Habit expert James Clear describes the best approaches for tackling behavior change in the New Year.
James Clear is a writer and speaker focused on habits, decision making, and continuous improvement. He is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits. The book has sold over 5 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 50 languages.
Clear is a regular speaker at Fortune 500 companies and his work has been featured in places like Time magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and on CBS This Morning. His popular “3-2-1” email newsletter is sent out each week to more than 1 million subscribers.
James Clear - The 4 Laws of Behavior Change, Foodist podcast
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Notice: Any purchases made through my links to Amazon will result in them sending us a few cents that will certainly not cover the cost of running this show.
Darya Rose: [00:00:00] I'm Dr. Darya Rose, and you're listening to the Darya Rose Show, where we bring a fact-based perspective to answer all those confounding questions that come up in our day to day lives, from achieving optimal health to making conscious choices about your purchases and raising kids that thrive. We are here to help you navigate your life with confidence.
Hello, and welcome back to a special COVID edition of the Darya Rose Show. For those who haven't heard, I have COVID-19 right now, um not very proud of that. But at least I am now feeling well enough to interview today's guest, James Clear. For those who don't know, James Clear is a writer and speaker focused on habits, decision making and continuous improvement. He's the author of the number one New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits. The book has sold over 5 million copies worldwide, and has been translated into more than 50 languages. And in [00:01:00] fact, it was the number one best selling book on Amazon in 2021, which is insane because it came out in 2018.
[laughs] So it's a fantastic book. If you haven't read it, you absolutely should. It's one of the best manuals you can find on troubleshooting your own habits and behavior. And clearly, I'm not alone in thinking that. The last time I spoke to James was actually the week Atomic Habits came out on, on my old show a gazillion years ago, or three years as it were. [laughs] But I thought it would be a great time to have him back and recap what's been going on. And obviously it's a new year, I wanted to talk a little bit about New Year's resolutions. I'm not the biggest fan of New Year's resolutions. But I totally understand that there are a lot of people looking to make changes in the coming year, after all that we've been through in the past three years with the pandemic and you know, a lot.
So, [00:02:00] yeah, James came back, I wanted to hear how he's faring through the pandemic, if he has any new habits associated with that. I know he's also a new dad, wanted to talk to him about parenting. And breaking bad habits was something that we talked about quite a bit. And for me, one of the most interesting things is I know a lot of you out there are stuck in a house with a bunch of people all day long for the first time in a long time and have been for a while. And this can be really hard. And one of the things that I wanted to talk to him about was how to nudge the behaviors of other people, not just your own, but, but the habits of others. So I learned a ton. I had a fantastic time. And I hope you enjoy this conversation with James Clear. James Clear, welcome back to the show.
James Clear: Hello, good to talk to you. Thanks for having me.
Darya Rose: Yeah, it's been a long time. I think the last time we spoke on a podcast was the week your book came out.
James Clear: Wow, boy, yeah, it's been, it's been a wild uh three [00:03:00] years.
Darya Rose: Gosh, has it been three years?
James Clear: Yeah. Atomic Habits came out October 2018. Um so just over, just over three years.
Darya Rose: And you're still number one bestseller on Amazon?
James Clear: Yeah, that's pretty wild. That definitely was unexpected. Yeah, I'm very, very grateful and fortunate the book has had uh such staying power.
Darya Rose: That's insane. So yeah, I got your email about that, that you are the, the number one selling book on Amazon in 2021. What, what's going on, man? That's freaking cool. [laughs]
James Clear: Yeah, yeah, I don't, I don't know. Um, this is something I tried to do before I even wrote the book. I like ideas that are timeless and evergreen. And I like topics that are, you know, kind of universal and broadly applicable. And there aren't actually that many topics that fall into those two categories. But I think habits is one of those things that applies to pretty much everybody. And um, you know, is, is fairly timeless.
So I think the book is benefiting from that. It's just as relevant now. And then, you know, of course, my audience is larger, and I'm [00:04:00] continuing to talk about it, and so on. So that's helping a little bit. But I think the truth is, we can pick a number, you know, that you could actually move a number of copies, you could move from a concerted effort and a good launch and a good marketing plan, a big audience and all that and whatever the number is, maybe it's $20,000, maybe it's $100,000, I don't know. But at some point, I think once you get into the millions of copies sold, it's kind of out of your hands, and it's really just word of mouth that's driving it at this point, um which is ultimately why like the best marketing strategy is always to create something remarkable.
