The Wisdom of Atomic Habits (Part 4)
Wisdom Letter #78 | Make it Satisfying
Hello and Welcome to The Wisdom Project. Your weekly dose of human curated wisdom in a world full of algorithmic noise.
We have been curating the wisdom of the book Atomic Habits all this month. And today we are at its last leg.
Today we talk about the 4th Law of Behavior Change — How to make good habits Satisfying.
While the first 3 laws ensure a habit is performed well this time, the 4th law ensures that the habit is repeated the next time.
This is the “Reward” part in the Cue-Craving-Response-Reward Loop.
So lets get into it.
The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change
“We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying”
The cardinal rule of behavior change is this — What is immediately rewarded is repeated, what is immediately punished is avoided.
Positive emotions cultivate habits, negative emotions destroy them. We learn what to do in the future based on what we were rewarded for doing in the past.
That’s just how our brain works.
Our brain has evolved to look for instant gratification.
That worked well in a pre-historic world, where immediate feedback was important for our survival. Our next meal was our first priority.
But modern society is different.
Our survival doesn’t depend on our ability to hunt our next meal. We can just walk up to the fridge and eat whatever we want.
In modern society, good habits give pain in the short term and benefits in the long run. While bad habits give pleasure in the short term and pain in the long term.
Think of any bad habit — Smoking, Junk food, Alcohol addiction. All of them give instant pleasure but chronic pain.
Our “instant gratification” seeking brain is drawn towards bad habits, and is averse to good habits.
Going against the brain’s natural instinct is not a practical strategy in the long term. You will go out for a 5k run for the initial couple of days, just out of pure motivation, but soon enough, you will give up and revert to your old habits.
Instead we should look to turn instant gratification to our advantage.
“The More immediate pleasure you get from an action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long term goal”
Turn Instant Gratification to your Advantage
“You need to work with the grain of human nature, not against it. The best way to do it, is to add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the good habits we want to build.”
In the long run, once you have practiced a habit for many repetitions, the habit itself becomes the reward. But starting out, you must rely on external rewards to keep yourself going.
We discovered this first hand with this newsletter.
The first couple of weeks we wrote out of sheer internal motivation. But we soon found ourselves losing steam by week 3 and 4.
At the time, kind and encouraging words from our friends kept us going. After every published post, we got great feedback about our writing, people found the newsletter useful. And that kept us going.
But after the 10th week or so, keeping the streak alive was a motivation in itself. We thought we were onto something, we had never sustained a side project for this long ever before.
The Habit itself became the reward. And today, you are reading Wisdom Letter #78!
But, if we did not have the instant gratification in the initial few weeks, we might have never written beyond the 5th issue.
Make sure to reinforce your new habits with tiny rewards at the end. One of the tools you can use for this, is a Habit Tracker.
“The more a habit becomes a part of your life, the less you need outside engagement to follow through. Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.”
“Habit tracking is powerful because it leverages multiple Laws of Behavior Change. It simultaneously makes a behavior obvious, attractive and satisfying”
A Habit tracker is simple tool that helps you visualize your progress. It’s just a way to measure whether you did a habit or not.
It can be in the form of a calendar where you cross of dates, or a digital version of it, or just a notebook where your mark a tick every day.
It sounds simple, but if done right, it can be a game changer.
Here are 3 benefits of habit tracking:
Habit Tracking is Obvious: The mere act of tracking a behavior can spark the urge to change it. As they say — “What gets measured gets improved.“
Habit Tracking is Attractive: On bad days, when you don’t feel like doing a workout, it can seem tough to pick yourself up. That’s when a habit tracker gives you proof of your hard work. It reminds you how far you’ve come.
Habit Tracking is Satisfying: Tracking is its own form of reward. It will you give you immense pleasure to mark an X on a calendar where you track your daily workouts.
“Habit tracking provides visual proof that you are casting votes for the type of person you wish to become, which is a delightful form of immediate and intrinsic gratification”
How to recover from a failure
Failure is inevitable. You will fall of the wagon. There’s a simple rule to recover from failure : “Never miss twice”
If you miss one day, get started the next day. As one streak ends, get started on the next one.
“Missing once is an accident, Missing twice is the start of a new habit.”
The Dark side of tracking —> Goodhart’s Law
Be careful when you are tracking a habit. The measure should never become a target.
You can track the number of steps in your walks, but remembers more steps is not equal to better health.
Be mindful of your measures.
Tracking is not the most important thing, use it as a tool, but keep it in its place.
Inverting the 4th Law of behavior change, to break bad habits we must make them immediately unsatisfying.
We are more likely to avoid a behavior when the ending is painful.
You can use an accountability partner to manufacture social pain for yourself when you indulge in a bad habit or miss a good habit.
You can partner up with a friend and keep each other accountable.
Or you can go one step further and create a habit contract.
A Habit Contract
“The straightforward way to add an immediate cost to any bad habit is to create a Habit Contract.”
On a piece of paper, you write down the intended behavior, and the punishment to be had if the behavior is not followed. It can be about controlling a bad habit or building a good habit.
And then you both sign on it.
It may seem like too much, but the ritual of writing it out and signing it can go a long way in kickstarting a habit you long wanted to start but just couldn’t get to.
Get into a habit contract with your accountability partner and attach real costs to it -- Financial or Social
Signing off for the week, here’s a quote to think about, from French economist Frederic Bastiat that James Clear quotes in the book—
“It almost happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa.
Often the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits”
A Toolkit For Atomic Habits
This was our 4th post of our series on Atomic Habits. If you have read all of them, many congratulations!
Now you know a lot about Atomic Habits.
But all that knowledge will wither away if not applied anywhere. You will be knowledgeable, but won’t be wise to the ideas of Atomic Habits.
There have been plenty of books about habits written before, we have read a few of them, but the reason why this book has benefited millions of readers across the world, is that it is extremely actionable advise.
There is nothing new in the theory of habit formation, but the way this book presents all that existing knowledge and pairs it with helpful actionable tips and advise is game changing.
The way we look at Wisdom, it goes something like this—
Knowledge + Application = Wisdom
Knowledge + Inaction = Withered Knowledge
It’s like learning to swim.
You can read 20 books on how to swim, but you will actually learn it only when you throw yourself in a pool.
Personally, we have benefited so much from this book, because we have tried to deploy these methods in our own lives.
Over the last year or so, we have included the following personal habits a part of our daily life including Yoga, Journaling, Meditation, long walks, weekly wisdom letters and many more.
You will only gain from the knowledge of Atomic Habits when you apply it to your own life.
When you inculcate a new habit and make it a part of your life, it’s a different feeling, it' changes you, it changes your identity.
Habit Change = Identity Change
To help you apply this knowledge we are putting together a bunch of resources and tools.
Something we are calling — “The Toolkit for Atomic Habits”
We suggest you get hold of them, and use the tools to build a new habit in your own life. Something you have always wanted to do, but could never “find the time” to do.
If you’re interested in The Toolkit for Atomic Habits, you can signup on our Gumroad page by clicking on the button below, it will be released next week.
Atomic Habits can get you remarkable results with tiny changes.
Getting yourself this guide will be the first vote you cast for the kind of person you want to become.
If you are a new subscriber, make sure to drag this email into your primary inbox, otherwise you might miss future wisdom letters.
ICYMI 👉 The Wisdom of Atomic Habits (Part 3) | Wisdom Letter #77
This Week Last Year 👉 The Wisdom of Wealth | Wisdom Letter #26
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This was Wisdom Letter #78. In case you want to revisit any of the previous 77 letters, checkout our entire archive.
Aditi & Ayush