Q&A: Atomic Habits with James Clear – Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

Q&A: Atomic Habits with James Clear – Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast


(bright electronic music) – [Narrator] This is the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. – [Craig] Hey James,
it’s an incredible honor to have you on the Craig
Groeschel Leadership Podcast from day one when I read
your book for the first time, Atomic Habits, I thought
I’ve gotta get this guy on, I’ve gotta share this message
with all of our audience, so thanks for taking time to spend a little bit of time,
interviewing with us. – [James] Oh, absolutely, thank
you so much for having me. – [Craig] First of all, congratulations, New York Times bestseller, well-deserved, your first book out and you hit the Times, and so no pressure if
you do a second book, but the first one is truly amazing, in fact, I taught on habits to our church and promoted a book every single week, it did not only impacted me, and I’ve read a lot about habits, it’s hard to write something new and fresh and congratulations, you did it, and so I’m thrilled to share you with our leadership audience. Let’s dive in, James, I wanna ask you some
questions from your book and even beyond that, one of the things in my studies that I’ve, I came across and I’m
sure you’re aware of it, about 40 to maybe even 50%
of the actions that we do everyday, they’re not a
result of conscious decisions but they are a result of habits, and you talk a lot about how small habits make a big difference, I think people sometimes
might push back and say, no, no, no, you gotta
do really big things, can you unpack the reason why you believe small habits are so important for us? – [James] Yeah, sure. So there’s a couple different
things to think about here, one is more strategic and one is maybe a little more tactical, so I’ll cover both. So the strategic reason,
or the philosophical reason why small habits make a big difference is that they compound over time, they kinda add up and multiply, and this is easy just to dismiss because it doesn’t really feel like that on any given day, right? Like, the difference between, you know, getting 1% better or 1% worse, or making a slightly positive habit or falling into a slightly negative one, it doesn’t really feel like a whole lot on any given day, you know? Like, what is the difference between, I don’t know,
eating a burger and fries for lunch or eating a salad? On any given day, it’s not
really a whole lot, you know, your body looks basically
the same in the mirror, at the end of the night, scale hasn’t really changed that much, it’s easy to dismiss. One way or another. But you turn around, five years,
or ten years down the line, and you realize, wow, those
daily choices really do add up, you know, all of the sudden,
you’re 30 pounds heavier than you thought you would be, or so on. And that’s true not just for,
you know, diets and weight but for all kinds of things, you know, like reading one book
doesn’t make you a genius but if you commit to a
habit of lifelong learning, well, you know, reading each day can be transformative. And so your habits kinda
multiply and surprise us in that way, they set us on
a very different trajectory depending on what those daily habits are even though they don’t feel like much on any given day. So that’s the, that’s kind
of the philosophical answer, the strategic answer. If you get 1% better each day, you end up in a very surprising place two or five or 10 years later. But then there’s a, there’s
also a more tactical piece to it which you mentioned, you
know, just a moment ago, 40 to 50% of your behaviors
on any given day are habitual so things like tying your shoes or unpluggin’ the toaster after each use, or brushing your teeth, and the technical definition for a habit is a behavior that has been repeated more or less enough times to be automatic. So you know something that you can do pretty much without thinking,
like brushing your teeth. And that’s actually what a habit is, that’s those 40 to 50%
of your daily behaviors, you know, all those things that
you are doing on autopilot, like covering your mouth
every time you laugh or apologizing each time
before you ask a question, oh I’m sorry, but, you know, whatever, and we don’t think about those things whether they’re habits of
thought or habits of action. But they often, even
despite how small they are, they often set or determine how we spend the next chunk of time, so take, for example, the
habit of pulling your phone out of your pocket. It’s a really small habit,
you do it, you know, pretty much automatically, it
only takes a second or two, but once you’ve done that habit, well you might think consciously, you might make a careful
decision about what to do next, do I play a video game
or do I open my email, do I respond to this email from my boss, or do I check social media or
read an article on the web, and you can do all of those
things from your phone but whether you do those things or not was pretty much determined by
did you take your phone out of your pocket, and so habits, sort of, they’re kinda like the entry point for the
next chunk of behavior, and so for that reason
they also have like this outsized impact, you know, they might only be 40 to 50%
of your behavior by themselves but if you add up the things that you do because of where your habits lead you, well then, maybe it’s 70 or 80
or even 90% of your behavior that’s influenced or impacted
by your habits, each day. – [Craig] Out of one of the
books that you quoted, too, I think, Duhigg’s book
on the power of habits, you talked about the keystone habits, those small disciplines that do trigger either compounding good disciplines or many times, compounding
bad disciplines, I think that’s so true, in fact, one of the things
James that you talk about that I underlined it,
circled and highlighted it, quoted it, replayed it,
you said, that you said, winners and losers have the same goals, but they’ve vastly different
results, I love that, and then you started
talkin’ about systems, you said we don’t have a goal problem, we have a system problem, the quote that stood out is this, I love for you to talk about it, what do you mean by system, but you say this, you don’t
rise to the level of your goals but you fall to the level of your system. Can you put some color
to that for me, please? – [James] So, you know, a lot of the time when we begin a process of change or something that we want to achieve, when we think about an outcome we want, we think about setting a goal, about achieving a particular result. But as you mentioned, I think, so many people often overlook is that winners and losers
