an open box of doughnuts on your way to your desk. But what if you took a different route to your desk? Or kindly asked that the doughnuts be placed in a kitchen area or in a different area of the room? What if you walked into work carrying your healthy breakfast, already ready to eat? That way, you’ll be less tempted to take one of those unhealthy doughnuts, and you’ll be reinforcing a healthy habit.

Why You Should Listen Right Now…

We all have things we wish we did more often. Maybe you want to become a painter, but it’s hard to make time to pull out the paints and canvas every day. Maybe you really enjoy running, but you find it tough to put on those sneakers and get outside.

And whatever it is that you want to do, I’m sure that you, like me, have experienced discouragement. It’s too easy to try something, to tell ourselves we just have to have enough grit, enough motivation, enough willpower… but eventually we run out of steam. Or maybe you don’t burn out, and you do eventually achieve your goal… but then old habits set back in, and you undo all that great progress you made.

Here’s what James Clear says about that:

“So it’s like treating a symptom without treating the cause, and habits are a better solution in that case. Because if you fix the inputs, the outputs fix themselves automatically, right? You don’t have to fight to have a clean room if you have clean habits.” – James Clear

Are you tired of setting goals and trying to achieve them by willpower alone? Ready to kick some old bad habits and develop the new good ones you need to be the greatest you can be?

Me too. Join me on Episode 701 with James Clear to learn how.

 

To greatness,

Lewis Howes - Signature

“You don’t rise to the levels of your goals, you fall to the levels of your systems” @JamesClear  

Some Questions I Ask:

  • Who is your core audience? (7:52)
  • What are your five nonnegotiable habits? (12:29)
  • What are the systems you’ve made to be successful? (16:24)
  • How many days does it take to set a habit? (18:20)
  • What makes you an expert on habits? (20:27)
  • Why do some people make progress losing weight then gain the weight back? (36:11)
  • If you were coaching someone, what would you say to them to get started? (42:26)

In this episode, you will learn:

    • The definition of Identity-Based Habits (9:46)
    • Why walking is important for creative people (14:26)
    • James’ Cardinal Rule (15:42)
    • The four stages all habits go through (23:37)
    • How our tribe affect our habits (26:10)
    • How the Two Minute Rule can help you reach your goal (31:52)
    • The downside of having good habits (45:59)
    • The one habit that alludes James (52:32)
    • Plus much more…

Connect with
James Clear

Transcript of this Episode

Lewis Howes:                 This is episode number 701, on Creating Success Habits with James Clear.

Welcome to The School of Greatness. My name is Lewis Howes, former pro-athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now, let the class begin.

Aristotle said that, “Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” And Vince Lombardi said that, “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately so is losing.”

Welcome, my friends, to The School of Greatness Podcast were we bring you the most inspiring ideas, people and stories to help you unlock that potential within you. And habits has been something that has transformed my life, as a young athlete, learning how to become a better athlete.

Those habits of waking up early and working out and doing the things that I didn’t want to do early on, those were the things that made me into a better athlete, that helped me achieve my goals, that helped me transition from sports into school, and school into a professional career and building a business and everything.

Habits are a part of my daily life. From the moment I wake up, to my afternoons, to my evening, I’ve got specific habits that I do on a daily basis, that are non-negotiable for me. They really anchor me into achieving the life that I dream of, into creating the things that I want and, without them, I would not be here.

So, habits are a must if you want to unlock your potential. James Clear writes at jamesclear.com, where he shares about using behaviour science to improve your performance and master your habits. He has close to a half a million weekly newsletter readers, and provides his audience with fresh ideas on how to live a healthy life, both mentally and physically.

In this interview, we talk about how habits are the key to becoming the person you want to be. James shares his five non-negotiable habits, from his years of research. We also talk about ways you can start small with your habits, so they aren’t too overwhelming. And he shares ways you can increase your willpower.

This is going to be a powerful one, because habits are such a hot topic, because they work. And if you’re not developing good habits in your life then you have bad habits and bad routines.

And, as Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing,” so if you don’t feel like you’re improving and growing in your career or your business, or your health, or your relationship, or spirituality; if you don’t feel like you’re growing in your life, you’ve got to take a look at your habits, because you probably don’t have good habits, and that’s why you might feel like you’re suffering, struggling, anxious, overwhelmed, or losing at the thing you’re doing.

And we’re going to get into all this and reveal the answers that you can apply to your life, right now.

But before we dive in, I want to give a big thank you to our sponsor, Audible. Now Audible books are a great thing to help you continue learning.  It’s actually a great habit to be using audiobooks, or reading in general.

Listening is a better way to binge content you love, while doing the things you love. And Audible has the largest selection of audiobooks on the planet which lest you fill your time with the things that you love to do.

I’m a big fan of The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Beep, by my friend, Mark Manson, and if you’ve listened to episode 524, you’ll love learning more about Mark’s book. I also like The Five Second Rule, by Mel Robbins. I also love Rachel Hollis’ new book, Girl, Wash Your Face.

These are some books you can check out right now, and Audible members get a credit each month, good for any audiobook in their store, regardless of price. Unused credits roll over to the next month. If you don’t like your audiobook, you can exchange it, no questions asked. Plus, you keep the books that you get.

You could start your 30-day trial, and your first audiobook is free, guys. Go take them up on this offer, this is amazing! Go to audible.com/greatness, or text, ‘greatness’, to 500-500.

A big thank you, today, to our sponsor, PayPal. Now, when I started out my business online, I used PayPal, and it has helped me grow my business significantly. Walid grew up in the desert of Saudi Arabia, and after emigrating to the United States, Walid wanted to share the health benefits of one of his favourite beverages from home, camel milk, with the rest of the world.

From the beginning, he counted on PayPal, as well, to grow his business. While happy camels were what made his product so flavourful and nutritious, PayPal helped him increase conversion rates and turn his shoppers into buyers.

And today, Desert Farms has over 80,000 subscribers around the world. His customer base is growing every day, and when it comes to growing your business, PayPal is your payment partner for today and tomorrow.

Visit paypal.com/growth to set up a business account today, and you can sign up for free right now. Again, it’s something I use in my business every single day, to help  me grow, and it can help you grow as well. Go to paypal.com/growth today.

Again, a big thank you to our sponsors and, as always, make sure to take a screenshot of this episode while you’re listening and share it with a friend. Text three friends right now, the link, which is lewishowes.com/701 or just grab the link over on iTunes that you’re listening to the podcast app, or spotify, and put that direct link in your text message to a couple of friends or post it on your Instagram story, and tag me, @LewisHowes.

And without further ado, let’s dive into this episode on the proven way to build life changing habits, with James Clear.

Welcome, everyone, back to The School of Greatness Podcast, we’ve got James Clear in the house! Good to see you, man

James Clear:                    Good to talk to you.

Lewis Howes:                 Good to reconnect! I think we met in, like eight to nine years ago, originally.

James Clear:                    Yeah, I was just telling someone this story. It was in Ohio, we’re both Ohio boys. I had a website for like two weeks. It was a good way for me to learn stuff, but yeah, that was my very first website.