And I like Seth Godin's definition of that where he's like, it has to be worthy of remark. You know, it has to be so good that people are willing to talk about it. I hoped that the book would be that. It's not really up to me to decide. It's up to the readers, but people do seem to be enjoying it and sharing it.
Darya Rose: Did it stay there the whole time or has it like resurged in pandemic or something?
James Clear: It's done better each year that's gone on, so we didn't get near-
Darya Rose: Wow.
James Clear: The bestsellers list the week it came out. [00:05:00] But then it wasn't on for another like six months or so, we, we hit again. And then after about nine months or so that it was out, it started getting picked up pretty consistently. Sales were pretty consistent for the first year. And then the second year, they jumped a little bit. And then the third year, they jumped again. And then actually last week.
Darya Rose: That's amazing. Congratulations. And I'm glad that people are thinking systematically about their behavior.
James Clear: Yeah, I think that's probably my favorite part about all that. I mean, there of course, if you write a book, you hope that it does well and sells well and all that and great from a business standpoint. But, you know, the coolest thing is, now I get to usually every day really, I'm hearing from readers who, you know, somebody used it to lose 30 pounds last year or somebody, it inspired them to start their own writing habit. Now they're working on a book, meditating, or whatever, you know, whatever. Habits are very personal. And it's fun to hear about. Ultimately, why you write, you know, it's like, you hope it helps somebody else.
Darya Rose: Super cool. Well, I was hoping we could revisit [00:06:00] habits and behavior change hacks, for lack of a better word, because it's now 2022. And within two years into a pandemic, I currently have COVID. That's very exciting. [laughs] But all of us even if you haven't gotten COVID, yet, have been subjected to lockdowns and staying in our house. And I don't know about you, but I haven't set foot in the public gym in years. So a lot of things changed.
James Clear: Yeah, I haven't been to the gym in two years. So I had to build a home gym. So now I've got you know, dumbbells and weights and stuff in the basement, which actually has ended up being better for me in some ways, lower friction. Yes, okay.
Darya Rose: Those things.
James Clear: I haven't been on an airplane two years. Before I was, you know, flying around doing a lot of keynotes and traveling for work and fun. And early on, I was like, okay, I know I'm not gonna be traveling as much. So what am I going to do with this extra time? I'd like to, maybe I'd like to read a little more. So I tried to stack the deck. And I put a bunch of books, you know, I've got like books on my desk, on the coffee table, next to the bed. And then I moved Audible [00:07:00] from like deeper in the apps on my phone to the home screen. And I was just trying to like, make it really obvious for me to see and be around books and get up.
Darya Rose: I wonder where you got that idea. [laughs]
James Clear: Yeah.
Darya Rose: It's kind of obvious.
James Clear: It did, it did help. And I, I have been reading a lot. I've been reading differently, though. I feel like I used to read like, I've been more focused and read one or two things at a time. And now I have all these books spread all over the place. So I'm kind of like dipping in and out of stuff. It's like more choppy. But I am still reading consistently. So yeah, there have been many changes. But those are a couple.
Darya Rose: Reading section at all?
James Clear: I like it. I read Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is the science fiction novel. I thought was great. I read The Martian. I've been, I've been wanting to read project Hail Mary, his latest one, but I haven't yet.
Darya Rose: I just finished it yesterday during COVID.
James Clear: Do you like it?
Darya Rose: I did. Yeah, it was fun.
James Clear: Yeah. So I like reading stuff like that. But I have this, you know, syndrome, where it's very hard for me to rationalize spending time reading that when I know I could be reading something that, [00:08:00] you know, I could be writing about or sharing in the newsletter or whatever.
Darya Rose: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
James Clear: So I probably need to get over that this is probably like a personal hang up that I like, you know, don't give myself permission to read for fun as much. But I, I do enjoy it when I eventually-
Darya Rose: I do find it sparks my creativity sometimes.