in any particular domain often have the same goals, you know? If you have a hundred
people that apply for a job, well, they all have the
goal of getting the job, or if you have, you know, a dozen athletes competing in the Olympics, they all have the goal of
winning the gold medal, so goals, you know, this is not to say goals are useless, like
they might be necessary but not sufficient, right? Like, goals are good for
setting a sense of direction, for determining, you know,
clarity, and where are you gonna direct your effort, but once you’ve done that, which happens fairly early
on in most processes, I think, it’s more useful
to focus on the system rather than the goal. And so what do I mean by that? Well, your system is
the collection of habits and processes, the collection of behaviors that prepare you and help you execute on whatever that goal is. And you know, sports
offers are good example or metaphor here, you know, if you’re an athlete, or a sports team, your goal is to win the championship or to have the best
score on the scoreboard at the end of the game, but if you spent the whole game looking at the scoreboard, thinking only about the goal, you would perform terribly, right? Like, in, conversely, if you didn’t look at
the scoreboard at all, and focused only on the
process, on the system of running better place,
being in the right position, preparing for the next play well, then you probably would
have the best score on the scoreboard, at the end of the game. And so, this is kinda
the surprising thing, is that we set goals because
we want better outcomes but ironically, the way to
actually get better outcomes is often by not thinking about the result, by ignoring the goal
and pouring all of your energy and effort into
building a better system. – [Craig] So I think that’s brilliant and really counterintuitive
for a lot of people, because we do tend to think, especially, you were talking
to leaders, business leaders, ministry leaders, people
leading their family, and we often think, I
need to set some goal out in the future and try to achieve it, and then we don’t really,
we often don’t focus on what goes into the process
to help create the goal and it sounds like you’re saying, if more if we have input goals, if we’re doing the right
things that lead to the wins, then the wins are gonna
take care of themselves, and I think, as leaders, if we can create those right habits, then success tends to follow, if we’re just pursuing success,
we don’t necessarily know how to get there, and so I want
you unpack a little bit more in that line of thinkings, ’cause we all wanna change bad habits, we all wanna adopt good habits, but you seem to believe
that a lot of people are trying to change the wrong thing or they’re trying to
do it in the wrong way, what is it that we often get wrong? – [James] Well, so, I just
wanna say two things here, so first, before I answer
this particular question, just follow up a little bit
on what you hinted at there, you know, the outcomes that you want, whether it’s in business or personal life, are often a lagging
measure of the behaviors that preceded them. So you know, we think about losing weight or we think about earning more money or hitting our quarterly revenue goal, or we think about you
know, writing a book, but those things are
often the lagging measure of the habits, right? Like, your weight is a
lagging measure of your eating and nutrition habits. Your bank account is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your manuscript length
is a lagging measure of your writing habits. And so on, for many
different areas of life. And so, I think, that’s kinda the, that helps encapsulate a little bit the relationship that I think of, between systems and habits
and outcomes and goals, is that if you focus on the habits, then the outcomes, sort
of, follow naturally. Now, your second point about
focusing on the wrong thing, this I think is a natural
consequence of the fact that we often focus on the
goal rather than the system. So when most people set
out to change something, they build what I would
call an outcome-based habit, so they might say something like, all right, I wanna lose weight, so my goal is to lose 40
pounds in the next six months, and in order to do that, I need to come up with a plan. So then they say, well, I’m
gonna follow this diet program and I’m gonna work out four days a week. And usually, the conversation stops there, and they think, well, you know, once I follow this plan,
and lost this weight, then I’ll be the person that I wanna be, then I’ll have the
identity that I wanna have. And my argument is that I
think it’s more fruitful, more productive, often just more useful to invert that process. So rather than focusing on the outcome, let’s focus on the identity
and let the outcome follow naturally from there. So rather than saying, all right, I wanna lose
40 pounds in six months, let’s ask ourselves the question, well, who’s the type of person that could lose 40 pounds? Well, maybe it’s the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts, and as soon as you have that question or have that line of thinking, it changes the way that you approach it, you know, if you just say,
I wanna lose 40 pounds as fast as possible, well then you do all
kinds of things, you know, it’s like, well, maybe I’ll
do a radical juice cleanse or maybe I join a crossfit gym or do P90X or something like that. Then you get injured, you
get sick, you burn out, but if you invert it and
focus on the identity rather than the outcome, then you’ll say, well, how
can I be the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts? Well maybe, maybe I’ll just
do five pushups a day, right? Or maybe I’ll show up at
the gym for five minutes, and no, those things aren’t
gonna radically transform your body overnight, but it
does reinforce the identity of being the type of person
who works out every day, that it helps cast a vote
for that new identity. And I think that in the beginning that’s the biggest hurdle to cross. It’s not getting the scale to move, it’s looking at yourself in a new way. It’s starting to believe
this is part of my identity, this is who I am, I just write one sentence every day, or I’m the type of person who
puts on their running shoes after work, each day, or I’m the type of person
who meditates for one minute. Those are not ambitious, amazing habits, but they are reinforcing
and casting a vote for being a new type of person, for having that identity. And once you’re there, then I think you’re in a
good position to expand and upgrade and continue
the process of change. – [Craig] You know, that