Lewis Howes:                 And you told me your story, about the first webinar that you and Shaun did, and afterward you went and jumped on a trampoline because you were so happy with how it went.

James Clear:                    Exactly! Yeah! That was back in the day, man!

Lewis Howes:                 You’ve grown a ton since then. That was when you were just starting out, now you have almost a half a million subscribers to your newsletter. You’ve got a book that’s coming out right now, called, ‘Atomic Habits: An Easy And Proven Way To Build Good Habits And Break Bad Ones.’

And you’ve done so much over the years with, what you were just saying, is science based research. What else was it, again?

James Clear:                    Science, evidence based, and highly actionable. It’s got to have both those. I want science based ideas, but I also want them to be practical and easy to implement. Either one is useful, but if you have them both together, it’s a really powerful combination.

Lewis Howes:                 And you sort of got started in, what, personal finance, and personal development?

James Clear:                    Yeah, personal finance was never really a big part of my story, although I find it interesting for myself. I wrote about small business marketing and stuff early on, and then I transitioned after I learned how to build an e-mail list.

I transitioned to jamesclear.com, which is what I’ve been doing for the last five or six years, now, and that’s been mostly focused on performance, strength training, productivity, and really just habits in general, and how we can use them to live better lives.

Lewis Howes:                 Who would you say is your core audience? Is it entrepreneurs, is it just everyday individuals looking to improve their life?

James Clear:                    It started, and there were pockets of people that were really interested. Like, I had a pocket of venture capitalists and investors that were really interested.

Lewis Howes:                 Because you were doing business and marketing?

James Clear:                    Well one of the phrases I use – and I have this in the book – is that ‘habits are the compound interest of self improvement’. So, the same way that compound interest accrues through finance, the effects of your habits multiply over time.

And so, often, these choices that you make, these little 1% improvements, for you or against you each day, and they’re very easy to overlook on a daily basis, right? Like what really is the difference between eating a burger and fries or salad and chicken for lunch?

Lewis Howes:                 It tastes a whole lot better.

James Clear:                    Yeah!

Lewis Howes:                 It tastes amazing for a moment.

James Clear:                    And that’s actually a crucial point that I cover in the book, which is, habits that are immediately satisfying, are more likely to be repeated. And so, pretty much any behaviour produces multiple outcomes across time.

Like, if you eat a doughnut right now, it’s tasty and sugary, but in the long run, you gain weight, and so the immediate outcome is favourable, the long term outcome is unfavourable. With good habits, it’s often the reverse. Like, you can go to the gym right now and it takes effort, you sweat, you have to work hard, the immediate outcome…

Lewis Howes:                 You have to sacrifice your time for Netflix and chill, to go train.

James Clear:                    The immediate outcome is unfavourable, but the long term outcome, you’re in shape in a year or a month, or whatever, is favourable.

And so, the challenge for building good habits and breaking bad ones is, often, finding a way to pull the long term consequences of your bad habits in the immediate moment, so you feel a little bit of the pain right now and want to avoid it. And the long term rewards of your good habits to the immediate moment, so you have a reason to repeat it again in the future.

Lewis Howes:                 So, is it kind of like, “Okay, I’m going to go to the gym and eat doughnuts at the gym, so I feel good, but also realise this is going to hurt me long term.”?

James Clear:                    So, in the book, I talk about this concept I call ‘identity based habits’, and, essentially, the ultimate form of immediate gratification is the reinforcement of your desired identity. So, you go to the gym, and you’re reinforcing the identity of, “I’m the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts,” or, you show up to write and you’re reinforcing the identity of someone who writes every day.

And so you get a little bit of immediate satisfaction from being that person, and being aligned with your identity, your values, your principles, but you also get the long term rewards from showing up every day.

And so, what you don’t want is some kind of immediate reinforcement, like eating a doughnut at the gym, where you’re casting votes for two different identities. It’s like, “I showed up at the gym, I’m casting the vote for being they type of person who doesn’t miss workouts, type of person who’s healthy,” but then I eat a doughnut, so now I’m casting a vote for being an unhealthy person, so it kind of like washes out, right?

So you want reinforcements that align with your principles and values.

Lewis Howes:                 So you’re saying you have to form your identity first, is that what I’m hearing? Who you want to be?

James Clear:                    So, I think that your habits are the way that you embody an identity. So, each time you make your bed, you embody the identity of somebody who is clean and organised. Each time you go to the gym, you embody the identity of someone who is fit each time you sit down to write, you embody the identity of somebody who is a writer.

So you can sort of think of it as each behaviour casts a vote for the type of person that you want to become, and if you cast enough votes for that type of identity, you start to believe that about yourself. If you go to church for twenty years, you believe that you’re religious, you study Spanish every Tuesday, for thirty minutes, you believe that you are studious.

So, in that way, your habits provide evidence of your desired identity, and I think that that is probably the ultimate reason that habits are so important. It’s true, habits can help you earn more money, or be more productive, or lose weight, and all that stuff is great, but in addition to the external results that habits provide, they also shape your sense of self.

They are the engine, or the avenue, through which you learn to believe thing about yourself. Like, sometimes, people will say things like, ”fake it till you make it,” but fake it till you make it is asking yourself to believe something without evidence for it, and you can do that for a little while, you could do that for a day or a week, but eventually…

I mean, there’s a word for beliefs that don’t have evidence – delusion. And if you’re deluding yourself, then eventually you give up on that. But the power of doing a better habit each day, or casting a better vote for that type of person, is that, now, you have evidence to root your belief in.

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah, like, “Now I’ve done it for six months,” yeah.

James Clear:                    Yeah, I mean, like now, you have a lot of evidence that you’re a podcaster, or a good interviewer. You do this over and over again; each time, you cast a vote for believing that about yourself, and you aren’t delusionally believing that you’re a good interviewer, it’s because you’ve shown up and done it hundreds of times.

And so, I think that that’s true for any habit, large or small, that they provide evidence of the desired identity or the type of person that you are.

Lewis Howes:                 What are the five non-negotiable habits for you, on a daily basis?

James Clear:                    Oh, that’s a good question. So, obviously this is going to depend on your goals. For me, specifically, I think there are a few core habits that are going to serve everybody and certainly serve me well, so, exercise is a huge one. I don’t do it daily, but I train four times a week. And I can honestly say that if I didn’t exercise, I don’t know that I would be an entrepreneur.

I don’t know if I could handle the psychological rollercoaster without the physical outlet.

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah, the release.

James Clear:                    You probably feel that, as an athlete, too? You know, like, after being an athlete for so many years, I feel like I need to push myself physically in addition to mentally. If it’s just mental, it doesn’t do it for me, I need to have physical outlet.

Lewis Howes:                 So, exercise.

James Clear:                    Exercise is one. The ultimate metahabit, is reading. Because, if you build a habit of reading, you can solve pretty much any other problem. You want to learn how to be a better podcaster, you can read about that’; you want to learn how to meditate, you can read about that; you want to learn how to make more money, you can read about that.

