For several years, I have been a regular reader of a newsletter written by James Clear. Clear publishes a great deal of personal development content and recently published a book, which I enjoyed, Atomic Habits.
Clear has read many of the same books I have on the subject, and shares with me the conviction that breaking down your big goals into small pieces is a key to habit change.
As I have said, New Year’s resolutions fail because people make too many resolutions or resolutions that are too big. Clear says, “…we put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement” and “The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding.”
After breaking down your big goals into small pieces, I advocate working on one change at a time for the 21 days it takes to form a habit. Clear doesn’t like to focus on a certain number of days. He makes the valid point that it’s more about the number of times you do something than the number of days you do it. “Your current habits have been internalized over the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions. New habits require the same level of frequency.”
In speaking engagements, I’ve made a similar point about adopting the habit of using reusable bags at the supermarket, a place I don’t go to every day.
Years ago, when I first decided to adopt that habit, I put the bags in the trunk of my car, and found myself forgetting to bring the bags into the market. I then moved the bags to the floor of the backseat. Sometimes I would remember, sometimes I would forget.
Finally, I moved the bags to the floor in front of the front passenger seat and began to remember to bring them in.
Eventually, when I was sure the habit had been formed, I moved the bags back to the floor of the backseat.
Another habit that was hard to adopt was using the carpool lane at the George Washington Bridge. The E-ZPass costs more than $12 to cross the bridge from New Jersey to New York City during peak hours. If you register for the carpool plan (no cost to sign up), the toll drops to $6.50 if you go through a lane with a human toll collector and roll down your windows to show you have three or more people in the car.
The problem is, I rarely drive with three people in my car. So it was hard to get into the habit of remembering, when I had three in the car, to use the carpool lanes. A bunch of times I went through the regular lanes, incurring the higher toll amount, throwing away money.
There was no way I was going to be able to adopt the habit in 21 days. In fact, it took me more than a year to get into the habit, or to paraphrase Clear, to experience it enough times for it to become a habit.
What is your experience creating habits? Please join the conversation with your comments…