was one of the things that you wrote about in
the book Atomic Habits, that really did stand out to me, is how your habits shape your identities and then, over time, it really
changes how you see yourself and the habits tend to
become more natural, like, I read about you, is it, are you a crossfitter,
I’m tryin’ to remember what kind of, like, crazy,
high extreme fitness you do? – [James] Yeah, I’ve done
a couple different things, I do tend to train at crossfit gyms now, I was a baseball player for a long time, then after I got done, I did a couple Olympic
weight lifting competitions and power lifting stuff, and now, I just focus on
strength training for fun. – [Craig] Yeah, I knew
you were a power lifter, or strength training, or hurt
people or something for fun. (laughter) So in that line, somewhere along the way, you’ve done some small
things that helped shaped shape your identity that
now you are a person that cares about fitness, you’re an athlete, you’re whatever, and I think, I think
that’s one of the things that can be so helpful to people is doin’ the small things
that reinforce their identity, that, for example, they might not, they may say, I’m an undisciplined person, well so simply not
hittin’ the snooze button in the morning when the alarm goes off might set them on a track that says, oh I was disciplined in that one choice and then making their bed is
another small habit that says, okay, they are, therefore I’m disciplined, and I do a quiet time
or a journal or whatever in the morning, or I meditate, and your three or four little things before they start their day, they are really small but
compound upon each other and start changing the
way they see themselves and at the end of the day, they could have incredible
production and effectiveness because of a few small things that started change their identity. – [James] Yeah, this is a
really important point, I think, so wanna elaborate on
this a little bit more. So you know, a lot of the time when people talk about changing, they talk about thing
like, for instance, like, fake it till you make it. But what I’m talking about is a little bit different than that because fake it till you
make it is asking you to believe something about yourself that you don’t yet have
evidence for, right? Like, oh, just, you
know, think of yourself as a fit person or think
of yourself as a meditator, believe that you can do it. And I don’t think that there’s anything necessarily wrong with you know, thinking positively about yourself, it’s not like it’s gonna hurt anything, but we have a word for beliefs
that don’t have evidence, we call it delusion, right? Like, at some point, your brain
doesn’t like this conflict, I keep saying I’m a healthy person but I’m not actually working
out and it doesn’t stick and so I think that if you want habits to stick in the long run, it’s more useful to approach
it from the other direction, to let the behavior lead to the belief, and this is sort of what
you’re referencing here, you know, like, you use
small habits as a way to prove to yourself that you are that kind of person, right? Like in a sense, your habits are kind of how you embody a particular
identity, you know? Like, every time that you go to church, you embody the identity of
someone who is religious. Every time that you make your bed, you embody the identity of someone who’s clean and organized. Each time that you sit down
and write one sentence, you embody the identity
of someone who’s a writer. And eventually, if you cast enough small votes for that person, if you reinforce that
identity in small ways, then you start to actually
think that about yourself because you can look back
on this body of evidence that you have and say,
yeah, that’s who I am. And this is why I like
to say that, you know, every action you take is like a vote for the kind of person that
you think that you are, you’re the kind of person
that you wish to become. And so if you just keep casting votes, even if they’re in very small ways, then you start to look
yourself in a new way, and I think, ultimately,
true behavior change is really identity change. It’s really internalizing
that belief that no, this is who I am, and once you get to that point, you’re not even really pursuing
behavior change anymore, you don’t even really have
to, like, motivate yourself to do the right thing, you know, this is why you
hear people say, like, yeah, I don’t motivate
myself to go to the gym, I just, it’s just what I do, you know? It’s just part of who I am. Or I don’t have to push myself to meditate it’s just part of my identity now. And once you see yourself
as that kinda person, then it just requires less
willpower and discipline and motivation to do those things. And so that’s why I think
that those small votes are so meaningful, even though
they seem tiny, at the time. – [Craig] You know, I love the
language you put around that, it really spoke to me,
the small votes and so, what I liked about it is you said, you don’t need unanimous votes to win but you just need a majority. And so, let’s say, you are
tryin’ to become more disciplined that you’re tryin’ to
become healthier or whatever and you do, you do a few
things that are right but you mess up in one or two places. Well, if you have the
majority of the small habits moving in the right direction, suddenly, over time, the
majority of the votes are starting to change your identity, and you’re saying, yeah, I’m not perfect but I am a disciplined
person, I am a hard-worker, I am conscientious, I do care
about people, whatever it is, and that language, and what
I love about the book is, it’s what I call bottom shelf, meaning it’s accessible to anyone, and you make it practical and easy to do, you don’t have to be perfect
but a majority of votes moving in the right direction and you are winning and
becoming something new. I wanna give you a chance to help share some of that bottom shelf
advice that’s so helpful, you talk about, sometimes
success is less about making good habits easy, and sometimes it’s also
about making bad habits hard. Let’s talk about, let’s start with good habits, how do you create them, and then let’s dive in the bad habits, how do you actually break them. – [James] Yeah, sure. So if we’re gonna focus on good habits, I think there are a couple strategies that you can keep in mind that sorta help make this process easier. So in the book, I lay out what I call the four laws of behavior change, and so, for building a good
habit, it’s make it obvious, make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. And those four are just kinda shorthand for a lot of the strategic
and tactical examples that I give in the book