And so, what you need, is to develop a habit of reading, and then, whatever problem you’re facing at the time, you have a method for solving that.

Writing, for me, is huge. I don’t actually know what I think about something, until I write about it.

Lewis Howes:                 Aha! What your ideas are, you get it out.

James Clear:                    If you ask me something right now, that I haven’t written about before, what is really happening is, I’m just talking my emotions. So, what I mean is, you’ll ask me something, and I’ll get an implicit feeling about what that topic is. I’ll have some intuition or a gut feeling about it, and I’ll say whatever that feeling is driving me to say.

But I don’t actually know if that is what I really think, or what I deeply think, until I have the time to sit down, to write it out, logically go through it. Because, a lot of the time, if you would ask me the same question next week, I might have a different feeling at that time, so then I’m talking different emotions.

So I think I actually need to have time to sit with it a little bit and write it through to know what I actually think.

Lewis Howes:                 Okay, so writing through it. Exercise, reading, writing.

James Clear:                    I don’t know, I would probably say that those are my main three. If I was going to pick five, and the other two that I would add, going for a daily walk, that would be a huge one. That’s one that I kind of aspire to, because I don’t do that every day. But every time I do, it really benefits me.

Lewis Howes:                 In what ways?

James Clear:                    Well, you see this with anybody who does creative work, in particular, there’s something about getting outside and walking. I think there’s –  this is just me spitballing, I don’t have science behind this idea – but when your body is moving, it’s very hard for you, one, to not be active mentally.

Like, think of somebody who’s shut down, mentally. What does their body language look like? They’re usually closed off, their arms [are crossed], they’re sitting, they’re not moving very much. Try to be closed off mentally, and be dancing, physically. It’s very hard to do.

If your body is moving like that, it’s really hard for you mind to be shut down. So that’s one thing, it kind of gets the juices flowing. The second thing, and this is where I’m spitballing, I don’t know if this is actually true, but I wonder about your non-conscious mind being like a bottleneck sometimes and so, if you’re moving, if you’re walking, it gives your non-conscious mind something to do.

So, it gets out of the way, and now you can actually have this stuff arise, or think in a different way than if you’re sitting. So, I don’t know.

Lewis Howes:                 Okay, so that would be the fourth thing.

James Clear:                    Sleep is the fifth one. And this is one that I actually am pretty good about, so my cardinal rule is that I don’t cheat myself on sleep. So if I stay up late and work till midnight, I’m going to sleep until eight or nine.

Lewis Howes:                 Sleeping in.

James Clear:                    Yeah, I’m not going to get up early, because I don’t want to cheat myself on that. But, yeah, I think that those are kind of the core things. It’s funny, sometimes people ask, “How can I double my productivity?” or something like that, and you’ll see articles like that all the time, like, “Follow this one five-minute trick to double your productivity.”

But the real answer to most of that is, get eight hours of sleep a night and exercise, don’t eat c**p and then instantly you have this boost of productivity and motivation.

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah, and energy.

James Clear:                    And the fundamentals are covering 90% of it.

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah, exactly. And you said that, you do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems. What are the systems you created to be successful beyond those core habits right there?

James Clear:                    Yeah, so, this is a really good question. I think, first I just want to talk a little bit about that point that you do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems. What do I mean by that?

So, often, when we set about to change something, or to achieve something, the first step is, almost always, setting a goal. And this is coming from someone, like, I was very goal oriented for a long time. I would set goals for the things I wanted to do in sports, the goals for the grades I wanted in class, the goals for how much money I wanted to make in my business.

And sometimes I would achieve those, but then sometimes I wouldn’t and so I had this question, like, clearly, I’m setting goals for both, so that can’t be the thing that determines it. And you see this a lot, that the winners and losers in a particular domain often have the same goals. Like, every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every job candidate wants to get the job.

So, if the winners and the losers have the same goal, then the goal cannot be the thing that distinguishes the two. And the thing that distinguishes them is the process, the system behind the goal. This is also important because achieving a goal often only changes your life for the moment.

Like, just taking a simple example, say you have a messy room, right? And you get motivated and you set the goal to clean your room. Well, you can do that in an hour, and now you have clean room, but if you don’t change the sloppy habits that led to a messy room in the first place, then you just end up with a dirty room again.

So, it’s like treating a symptom without treating the cause, and habits are a better solution in that case. Because if you fix the inputs, the outputs fix themselves automatically, right? You don’t have to fight to have a clean room, if you have clean habits.

And I think that’s true in a larger sense as well, right? People want outcomes, they want to earn more money or lose weight or be more productive or reduce stress, but the outcome is not the thing that needs to change, it’s the system that precedes it.

Lewis Howes:                 So, let’s bust the myth of how many days it takes to set a habit. Because there’s fourteen days, twenty-eight days, sixty days, a year. If you do something every single day, and maybe it changes for each person, but, what’s the science, or the statistics say about how long it takes to form a positive, or negative, habit, I guess?

James Clear:                    So 21 days is the thing you hear all the time, 30 days, 100 days, whatever.  Right now 66 days is making the rounds as the latest.

Lewis Howes:                 Is that another book? What was that book?

James Clear:                    Well, there was one study done that found that 66 days was the average for how long it takes and, as a rule of thumb, I don’t think it’s terrible. You should remind yourself, “Yeah, this is going to be months of work, it’s not going to just be something quick. But even within that study, the range was quite wide.

So if you did something simple, like drink a glass of water at lunch each day, it would take three weeks. If you did something more difficult, like go for a run after work every day, that would be seven or eight months. But I think, actually, that question, to begin with, there’s sort of a broken mentality behind it.

Lewis Howes:                 It’s the wrong question.

James Clear:                    Yeah, it is, because if you ask that question, the implicit assumption is, “When do I have to stop working?” or, “When is this done?”

Lewis Howes:                 And, “Is it automatic after a certain period of time?”

James Clear:                    Well, the honest answer to how long it takes to build a new habit is, “Forever.” Because if you stop, then it’s no longer a habit.

Lewis Howes:                 It’s a constant choice and a decision, right?

James Clear:                    I think people often look at habits as a finish line to be crossed, but it’s actually a lifestyle to be lived. And if you look at it as a lifestyle change, then you’re saying, “Okay, what’s something small and sustainable I can stick to?” Right? What’s something that can actually last over time?

So, it is true, that we become more automatic with practice. But this reveals another important point, which is that there is nothing about the amount of time elapsed that leads to habits being built. You could practice something once in thirty days, or you could practice it a thousand times.

What actually leads to a habit becoming automatic, and becoming learned and ingrained is repetition. So, the phrase that I like to use is not, ’21 days to 30 days,’ but, ‘put in your reps.’ That’s the real thing. You need to practice. And if you put in your reps then your brain starts to automate how that process works.

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah. What makes you an expert on habits? Based on lots of other people that are talking about habits. Why are you talking about it differently and what have you discovered that’s different than everyone else?

