Life on Your Terms

James Clear on How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

James Clear

Habits are not a finish line to be crossed. They’re a lifestyle to be lived. They’re something to stick to, day in and day out. In this episode, leading expert and best-selling author on habits James Clear will help you keep those New Year’s resolutions.

Sharing proven and actionable tips, learn how to re-frame your thought process to focus on the identity you want to build instead of the outcomes. This small shift will help you form lasting habits within your daily routine all year long, allowing you to build a new normal, a new lifestyle, and sustainable, non-threatening change.

“Rather than focusing on the outcomes that you want this next year, focus on the identity that you’d like to build.

The goal is not to read 40 books this year, which might be a New Year’s resolution you set. The goal is to become a reader, to develop that identity. The goal is not to run a marathon this year, which might be the New Year’s resolution. The goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to lose 40 pounds. The goal is to become the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.

The more that you organize your habits around an identity rather than an outcome, the more that you see the value in just sticking with it, even if it’s a small thing.”—James Clear, author, Atomic Habits

 


 

This Month’s Guest:

JAMES CLEAR is a personal development virtual keynote speaker and the author of the #1 New York Times best-seller Atomic Habits. His entertaining talks teach audiences about small habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement. Clear doesn’t merely report the research of others. He tries out the concepts for himself as he experiments with building better habits as an entrepreneur, writer, and weightlifter. In the end, his talks end up being one-part storytelling, one-part academic research, and one-part personal experiment, forming a colorful blend of inspirational stories, academic science, and hard-earned wisdom. As of May 2020, his book Atomic Habits has sold over 2 million copies worldwide, enjoyed 12 straight months on the New York Times bestseller list, spent 33 weeks on the Wall Street Journal bestselling list, and topped Amazon’s Most Sold List for 31 weeks. His thought leadership regularly appears in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, Medium, and Time, and he is a regular guest for CBS This Morning. @JamesClear

 

Our Host:

CELESTE HEADLEE is a communication and human nature expert, and an award-winning journalist. She is a professional speaker, and also the author of Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, Heard Mentality and We Need to Talk. In her twenty-year career in public radio, she has been the executive producer of On Second Thought at Georgia Public Radio, and anchored programs including Tell Me More, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. She also served as cohost of the national morning news show The Takeaway from PRI and WNYC, and anchored presidential coverage in 2012 for PBS World Channel. Headlee’s TEDx talk sharing ten ways to have a better conversation has over twenty million total views to date. @CelesteHeadlee


 

Additional Resources:


 

Transcript of Our Conversation with James Clear:

Celeste Headlee:
All right. Let’s start with what you start with, and you say start with yourself. That can be an unattractive proposition to someone who wants to find another reason why things are not going well, right? I mean, there may be people who are trying to figure out, trying to find some external cause of what’s going wrong. Why do you say start with yourself?

James Clear:
Well, I mean first, external stuff does influence life, right? Like misfortune, bad luck, randomness, other people. I mean, certainly there are a lot of factors that influence your situation or your outcomes or whatever. Generally speaking, you have less control over external factors, and you have more control over internal ones. I think the only rational or logical, reasonable approach is to focus on the elements that are within your control.

James Clear:
For that reason, I think usually positive behavior change starts by some level of internal responsibility or internal focus. Once you decide to take responsibility for that, you have a chance to become more self-aware or to take control of those elements that are under your influence, rather than pointing fingers or blaming the external stuff. While that stuff still matters, it’s just less under your influence.

Celeste Headlee:
With habits, can you break a bad habit by developing a good one?

James Clear:
Yeah, good question. Okay, so there’s three ways to break a bad habit. First option is elimination, so you go cold turkey, cut it out entirely. Second option is reduction. You reduce the habit to the desired level.

Celeste Headlee:
Like incrementally?

James Clear:
Yeah. Or like for example, using my phone. A lot of people feel like they’re in the habit of checking their phone too much. For me, I leave my phone in another room until lunch each day. That gives me a four-hour block where I just reduce the behavior. I don’t get rid of my phone entirely, but it reduces it to a level that feels more productive to me. You’ve got elimination, you have reduction.

