“One of our greatest challenges in changing habits is maintaining awareness in what we are actually doing.’ — James Clear, Atomic Habits

Now what does that mean?

This quote is leading up to an explanation of what Clear calls the First Law of Behaviour change — Making it Obvious. In order for us to change our habits, we first have to understand what the “cue” for each of them is. For example, maybe someone has a counterproductive habit of spending too much time on their phone. In order to change that habit, that individual would have to understand why they go on their phone in the first place. Usually it’s out of boredom or loneliness; some people will even go on their phone when they’re in the middle of a huge crowd because they don’t know anybody there. There are several different approaches you can take to change a bad habit. The one I’ll be explaining is what Clear calls “point-and-calling.” The main idea to this approach is to point out what you’re doing and say that you’re doing it. However, you say it in the third person, as if you were watching someone else do it. This simple shift in perspective helps to shift your identity from someone with negative habits to someone with positive habits (see last blog post for a more in-depth explanation on that one). 

The next step in this approach is to do what’s known as implementation of intention. This is a course of action you make in your head before your habit starts so that you’re ready when your body tries to act on it. For example, if you know that you’re going to take out your phone next time you feel bored or lonely, you could audibly say “When I feel these emotions, I’ll make a choice to do ______.” Then you can fill in the blank with something else that you would rather do instead, perhaps something more productive, or at the very least something less mind numbing. No matter what you do, the idea is to not act on the craving you feel for that action. As a result, you’ll start to feel like your goal is just slightly more achievable. 

On top of implementation of intention, it’s important to make the cue “unobvious” if possible. There’s four laws of behaviour change, which I’ll speak about in future posts, but for right now it’s important to understand that removing any one of the four steps in the habit cycle will break a habit. 

To summarize: repeated actions make up the outcomes we get. Therefore, changing these actions changes the outcome to whatever we’d like it to be. This realization is absolutely crucial in understanding how to change habits from positive to negative. Once we understand this, changing habits becomes much simpler and far more achievable.




Did you enjoy reading this? If so, leave a comment on what you enjoyed or ask some questions. I would sincerely appreciate it if you liked and/or shared this with your friends. Also, feel free to check out the other blog posts I’ve made and leave comments on those as well! I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

— Chris