How To Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones | James Clear on Making Sense with Sam Harris

Check out the Making Sense Podcast Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Luck, habits, and choices all collectively determine success in life. You can’t control the first, but you can control your habits and choices.
  • Habits are a solution to a problem, but oftentimes they aren’t the BEST solution to a problem
    • “I have this set of habits that I use to resolve those problems but what are the odds that the habits I have now are the optimal solution to the problems that I face repeatedly? It’s probably very unlikely.”James Clear
  • Your habits are your responsibility
    • “It’s your choice as an adult how you respond to these recurring problems and if you have the option, to build habits that solve those things in a healthier, more productive, and fruitful way, then that’s your responsibility to try and build those” James Clear
  • “The cost of your good habits is in the present. The cost of your bad habits is in the future.” James Clear
  • “Most of your outcomes in life are lagging measures of your habits”James Clear
    • Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your reading and learning habits
    • Your bank account is a lagging measure of your financial habits
    • Your physical fitness is a lagging measure of your eating and exercise habits

Intro

Books Mentioned

How James Got Interested In Habits?

  • When James was 16, he got into a bad accident while playing baseball–it broke his nose and both eye sockets
    • James was rushed to a hospital and the doctors put him into a medically induced coma since he was too unstable to undergo surgery 
  • As part of his recovery process, James had to essentially relearn all of his habits such as basic-motor functions
    • James didn’t make the baseball team his junior year but he did make it back onto the team his senior year
      • James went on to play college baseball
  • James didn’t make into the pros, but by building good habits and making smart choices, he was selected as part of the All-American team (the 30 best players in college)
    • The moral of his story: Luck, habits, and choices all collectively determine success in life. You can’t control the first, but you can control your habits and choices.
      • “It did teach me about the importance of small habits and how they can help you rebound from challenges if you can stick with them” James Clear

Feedback Loops

  •  Feedback loops can go in either direction: Positive or Negative
    • Example of a negative feedback loop: You’re overweight which makes you feel depressed which makes you want to sit on the couch and eat your feelings away and then you get more overweight
      • James would often look for some small positive action he could take to help push himself into a positive feedback loop instead of a negative one
        • Doing just one positive action can give you the momentum to do another positive action which will create a positive feedback loop

What Is A Habit?

  • Habit = Automatic behavior: It’s a behavior that’s been repeated enough times that it basically becomes automatic
  • Another definition: “They’re solutions to recurring problems in your environment”  – James Clear
    • The brain is constantly trying to find solutions for recurring problems in life. Many people may have the same problem, but they often come up with different solutions.
      • If someone is stressed, one person’s solution may be to play video games while another person’s solution is to go for a walk with their spouse
  • “Habits are often heavily influenced by the environment that we’re in” – James Clear
    • People often watch how friends or family members solve recurring problems and copy that solution or habit
      • “You sort of inherit the habits of the people around you”

Your Habits = Your Responsibility

  • Realize that habits are a solution to a problem, but oftentimes they aren’t the BEST solution to a problem
    • “I have this set of habits that I use to resolve those problems but what are the odds that the habits I have now are the optimal solution to the problems that I face repeatedly? It’s probably very unlikely.”James Clear
  • Your habits are your responsibility
    • “It’s your choice as an adult how you respond to these recurring problems and if you have the option, to build habits that solve those things in a healthier, more productive, and fruitful way, then that’s your responsibility to try and build those” James Clear

Why Good Habits Are So Hard To Form

  • Every action has two outcomes: An immediate outcome and an ultimate outcome
    • The immediate outcome of most bad habits is positive even though the ultimate outcome is negative
      • E.g: Eating a donut feels great but doing it daily will likely cause long-term health problems
    • With good habits, it’s the opposite. The immediate outcome is often negative but the ultimate outcome is positive.
      • E.g: Going to the gym for the first month often sucks but in the long run it’s good for your health
  • For most of history, humans have lived in an immediate term environment 
    • E.g: Finding something to eat, finding shelter from a storm right now, etc.
      • However, in the last 500 years or so, a lot of the greatest returns come from a delayed-gratification environment
        • E.g: Going to class every day to get a college degree 4 years from now, save for retirement today so you can retire 20 years from now, etc.
  • “The cost of your good habits is in the present. The cost of your bad habits is in the future.” James Clear

Goals vs. Systems

  • “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems” – James Clear
  • “Most of your outcomes in life are lagging measures of your habits”James Clear
    • Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your reading and learning habits
    • Your bank account is a lagging measure of your financial habits
    • Your physical fitness is a lagging measure of your eating and exercise habits
  • Your goal is your desired outcome while your system is a collection of your daily habits
    • If you’re failing to meet your goal it’s because your daily habits are falling short
  • “Your current habits are perfectly designed to deliver your current results” James Clear
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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