Atomic Habits Chapter 6

Chapter 6 digs into the power of your environment and how it can be a cue for your habits.

Idea 1: location, location, location

“The truth, however, is that many of the actions we take each day are shaped not by purposeful drive and choice but by the most obvious option.”

Clear’s first law is “Make it obvious”. Obvious cues are more likely to trigger action. It’s the whole “out of sight, out of mind” notion.

Impulse shopping is centered on this idea.

The products that sell the most are at eye-level. This does 2 things.

  1. It makes the product obvious. They’re easy to see.
  2. The products are in arm’s reach. They’re easy to get.

This section emphasizes the “easy to see” bit but ignores the “easy to get” part. I’m not sure why.

I don’t have any statistics to back me up. But I’ll wager that eye-level products which are locked up don’t sell as well as eye-level products which don’t require assistance. They’re easier to get.

And isn’t “obvious” a form of “easier”? If something is obvious, it’s easier to notice.

And that’s what all of the laws boil down to: make it easy.

Idea 2: more cues are better than a single cue

Initially, a habit might be triggered by a single, specific trigger. But your brain will start pattern matching. That’s what it does.

Soon, your habit’s trigger could be any number of things involving all of your senses and feelings. Anything that your brain experiences can become part of the cue. And the more cues the better.

(I wonder if this is another, unmentioned benefit of habit stacking.)

That’s good news and bad.

The most persistent habits usually have the most cues.

That’s the good news. Your workout habit might have been hard to get started. But sooner or later, simply going to the gym (or wherever you workout) will trigger the habit.

The bad news is that your subconscious brain will screw this up if you’re inconsistent.

What do you do when you get into bed? If you try to go right to sleep every night, you’ll be more likely to go right to sleep. If you play on your phone some nights, your contextual cues won’t fire. The habit that gets triggered will probably be the habit with the most immediate payoff – playing on your phone. And that reinforces the habit that your bed is for playing with your phone until you wonder why you can’t sleep. (There are other issues like insomnia that contribute to this. But this is a potentially real scenario for many people.)

Idea 3: you can build the solution yourself

We’re not children. While we have many things dictated to us, we have a lot of flexibility in our lives. Within that broad area of control, you can build an environment that helps you execute your habits.

This has 2 benefits:

  1. You can create the right cues for you. Everyone is different. You do you.
  2. New cues work better for creating new habits.

Any change in your life makes further changes easier. I’m pretty sure that’s discussed in 1 of the books by the Heath brothers (Decisive, Made to Stick, or Switch – I bet it was Switch). They discuss how the chain Target decided to target new parents. The parents were going through a big life change. That made them more open to other changes like changing where they shopped.

Switch is also the book that talks about the elephant and the rider (mentioned in the notes for chapter 3). And this idea of deliberately designing and creating an environment of the cues you want (and hiding the cues for habits you don’t want) is how you control the elephant.

The elephant is on a path. You can’t control the elephant by brute force. But if you shape the path before the elephant gets there, there’s no struggle.

Clear has a quick rule for environmental cue creation: “1 space, 1 use”.

Key takeaways and implementation

I have my list of habits. I have them grouped by theme and organized into sequences.

Now I need to paint the picture of what the execution is like. Where will I be? How will I be positioned? What are my sensory inputs?

For example, here’s the full context of writing habit:

  1. I’m in my home office.
  2. The office lights are on.
  3. The Good Omems opening title song is playing on repeat. (Yes, this makes a difference. I know it does because the Spotify commercials distract me.)
  4. I’m standing at my desk, writing on my computer.
  5. I have a hot cup of coffee on the desk. I can smell it. I can even still taste it.
  6. I have shoes or boots on. I work from home so it’s easy to stay in flip-flops. But flip-flops put me in a slacking mode.

Now to repeat this for all of my critical habits that I need to improve.

Do I need specific drinks for specific tasks or types of tasks? Unique playlists? A different smell? What if that isn’t a crazy idea?

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
Author: James Clear
Amazon rating: 4.8
Amazon price: $14.99
Amazon data gathered on 1Oct2020
Review status: In progress

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