James Clear:                    Okay, so two questions there. So the first one is expertise, and I think that – and I have said this many times before – I’m just going through this with everybody else. I consider my readers my peers, in the sense that we’re all just trying things out. The only difference is, I write about what I learn and share it each week, but we’re all just learning along the way.

Early on I had a feeling like that. I’m like, “Who am I? I’m just a guy, who am I to write about this?” And I had a friend tell me, “The way you develop expertise is by writing about it every week.” So I wrote a new article about habits, every Monday and Thursday, for three years, and that was how I developed the expertise on the topic, was by writing about it.

Lewis Howes:                 Right. You did research and you said, “Here’s what I found. Here’s what I tried. Here’s what worked, what didn’t work.”

James Clear:                    It’s a combination of me reading the scientific literature, and reading the research, and then trying to distil practical insights from that, and testing things in my life, as a weightlifter, a travel photographer, a writer, an entrepreneur, and seeing what that looks like. And then putting the two together.

I think you need both. I don’t want to be some New Age version of an academic who’s in an ivory tower just theorising about ideas. It’s different, what it looks like, to put ideas into practice, right? Like, imagine you’re a peak performance coach, and you show up to coach an NBA team, and these guys are like, “Dude! You need to step on the court, to see what it’s actually like.”

So you need to have both to have a firm understanding of that.

Lewis Howes:                 So, you’re researching and you apply it into your life and what was the second part of that?

James Clear:                    The second question, which I think is probably the more interesting one, which is: What makes my angle different? Or what makes this different?

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah, than every other book out there about habits.

James Clear:                    So, you can broadly put books about habits into two categories. The first category is what I’ll call motivation models. So, motivation models are about what sparks the behaviour, how do you get started, how do you get motivated?

The second category is what I’ll call reinforcement models, so, how does the habit stick? How does it last? Why do certain behaviours get reinforced? And sometimes books will touch on one, but focus primarily on the other. A lot of the time they’ll just kind of live in separate worlds.

That’s what I would say is happening in the self-improvement space. Then you have the academic space, so, psychology, neuroscience, or whatever, and a lot of those books are focused on the ‘why’, but not the ‘how’.

They’ll tell you why something happens, why a particular neuron fires, why your biological process works the way it does, but they don’t tell you how to implement it in your daily life. And so , what I wanted to do was kind of combine the two.

Lewis Howes:                 ‘Why’ and ‘how’.

James Clear:                    Yes. A book that is both ‘why’ and ‘how’. Why do habits form the way they do? Why are they important? And then, how do they actually work?  And my hope is that ‘Atomic Habits’ was able to do that, largely because of the framework that I put together.

So, in the book I lay out these four stages that all habits go through, and I felt like we needed the new model, because most of the models right now are either a motivation model, or a reinforcement model, but not both. And you need to understand what both sparks a habit and what makes a habit stick.

Lewis Howes:                 Maintains it, yeah.

James Clear:                    Yes. If you want to be able to understand how they work and how to make them last.

Lewis Howes:                 Right. And what are those four frameworks?

James Clear:                    So, the first stage of every habit is a cue, the second stage is a craving, or some kind of prediction that your brain makes – I’ll give you an example of these in a second – the third stage is the response, and then the fourth stage is the reward.

The question I had, that no model I could find, could solve in any good way, or explain in any good way, was, “Why can the same person respond to the same cue in a different way. So, let’s say you get into the habit of going to the gym at 5 o’clock every day.

But then, sometimes, work gets busy, and then you don’t go to the gym at 5 o’clock. Current models don’t explain that very well, because it’s like, “Well the cue is 5:00, you should be going to the gym right now.” The routine follows automatically after the cue.

Or, why does someone walk into the kitchen and see a plate of cookies and then they automatically want to eat it, but you could just as easily imagine that you just got done eating dinner in the other room, and you’re stuffed and you’re full, and you walk in, see a plate of cookies and you’re like, “I’m stuffed. I don’t want to eat anything.”

So what’s going on there? And I think these four stages explain it. Which is, you see the cue, or you experience a cue, and then your craving, or your prediction, differs based on your current state. So the way that you respond to the cues in your life, is contingent upon the current state that you’re in.

Lewis Howes:                 The way you’re feeling.

James Clear:                    Right. And also other things like your beliefs, your identity, the social group that you’re part of, right? So if you’re in a different group, then maybe you interpret things in a different way. You know, you can imagine one group, they practice a particular religion, they walk into a butcher’s shop and see pork, they’re like, “Oh, we can’t eat that.”

Another person walks in and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll have a pork sandwich,” because it’s obvious and easy and right there. So, what you choose is contingent upon how you interpret the cues in your life.

Lewis Howes:                 So how do we change what we interpret?

James Clear:                    Yes! Good question! Alright, so this is the key point in the book, which is that social norms – society leans heavily on us all. There are just broad examples of this.

Lewis Howes:                 Family pressure, religious pressure, media pressure, peer pressure.

James Clear:                    All kinds of stuff, yes. So, let’s say, just some broad examples, you walk into an elevator, and you turn around to face the front; you have a job interview and you wear a suit and tie, or a dress, or something nice; there’s no reason it has to be that way.

You could face the back of the elevator. You could wear a swimsuit to  job interview. But you don’t do that, because it violates the shared norms of the group. It violates the shared expectations of what that society has.

But that’s true not only in a broad sense, that we’re part of these tribes, like, big tribes; what it means to be a Christian, or to be American, or to be Australian, or whatever. But it’s also true in the small tribes that we belong to.

What it means to be a neighbour on this street, or a member of your local CrossFit gym, or to volunteer for a local organisation. All of those tribes, all of those groups that you belong to, have a set of shared expectations, a set of shared norms, and the key, if you want to build habits that last, if you want to change the way that you interpret cues, is to join a group where the desired behaviour is the normal behaviour.

There are plenty of people who, they want to work out, but going to the gym feels like a lot to them. It feels hard, it feels like a sacrifice, but there are also people who go to the gym every week, and it’s just normal. It doesn’t feel like an obligation. That’s the desired behaviour is the normal behaviour.

Lewis Howes:                 It’s their lifestyle.

James Clear:                    Right, same thing for musicians, right? If you want to learn an instrument, hang out with people who play all the time. If you hang out with a bunch of musicians, it’s like, “Well…”

Lewis Howes:                 “This is what we do all day.”

James Clear:                    Yeah, “We play four days a week,” or, “We play seven days a week,” because it just happens, that’s what the tribe does. The caveat to this, and the thing that I don’t see people mention a lot, is that the reason social norms influence our behaviour so much, is because we want to belong to the tribe. We want to be friends with those people.

And so, we don’t want to lose the friendship, or lose belonging, over violating the norms.

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah, you’re not going to hang out with a bunch of vegans and have pork, and just be the only one eating that.

James Clear:                    Right! You won’t hang out with them for very long, because you aren’t going to be friends with them any more, right? They’ll kick you out.

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah, so you want to rise to the standard of that group, of that community.