James Clear: Do you?
Darya Rose: Especially once I'm at the stage where I've got all the knowledge, you know, like, the knowledge is all there. And I'm just trying to make the connections and make an elegance.
James Clear: That makes sense.
Darya Rose: That's when fiction really helps me through metaphor analogy, and all that.
James Clear: I, I find that for a long time, I thought I remember having this thought when my audience reached 100,000 email subscribers, I had this like little moment where I was like oh, now a lot of people are watching like, did better really be good. And so I thought, okay, I should just spend more time writing, uh more time editing, more time like mailing the ideas. And actually, what happens is the writing got worse for me. And eventually, I realized that it's kind of like driving a car, you know, like, you need to stop at the gas station occasionally and fill up. Otherwise, you just get [00:09:00] stuck on the side of the road. But also, the point is not to just sit at the gas station and fill your car with gas all day, like you need a balance between the two.
And for me, that's reading and writing. Like if I ever feel like I'm running out of steam writing, I just need to read more. And if I read a good book [inaudible 00:09:17] um giving me a lot to work with. So I usually have so much to work off of from the nonfiction [inaudible 00:09:28] spark.
Darya Rose: Yeah.
James Clear: Totally see what you're saying about like drawing connections?
Darya Rose: Well, it's a really cool relation to about that you figured out that you do need to balance the input and the output and the reading and writing.
James Clear: It makes sense. You see it in a lot of areas of life, right? It's like, it's like working out. You know, like if you only trained all the time, like you'd just collapse, you know.
Darya Rose: [laughs]
James Clear: But also, you're not supposed to just sit on the couch and lay in bed all day.
Darya Rose: How's your sleep been?
James Clear: Actually, it's been pretty good the last like six months, you know? So I'm a newish parent, and for the first six to nine months, it was you know, very hit or miss and kind of rough. Those [00:10:00] first three or four months are just totally different basically. But once we got through that period, the, the last six months [inaudible 00:10:08]. I'm not sleeping as much as I before I had kids, but it's still, you know, seven, eight hours a day.
Darya Rose: Yeah, that's amazing.
James Clear: I'm still doing.
Darya Rose: I've talked to so many people that have anxiety or trouble sleeping because of being confined and fear of COVID. And-
James Clear: Yeah, I'm pretty good about that. I got a pretty, I don't know. I, I've never been much of a worrier. There are probably downsides to that too, right? Like, you know, they're probably could be better at planning things out, or, you know, maybe like thinking through how stuff you know, is gonna play out. But I think people who are too far in that spectrum are thinking through every scenario. And I am much more of the mind, like, most of these things that you're worried about are not actually the thing that's going to happen that you should be worried about. So you're, you're just bad at predicting in any way. So let's just, you [00:11:00] know, like solve problems as they arise, [inaudible 00:11:03] uh try to generate.
Darya Rose: And being confined like in your house, have you had to do any extra self care or anything like that, to keep sane?
James Clear: We're very fortunate that we live in a walkable neighborhood. So I, I, it is really good for me to get out and go for a walk each day. So that I would say that that has definitely been something that I was not doing consistently before the pandemic, that now has become a little bit of a lifeline just to get outside. I also bought a cabin in the woods about an hour away from our house. Um and so although I haven't been on a plane in two years, and haven't traveled anywhere outside of the state, I have been able to like leave my house and go, you know, walk around the forest for a little bit. And that has been very therapeutic as well. So we're really fortunate that we have two options. I think if I was like, locked up in Brooklyn in an apartment and didn't really have a chance to see anything green, or get outside in the same way, that that would probably [inaudible 00:11:59] really.
Darya Rose: Are there [00:12:00] any habits you've been specifically trying to cultivate around being a dad?
James Clear: So much of it revolves around the baby's schedule, you know, and just like what is, what the day needs to look like for that. I love reading to her, like that's one of my favorite things. And so we probably read, you know, half a dozen books every morning and every night. And so that's like something that kind of anchors the beginning and end of the day. And then of course, you have like this enormous bedtime [inaudible 00:12:25] bathing, taking a bath-
Darya Rose: Two hours, yeah [laughs].
