James Clear is author of Atomic Habits, creator of the Habits Academy, and one of our latest collaborators. He spent the better part of a year working with Baron Fig to boil down everything he’s learned about productivity and habit making into one simple, easy to use product: the Clear Habit Journal. Read below to learn more about James and good habit making.
How did you get into studying habits and their effects?
I first started exploring the topic about around 2010 when I became an entrepreneur. Originally, I was interested in consumer psychology because I thought learning about it would help me build a better business. Soon, I realized that I was more interested in related fields like behavioral psychology and habit formation. I kept private notes on these topics for a few years and then, in November of 2012, I published my first article on jamesclear.com. Over the next three years, I wrote a new article every Monday and Thursday, and it was this simple writing habit that led to the growth of my business and developed my expertise in habits and human behavior.
In simple words, what are habits and why should we focus on building them?
A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become more or less automatic. You can think of habits like mental shortcuts that your brain creates so it can accomplish the same task with less attention. This frees up mental capacity and attention to focus on other areas of life.
The creation of new habits is an automatic process for your brain. You are always building habits whether you think about it or not. Sometimes this process works for you (when creating a good habit) and sometimes it works against you (when falling into a bad habit). This is one of the reasons it is crucial to understand how habits work: If you understand the process, you can design them to your liking and learn how to create habits that benefit you rather than ones that hinder you.
Tell us about your new book, Atomic Habits.
Atomic Habits is the most comprehensive and practical guide on how to build good habits and break bad ones. All of the ideas and strategies mentioned in it are evidence-based and rooted in science, but it is written in easy-to-understand language that is actionable and simple to apply to daily life and work. The text provides a playbook for getting 1% better each day.
Is there a difference between a good habit and a bad one?
Yes. Technically speaking, all habits serve you in some way (which is why you repeat them). However, the difference between good habits and bad habits is obvious if you view their impacts across time.
Every behavior produces multiple outcomes across time. For example, if you eat a donut, then the immediate outcome is favorable. It is tasty, sugary, etc. However, the ultimate outcome is unfavorable. If you keep it up, you'll gain weight in a few months.
Meanwhile, good habits are the reverse. If you exercise, the immediate outcome is unfavorable. It takes hard work and sacrifice, you sweat, etc. But the ultimate outcome is favorable. If you continue, you'll be fit in a few months.
This is one way to distinguish good habits from bad habits. With good habits, the ultimate outcome is often favorable. With bad habits, the ultimate outcome is often unfavorable (even if they serve us in the moment).
And in this lesson lies one of the keys to creating habits that last: The most immediate outcome is often the one that drives the behavior. One of the great challenges of building better habits is figuring out how to pull the long-term rewards of your good habits into the present moment (so you have a reason to repeat them right now) and the long-term consequences of your bad habits into the present moment (so you have a reason to avoid them right now).
How can the Clear Habit Journal help people form good habits and be productive?
The Habit Journal is designed to make building better habits easier. There are many features throughout the journal that work together to achieve this goal, but I'll point out two of them now.
First, habits are more likely to succeed when they are easy to do. One of the most effective ways to make a habit easy is to scale the behavior down into a task that can be completed in just a minute or two. The One Line Per Day section near the beginning of the Habit Journal is a great example of this idea in practice. This section prompts you to build a journaling habit by writing just a single line each day. It makes the action easy.
Second, habits are more likely to stick when they are satisfying in the moment. One way to make a habit satisfying is to track your progress. The Habit Trackers section near the back of the Habit Journal provides beautifully designed templates that will help you measure your habits and keep track of what you have accomplished. The result is a record of your behavior that is not only easy-to-use, but also motivating each time you look at it.
The Clear Habit Journal is now available for pre-order along with Atomic Habits.