James Clear:                    So, the key, I think, is to join a group where your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour, and you already have something else in common with that group. So, Steve Kamb is a good example of this. So Steve runs Nerd Fitness. All these people want to get in shape, who are coming into his community, but they also love Star Wars, or Batman, or Spiderman, or all these other things that nerds are into.

And, if you show up, it can be intimidating to want to get in shape or work out the first time, but if you can connect with the group over your mutual love of Star Wars, then you’re like, “Oh, I’m friends with these people, and now I also want to pick up those other habits with them, because I want to belong with the group, because we’re already friends.

And so, I think you can apply that methodology to most new tribes that you join. Don’t just join a new tribe because they have the desired behaviour, also try to find a way that you can overlap with them. Find some shared context.

Lewis Howes:                 Some other stuff, too, yeah.

James Clear:                    That you can bond over, and then it’s easier to adopt the habits.

Lewis Howes:                 Like musicians who like to be healthy. If you want to do both, right? It’s like finding that sub-group.

James Clear:                    It’s like, “Hey, we love playing music, and then, also, you’re going to start eating better, because we all want to eat healthy.”

Lewis Howes:                 Exactly, yeah. Interesting. Okay, so that’s the second part of the cue and then the desired habits, right? The craving?

James Clear:                    Cue, craving, response, reward.

Lewis Howes:                 Okay, what’s the response?

James Clear:                    So, this is mostly about making it easy. This is the habit itself, and the easier a habit is, the less friction there is, associate with the habit, the more likely you’re going to be to do it.

So, the way that I like to describe this, imagine you have a hose, right, and there’s a bend in the middle and there’s a little bit of water trickling out. If you want to increase the amount of water going through the hose, you have two options.

You could either crank up the valve, and force more water through, or you could just remove the bend and let it flow through naturally. And a lot of the time, advice is centred on cranking up the valve, it’s like you need to try harder, you need grit, you need perseverance, you need motivation, you need to overcome the obstacles in your life.

And all those things are fine, but I think they’re all short-term solutions. You might be able to do that for a day or a week, but I’ve never, consistently, seen someone stick to positive habits in a negative environment. It’s really hard to fight that day in and day out.

So, the solution, I think, is to reduce friction, and there are a ton of ways you can do this. One way is just to scale the habit down. Make it as easy as possible. So, people have heard things like this before, “Start small, small steps,” whatever, but even when you know you should start small, it’s still really easy to start too big.

So, say you want to get in shape, so you say, “I want to run a couple of days a week, so I know I should start small, so I’ll only run for fifteen minutes.” But even that is like way bigger than what I’m talking about.

I mean, it should be so small, that you – in the book I call it the two-minute rule – you should downscale any habit to fit into two minutes. So it’s like, “Alright, I want to go for a run three days a week. My habit is, I put on my running shoes and I step out the door. Anything that happens after that is just bonus.”

Lewis Howes:                 Is a success.

James Clear:                    Now, sometimes people resist that, because they say, it sounds kind of like a mental trick, right? Like, I know the real goal isn’t just to put my shoes on, I know the real goal is to go for a run. So, if you feel that way, my suggestions would be, only do the first two minutes for the first few weeks.

Because what you need to do is master the art of showing up. Like, I had a reader who ended up losing over 100lb, and one of the things that he did is, he went to the gym, but he wasn’t allowed to stay for longer than five minutes.

So, he would show up, be there, do like, half an exercise, five minutes later, he’d leave. He did this for, like, six weeks. Now, it sounds ridiculous, it sounds silly.

Lewis Howes:                 It’s like, “Just work out for a half hour.”

James Clear:                    Yeah, yeah, yeah! But what he was doing, was mastering the art of showing up. And a habit must be established before it can be improved. If you don’t establish the habit, there’s nothing to optimise. If you’re not showing up at the gym every day, who cares about what work out you’re doing, you’re not even there.

Lewis Howes:                 Don’t start running an hour a day, if you’ve never run in a  long time.

James Clear:                    Be the person who shows up and puts their running shoes on every day, before you’re worrying about how far you’re running or what kind of workout you’re doing and all that type of stuff.

Lewis Howes:                 Establish the art of showing up, first, before going all in on the desired goal you want.

James Clear:                    I think that’s right. I mean, you can find examples of people who flip a switch and transform their lives or have an epiphany and do it overnight, but I think it’s rare. I think that the more sustainable strategy, the more viable strategy, is to scale it down to the first two minutes, focus on that, establish it, master the art of showing up, and then go from there.

So, usually, when people think of building better habits, they optimise for the finish line. It’s like, “How much weight do I need to lose? How much money do I need to make? When can I finish this book?” It’s all focused on the result.

But, I think, instead, if you optimise for the starting line, make it as easy as possible to start, scale it down, organise your environment, so all that stuff is set up. That’s another strategy for making it easy, that you can prime your environment to make the future action easier.

Like, if you chop up a bunch of vegetables and fruit on Sunday, it’s now easier to have a healthy snack during the week. If you set your workout clothes out the night before, it’s now easier to get into the workout the next day.

But doing all that stuff, to make it easy to show up, that is probably the more important piece early on. There’s also all these logistical details for building a habit, that nobody thinks about in the beginning.

Lewis Howes:                 Like what?

James Clear:                    Well, like, take the example of my reader who went to the gym. It’s like, “Okay, what gym are you going to go to? How are you going to get there? Are you going by yourself, or are you going to go with a friend?”

Lewis Howes:                 “What time are you going to go?”

James Clear:                    Yeah, “What time are you going to go?  Are you going to have your own water bottle, or is there a water fountain at the gym?” And that stuff sounds silly and small, but when someone’s starting…

Lewis Howes:                 It takes up a lot of mind space, yeah.

James Clear:                    The fact that, like, the gym doesn’t have a water fountain and I always forget to bring my own, that’s enough friction for someone to quit. So, but focusing on just the first two minutes, you figure all that stuff out, and then, once you’ve got that piece mastered, now you can worry about how long the workout is, and what program to do, and all that stuff.

Lewis Howes:                 So, figuring out the logistics, first, is an important step.

James Clear:                    I think that’s something that just comes naturally with scaling a habit down. If you figure out what’s required to show up, because you’re not worried about the results or the outcome or how long you worked out or judging yourself. You know, for running thirty minutes when you should have run forty-five, or whatever.

Lewis Howes:                 Got it. Okay. So this is the response still?

James Clear:                    Right.

Lewis Howes:                 Okay, and what’s the fourth?

James Clear:                    The fourth one, and this is crucial for getting a habit to stick, is the reward, or the outcome. So, every behaviour is followed by some kind of outcome, it’s just basic cause and effect, and if the immediate outcome is favourable, is enjoyable, you have a reason to repeat it in the future. It’s kind of like…

Lewis Howes:                 Doughnuts.

James Clear:                    Yeah, exactly, right?

Lewis Howes:                 It’s like that example.

