How Habits, Goals, and Systems have Changed My Life!

Hi Everyone!

Today’s topic is inspired by James Clear‘s Atomic Habits book. I’ve found the book inspiring and great food for thought. It did take a long time to understand, reflect and relate to the knowledge presented in the book, so we’d like to simplify the ideas throughout this article.

If you’d like a podcast version of this article, you can find it through this video below:

What are Habits?

So what are habits? I’ve found that it is essential to understand what habits mean before embarking on this journey.

We know a habit is something you do regularly, sometimes without being conscious of doing it. This can be things like the time you wake up, brushing your teeth, reading before bed, etc…

You are not born with habits. Habits are conditional reflexes revolving around people, objects, and the knowledge around you. We usually unconsciously form habits, but we should start being conscious of them.

For example, I have learned that:

  • If you place a key box next to your door, you can train yourself in a new habit of leaving your keys there.
  • If you place water everywhere in your house, you will naturally drink more water as a habit.
  • If your living area has walkable sidewalks, you will learn to walk rather than drive.
  • If you are equipped with mobile devices from a young age, you will learn the habits of using a mobile phone for everything in your life
  • if you live in a family that has meals focusing on a lot of veggies, you will learn the habits of eating veggies for every meal.
  • Multi-tasking can become more of a habit due to an influx of information you receive at one time.

It can be so difficult to form good habits but easy to form bad ones depending on your environment. Switching old habits to new ones that create more convenience and pleasure for us can make this easier.

In general, you can think of our lives as a collection of habits: how you wake up, how you eat, how you use mobile devices, and how you work; they are all habitual. Good habits will lead you to a healthy life, while bad habits can make your life more difficult and less productive.

How to form a Habit?

So how do we form habits?

Since habits are conditional reflexes, it is difficult to force yourself to learn a new habit – rather, many people have suggested a change of conditions to ease and facilitate a new formation of a habit.

Forming habits sometimes get mistakenly recognized as forming goals. Doing this goes straight to making significant changes and dismisses small transformations.

For example, I used to set my habit goals like this:

  • read every day
  • drink 2 liters of water every day
  • run every day
  • cook my meals at least five days a week

… and I’ve found that I’m not succeeding with these goals and failing. I tend to read a lot on the first day because I want to achieve a lot on that particular day; however, as time goes by, I am exhausted from trying to read and get burnt out. This has led to much disappointment and self-blaming at the end of the day.

Instead, it’s so important to set small and specific enough habits that it is easy and fun to accomplish. Instead of reading every day, I’ve learned to set habit goals to read one page a day. Even if I want to read more, I stop myself so that I still have the desire to continue reading. This makes me excited for the next day.

Accountability can be important in forming habits.

Forming the Organized Notebook is a wonderful way for our team to form a new habit of learning new things and reading more books together – because we wanted to deliver & share the best lessons, we need to gain experience by reading more. In the past few months, we’ve learned how to build databases, make videos (from very ugly ones to hopefully better ones), design, and so on.

We’ve found that you need the right partner or community to leverage your habit-learning process and keep yourself accountable.

Setting a schedule for habit formation is crucial.

To learn a new subject (for example, database design in Notion or financial management for my small business), I block 30 minutes daily to learn the principles. 30 minutes are usually short enough that it is very easy to keep up. I can make that happen many days and learn new skills faster and consistently!

Set Rewards and Make it a positive experience

Rewards can take many forms – for example, as mentioned above while learning new skills, I always set myself up with the best coffee to enjoy the process and look forward to having it while I learn.

If I have an athletic habit that I want to form, I tend to look at athletic wear shops or new shoes that I’ll decide to buy after forming the habit!

Create the right environment for better results

I’ve found that instead of focusing on the goals of forming these habits, naturally changing the conditions around me would help ease me into new habits.

  • To drink water every day, I simply put water bottles everywhere close to me, for example, in my bedroom, on my nightstand, on the work table, and so on
  • I hide my phone far away to read daily to avoid distractions before bedtime. This way, I can read with focus and be in the optimal environment.

How to break a Habit:

Breaking a habit is incredibly difficult because of the tempting things surrounding us. For example, reducing our dependence on smartphones is challenging because we rely so heavily on our devices, from banking to file storage to education and entertainment.

I’ve learned that changing the environment always helps break my habits; for example, purposely forgetting my mobile phone in the work bag when I reach home always helps me forget that I need a mobile phone within my reach. Instead, I can turn on relaxing jazz music from a Bluetooth speaker that would help me move my focus from the eyes to my ears and start cooking dinner.

Replace your old habit with a new one:

A great way to break bad habits is to replace them with a similar but healthier alternative. For the longest time, I had trouble giving up sugary drinks. It worked for me to start switching it to a seltzer, which is still familiar with my sugary drinks but is healthier.

How to choose your habits: What is next? / How to start?

Choose your habits

There are a lot of good sources that recommend good habits to pick up, but truthfully, you should choose the ones that are the easiest to work on first, don’t go for the challenging ones! Small successes are more important than one monumental success that takes months or even years.

Goals vs. System?

The discussion on Goals vs. system has been very interesting. While James Clear mentioned that it is important to focus more on the systems, We’ve found that combining goals and systems help us form a better outlook on why we want to change and what kind of person we want to become.

We created a Goals to System Workbook that explains this in more detail and can help you plan your goals, systems, and corresponding habits! Get this free printable, digital pdf, and Notion workbook here.

Our format for doing this is that we start with a goal first, then we change this goal into something concrete that can be accomplished. We break down this goal and form our systems. The goal gives a trajectory, but then we need to alter it and break it down so that it can become more of a habit system.

We highly recommend habit trackers.

Habit trackers are tools that can help you manage and track habits. They usually provide a way to list the habits you’re tracking and check them off each day.

Using a habit tracker can give you a visual way to see your progress and keep you accountable for the habits you’re trying to form.

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