for how to do those things so I’m just gonna focus
on one or two right now, obviously there are a
lot more in the book, but if I have to recommend people to start on one place, I would say, start with make it easy, start with making it as easy as possible, and I like to recommend
the two-minute rule. So the two-minute rule basically says take whatever habit you’re tryin’ to build and scale it down to something
that takes two minutes or less to do. So, you know, read 30 books
a year becomes read one page. Or write your book finally
becomes write one sentence. Or you know, do yoga four days a week becomes take out my yoga mat. And sometimes people
kinda resist these things, you know, ’cause they’re like, well, what I actually wanna
do is like run three miles, I don’t wanna just put on
my running shoes, right? Which is what would take two minutes. And I get what they’re saying, right? They think like, oh it sounds
kinda like a mental trick and if you feel that way, then my encouragement
would be to force yourself to limit yourself to just
the first two minutes. So I had a reader who, he ended
up losing over 100 pounds, and one of the first things he did was, he went to the gym, but
he wasn’t allowed to stay for longer than five minutes. So he got in the car, drove to the gym, got out, did half an
exercise, got back in the car, and drove home. And it sounds silly, right,
it sounds ridiculous, it’s like, well, clearly that’s
not gonna get you in shape but what you realize is that he was becoming the type of
person that went to the gym, four days a week, right? He was mastering the art of showing up. And I think this is why
making your habits easy and simple and small is
such a crucial insight, which is that, a habit must be established before it can be improved, right? You have to make it like
the standard in your life, make it your new normal, before you worry about
optimizing or expanding or updating from there. And so often we just, you
know, because of ambition, or because we get motivated,
or because we’re excited about making a change, we just tend to go all
or nothing, you know, it’s like, well, let me try to
find the best workout program or the perfect business idea, or the ideal diet to follow. Then we think if we can’t do it perfectly then we might as well not do it at all. And so I feel like the two-minute rule kinda helps counteract that tendency and get you into the pattern of showing up even if it’s in a small way, even if it’s only for two minutes. But you gotta be that kinda person who shows up for two minutes before you have the
chance to be the person who does it in a bigger
or more ambitious way. – [Craig] I think that’s brilliant, you gotta be able to do two pushups before you can do 20, and if you do two every day, you might wake up and do three, and one day, you’re doin’ 20 or 40 or 50, in fact, the whole idea,
make it obvious, easy, attractive, and satisfying, that, I have a newer habit in my life that I tried, James, for probably, I bet you I had five
or six failed attempts at journaling, I read
so many people that say, it’s important and it’s helpful, and I know that it is but I try to write three or four, five pages every day and it would go two or
three days and I quit, I came across a five-year journal which really embodies
everything that you say, you only have to write four
or five lines and you’re done and then you can see,
kinda year over year, if I look back to the previous year on this same exact day, I can see what I did, in two
years, three years, and such, so I’m now into, starting into my fifth year on this, and I put the journal out by my bed, so it’s obvious, it takes
me less than probably three minutes to do, it’s easy, the journal looks good, it’s attractive, and I’m a journaler now, it’s satisfying, and so, it’s changed my identity, and every single one
of those steps you said is the difference between failure and actually becoming a journaler, now it’s not just something I do, it’s part of my identities, it’s who I am, and so I think, your ideas are fantastic, I love the two-minute start. Stopping though is a
whole different strategy. What would you say that
now I’ve got something I wanna quit smoking, I wanna
quit sleeping in too late, I wanna quit yellin’ at people, what suggestions do you have for stopping? – [James] Let’s use the sleeping example, and so, first of all, if
you wanna break a bad habit, then my high-level recommendation is just invert those four laws. So make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, make it satisfying, that’s for building a good habit, now you wanna break a bad one, you wanna make it
invisible, so make the cues of your bad habits less visible, make it unattractive, make it difficult, so increase the friction,
make it less convenient, and make it unsatisfying. So have, like, a punishment
instead of a reward. So, you know, a lot of the time, people procrastinate or
fall into this bad habit or whatever for a couple
different reasons, but I’ll give you kinda two ideas for kinda curtailing these
behaviors or breakin’ them. So first one, you might be surprised how many bad habits will fade
away or reduce themselves just if they’re not as
obvious or convenient as they were before, you know, so like, take the habit
of watching television. A lot of people feel like
they watch too much TV but if you walk into pretty
much any living room in America, where do all the couches and chairs face? You know, like, they
all face the television. So it’s like, what is that room designed to get you to do? It’s the most obvious and available and frictionless habit in that space. So there are variety of steps
you can take here, right? It’s kind of on a spectrum
from like least extreme to most extreme, but
you could take the chair and turn it away from the TV so it faces the coffee
table with a book on it, you could put the remote
control inside of a shelf or a drawer so that you’re
less likely to see it, you could take the television itself and put it in a wall unit or a cabinet so that it’s behind doors, and then you could also, you know, increase the friction of the task, so you could, like, unplug
the TV after each use and then only plug it back in if you can say the name of
the show that you wanna watch. So you can’t, you know, just turn Netflix on and find something. Or you know, if you
wanna be really extreme, you could take the TV off the wall, put it in the closet and
then only set it back up if you really wanna watch something. I actually had one reader who, she and her husband, they
watched a ton of sports events and eventually they were like, this is so ridiculous, we
need to figure out a way to reduce the amount of time