James Clear:                    If you feel good, if you feel satisfied, right after you do something, then it’s like this positive emotional signal, and it’s like, “Yeah! I should do this again!” So, you can see this actually in business, there’s a really interesting example with this.

There are a lot of products, some of the most successful products, have some type of immediate satisfaction that is layered into them. So, toothpaste is a very common example. There’s not reason that toothpaste needs to taste like mint, but it does, because the minty flavour and the refreshingness of it, it gives your mouth this clean feel, it’s more satisfying, so it gives you a reason to do it in the future.

I heard an interesting one recently about car manufacturers, that some of them are adding a fake guttural roar to the car or the truck, when you press the accelerator, because it just adds to the actual natural sound of the engine so it makes it more satisfying to step on the gas, and to drive the car.

So, there are a variety of examples like this, but the key is, it needs to be immediate. In the book I refer to this as the cardinal rule of behaviour change, which is, “Behaviours that are immediately rewarded get repeated. Behaviours that are punished get avoided.”

And it’s really about the speed, of how quickly you feel successful. If you feel good, you have a reason to do it again.

Lewis Howes:                 Is that why video games do so well?

James Clear:                    Video games are masters at this. They’re masters at it. So, masters, actually, at a variety of aspects related to habit formation. So, one is, they’re really good at this immediate satisfaction, there are all kinds of things. You’re actually constantly getting feedback in the video game.

Even if you’re just running, you hear the pitter-patter of the steps. That’s feedback. The jingles of picking up another power up, or seeing a kill, or something like that. Whatever the game is, you’re always getting constant feedback. Sound, things that are on screen, they’re really good at immediate feedback. Or watching the score increase in the top corner, that is immediate feedback.

They have all these different ways of making you feel satisfied, and when you see that progress, you have a reason to continue in the future. This is one of the most effective forms of immediate satisfaction, is progress. As soon as you feel progress, you have a reason to continue. It feels really good to see that you’re making headway.

Lewis Howes:                 Now, what if some people make all this progress, let’s say they lose the weight, they lose 100lb, but then they gain it back, two years later. They’ve got this progress, they achieved it as their goal, but then how come it didn’t stick?

James Clear:                    That’s a good question. That means it’s a complicated thing, a hard thing, but I’ll give a couple of potential reasons. One is that is comes back to the social norms that I mentioned before. There’s the story that I tell in the book about American soldiers during the Vietnam war.

So, they were over in Vietnam, and these two congressmen went over, and found out that the heroine usage among the troops was incredibly high. It was like, at first they thought it was 10% or 15%, but then they found out it was actually over 20%. So, one in five troops is addicted to heroine or trying heroine, using it while they were there.

And they were like, “This is a huge problem, we need to figure this out. So they created this whole committee to investigate things, or whatever. And eventually, the war ends, and the soldiers come back, and what they were shocked by is that 90% of the soldiers who were addicted to heroine in Vietnam, were not addicted to it when they returned.

And the main reason, and it makes so much sense, but it upended our understanding of addiction at the time, they completely changed the context, right? In Vietnam, they’re in a war zone, they’re highly stressed, they’re surrounded by other users, heroine is present and easy to get. They come home, they’re in a totally new environment.

It’s not a war zone any more, they’re not surrounded by other users, they don’t really know where to get heroine, so they have to figure that out, too. You layer all this stuff together, and suddenly it becomes much easier to not do that.

Where previously they thought it was an addiction, they were doing it for other reasons. This same thing is true, but usually in the reverse. Typically, you have an addict, who gets hooked on a drug, goes into rehab, this is the equivalent of leaving your environment behind, not having any of those triggers, but then you send them home to the same place they got addicted in the first place, right?

So now they’re surrounded by all their old friends, all the same cues, and it becomes very hard to resist that. And I wonder if, when people rebound from habits, when they’ve achieved some type of success, whether it’s losing weight or getting clean or whatever, it’s the return of the environment that causes a lot of that.

Lewis Howes:                 So you think that’s what it is?

James Clear:                    Well, I don’t know if it’s always that. I don’t think I can say it is universally, but I think that it definitely plays a role.

Lewis Howes:                 Because if we’re influenced by people’s pressure, either way.

James Clear:                    Yes, peer pressure can either be positive or negative.

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah, the communities we surround ourselves with, we rise to that community. If you’re around vegans all day and there’s only vegan food available, you’re going to eat, probably, mostly vegan. If that’s what you want. Or, if you’re trying to eat healthier, and you’re going back home and everyone’s eating doughnuts all day, that temptation is going to be hard to say no to after a month.

James Clear:                    You can do it for a little while, but it’s just really hard to do it long term.

Lewis Howes:                 So, environment is a huge factor, is what I’m hearing.

James Clear:                    I think both social and physical. We haven’t talked that much about physical environment, but that’s another key component. So, I’ll give you an example of a good habit and a bad habit. So, for good habits, you want the physical environment to make it obvious and easy for you to do the behaviour.

Lewis Howes:                 Like having a pull-up bar in your room if you’re trying to do a hundred pull-ups a day, right? Like, have it hanging over your door.

James Clear:                    As opposed to, even if you have one, it’s just in the closet. Because, even if you have time, you wouldn’t take it out.

Lewis Howes:                 Or it’s at the gym upstairs, or down the street.

James Clear:                    No. You know, I have a friend who wanted to practice guitar more, and so he left his guitar in the middle of his living room, just so he would walk past it a hundred times a day, then it becomes much easier, right?

Bad habits are the same way, but in reverse. Instead of making it obvious, you want to make it invisible, and take like, we were just talking about video games. A lot of people just feel like they spend too much time watching TV or playing video games or watching a screen, but if you walk into pretty much any living room, where do all the couches and chairs face? They all face the television.

So what is that room designed to get you to do?

Lewis Howes:                 Turn it on.

James Clear:                    Yeah. So, you can restructure that environment to make it less likely that you’ll fall into that habit. You could take the remote control and put it inside a drawer, so you don’t see it. You could put the television behind a wall unit or a cabinet so it’s less visible.

You could also increase the friction with the task, so you could unplug your TV after each use, and only plug it back in if you can say the name of the show that you want to watch. So you can’t just mindlessly pull up Netflix and just find something.

Or you could take the batteries out of the remote control so that it’s an extra five to ten seconds to turn it on, and maybe that’s enough time to be, like, “Do I really want to watch something right now? Or am I just doing this mindlessly?”

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah, if you really wanted to be extreme, don’t have a TV.

James Clear:                    Yes! You could get rid of the TV entirely, or take it off the wall and put it in the closet and only take it out when you really want to watch something.

Lewis Howes:                 For four years, when I lived in Columbus, I removed the TV for four years. I didn’t have a TV in my place, because I was like, “I want to earn money. I want to build my business, and I have nothing, so I need to work, I need to focus on this, to build the habit that I wanted for my business.

And it was the best thing for me, because I would spend hours just mindlessly watching. And now it’s like, “Okay, if I want to watch something, I’m going to go to the sports bar and watch the game. I’m going to go to a friend’s house and watch this specific thing. Or I’m going to go to the movies and take a break.” As opposed to three hours a day of TV.

