A Therapist's Take on Atomic Habits by James Clear: Law One
Updated: Jan 18
The First Law: Make it Obvious
Simplify and put it right in front of you, so you don't forget to maintain the new habit.
Have you ever considered whether your habits are actually working for you?
Step 1: Reality Check Your Current Habits
Start with an inventory of your morning routine, maybe it looks like the following: wake up, turn off the alarm, check your phone, go to the bathroom, weigh yourself, take a shower, brush your teeth, put on deodorant, hang up the towel, get dressed, make a cup of coffee and eat breakfast.
An exercise in the book suggests that you rate your habits with a (+) if you feel they are working for you, a (-) if they are not serving you, and an (=) if they are neutral.
Now consider this, if you want to start exercising in the morning, but get carried away by being on your phone, then the phone will be a (-). On the other hand, if you are training for an MMA fight and weighing yourself every morning helps to see where your weight is then that would get a (+).
If you are unsure as to whether your habits are working for you or not ask yourself these questions “does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?”
The reason we need to assess our habits is not to punish ourselves, or for that matter reward ourselves, it is simply to understand what habits we are engaging in and notice whether we need to change them or not. For example, if we eat a chocolate bar for breakfast and are looking to get healthy, instead of saying things like “I am so stupid for eating this chocolate bar” instead say out loud “this chocolate bar is not helping me to achieve my goal of being healthy”. By calling yourself out, you are making yourself aware of habits that need to be changed.
Step 2: Use Cues to Create Change
So let's start talking about cues. A cue is a reminder to you to initiate a new behavior or habit. Remember, the first law is to make the cue obvious so that you remember to do it and the most common cues are time and location. I’m sure many of you have said “I really want to start working out more” or “I want to be more productive” or even “I am going to eat healthier”, but these are too abstract.
According to Atomic Habits, it is not motivation that people lack, but a plan of action or “I am waiting for the right time”, which never comes and is too vague. Therefore, setting a time and location will help to solidify the plan. For example, I will exercise (habit) for one hour at 5 pm (time) at the gym (location). I will study (habit) for Spanish twenty minutes at 6:00 pm (time) in my bedroom (location).
Step 3: Stack Those Habits
Another great tip in the book is habit stacking. Habit stacking is where you have identified a habit that you already do and then stack your new behavior on top of that habit.
For example, every morning I wake up thirsty so I drink a glass of water. Recently I wanted to start taking a vitamin B complex which has to be taken without food. Therefore, my cue is the water, so every time I drink my water I take the vitamin B complex. Another example can be “after I take off my work shoes I will immediately get into my workout clothes and go running”.
Positive Habits Summarized: Make it Obvious
Remember cues for encouraging good habits are all about making it obvious, therefore changing your environment so that you notice the cues more often will be extremely beneficial. For example, if you want to practice the guitar more, then place the guitar in an area where you will constantly see it. If you want to start taking your vitamin B in the morning, place it by the sink so that when you get your water in the morning, it will remind you to take it.
What about Negative Habits?
We have been talking about cues in relation to good habits which are to make it obvious, but what about if you are trying to stop a bad habit? Well if you are trying to stop a bad habit then you have to make it invisible.
Now Remove the Cues
Think about this, once a habit is formed, it is extremely difficult to change it, so instead of making the cues obvious, you need to make them invisible. As the book points out, people who appear to have good self-control tend to spend less time tempting themselves. Yes, they remove the cues.
For example, if you are trying to be healthy, do not buy potato chips and/or chocolate. If you are trying to get work done and are distracted by the phone, move the phone into another room. Make the cue invisible.
If there is one important lesson to learn here is that self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one.
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