we’re spending watching stuff, and so they decided, they just were gonna get rid of their TV and their new measure was,
if we don’t care enough about this game to drive down the street and drive 15 minutes and
watch it at the sports bar then we don’t actually wanna watch it. And you know, again,
variety of things there from least extreme to most extreme, but just implementing some of those things will reduce the odds that
you fall into that habit. I’ve seen this in other
areas too, you know, like, for example, take beer, if I have a beer in my fridge and it’s in the front of the fridge, it’s like somewhere I
can see it on the shelf that’s like right in front of
the door or it’s in the door, then I’ll grab one and drink it at night just ’cause it’s there. But if I take that same six-pack and I slide it like on the lowest shelf all the way to the back where I can’t really see
it when I open the door, sometimes it’ll sit
there for, like, a month, and so it’s like, did I want it or not? You know, like I kinda wanted it if it was there but if you
just make it less obvious then you’re less likely to fall into it. Now I do wanna kinda add an addendum there which is to say that, in
this, I think it’s true for all of the ideas in Atomic Habits, I’m not gonna say that
this is gonna stop, like, a true addiction, right? If you’re actually dealing with alcoholism or something like that, it’s different. But I do think that all
these strategies are useful whether you’re an addict or not. That, you know, they do,
kind of, help nudge you in the right direction. So that’s the first
piece, make it invisible, but the second idea, let’s come back to that
sleeping example that you gave. So you wanna stop sleeping in or maybe you wanna get up
early and do workout instead before work or something like that. Well one thing that you can do is that you can make it less attractive, you can make it
unattractive to stay in bed. So how do you do that? Well, one strategy is to
use what psychologists call commitment device. So let’s say that you go
to bed, like, all right, I’ll set my alarm,
tomorrow’s gonna be the day, I’ll wake up at six and I’ll go for a run. Go to sleep and 6 a.m.
rolls around and you know, your bed is warm, it’s cold outside, and you’re like, well, you know,
I kinda feel like sleeping, you press snooze and you don’t do the run. But if you rewind the
clock and go back to next, to the previous day and
this time you text a friend, and you say, hey, can we
meet at the park at 6:30 and go for a run? Well now 6 a.m. rolls around
and your bed is still warm and still cold outside, but if you don’t get
out and go for the run, well, now you’re a jerk,
because you leave your friend at the park all alone. And so that text that you sent, that’s like a commitment device, it’s a way to lock in
your future behavior, you kinda change the
equation in your mind, so that now, sleeping in
means something different, it doesn’t just mean you
get to stay in a warm bed, it also means, oh you’re
being a bad friend. And so little devices like that, little strategies like that, and I have a longer list
of them in the book, they help you get over
some of those bad habits or reframe the equation in your mind, so that they’re not as attractive
as they were in the past. – [Craig] Yeah, so you can
make something more difficult if you continue hit the snooze button, take your phone or your alarm clock, put it in the other room, and it goes off, it makes you get out of bed, I think that your suggestions are so good, I was thinking about,
if you go back and like, look at pictures of me eight years ago, you’ll probably notice the difference because my diet was
really-really different and I had the hardest
time to just saying no to pretty much any kinda junk food and mostly my wife, she just
changed what I had access to, meaning I don’t go the grocery store often and so the food she’d
order and such, it’s just, it’s healthy, everywhere, I started ordering food
delivery to my office every day and so I don’t have access to something that’s not as healthy. And because of that it
changed what I crave and now I don’t desire the other stuff, and it’s simply by making it invisible, I don’t see it, make it unattractive, now I don’t really want
it, it don’t taste as good, makin’ it difficult, and when you, after you
do that for a while, you’ll start to see your body change, and it changes right then it like, hey, this just really feels a lot better. You eluded, James, to the, you know, your friend, I think that
kind of introduces a big idea if you tell your friend
you’re gonna join them to run that’s accountability, how
important would you say accountability is in the
success of good and bad habits? – [James] Yeah, that’s a great question. So this is something,
you know, I wrote about the influence of the social
environment on your habits in the book, I think it’s
chapter nine or chapter 10. And your family and friends
play a really crucial role in what habits you find attractive and what things you feel
motivated to do, you know, like, there are a lot of
examples at this, you know, like, if you move into a new neighborhood and you walk outside on Tuesday night and you see all of your neighbors
have their recycling out, then you think, oh, you know, I guess recycling is something that
people do in this neighborhood, like, people like us
need to sign up for that. So then you, you know,
you get into that habit of doing that every week. Or you know, all your family
members are going to church on Sundays so then you’re like, well, you know, we need to go too. And even if you don’t
consciously thing those things, you start to internalize that, right? You kinda get like nudged
along or pulled along by the people that surround us and what are family and friends are doing. And this can be a powerful
way to build, you know, pretty much any kind of habit. But I think that I
undersold the importance of how socially reinforced our behaviors, I mean, man, there are
so many things, you know, like, why do you stop at
red lights and stop signs? You do it because that’s
the expectation, right? That’s what everybody
else in this society does. And there are so many
habits that are like that. Things where we fall in line because we know the
expectation is to act that way. You know, why do you wear
a dress or a suit and tie to a job interview? There’s no reason you have to do that, you could wear a bathing
suit if you wanted, but you don’t, because
that’s not what the tribe or that group or society at large expects for that situation. And so so many choices and
