This book is chockful of excellent ideas, strategies and techniques, as well as great stories, to help people both acquire good habits and eliminate bad ones. I will attempt to note as much as I possibly can, and relate them to education and learning.
The title of the book and the thrust of it is scaling down to the "atomic" level, or to as small steps or manageable blocks of action. The author, James Clear, talks about the difference in improving by 1% a day over a year (37.78) vs. declining by 1% over the same span (0.03). So thinking small in the short term can amount to huge gains in the future. Of course, Clear talks about people and their desire for immediate gratification (the now), which is stronger than delayed gratification (the future). Short-term gains have longer-lasting negative consequences; long-term gains give you long-lasting benefits.
The waiting game is difficult, something the author calls the Plateau of Latent Potential. An ice cube sits in a room getting ever warmer, with little change. Suddenly, at 0 degrees C, it begins to melt. If our goal is like waiting for the ice to melt, we may be sorely disappointed. Instead of goals, focus on systems. If you're a teacher, your goal is to teach students to learn the curriculum. Your system is the way you manage the class, assess students, and create engaging and effective lessons.
I like how he talks about the importance of identity, and not just processes and outcomes. If we start from the outcomes and move towards identity, we may never reach our core identity. Instead, think every time you write a paragraph, you are a writer. The process is simple: 1) decide the type of person you want to be; 2) show it with small wins. Who do you want to be? Then do the small actions that demonstrate that kind of person. Are you a teacher who believes students should have a voice and choice? Do your actions reflect that belief system?
Clear describes the four stages of habit, a feedback loop: problem (cue, craving); solution (response, reward). For example, a student gets stuck on a math problem (cue); she wants to relieve the frustration (craving); she asks to go to the washroom (response); reward (to satisfy craving and avoid work, she escapes from the problem).
How to Create a Good Habit
To break a bad habit, we do the opposite.
Law #1: Make it obvious
To begin a good habit, use the implementation intention, essentially stating specifically what you plan on doing: I will [behavior] at [time] in [location]. I will exercise for one hour at 5pm in my gym. Once this habit is established, then move on to BJ Fogg's habit stacking formula: After I [current habit], I will [new habit]. Thinking: After I hang up my coat, I will sit down and work on the morning questions. Then add another habit, beginning a cascading effect of habits. After I finished the problem, I will hand it in. Then I will read a book in my desk.
In 1936, psychologist Kurt Lewin wrote the equation, B=f (P,E), where behavior is a function of the person in their environment. A clear example is the phenomenon tested by economist Hawkins Stern in 1952, called Suggestion Impulse Buying. Essentially the more available a product or service is, the more likely it will be bought or used. More expensive brand-name items are at eye level and at the end of aisles. This makes clear sense when you realize that about 10 million out of 11 million sensory receptors are for vision. Many teachers have realized that fact and have created their classrooms as environments that accentuate their values and desired behaviors. More books means more reading. More tech means more virtual learning. More sports equipment means more active children. If you have student art or work on the walls, you're sending the message that their efforts are worthy to be displayed.
Law #2: Make it attractive
You will need to use temptation bundling, created by professor David Premack, where "more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors."
To add a habit that is not as desired, use the habit stacking + temptation bundling formula: After I [current habit], I will [habit I need]. After [habit I need], I will [habit I want].
For example, if you want to watch YouTube, but you have to do homework:
1. After I open my web browser, I will do 20 minutes of homework (need).
2. After I do the homework, I will watch 10 minutes of YouTube (want).
Another important facet is realizing the power of peer pressure from three groups: the close, the many, and the powerful. First, we tend to imitate the behaviors of those closest to us, our family or friends. Your chances of becoming obese is 57% greater if you have a friend who became obese. So a good idea is join a group where you behavior is normal and you have a commonality. Second, the influence of the many (the tribe) is seen with reviews on Amazon or Yelp. Third, we copy those who are powerful or successful.
So, how do we enjoy hard habits, things we dislike doing? One way is to shift your mindset. Instead of saying I have to go to work, say you get to go to work. A man in a wheelchair was asked how it felt to be confined to it. Instead he replied that he was liberated! Without it he would be bed-bound and stuck in his house. It's a shift in perspective, mindset, and counting your blessings.
Law # 3: Make it easy
Habits are formed when behaviors become automatic through repetition. This is known as long-term potentiation, first described by neuropsychologist Donald Hebb in 1949, known as Hebb's Law: "Neurons that fire together wire together."
The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning; action, not being in motion. A film photography class at the University of Florida was conducted in an unusual way. Half the class would be graded on quantity (100 photos an A, 90 a B, 80 a C, etc.) while the other group would be grade on "quality." They only needed to produce one photo for an A, but it had to be nearly perfect. What happened? The quantity group produced the best photos, with all their practice with lighting, composition, making mistakes, while the quality group spent all their time thinking about the best photo, but ultimately producing a mediocre one.
So practice, practice, practice to create a habit.
Reduce the friction involved in doing good habits. The Law of Least Effort states that people will choose the easiest option between two. That's why scrolling on our phones or checking email is so commonplace. It takes little to no effort. Meal delivery services reduce the friction of shopping for groceries.
So to make your habit have less friction, prime your environment. Want to draw more? Then put your pencils and paper on your desk. Want to send a card to a friend? Have a box of cards all ready for all occasions. The opposite holds true. Want to use your phone less? Put it in a different room or tell a friend to hide it for a few hours. Out of sight, out of mind.
Clear talks about decisive moments in our day, and we have so many, but each individual choice will lead to further choices (good or bad), which will ultimately decide how good our day was. So choose wisely. Also, the Two-Minute Rule is key: a new habit should take less than two minutes to do. Start tiny. To start to exercise, change into workout clothes. That's it! Next phase is to step outside, and maybe walk. Eventually, you're get to exercising three times a week. This will also prevent procrastination.
Law #4: Make it satisfying
The Cardinal rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided. For a habit to stick, you need to feel some kind of reward, however small immediately. You can move money into a money jar to save for a vacation. You can track your habit with a measurement tool as a motivator. Just be careful that you're tracking the right thing.
There's a ton more, but that's about I can manage. Plus I have to return it to the library.
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.