James Clear:                    Right! What’s brilliant about that, and it’s really good example is that we – I think about that a lot with phones as well – so, every day I try to leave my phone in another room, outside of my office, at least until lunch, because then I get a four hour block of time in the morning, where I can just work, without any distraction.

And it’s funny how quickly, like, if my phone was on me in the morning, I would check it every five minutes, or whatever, but when it’s out of the room I don’t even find myself wanting to. I never walk up the stairs to go check it, even though it’s only 30 seconds away.

So it’s interesting how little we actually want to do these things, but we just do them all the time because they’re obvious and easy. And I think the key is to invert that. Take the things that are the bad habits, the distractions, the procrastinations, the unproductive uses of time, and make them more invisible, reduce exposure and less easy to do.

And take the things that are good habits, and make it the equivalent of having your phone on you all the time. Make it here right in front of you, make it obvious, make it easy, make it frictionless.

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah. Do you write with your journal, or your computer?

James Clear:                    I write on the computer.

Lewis Howes:                 I write on Evernote, it’s got to be quicker. You know, to transfer later, and all those things.

Okay, if you were coaching someone who said, “I have no clue what I’m supposed to do with my life. I’m lost, I have all these bad habits, I smoke, I drink, I eat doughnuts every day, I have no job, my room is sloppy and I’m just depressed.” What would you say to them to get started with changing their life around in the form of better habits?

James Clear:                    Well, you just need to pick one thing, first of all. I just mentioned, like, a few minutes ago, one of the most powerful forms of motivation is progress. So seeing some progress, I mean, it could be as simple as making your bed each day, right?

But just doing that, embodying the identity of someone who is getting better, who is making progress, just pick one thing, and use that as – this is true, I mean, Lewis, you’ve probably seen this with a lot of people that you talk to – but habits are the foundation for mastery.

So, if you take a sport like basketball, you need to be able to dribble with both hands, without thinking, before you can worry about what strategy you’re running on offence, or what kind of strategic play you’re going to run, or what your defensive scheme is, or all that stuff.

You need to automate the fundamentals of the craft, before you can worry about the next level of performance. Same thing is true for chess. You need to know how the chess pieces move, automatically, without thinking about it, before you can get into, “Alright, what is my opponent going to do? And I’m going to do this and they’re going to do that.”

Lewis Howes:                 The strategy.

James Clear:                    And so I think this is true, not only at the peak levels of performance, that you integrate these habits and use habits as the foundation for the next level of performance, but also true when you’re getting started. Just build one small thing. Carve out a 1% change, a 1% improvement , and use that as a stepping stone to the next level.

Lewis Howes:                 What about self control? Because what if we had this desire for something, what’s the other word for self control?

James Clear:                    Willpower. Perseverance. Grit.

Lewis Howes:                 Willpower, yeah, what about willpower? How much willpower do we have?

James Clear:                    So, you hear this a lot. It’s very common, especially in self help, motivation, self improvement, you need to be motivated, you have to have willpower, grit and perseverance are huge and important. And it’s not that those qualities are not important, it’s just that the way to develop them is different than what most people think.

So, most people think, “I need willpower, so I should just try harder. There’s an interesting body of research, I mentioned it in the book, I think it’s in chapter seven, on self control and willpower, which is that the people who appear to have the greatest self control actually are just tempted the least.

So, they face temptations less frequently, and therefore have the reserves and the resources to resist it when it occasionally comes up. And I think this is actually the lever to pull, or the pressure point to push on, is that the way to get better willpower is to design an environment that tempts you less, not to say, “Let me just try harder.”

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah. Set yourself up to win. And you have a chapter that talks about the power of accountability partners. I talk about accountability and coaches all the time. I hire coaches for everything, because I use sports as my life, that culture for my life, and I know that I couldn’t have gotten to where I wanted to be as an athlete without great coaches, and accountability.

So, how important is accountability towards habits as well?

James Clear:                    Yeah, it’s huge, so I recently hired a power lifting coach who’s great. He’s worked with, like, twelve world champions and having him…

Lewis Howes:                 Is he in Columbus?

James Clear:                    He’s not based in Columbus, actually, but Columbus is great for strength culture. It’s, I mean, obviously there’s the Arnold and Westside Barbell, and a bunch of other stuff, so, yeah, it’s awesome.

But your point about coaches is a crucial one, which is that having a coach, forces you to be aware of things that you would otherwise overlook, right? Like, as you – this is what I call the down side of building good habits – which is, you build habits and, in the beginning, you develop fluency and skill and ability and things become easier.

But after a little while, once a habit has been established, the down side of having a habit is that you can do it good enough on auto-pilot, which means that you start to overlook your mistakes and not think about how to get better.

And so, what you need is a coach to keep you on that razor’s edge, so that you keep building habits, but it also forces you to stay aware of what the next level of performance is. And that’s kind of the challenge of continuous improvement. It’s like a cycle.

It starts with awareness. If you’re not aware of what your habits are or what your behaviour is, you don’t have a chance to change it. Then, from that awareness you go to deliberate practice, where you have to effortfully try and work to get better and, eventually, the thing that you were deliberately practising, becomes a habit and becomes automatic, but once it becomes automatic, that’s not the end, you have to return to awareness and see where you’re at now, and start the cycle again.

Lewis Howes:                 Huh! And what if you can’t afford a coach? How do you find the right accountability partner?

James Clear:                    That’s where I think we come back to the social component that we talked about earlier.

Lewis Howes:                 Join a group, join a community.

James Clear:                    That’s probably the best way to do it. And the great thing about the internet and the web is that you can find those people before, where you couldn’t find them, previously. You know, it used to be that you had to hope that the people in your local community or on your sports team or at your organisation, were also interested in the same things.

Now you can find those people in five minutes.

Lewis Howes:                 Anywhere online. Search engines. And what’s the down side of good habits?

James Clear:                    So, this is what I was mentioning with this fact that you start to overlook your mistakes. There was an interesting study that was done on surgeons, where they found that, early on, in residency, they were getting better, and then they continued to improve as they became a surgeon in practice for a few years, and then they hit some kind of peak.

And then their performance actually declined slightly, because they [start] overlooking their mistakes, or stop looking for ways to get better, and so, you need to be on that edge of paying attention.

My favourite example of this is actually a surgeon himself, Atul Gawandi, and he hired a coach, a previous surgeon who was retiring, to review the video of his surgeries and to tell him where he could improve, and what he could do better.

I think that’s a brilliant example of how to have a coach, even if you’re not in sports or a competitor or something. We can all benefit from feedback, and the tighter the feedback, it’s like, the faster you learn.

Lewis Howes:                 That’s powerful. I love it, man, this is powerful stuff! I’m going to ask you a couple of final questions. This one’s called, The Three Truths. If you can only share three lessons with humanity and the world, and no one, they didn’t have access to your writing or your blog or your books, but you only had three lessons you could share, what would those three lessons or Three Truths be?