behaviors throughout life are shaped that way. So your question was, I think, probably more about accountability specifically, right, like having a friend expecting that of you. But I bring that up at this
larger social phenomenon up because I think that that in many ways might be the more powerful
form of accountability. What does the tribe expect? What does your group,
whether it’s your coworkers or the people that you
workout with at the gym or the people that you,
you know, play chess with or volunteer with on the weekend or whatever the thing is, whatever the group is
that you’re a part of, what do they expect? And what the group expects is
often the most powerful form of accountability. And I think it’s worth it to mention why that’s the case. You know, our ancestors grew up in tribes and if you were abandoned by the tribe, then it was a death sentence. And so we all are wired to have this deep sense of belonging, this deep sense of community to belong to the people around us. And so nobody wants to be
ostracized from the group. Nobody wants to be abandoned by the tribe. And because of that, we care deeply about what others think of us. About what the expectations
of the group is, whether that’s at work
or at home or elsewhere. And we care about it because it helps us if people think better of us, people think highly of us. And so I don’t know that there’s
any way to get around that, you know, a lot of the
time people talk about it like it’s a bad thing, you know, like well don’t let people’s
opinions of you sway you or don’t, you know, don’t worry too much about what others think. And I agree, when taken to an extreme, that’s certainly not
a healthy thing to do. But the truth is, caring
about what those around us think and what they expect is
often a really good strategy, that’s the reason we stop
at red lights and stop signs and or at least one of the reasons, so my point there is that be very careful about the tribes that you join. About the groups that you spend time with. Think carefully about those
people that you’re surrounded by and what those social
norms are for those groups. Because the social norms of the group, the expectations of the tribe is maybe the most powerful
form of accountability when it comes to sticking
with habits for the long term. – [Craig] I think you’re dead on with that and I don’t know how direct
you would be with people but I think if we are, if we’re stuck in a lot of bad habits, chances are pretty good that
people that we’re around are stuck in the same types of habits, and if we’re growing and
adding the right disciplines to our lives, chances are pretty good we’re around people like that and some people might push back and say, you’re being harsh and this is an unfair question, but would you say there are times when you really need to redefine you know, the types of people
that you’re hanging out with to completely change your life? – [James] Well, so I think
there are couple things to say here. You know, like, one is,
there’s a lot to unpack with stuff like this. Because, you know, your relationships are some of the most valuable
things in your entire life. And so it’s very hard
and complicated to change your family and friends, or change the group of people you hang out with and so on. And so I don’t usually say things, like, oh, you need to fire your
friends and find new ones or things like that, because the truth is,
it’s very challenging and honestly, we all have responsibilities in life, too, right? So like, you, and many
cases, family members, like, what are you gonna
do, abandon your family? You know, like, it’s just
not a reasonable thing to ask for most people. So I think instead a more
productive and more practical approach is to say,
look, you don’t have to get rid of these people,
it’s not about that, it’s not about abandoning a group, but it’s really hard to sustain habits when you’re surrounded by a tribe that has conflicting motives
or different priorities, right? It’s really hard to
stick to a healthy diet if you’re surrounded by people
who eat junk all the time. It’s really hard to go to the gym if you’re surrounded by
people who don’t wanna work out, ever. And so I’m not saying that you need to never see those people but what’s really powerful
is having a sacred space, having some kinda place where you can do those things, where you’re surrounded by people who do have the same goals. So you know, maybe nobody in your family wants to do yoga. Maybe they don’t care about that. But go to the yoga studio where you can be surrounded
by a dozen other people who are really excited about that habit and have at least one hour for yourself, where you’re surrounded
by a positive environment that kind of uplifts and reinforces that. And so, you know, the
other 23 hours of the day you can spend with, you know, the people that you normally are around. But give yourself a chance
for that habit to thrive by surrounding yourself with people who have the same goals as you. You know, you often rise together. And as you do that, then you can start to
gradually think about okay, is this becoming a
really important thing for me, you know, do I wanna become
a yoga instructor now or you know, is this gonna
play a bigger role in my life, maybe, maybe I need to, you know, to give it even more of my
time than an hour or so on. But you can make that
decision down the line. I think in the beginning
it’s just important to give yourself a space
where a habit can thrive, because ultimately, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody consistently
stick to a positive habit in a negative environment. And so it’s really just about
finding kinda those points where you can give yourself a
place for that habit to grow. – [Craig] Yeah, I
appreciate your sensitivity to the complexities of relationships and the importance of
really honoring people and stick with our priorities, but I really think a mistake
that lot of us make is, we let the relationships
just kind of happen to us instead of being intentional about it, and if we’re in a really bad environment, it doesn’t mean we necessarily
divorce our friends but we might need to
redefine just how much access we give them to us or that
let them have in our lives, and really do seek out, I think, the intentional relationships
that can help us eliminate the things that are dangerous and hurtful and bring in the things that are helpful. One of the things you talked about, James, that I thought was really interesting, you talked about the
mismatch between immediate and delayed rewards, good habits, you start doing something, you know, you start
jogging, you start praying, you start reading, you start journaling, you start writing thank
you notes to people, and you don’t see an immediate result, but then you do something like