James Clear:
The third option is what you just mentioned, which is substitution, and substitution is often the most effective route to take. It’s not the only one. Sometimes other ones work better, but the reason is it’s similar to a plant. One plant can crowd out another, and a good habit can often crowd out a bad one automatically.

James Clear:
For example, a lot of people feel like they’re in the habit of watching too much television, or they get home from work and they feel exhausted and so they’d look for some way to decompress. Maybe that’s playing video games or maybe it’s watching TV for an hour, or maybe it’s just chilling on the couch or whatever. They might also feel like, oh, I want to build a good habit, of say going to the gym or journaling for an hour or something like that.

James Clear:
My argument for the substitution piece is you could just focus on building the good one. You could say, “When I get home, I’m not going to worry about TV or all these other bad habits that I have. Instead, I’m just going to focus on changing into my workout clothes and stepping out the door.”

James Clear:
If you focus on building that good one, by definition, when you’re walking around the block or at the gym for 40 minutes or whatever, you’re not watching TV, right? It’s like a good plant crowding out another. The good habit is crowding out the space for the bad one. Substitution can definitely be an effective way to change a habit.

Celeste Headlee:
At what point does can a good habit become a bad habit? I can go too far, right?

James Clear:
Yeah. You can get addicted to exercise, right? I think the way that I think about this is that there are certain behaviors in life that the default tends toward the more negative side. There are other behaviors in life that the default tends toward the more positive side.

James Clear:
Any behavior, if done in too much of an extreme, can be a bad habit. It can be an addiction or it can be unproductive, or it can negatively influence your life. That’s one of the definitions of a bad habit or an addiction, which is a behavior that is repeated despite knowing that it has negative consequences. You know that it hurts you, but you still can’t stop yourself from doing it. That’s when it crosses that line into addictive behavior.

James Clear:
To take it back to my default, positive versus negative, yes, exercise could become an addiction, but it generally defaults more towards a positive outcome, whereas say smoking defaults more towards a negative outcome. Really what you’re looking for in life is not to eliminate your problems. Everybody has problems. What you’re hoping to do is to upgrade your problems, right? If your problem is you work out a little too much, that’s probably a much better problem to be dealing with than you smoke too much.

Celeste Headlee:
What’s different about New Year’s, right? Why do New Year’s resolutions fail almost all the time? What makes those different?

James Clear:
Well, first I think a part of it is that motivation and excitement and expectation tends to ramp up when you’re at the start of a new season. That could be Mondays, the start of a new week, or it could be July 1st, the start of a new month. It could be January 1st, the start of a new year, which in many cases is also the start of a new month and a new week and so on. There’s something motivating about a fresh start. I think people get wrapped up.

Celeste Headlee:
Not motivating enough.

James Clear:
Well, this is why everybody sets New Year’s resolutions but then doesn’t stick with them. Here’s the key that I think. Rather than focusing on the outcomes that you want this next year, focus on the identity that you’d like to build. The goal is not to read 40 books this year, which might be a New Year’s resolution you set. The goal is to become a reader, to develop that identity. The goal is not to run a marathon this year, which might be the New Year’s resolution. The goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to lose 40 pounds. The goal is to become the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.

James Clear:
The more that you organize your habits around an identity rather than an outcome, the more that you see the value in just sticking with it, even if it’s a small thing, right? Reading one page does not make you a genius, but it does reinforce the identity of “I’m a reader,” or doing one pushup does not transform your body, but it does reinforce the identity of “I’m the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.”

James Clear:
Eventually, if you cast enough votes for being that kind of person, you start to believe it. That’s why I have that phrase where I say every action you take is like a vote for the type of person you want to become, because ultimately what you’re looking to do is build habits that cast votes for your desired identity.

Celeste Headlee:
People get into trouble when they start trying to tell other people what habits they should have or making assumptions, based on their appearance or whatever, that their habits are bad. Is it a good rule to not give people advice on that?

