“Embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.”
~ BJ Fogg
As we approach the end of the year, few people will be sorry to see the back of 2020. While we can’t do much about pandemics or political turmoil, we do have some control over our own lives, trying to make the most of what we have. A new year is a good time to make resolutions and plan changes that will make us healthier, happier and more prosperous, and the end of 2020 seems an especially good time to turn over a new leaf!
Yet, as the unread classics on our bookshelves and unused exercise equipment in our spare rooms remind us, sticking to resolutions is easier said than done. So I’ve dived into the literature to see what the experts have to say about making changes which last. Whether it’s doing more of what we should, or less of what we shouldn’t, a number of books extol the virtues of using the power of habits.
For me, two stand out: Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg and Atomic Habits by James Clear. Fogg is a research associate at Stanford University and the founder and director of Behaviour Design Lab; Clear is an expert in decision making and habits.
The cumulative effect
Both books have a similar thesis – habits are repeated behaviours which occur without conscious thought, and once formed, compound over time to bring about big changes. Clear uses the following analogy when describing the cumulative power of small actions: if a plane took off from LA, bound for New York, and the pilot changed course by just 3.5 degrees to the south, no-one on board would notice, but at the end of their flight they would land in Washington DC!
This shows how a small change, over time, can give you a very different outcome. An immediate impact may be hard to see – one run won’t suddenly make you feel like a top athlete – but over time, your new direction will take you to a very different destination. Focus on the direction you are moving in, rather than worrying about the results.
It’s not your fault
In contrast to many self-help gurus who lay a failure to stick to resolutions at the foot of the individual, Fogg and Clear avoid blaming human weakness. Instead, they take aim at the habit-forming process itself; people are often too ambitious and don’t put enough time into designing their habits. People shouldn’t blame themselves for failing to form habits – they should design more achievable habits.
Keep it simple
Fogg and Clear agree that the best way to form positive habits is to make them as easy to perform as possible. Simple, easy actions are easier to stick to. It’s much better to do something for one minute every day than to plan to do it for 30 minutes each day but never actually do because it seems too daunting.
Same principle, different methods
The principles underpinning each book are very similar, but each author offers their own strategies and methods for embedding lasting habits. They cite different research which explains the science of habit forming and provide a range of examples of how people can apply their methods.
The key takeaways from both books are that habits are easier to make when they are simple, linked to existing routines, have effective triggers and provide some immediate reward.
Both books are very interesting; while there is a lot of overlap between them, they are still worthwhile reads in their own right.
Have you made any resolutions?
If you wish to buy any of the habit books listed, please support your local bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/Paradise_Library