eat the whole piece of cake and you get your dopamine rush
where you play video games and get your dopamine
rush and the bad things seem to be more fun at first and the good disciplines
and habits seem to take a frustrating amount of time before you start seeing results. Can you kinda add some context
to how you approach that and what it means to us? – [James] Yeah, it’s a good question. It’s a complicated thing. There’s sort of this,
like, valley of death often when it comes to building a new habit, you know, like say, say you go to the gym, like, what is the reward for working out, for like, three weeks? And it’s not really a whole lot, honestly, you know, like you’ve been staying consistent and working hard but your body looks basically the same, like there’s nothing, there’s
not really much outcome, if anything, your
muscles are probably sore and you know, you still
don’t have the results that you’re looking for. And that kind of thing
is true for many habits, you know, like, what is the reward of working on your book
for an hour every day and doin’ that for three months, like the book probably still isn’t done. And so this is the case
for many good habits, which is that the immediate outcome is often kind of unfavorable. And it’s only the ultimate outcome that is more enjoyable or satisfying. With bad habits, as you mentioned, it’s often the reverse. So you know, like, the immediate
outcome of eating a donut is kinda great, it’s sugary,
it’s tasty, it’s enjoyable, it’s only the ultimate outcome if you keep doing that each day and you turn around a year later and you know, now you’ve
gained weight and so on. So the way that I would
phrase this is that the cost of your bad
habits is in the future, the cost of your good
habits is in the present. And so what you’re looking for
ways to change that equation. Ways to make your good
habits more enjoyable while you’re waiting for those long-term rewards to accumulate. And there are couple different
ways you can do this, you know, like, one thing you can do is one of the most enjoyable
or satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress. The feeling that hey, I’m moving forward. I’m getting better. This is worth it. And habit-tracking is one way
to sort of reinforce that. So the simplest version of a habit-tracker is you just put an X on
the calendar each day, and like my dad for example,
he likes to go swimming. So each day that he goes to
the pool and does his swimming, he comes back and he puts a
little X on this little, like, pocket calendar he has. And at the end of the month,
pulls the calendar out and looks at it and
tallies up how many times he went swimming and then compares that to the previous month. And you know that’s not, it
doesn’t have anything to do with the workout itself, but on the bad days, on the
days when he feels like, uh, I don’t really feel like goin’ in or I feel like that wasn’t a
very good workout or whatever, he can look back on that
calendar and be like, yeah, you know what, I
didn’t feel good today but I still showed up 12 times this month, or whatever the number is. So having some kind of
visual cue of the progress that you’re making, some
way to visualize that whether it’s a calendar on the wall or the number of pages
that you’ve read this week or whatever the thing
is that you’re tracking, that’s a good way to add a
little bit of satisfaction to the moment so that you
feel like it was worth it even if you’re still waiting for those long-term rewards to accrue. – [Craig] Yeah I’d love to
spend a little bit more time on that thought because I think this can, this was helpful to me, if I’ve got a goal out in the future, it could be weeks, months, or
years before I’d see that goal and it seems like I’m
deferring my happiness until a milestone out in the future, how do we stay motivated
and how can we be happy long before we achieve that distant goal? – [James] Yeah, man, this is
a tough question, you know, I’ve had a wrestle with this
myself for a while, like, do you have to be
dissatisfied to be driven? Do you have to be dissatisfied
with your current state to be motivated enough to say I’m gonna keep working on this. And the best solution I’ve come up with, I’ll give you two ways to answer this. So the first way is just to say, when you do some kind of
measurement or tracking like that, when you record each
instance of your habit, you are proving to yourself that you have a certain type of identity. And so if you choose an identity
that’s motivating to you, that’s interesting or exciting to you, then that’s a way to feel
successful in the moment while you’re also waiting for those long-term rewards to accumulate. You know, so like, each
time you sit down and write for 10 minutes, you put a
little X on that habit-tracker and you feel like I casted a
vote for being a writer today, and that feels good ’cause
that’s who I wanna become. And so now you can feel happy
and satisfied in the moment and you ultimately are
moving toward that goal of writing the book or whatever it is. The second thing to consider, though, is that you can also utilize
what we were just talking about about like the social component, you know, like on days when I don’t feel good or I feel like I got a bad
workout in or whatever, I still enjoy going to the gym because it means I get to
see some of my friends. And so this is another one
of the really powerful things that social accountability or just a social environment provides, is that if you’re hanging out with people that you really like, people who kind of embody the identity that you’re looking to build, then it feels good to be with them, even if you haven’t
accomplished the goal yet. You know, it’s just nice to
hang out with good people. And so that’s another way
to really feel satisfied in the moment while you’re kinda waiting for that long-term stuff to show up. – [Craig] So the book
is called Atomic Habits, Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, the author, New York
Times bestselling author on his first book, is James Clear, and James, one of the things that I really liked is you talked about, instead of just thinkin’ about the dude, this is what I wanna do, we need to really start with the who, I’d love to, I know you’re
a pro baseball player, I know you are incredibly disciplined, you’re a photographer, you’re a blogger, you’re an author, I’m curious, as you’re bringing new
habits into your life, who is the future James becoming? – [James] Hmm, yeah it’s a great question, so I’m not gonna answer specifically but I’m gonna tell you
more about my process of figuring that out. So who I’m becoming is