James Clear: Right. It really is. My bed routine's, you know 5:30 to 7:30, every night is like the same things. So that way, there are lots of new habits. I think once my kids get a little bit older, there are all kinds of things that I would like to you know, [inaudible 00:12:41]. Like, right now I take her on a walk every day, you know, there's probably more that can be done there once she's actually running around. So I'm really looking forward to that.
I am, I am already keeping a list of lessons learned throughout life or kind of like truths about life that are not the kind of thing you would normally hear in like a classroom or something, but just [00:13:00] like generally true. I was just having a conversation the other day with my dad about how important it is to follow up. And following up is a really basic thing. But you know, people who are in sales or in marketing, like they have to do it for their job. And so I think they tend to be better at it. And man, you'd be surprised how many times in life, just if the person follows up, you get the result that you want. Now, most of the time when you get a no from somebody, it's not necessarily like no, I'll never do this. It's usually like no, right now isn't a good time, or no, not in the way that you're asking. Like maybe if you took an alternative, you know, approach then I would say yes. And I think lessons like that are not, they're never gonna come up in history class or English class or something. But they're really important for making your way in the world and just kind of you know, understanding how to operate. So I'm, I'm keeping a short list of things like that. Sure.
Darya Rose: I love that. That reminds me of Gretchen Rubin's work. You ever read her work?
James Clear: Yeah, I know Gretchen um but I'm not sure what [00:14:00] particular ideas spark-
Darya Rose: She just yeah, she just has these like little truisms that she says, like I remember always is that the years are long... The years are short, but the days are long or something like that. And this just is yeah, you don't learn that in school. That's-
James Clear: A gift, yeah, days fly by but then yeah, it's interesting.
Darya Rose: Oh, not listen, I was gonna ask you if you've had any sort of unexpected wins or, or even unexpected dead ends in the habit world.
James Clear: Yeah.
Darya Rose: In the last you know, since you've been thinking about this since your book came out.
James Clear: Yeah, there are two things that come to mind. So the first one is more of a personal one. I, for probably, actually it's funny to talk to you about this, probably for like a decade, the primary area of my health and fitness that was like least optimized was nutrition. Um I have always done a pretty good job of getting enough sleep, and I've been pretty consistent about training and working out uh for probably the better part of the decade.
And I like those things. I mean, obviously most people like sleep but like I do enjoy working out like it's fun for me. It's part [00:15:00] of my identity. I, I enjoy it.
But the nutrition part was always just something I kind of just like, let sit by the wayside. And because I worked out a lot, and I was still like fairly young, I don't think I really paid much cost because of it, you know, the consequences were kind of low. But then now, you know, you get older and you compare it. Life gets busy and like, it's just like okay, I don't think I can get away with it the same way that I could before.
Um and so anyway, I hired a coach. And um uh well, first, I should say, I've tried a bunch of other things over, over the course of, you know, a decade or so. I actually I downloaded, I remember, just a couple years ago, I downloaded My Fitness Pal. And I didn't even use it for a day, I used it for one meal.
Darya Rose: [laughs]
James Clear: And I was like, this is an enormous pain. I'm not going to be doing this every day. Um so stuff like logging my food, and whatever just kind of eluded me. And uh during the pandemic, I had to get, I had a weightlifting injury, I had to get surgery on my elbow. And I was like, okay, no, I'm not going to be able to train for six months. [00:16:00] So I got to do something here. I don't want just want to like, you know, be a tub of goo on the couch for, you know, half a year. And so I decided to hire this guy who has helped me with my training and nutrition. And I didn't do very much lifting at all. But I just focused on the eating part for the first time.
And um what ended up working for me was not an app, it was just a, just a Google Sheet, just a spreadsheet. And um I have about probably like most people, I have like 20-ish meals that I eat pretty consistently. And once I have those loaded into the sheet, I can just copy and paste them whenever I, you know, for that day. And so tracking became much easier. And he just sends me one email a week and checks in and-
Darya Rose: The old copy and paste.
