Atomic Habits: The Four Stages of Habit Creation

As I continue to re-read Atomic Habits by James Clear, I find more and more information worth documenting here so I can remember it and better understand it.

Habit change, behavior change, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, etc. are all important subjects to me because of the way I was raised. It became clear to me about the age of 18 that I was not given the best path forward in this life. Growing up the son of a Schizophrenic mother, living in the welfare system, and being treated as an obese child (note the phrase treated) embedded in me behaviors, thoughts, and habits that to this day control a large amount of how I make my decisions, what I do with my money, how I react to food and exercise, and a host of other actions.

I’ve come a long way from where I was and the “destiny” that awaited me, but I’m nowhere near where I know I need to be (if you listen to my delusions of grandeur). I’ve spent the last four years of my life working to find and rip out old limiting beliefs, patterns that have controlled my life like compulsions, and shut down the negative self-talk that has almost crippled my ability to find the things I want in this life. All of that work has paid off in spades, but I’m still not where I want to be.

Now that I understand more about how the conscious and unconscious mind works, the power of NLP, and have a real responsibility in my life (my family) I am at a place where I’m capable of moving forward with the next big step: habit formation.

James Clear’s book is so… clear (forgive me). I loved it when I first listened to it on Audible. I listened to it twice. Now, I’m diving into it in hardback to make sure I can discern the process for myself and implement it in my life.

Today, I read chapter three, “How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps”.

I like simple. I like easy. He makes it very clear.

There is a simple process by which habits are formed:

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward

Habits form in that order, and only in that order, and all four must be present.

One line that really stood out to me, “Every habit is doomed to fail if it goes against the grain of human nature.” This stood out because most of my life I was told that I had to master my mind, my willpower, and my courage to change anything in my life. NLP taught me that my unconscious mind is actively doing things to protect me and keep me safe. Clear makes it… clear (I’m so sorry) that our brain is constantly searching for ways to disengage and delegate thinking to the “nonconscious” or unconscious mind.

Think about how often you open your email, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or any other app on your phone. My wife literally comments that I will pull my phone out and habitually swipe through apps without even realizing it. What about walking into a room and hitting a light switch? Which pant leg do you put on first? All of these decisions no longer require neurological processing power to accomplish. This leaves your brain open to focus on primary motivations: reproduction, food, and water.

For me, this is an incredibly important chapter because it answers one of the things I’ve struggled most with in my adult life: predictability.

I have never wanted to be one of the masses. I remember learning about Identity in one of my Freshman college classes in film school. I had to write on a board all of the things that describe me: Mormon, Oklahoma Sooners, Male, etc.

I did not like the feeling that I “belonged” to these groups and was just one of the masses. I rejected that and actively worked to remove myself from being “identified” as anything and subsequently ruined my personality for a few years, but I digress.

I also remember learning that if you’re going to be kidnapped or attacked, it would be because we are creatures of habit and operate on a timeline. Now, I know I’m not worthy of being kidnapped but the back of my brain said, don’t have habits (I know that’s nonsense, but it’s a real thought that was very powerful) so I’ve actively worked on not having “habits” and yet I still do, just not the ones I want.

Here’s the big takeaway from me in chapter 3, “It’s only by making the fundamentals of life easier that you create the mental space needed for free thinking and creativity….Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future.”

Wow.

That’s deep.

And the veracity of that statement echoes true in my mind.

We are what we do. Plain and simple. If I face the reality of who I am today, I’m a lazy, disorganized dreamer who doesn’t put any real effort into the things I claim to want. I’m a classic “mismatcher” and my actions and my words are not aligned. I struggle to commit to my craft of screenwriting and my desire for an aesthetically pleasing body, an acting career, and a business that doesn’t feel like a chore.

I am what I do. If I want to be more than I am, I have to change my patterns.

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward

I can leverage those four rules to become exactly who I want to be.

I can’t wait to become better.

What are you going to become?