In the book “Atomic Habits”, author James Clear talks about the compound effects and benefits of making positive small decisions.
It’s the hundreds of small choices we make each and every day that influence our habits and identity. So if we are able to manipulate those choices for the better, pretty soon those choices will snowball into changing our lives for the better.
It’s an incredible book, marked with interesting anecdotes and life stories, designed to motivate and show you how to break down your behaviours and the choices behind them. One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from reading this book is just how much your environment impacts your decision making. I always knew that visual cues were important influences on my behaviour. They’re essentially why I always feel hungry after a fast food ad. But it never occurred to me to harness this link for my own benefit.
Vision is the most powerful of all human sensory abilities according to Clear. Which means that visual cues are the biggest influence on human behaviour. So if you want to change your habits, you have to design your environment for success. “Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out.”
This concept really echoes the famous proverb “out of sight, out of mind”. If you want to avoid a bad habit, like say eating an entire block of chocolate, hide the chocolate or don’t have any in your home. Conversely if you want to encourage a good habit, like going for a walk every day, it’s a good idea to keep the cues for this action in your line of sight.
In our current “convenience is king” environment, by making your good habits more convenient than your bad ones, you will be more likely to follow through on the good. And that all starts with making them more obvious.
As of last year I have been trying to learn to play the guitar. It hasn’t been going super well. Although my guitar sits in the corner of my bedroom, a place where I can regularly see it, it still gets little to no use on a day to day basis.
With the help of this book, I’ve been giving more thought as to why this potential habit just isn’t sticking. A few things have occurred to me:
1. Even though my guitar is visible, I have no comfortable spot in which to sit and play it.
2. It’s constantly getting out of tune and I have no easy way to fix that.
3. I have exercise equipment in front of it, making the area look messy.
It’s funny how when you start to break down the visual cues in your environment, you begin to see all the obstacles you have inadvertently put in your way. It also becomes extremely obvious how lazy you have become.
My plan therefore is to remove as many obstacles as I can. So my first step will be to install a guitar tuner app on my phone and to actually tune my guitar. Next I’m moving the guitar to my living room. Specifically to the right side of my armchair. This chair is comfortable and offers the back support needed for good guitar playing posture. It’s also my favourite chair and one that I sit in regularly to watch TV.
I’m hoping that by changing the location of my guitar and guitar stand, I will make it easier to form the habit of practicing my playing each evening. Even if it’s just for a few minutes during commercial breaks, the goal is to start forming the habit. I can always build on that habit later.
Overall I adore this book and would recommend it to pretty much everyone I know, even my super organized friends. There is something new to learn for everyone. Remember it’s the hundreds of small steps that lead to great strides in behaviour.