The Guru of Habits – The Story of James Clear

At the start of each year, we tend to make new resolutions. By the end of the first month, these good intentions are usually put aside, and most of us continue with the way we were last year. We learn that new goals by themselves do not deliver better results. It is the giving up of bad habits and the setting and keeping of good habits that make for radical change.

There is great wisdom in the following sayings:

  • The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
  • Stephen Covey, the educator, and author wrote, “Habits are often unconscious patterns that express our character and produce our effectiveness or ineffectiveness.”

The challenge is that we all know the power of habits, but it is so challenging to give up bad ones and develop good new ones.

James Clear

James Clear is an American author and counselor. An athletic student, Clear enjoyed playing baseball. Then one day, when he was close to completing school, he was accidentally hit in the face by a baseball bat. He nearly died. A helicopter had to rush the unconscious Clear into a hospital. It took months for him to recover enough to go back home and gradually re-start school.

Initially, Clear found it difficult to cope, but then this tragic accident gave him the strength to introspect. He realized that he was responsible for making a positive change. He began to set and keep good habits. These were developed one small habit at a time, but these cumulatively made a huge change. Six years after his accident, he was selected as the best male athlete in his university and named to the ESPN Academic All America Team.

Clear says that his success is due to his learning the “critical lesson: changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years. We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits.”

Atomic Habits

Clear has become a guru at the strategy and techniques one can use to reduce or eliminate bad habits and to make good new habits. He has a blog and a best-selling book, “Atomic Habits,” where he explains what it takes to progress.

He has developed a four-step model for habits:

  1. Cue: This is a signal to begin a specific action. For example, in a bad habit, it could be walking past a sweet shop. For a good habit, it could be your alarm sounding at 5 am
  2. Craving: an intense and urgent desire. Having seen the sweet shop, a desire for gulab jamun might engulf you. Hearing the alarm, you are reminded of the cool breeze you will feel if you go out for a walk.
  3. Response: A reaction to the craving. You go into the sweet shop, buy and eat four gulab jamun. Or you wake up and go out for your walk.
  4. Reward: The result of your actions. Eating too many gulab jamuns and sugars causes health issues. Walking makes you fit and ready for a productive day.

He explains that one should focus on cues. It is here that we put in our maximum effort. If you want to change a bad habit, ensure you change the cue. Avoid going past the sweet shop so that the cue is no longer there. An example of working on a good habit is to make sure you set and wake up to your morning alarm.

These may seem too obvious and simple a set of suggestions. But, put them into practice, and you find huge benefits. Clear wisely says that we should make our efforts “obvious and attractive.”

Other suggestions include “walk slowly but never backward.” What this means is that we should take up good habits step by step. If it is waking up and walking in the morning. Start with a very short walk. Do not try to do a vigorous 1-hour walk from day one. Clear calls this the 2-minute rule. Start with a few minutes of a good habit but make sure you do not stop. Build on this, and over time you will expand the amount of time spent on doing a beneficial activity.

This guru of habits has several other fundamental pieces of advice. Each suggestion needs the practice to make it a reality. In the end, Clear says that “habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. They seem to make little difference on any given day, and yet the impact they deliver over months and years is enormous. If you have good habits, time is your ally. If you have bad habits, time is your enemy.”

As we begin the second month of this year, we should realize that our goals are important but not sufficient for a better life. It is the good habits we develop that will result in positive changes.

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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