James Clear:
Yeah. This is one of the things that I thought about carefully when I was writing the book, because I didn’t want to write a book where I felt like I was telling people what they should build. Instead, I tried to unpack what a habit is and how it works, and then however you choose to implement it, feel free to do that.

James Clear:
You’re right, we all run into these sticky situations, especially in our families, like parents who really care about their kids and want them to change their habits, or brothers and sisters or people you work with or whoever it is, your neighbor, and changing your own behavior is hard enough. Trying to change somebody else’s is really challenging.

James Clear:
If you feel like you’re in a situation where you just feel compelled to say something, and I feel like I honestly believe that this person’s life would be a little better if they were able to build this habit, then the strategy that I recommend is praise the good, ignore the bad. This is easy to say. It’s much harder to practice in real life, because when you see somebody doing the thing you don’t want them to do, our default is to criticize or to point fingers, or to scold or explain.

Celeste Headlee:
We notice it faster anyway.

James Clear:
Yeah, but the benefit of praising the good and ignoring the bad is that the human brain is wired to seek satisfaction, pleasure, enjoyment, praise, rewards. Most of the things that we repeat, we repeat them because at some level it is rewarding to us. For example, if you want to motivate your spouse to come with you to work out, and each time you do it, it doesn’t have to be over the top, but you say like, “Hey, I’m really glad you joined me today,” or “This is my favorite part of the day, I’m glad we could do this together,” or, “I’m really proud of you, you didn’t feel like getting in here today, but that was great,” something small that is positive, what ends up happening is no single instance does anything.

James Clear:
Over the span of a year or two or five, their brain starts to learn, “Each time I do this, I get praised. Each time I do this, I feel good. Each time I do this, it’s satisfying. Each time I do this, the person I love is happy.” Even if they would never say it in that explicit way, it starts to reinforce it over time.

Celeste Headlee:
They may not even realize that that’s what’s happening in their brain.

James Clear:
Correct. Yeah. For that reason, I think it’s effective, but it’s a very long-term strategy. Literally you just need to, as the other person, you can say, “This is how I plan to live my life, is to praise this person for doing these good things.” There was actually a funny story in the New York Times of a woman who wrote this op-ed about how she was really annoyed that her husband always left his dirty laundry hanging around the house. She used to complain and nag him for it and so on, and he would just get mad.

James Clear:
Instead, she was like, “All right, I’m not going to say anything when he leaves it out. On the occasions that he puts it in the laundry hamper, I’ll run over to him, give him a kiss, be like, `Oh, thank you so much for putting it away,’ whatever.” Over the course of the year, he learned to put it in the hamper, because every time he did it, something positive happened.

Celeste Headlee:
Yeah. We hate to think we can be trained like laboratory rats.

James Clear:
Basically, but we’re kind of like our dogs. We’re kind of like our pets, right? The point here is not to treat the people in your life like a pet or like a lab rat. It’s to praise and reinforce the behaviors that you really enjoy and feel like are worth rewarding.

Celeste Headlee:
You’re talking about long-term, which has to bring us to what I assume is the most common question you get, which was, “I thought it only takes 21 days to form a habit.” Let’s just debunk that immediately, right?

James Clear:
Certainly. You see things like it takes 21 days or 30 days, and those are all myths. The real answer of course is it depends. It depends on the habit. There was one study that showed that on average, it took about 66 days to build a habit. Even in that study, the range was quite wide. Something simple like drinking a glass of water at lunch each day would be a few weeks, and something more complicated like going for a run after work every evening would take seven or eight months or something. I don’t think 66 really tells you anything.

James Clear:
The honest answer to how long does it take to build a habit is forever, because if you stop doing it, it’s no longer a habit, right? What you’re really looking to do is to build a new normal, a new lifestyle, a sustainable, nonthreatening change. You’re looking to integrate this into your daily routine. I think that question is a little bit misguided, in the sense that habits are not a finish line to be crossed. They’re a lifestyle to be lived. They’re something to stick to, day in and day out.