a moving target, right? Like, you know, contacts
changes, life changes, you kinda go through different seasons, you know, like, maybe you’re in a season where you’re very career-focused, then you have some kids, then your season is more family-focused, and then your kids go to college, and then you go back into
a career-focused season, or maybe you’re focused
on health, or whatever. And so that question of what
identity do I wanna build, it’s gonna shift over time. And for that reason, I think, one of the most important
sorta meta-habits to build, and this is how I answer
this question for myself, is the process of reflection and review. So I do this in two different ways, so at the end of each year, I conduct an annual review where I ask myself three questions, what went well this year,
what didn’t go so well, and then what am I working
toward or what did I learn? And so when I ask myself those questions, it’s kind of a chance
to reflect on my habits, I do a lot of measurement
too so I track, you know, how many workouts did I do this year and how many new places did I travel to and how many articles did I
write and stuff like that, so it’s just kind of a
chance to be self-aware and to figure out where I
actually stand rather than, you know, thinking I’m
doing better than I am. And then, you know, I get to reflect on what I learned and so on. And that, so that’s another chance for me to set the baseline. Then about six months later, I do what I call an
integrity report each summer. And again, it’s got three questions, so what are my values, what
are my values and principles, what do I stand for, second question is how did I live by those values this last year, so kind of a chance to
pat yourself on the back and you know, think about
where you did a good job, and then the most
important one, for me, is, where did I fail to live up to
those values and principles. You know, like, where did I kinda feel like I fell off course, and I think this is the key
piece of maintaining integrity, which, you know, there are
many ways to define integrity, but for the context of
this conversation I’ll say, living in alignment with
your desired identity, right? Living and being the type of
person that you wish to become. Let me align with those
values and principles and so integrity’s kind of a funny thing because like pretty much everybody
thinks that they have it, it’d be very weird to talk to somebody and have them say, like, oh,
I’m not a person of integrity, right, just be strange to hear that. And so the question is,
so if everybody has it, or thinks they have it, then how do you lose it? And I think it’s a gradual slide. I think it’s, you know,
series of kinda like just this once exception,
you know, you’re like, oh well, this time it’s
a little bit different so we’ll do it this way, or maybe this time, you
know, I can let it slide. And so that integrity report
helps kinda pull me back to center, helps keep me on track with the habits that you
know, reinforce the identity that I wanted to build and become. So I think between those two, having the annual review
at the end of each year, and kind of reflecting on
where are my habits have been and where I’ve been headed, and then the integrity report
to ask myself, you know, what are my values and principles now, you know, have anything changed,
is there anything changed from last year? And in concert, when
I have those together, I have a good process for
reflecting on where I’m at and where I wanna head. And I think that that is an important way to answer that question
of who are you becoming, of who, you know, who are
you looking to develop into, because ultimately, it’s
a continuous process. It’s a not a, oh I just decide
the kinda person I wanna be and I can let it ride for 40 years. It’s something you need
to continue to revisit, I think, each year, and who knows, maybe even more consistently than I do it. But I think that having some kinda process of reflection or review is a good way to keep yourself on track and answer that question over time. – [Craig] You know I love
that, I know a lot of people that review different
measurements of success but to look at, you know, did
I live according to my values, that’s so important because if
we don’t get that part right, then all the external success
really falls way-way short. So I just wanna express
my gratitude to you James, thank you for coming on the podcast, and more so, your book, it kinda feels like a lifelong effort, I think you’ve been studying
this for a long time, and it really-really shows, so thank you for your
investment and the work you put into the book, it’s called Atomic Habits, I hope that if everyone listening to it has not read or listened to this book, I highly-highly recommend it, and just as a side note, I listen to and read a lot of books, a lot a lot of books, and I put
this at the top of the list, in the last several years of
books that I’m recommending, so it’s, it really-really is a good one, if someone wants to
find out more about you or kinda continue learning from you, what’s the best way for
them to do that, James? – [James] Yeah, well, thank you so much, I’m so glad you enjoyed it, so thank you for the
kind words and review, you can find more of my work at jamesclear.com, so if you
just click on articles, I have them organized by categories, so you can kinda poke around, see what’s interesting to you, if you’d like to check
out the book directly, it’s called Atomic Habits,
an Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, and you can get that at atomichabits.com. – [Craig] James, thanks so
much, appreciate having you on. – [James] Wonderful, thank you! – Thank you for joining
us at the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. If you wanna go even
deeper into this episode, and get the leadership
guide or show notes, you can go to
life.church/leadershippodcast. You can also sign up to
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and share with your friends on social media. Once again, thank you for joining us at the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. (uplifting music)

5 thoughts on “Q&A: Atomic Habits with James Clear – Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

  1. I just saw his podcast on London Real then some how got directed to this podcast. This will be a game changer in doing small things daily.

  2. I'm listening to this episode. I heard James talk about surrounding yourself with people who have similar goals. We should create a community of people here on YouTube or on Facebook or some kind of platform! Does anybody know if there's anything like that?

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