James Clear:                    Yeah, that’s really tough. So, the first one, I would say, is about reading. I mentioned earlier that reading is this metahabit that helps you solve all your other problems, so I guess my lesson for reading would be, “Start more books. Quit most of them. Read the great ones twice.”

So, if you start more books, you’ll be exposed to more ideas. If you quit most of them, if you quit the ones that aren’t relevant to you, or aren’t that good, or just aren’t on a high quality bar, then you’ll have the chance to start even more, and when you find the great ones, read them twice because the advice in incredible and it’s potentially life changing.

Alright, so, the first one, I would say, is reading. The second one is something to do with physical movement and strength training. Every human has a body, and every human has a physical presence. So learn to use your body, in some way, to be more alive and experience what it’s like to be human.

If you just spend all day in your head, or all day staring at a screen, you only kind of get half of what it means to be alive. So I would say physical strength is another one.

And then the third one has to be something along the lines of community connection, serving others. I don’t know what exactly that would be. Personally, I have felt most engaged when I have been working on a shared mission with a group of people, face to face.

Which is interesting, coming from someone who, you know, my business is built online, I spend most of my time sending e-mails to half a million people, or whatever. But, I think, actually, I find more satisfaction and more purpose in connecting with people face to face.

So, maybe that would be it. Talk to someone face to face every day.

Lewis Howes:                 That’s cool. Yeah. Well, I want to acknowledge you, man, for all the work that you’re doing to make an impact on people. I think that your writing has helped transform lives, whether you know how impactful it is or not, but half a million people is a lot of people. And I know people are doing the action steps that you provide for them.

So, you constantly doing the work, constantly doing the research, and showing up for people, is making a big impact, so I acknowledge you for that.

Where can we get the book? And where can we follow you, and everything else?

James Clear:                    Yeah, thanks, man. So, the book is called ‘Atomic Habits: An Easy And Proven Way To Build Good Habits And Break Bad Ones.’ It’s at atomichabits.com. If you go to that page, there is a secret chapter that’s not included in the actual book.

There are some exercises and templates that help people kind of implement some of the ideas that we talked about, more. And I also have chapter by chapter audio commentary from me. Like, why I wrote this chapter, and what some of the research is behind it, and a variety of other resources. That’s actually just a few of the things.

But all of that stuff is available at atomichabits.com.

Lewis Howes:                 I like it, man! Yeah, you’ve got a lot of actionable things in here, which is really cool. And even more at atomichabits.com. So they can get it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and everywhere else as well, right?

James Clear:                    You’ve got it! Everywhere books are sold.

Lewis Howes:                 And your website, jamesclear.com?

James Clear:                    That’s right. They can subscribe there.

Lewis Howes:                 Are you on social media at all?

James Clear:                    Yeah, so if you go to jamesclear.com, you’ll see Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook on there and you can also just poke around in the articles. I have most of my writing organised by topic, or category, so people can just check out what’s interesting to them.

Lewis Howes:                 Do you hang out on social media at all, personally?

James Clear:                    I use Twitter, mostly, that’s the one that I’ve found most useful. Social media is kind of interesting, because the people you follow, it’s like creating your own little city, and so you get to choose who the citizens are. And you should be very careful about who you put in your city, because it changes what you’re exposed to all the time.

So, I just spend more time cultivating Twitter and who I’m following. And that really has changed… Like, I find it very useful now. I come across good ideas all the time. Instagram and Facebook I use less, but both can still be useful if you follow that same strategy.

Lewis Howes:                 Yeah, that’s cool! I like it, man. And when’s the book out? What’s the date? Can they pre-order right now?

James Clear:                    That’s right, it’s available now, launches on October 16th, yeah. I’m excited to share it with the world.

Lewis Howes:                 It’s going to be great, man. Final question for you, actually two final questions: What’s the one bad habit you wish you could break, for yourself?

James Clear:                    So, I’m working on new habits all the time, there’s always something. Currently, the one that keeps eluding me, it’s not sleep, sleep is not the problem, I sleep long enough. The problem is powering down early. So, it’s like I have trouble shutting off.

I don’t know if you feel this way, but I’m always interested in what I’m working on, and so then I get…  Although, usually, I work very well in the morning, and then I work really well late at night. I think that’s just when I’m not interrupted and I have the space to think.

But it’ll get to be ten and I’m like, “Oh, well, maybe I should just dig into that for a second.” And then, of course…

Lewis Howes:                 Three hours later…

James Clear:                    Yeah, exactly! Then I’m like, “I should have gone to bed two hours ago.” So, that’s one that I keep battling.

Lewis Howes:                 Okay, powering down, or finding down time. Okay, cool. The final question: What’s your definition of greatness?

James Clear:                    I think greatness is contributing your little bit to the world. That’s it. The thing that has advanced humanity over the broad span of time, is the collective knowledge that we’ve all accumulated, what we’ve added together.

It’s like it started out as a very small snowball and just keeps rolling on this endless hill, as humanity continues. And the accumulative knowledge gets bigger and bigger. There have been, I think the numbers are, there have been 107 billion people who have lived throughout history, and there’s seven billion alive right now.

So the dead outnumber the living 15 to 1. When you are born, you inherit all the lessons from those 107 billion people, right? Like, I have a little niece, she’s two years old. She’s going to be taught things in school that I was not taught. There’s a little, some stuff that I was taught we found out was wrong and now we got rid of it, and some stuff we learned that was new and right, and now we’re adding it.

And that’s true all the way down the line, right? Like, the next generation always gets too advanced based on this ever growing bundle of knowledge that we come up with. And so, if you, at some point throughout your life, can add just a little bit to that bundle, the rest of humanity is better for it.

Lewis Howes:                 James Clear, thanks, brother.

James Clear:                    Appreciate it. It was great.

Lewis Howes:                 Appreciate it.

Lewis Howes:                 There you have it, my friends! I hope you enjoyed this episode. It’s all about the habits. What are we doing with our time? How are we using it effectively? Or are we allowing our time to run us, by not using these habits.

Again, simple little things we can start doing. These little things all add up. Just start with one thing differently. Start with making your bed every morning. Spend three minutes making a great bed. Start with moving your body every day, going on a walk during lunch, drinking another cup of water. Do something different to help improve your life.

That’s what this is all about, building those habits to have a maximum impact on your life. If you enjoyed this, share it with your friends, lewishowes.com/701, tag me on Instagram, guys, I try to get as active as I can over there.

Take a screenshot, post it on your story, tag me @LewisHowes, get creative. When you guys get creative over there, I re-share your posts. Some of you noticed that. Keep getting creative with how you’re posting and sharing this out to your friends.

And all the show notes and full video interview are over at lewishowes.com/701.

Again, a big thank you to our sponsor, Audible. If you don’t have Audible, yet, go check it out right now. They have a special offer where you get a 30-day trial and your first audiobook is free, guys! You can go get lots of books, my books are on there, I read them myself. You’ve got Rachel Hollis’ book, you can go check out Atomic Habits, even, check them out right now.

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