Celeste Headlee:
It’s kind of the problem we have with diets, right? You shouldn’t use the word “diet.” It’s just “Change the way you eat.”

James Clear:
Yeah. Well, we’re like this with a lot of habits, but for whatever reason, diets in particular are very all or nothing. It’s like you do a new diet and you stick to it for seven or eight or nine days, and then on the tenth day your friends want to go to happy hour or you binge-eat a pizza or something. Then you’re like, “Why bother? I knew I wasn’t going to be to stick with this. I’ll just go back to the old way of eating.”

James Clear:
I think the sustainable way to approach that is to employ this philosophy I call “never miss twice.” Basically it says, “Look, I wish I hadn’t binge-ate the pizza, but never miss twice, so let me make sure the next meal is a healthy one.” You pour all of your energy into getting back on track quickly.

James Clear:
I think implicitly we all sort of know this, which is that it’s never the first mistake that ruins you. It’s the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. It’s letting a mistake become a new habit that’s the real problem. If you can cut that off at the source and pour your energy into getting back on track quickly, well, then at the end of the year it’s just a blip on the radar.

James Clear:
I think philosophies like that, like “never miss twice” and focusing on building the identity that you want to have, they help you maintain some of that consistency in the long run. That’s really the most important thing.

Celeste Headlee:
Is there any gender difference between the way men and women either form habits or break them?

James Clear:
Well, there are certainly individual differences. There are huge differences in how your personality might influence your habits, right?

Celeste Headlee:
Your upbringing, your environment.

James Clear:
Right. I talk about this a lot in the book. You have environmental differences. First we have physical environment, the things that are on your desk at home or kitchen counter or your desk at work. They all shape the habits and choices that you might make. Whatever option is the path of least resistance or the most obvious path, the thing that’s most likely to get your attention, is more likely to be acted upon. Designing a physical environment that serves your habits rather than hinders them, that makes a big impact.

James Clear:
Then outside of the physical environment, you have the social environment. You’ve got the people that you hang around. I think the punchline here is you want to join a group, join a tribe, where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. Because if it’s normal in that group, then sticking to the habit is going to help you belong, and that’s really the key thing. We stick to the habits that help us belong to the groups we want to be part of.

Celeste Headlee:
This was the really interesting part of your book, and that’s selfishly because it aligns with what I talk about, which the sense that I get from your research is that it is much easier to break or build habits in a group than it is individually.

James Clear:
I have a chapter in the book, I think it’s Chapter 9 or 10, that’s like the influence of friends and family on your habits. I knew social environment was important. I wrote a whole chapter on it, but this is one of the topics that, since the book has come out, I think is even more important than I realized. When habits stick for the long run, it’s often because people are part of a community where that habit is the norm.

James Clear:
For example, you move into a new neighborhood, and you walk outside on Tuesday night and you see your neighbors have their recycling bins out, and you’re like, “Oh, we need to sign up for recycling. That’s what people like us do here.” Or you mow your lawn and trim your hedges every weekend. Why do we do that? Well, partially we do it because it feels nice to have a clean yard, but for the most part it feels nice to have a clean yard because you don’t want to be the neighbor who’s judged by everybody else in the neighborhood.

James Clear:
People will stick to those habits for decades, as long as they live there, and it’s mostly because it’s socially reinforced. It’s almost like the social environment, the expectations of the tribes that we are in, are so strong that it’s like a fish in water. It’s like, what is water? You don’t even realize that it’s surrounding you all the time.

Celeste Headlee:
Yeah, the air you breathe.

James Clear:
It’s true for big tribes. We’re all part of multiple tribes. Some of them are big, like what it means to be American or what it means to be French. Some of them are small, like what it means to be a neighbor on your street, or a member of your local CrossFit gym or a volunteer at the local elementary school, and all of those tribes have a set of shared habits that are normal in that group.

James Clear:
The key is to, again, find a group where the desired behavior is the normal behavior. Do you hang out with a bunch of jazz musicians? Practicing an instrument four nights a week seems very normal, because that’s what everybody else is doing. You’re trying to look for those areas of overlap where you’re surrounded by people who have the habits that you want to have, so you can rise together.

