GRAPHIC BY ELSIE MCKENDRY
As January approaches, we will all promise ourselves (once again) that this year will be different. New year, new me. Right? In fact, according to the Times-Tribune, only 8 percent of Americans keep their resolutions for the whole year and a whopping 80 percent give up by the beginning of February.
New Years brings a worldwide surge of motivation to our society. While well intended, goals and determination are overrated. Because motivation tends to be short lived, we must focus on making changes we can keep, even when we don’t want to.
By applying the science of psychology to everyday life, you can learn how to work smarter, not harder, when it comes to achieving your goals. Using the four laws of change outlined in James Clear’s “Atomic Habits,” creating systems of permanent change can be simple and easy.
Clear’s four laws: “Make it obvious,” “make it attractive,” “make it easy,” and “make it satisfying” can be applied to any resolution from improving your grades to exercising more often.
His first law is “make it obvious.” This relates to potential cues such as objects, time and place that signal a certain habit, by deciding what, when and where your habit can be integrated into your daily routine. For example, “I will go on a run every morning around the reservoir after I finish breakfast.” Soon, putting your breakfast dishes away will become a cue that you should start running.
Environment also plays a huge role in making your cues obvious. If you struggle to find your sneakers in the morning, you will be less likely to get out the door. By placing your shoes in a visible spot, they will make your habit run smoother and act as a reminder that you need to run. This can work in reverse as well. If you tend to spend too much time on your phone for example, placing your device in another room removes the negative cue that leads to spiraling into endless scrolling.
Clear’s next law is “make it attractive.” If you set up your habit in a way where your brain expects a reward, you will be more likely to follow through. There are many ways to trick your brain into craving habits, one being “temptation bundling.” This strategy involves combining pleasurable activities with unpleasurable ones. For example, listening to your favorite playlist or podcast while you run.
Another way to make your habits attractive is by joining a community where your desired behavior is the norm. For example, if you wish to earn better grades, then you should befriend hardworking students. Their lifestyles will end up “rubbing-off” on you. Vice versa, if your friends think and act oppositely of your desired lifestyle, it will be difficult to resist the temptation you are constantly exposed to.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in setting new goals is being too ambitious. This is because their goals were born from motivation rather than rational planning. As mentioned earlier, motivation is short lived. Humans are innately lazy as it is beneficial for our survival to use the least amount of energy possible. Clear’s third law, “make it easy” combats this dilemma.
Instead of aiming for a three mile run every morning, make it your goal to put on your sneakers and walk out your front door. Once you have your shoes on (which tends to be the hardest part), the urge to start running will come naturally. This smaller habit is much less intimidating and makes it more likely that you will stay consistent. Tiny 1 percent improvements in your life can seem pointless, but in the long run, these small habits will compound into a larger result.
Clear’s last law, “make it satisfying” aims to make your new behavior rewarding. One easy way to do this is by tracking your habits and progress. There is something extremely fulfilling about checking off a to-do list. As for progress, you should not be discouraged if you do not see immediate results. The point of “1 percent improvements” is to make gradual, but consistent changes.
No matter how thorough your planning, a new system is bound to fail if you do not associate yourself with your desired lifestyle. People tend to behave how they perceive themselves, which can be both a curse and a blessing. For example, if you continue to tell yourself that you are a bad student, you probably won’t feel pressure to do the homework you have been avoiding. On the flip side, people that see themselves as good students continue to act in that way because it is part of their identity.
In order to convince yourself of your new identity, you need evidence. This evidence takes the form of decisions you make each day. This is why consistency is so important: it reinforces a desired sense of self. Each good habit you sustain contributes evidence towards the person you want to become. No single event will make you that person; it is the accumulation of small habits that create the new you.
By applying Clear’s four laws of change, it is possible to manipulate your psychology in a way that is most beneficial to you and your goals. With a little strategy and planning, who knows what you will achieve by this time next year!