Celeste Headlee:
This can work to your disfavor also, though, and we’ve seen that especially in the #MeToo movement era, where men who’ve seen abuse and harassment happen have been like, “Oh, I saw that happen and I didn’t even think to speak up.” This can absolutely be a negative.

James Clear:
That’s one of the challenges of habits, which is that they’re a double-edged sword. Pretty much every idea that we talk about today can either work for you or against you. Like the identity piece I mentioned earlier, a really crucial thing. If you look at yourself as “I’m a runner,” it’s easier to stick with running every day. Or if you look at yourself as “I’m a meditator,” it’s easier to stick with meditating.

James Clear:
Identities can also be negative. You can say, “I’m the type of person that has a sweet tooth,” or, “I’m bad at math,” or, “I’m terrible at remembering people’s names,” and as soon as we assign those identities to ourselves, those behaviors become easier too. Whether we’re talking about identity or the social environment or the physical environment, all of those factors can work for you or against you.

Celeste Headlee:
Let’s talk about habit loops, because this is one of the ways you talk about not just understanding habits, but creating ones. Explain what a habit loop is.

James Clear:
The habit loop, this terminology first started with Charles Duhigg’s book, Power of Habit. He had three stages. I’ve added a fourth, because I think it’s important.

Celeste Headlee:
Kind of a fifth.

James Clear:
Yeah. Well, the identity piece influences all of it. The four stages of my habit loop are cue, craving, response and reward. Cue, craving, response and reward. The cue is something that gets your attention, like seeing a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter. That’s a visual cue. That starts the habit of eating a cookie. The craving is the prediction that you make about whether that cue is worth acting on or not. You see the plate of cookies and then you predict, “Oh, that cookie will be sweet or sugary or tasty.”

James Clear:
You can imagine being in a different state, like let’s say you’re stuffed because you just finished eating dinner and you just had five cookies. Well, now you walk into the kitchen, you see that plate there and you’re like, “God, I can’t eat anything else,” and so the prediction changes. Then you choose to not act on it. I think that craving, that second stage, is important for understanding why people act differently in different circumstances.

James Clear:
You’ve got the cue, the craving, which motivates you, and then you have the response, so actually picking the cookie up and eating it. Then finally the fourth stage is the reward, which is the benefit of doing it. I predict the cookie will be sweet and sugary and tasty, and it is in fact sweet, sugary and tasty.

Celeste Headlee:
Now I want a cookie.

James Clear:
Yeah, right. Now, one thing I want to add. Not every experience in life is rewarding, so that fourth stage. Sometimes behaviors have consequences, sometimes they’re just neutral. If an experience is not rewarding, it’s unlikely to be a habit. It’s unlikely that the loop will repeat itself, because your brain learns, “Wow, this was negative or had a consequence. There was a cost to that behavior. Why would I do that again?”

Celeste Headlee:
Interestingly enough, you are telling people to find the reward, right? If they’re doing something and they think to themselves, “Why do I keep doing this, it’s terrible for me,” you’re saying to them, “Well, some part of it is rewarding.”

James Clear:
Well, every behavior in life serves you in some way. This is one of the challenges with good habits and bad habits. You can think of habits as producing multiple outcomes across time. In many cases, the immediate outcome of a bad habit is favorable. It’s only the ultimate outcome that’s unfavorable.

James Clear:
For example, the immediate outcome of smoking a cigarette might be that it calms your nerves or you get to smoke outside with a friend and socialize, or it helps you de-stress after a long day or it resolves your nicotine craving. The immediate outcome is actually favorable. It’s only the ultimate outcome, of lung cancer, reduced health or whatever, that is unfavorable.

James Clear:
With good habits, though, it’s often the reverse. What is the immediate outcome of going to the gym for a week? Your body hasn’t really changed. The scale probably hasn’t moved. If anything, maybe you’re a little bit sore. Often in cases for good habits, the immediate outcome is unfavorable, but the ultimate outcome, if you stick with working out for a year or two or five, is favorable.

James Clear:
A lot of the challenge of building good habits and breaking bad ones is figuring out how to manage that misalignment of rewards and get through, for good habits. Get through that valley of death in the beginning where you’re just showing up and doing the right thing, but the long-term rewards haven’t accumulated yet.

Celeste Headlee:
How often should we check in? I asked this. I had a conversation with a nutritionist who said she has to be very careful to never say bad eating is a bad habit. She says that because very often whatever that was, it got them possibly through a very tough time. Maybe that’s what they needed to survive that time. They were in emergency mode.

James Clear:
It was their coping strategy?

Celeste Headlee:
Exactly, and to a certain extent, oftentimes it’s successful. They got through it. How often do we have to reevaluate habits to make sure they’re still serving us?

James Clear:
That’s a great question. A lot of the ideas that I cover early in the book are about how to get a habit started and then about how to stick with it. Then the next question after you get through those two hurdles is, should I stick with it? Is this habit still serving me?

James Clear:
This is one of the real challenges with the identity aspect that we talked about earlier, which is early on, you don’t have the identity of the habit you’re trying to build, “I am a runner,” “I’m a meditator,” whatever. Then you employ the habit for a while and stick with it, and you keep casting votes for being this new kind of person. At some point you start to believe it about yourself.

James Clear:
The challenge of growth is that it’s not a line, it’s a circle. We come back around to where we were originally, and now suddenly you have to ask yourself, “Okay, now I have this new identity. Is this identity still serving me? Maybe not. Maybe I need to upgrade and expand my identity.”

James Clear:
Sometimes I like to refer to this as like retouching a painting. You’re constantly undergoing revisions of the self, and that doesn’t mean you have to abandon everything that you were in the past. You don’t need to take your current identity and rip it apart and not use any of it, but maybe there are portions of it that used to serve you in a different season that don’t serve you anymore.

James Clear:
I like to do this reflection review at a couple of different levels. It depends on the habit. On Fridays, I do a weekly review for my business. For that collection of habits, a week is a decent frequency. I don’t actually do that much reviewing on a monthly basis. That’s a dead space for me.

James Clear:
Then annually, at the end of each year, I do an annual review at the end of December, and that’s where I write down a bunch of just how did I show up this year, so how many workouts did I do, how many new places did I travel to, how many articles did I write, and track my habits. Just give myself a baseline. Did I show up this year or not?

James Clear:
Then in July, so six months later, I do what I call my annual integrity report. That report has three questions. The first question is, what are my values? What are my principles? What am I trying to live by? The second question is the feel-good question, how did I live up to those this year? Where was I living in alignment with that? Then the third question is the most important one, which is where did I fail to live up to those?

James Clear:
That annual review and the integrity report, they give me two touch points each year to check in and make sure that my habits are still aligning with my identity or my principles or my values, the things I say are important to me. Because when I feel like if you ask anybody, do you have integrity, pretty much everyone is going to say yes, right?

Celeste Headlee:
Bernie Madoff would say yes, yeah.

James Clear:
Right. What happens there, because often people … everybody makes mistakes. People act without integrity sometimes. I’ve slipped up. What happens in those cases? If you think you have it but then you don’t act that way, why?

James Clear:
I think the answer is that it’s a lot of “just this once” exceptions. It’s like, “Oh, well, it was different in this case. It made sense here.” Having those check-ins twice a year for me helps pull me back to center and make sure I don’t get too far off course, and that my habits are backing up what I say is important.

Celeste Headlee:
How do we make sure we’re not worrying about this too much? One of the other things you talk about is worry, and we do have a habit of overanalyzing everything, of stacking up too many things for us to worry about, about just trying to amp up and hack everything we do. How do we keep from having this get in the way of living our lives?

James Clear:
Yeah. This is an interesting question. I’ve been thinking more about qualities like this recently, and the answer that I’ve come to is that I think it’s about self-awareness. What I mean is that people like to act like there is one right way to do things. Advice lands in a stronger way when you take a really strong stance on stuff like that.

James Clear:
I think the truth is some people need to worry more … maybe they’re too lazy, maybe they don’t have enough urgency in their life, maybe they’re not focused … and then other people need to worry much less. They worry all the time. They’re walking around like prey animals. They’re just, yeah, frantic, right?

James Clear:
The key is to know is to know which one you are in the moment, right? Because all of us can be that person in different circumstances. If you imagine it like a spectrum, too much worry on one side, too little worry, too little urgency, too little stress or focus on the other side, where are you at right now on that spectrum?

James Clear:
That’s what I mean by self-awareness, is that it’s not saying worry or stress are never useful. They might be useful in some cases, but they also are very un-useful and don’t serve us and others. Figuring out where you are in that spectrum right now I think is probably the more useful thing, and that requires a lot of self-awareness.

Celeste Headlee:
Last question for you. What question do you have? If you were able to get a research team at your disposal and you were able to put forth a study to answer a question, what would it be?

James Clear:
Oh, that’s interesting. Well, so I’ll stick with the domain of habits since that’s what we’ve been talking about, but there’s I’m sure much more important questions for a research team to tackle. The one that I’m really interested in right now is how your personality shapes your habits. I feel like we’re on the cusp right now of research breaking through and understanding the genetic underpinnings of personality more. There is some evidence of this already.

James Clear:
There’s the most robust measure of personality is the Big Five, and so it maps personality into five spectrums. The one that most people are familiar with is introversion on one side, extroversion on the other. There are other spectrums, like agreeableness and conscientiousness and so on. For each of those five, they have found that there is some genetic link to where you fall on that spectrum. That makes sense, because your personality is what you carry around from room to room, and you carry your genes with you everywhere.

James Clear:
What I would love to see is to try to get a deeper understanding of the genetic interactions with the habits that you build. For example, if someone’s high on the agreeableness spectrum, they tend to be warm and kind and considerate. Those people, they also have higher natural levels of oxytocin, which is kind of interesting.

Celeste Headlee:
Mommy’s hug hormone?

James Clear:
Yeah, which you could imagine that someone who is high in agreeableness, it might be easier for them to build the habit of writing thank-you notes, for example. Or if they’re high in agreeableness and extroversion, maybe it’s easier for them to build the habit of getting people together for social occasions or hosting parties or whatever. I don’t know what that is. I’d love to see a very long list of habits, and then if there’s any connection between where people fall in those spectrums.

James Clear:
Because I think what will be interesting is that … and this is my ultimate punchline about genes and habits, which is that a lot of the time people don’t like talking about genetics or don’t like talking about the biological underpinnings of behavior, because they think it feels like, “Oh, it’s fixed, and if it’s fixed, then it’s destiny and why would I even bother? Why put up with it?”

Celeste Headlee:
Yet we totally accept that dogs, biology influences a dog’s behavior or an elephant’s behavior. We accept it for every animal except ourselves.

James Clear:
Yeah. Right. We feel like it reduces our free will or something. I think that that’s the wrong lesson to take from behavioral genetics or from those studies. I think the real lesson to take away is that understanding your genetic underpinnings or your inclinations does not tell you to not work hard. Instead, it tells you where to work hard. It tells you how to design your strategy, to magnify your strengths and maybe bolster your weaknesses.

James Clear:
Really what it does is it just increases self-awareness. It gives you a better idea of what you’re naturally inclined to do, and maybe that will give you a better idea of what areas you should pursue for your career or what habits you could build easier, or which habits you need a little bit of extra help with. All that does is just helps you act more efficiently. Anyway, that’s a long-winded answer, but I’d be interested in diving into that more.

Celeste Headlee:
James Clear, I’m letting you get away without a single habit pun, just so you know.

James Clear:
Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Celeste Headlee:
My pleasure. Thank you.

 
Themes: Life on Your Terms, Transitions, Goals & Priorities, Success & Leadership, Innovation, Podcasts, Women Amplified: A Podcast from the Conferences for Women Tagged: , |
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