James Clear: That's all I needed. So that uh, that was probably the most surprising win of,d of the last few years is like that. I've been able to make progress on that, given how long it took for me to figure out a solution that worked for me. And I think actually, that's probably the main lesson of this little kind of anecdote [00:17:00] is you know, like, I knew most of the strategies, right? Like I wrote a book on the topic. It's not like I didn't really know what to do. But I think a lot of the times people are told, hey, you need to keep trying, try harder, be persistent. But it's actually not just try again, it's also try differently. And I had to keep trying different things until eventually I figured out a solution that worked for me. And you can know all the tools and strategies, but there needs to be a willingness to self experiment because we don't have that then it's very hard to figure out a solution.
Darya Rose: Totally, especially for hard stuff like that, like overhauling how you eat.
James Clear: Right.
Darya Rose: Like for me, one of the things the most difficult habits I ever cultivated was mindful eating. I used to just devour food rapidly, like-
James Clear: Sure.
Darya Rose: My brothers that I grew up with. I got, I did everything that people say, you know, like I would, he's one reason, really slow and like learn to eat mindfully and set a timer. I just did everything. [00:18:00] And all of it was just total nonsense that just didn't work for me at all. And eventually, I figured out that I just had to pick one meal a day, and just turn my phone off and just do it. And I have, I have a whole like program if people want to do it. It's called mindful meal challenge. It's a five day thing that's free. I guess I have ultimately, like turned it into something that people can replicate. But yeah, it was just like five years of failing at it. And then all of a sudden, and now I don't eat fast. And I'm not always perfectly eating mindfully. But because I did, I put in those, those reps.
James Clear: Yep.
Darya Rose: For that one meal for two years, or whatever I did. Now, even when I'm with friends and drinking alcohol and chatting, all the things that would normally distract me, I still eat really slow.
James Clear: That was another lesson that I had is that, you know, sometimes you look at people who are really fit or seem to have a handle on their nutrition, you're like, well, they seem to be able to do it without tracking it or without, you know, doing all this other like jumping through all these other hoops. How do they do it? And the answer is almost always they had a period of their life where they trained that muscle or that skill, where they were doing it [00:19:00] consciously, or they were tracking it carefully. And then after having gone through that and build, building that skill up, well now they can get by without it occasionally if they need to.
And so it looks from the outside, it looks very effortless for them. But actually there was like a period where it was very effortful, and once they have the skill. Anyway, that was the first one. And then the, the second one that came to me and this is probably if I had to pick one topic that I think is more important uh to habit formation than I realized when I was writing the book, I would probably say it's this, and it's just the power of the social environment.
So many of our habits are socially reinforced in some way. We don't even think about it most of the time, because it's almost like a fish being in water. Like we're just constantly surrounded by the communities and tribes that we're part of. And the expectations, the social norms of those groups really strongly influence the habits that we have. The example I like to give is, you know, say like being a neighbor on your street. That's like a, a small tribe or a group that you're a part of, and there are certain norms [00:20:00] norms for how you act as a member of this neighborhood. And like if I walk outside my house, maybe not now, because it's January, but like that's not July or something, you know, I might see my neighbor mowing their lawn. And I'll think, oh, I need to cut the grass. And like, you might stick to the habit of mowing your lawn for 10 or 20 or 30 years, like however long you live in that house.
We wish we had that level of consistency with our other habits. And like, why do you do it? Partially, you do it because it feels good to have a clean lawn. But mostly, it feels good to have a clean lawn because you don't want to be judged by the other people in the neighborhood.
Darya Rose: [laughs]
James Clear: For being a sloppy owner.
Darya Rose: Right.
James Clear: So it's actually that like social expectation, that social norm that helps the habit stick. And so I think the punch line is, you want to join groups where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. And I feel like since the book has come out, I've seen that play out more and more with many different habits that when you're in an environment where you're surrounded by people who the normal thing they [00:21:00] do is the thing you're aspiring to do, it becomes much easier for that to be able to control behavior. And when you're in an environment where that's not the case, you have to run against the grain of the group. And it's really hard for a habit to last in that situation, you know, like, humans are very social creatures. And we all have this deep sense or wiring to belong, to fit in, to be supported. And so if you have to choose between, I have habits that I don't really love but I get to fit in with the group, I'm praised and rewarded, I'm part of it. Or I have the habits that I want to have. But I go against the grain of the group. I'm ostracized, I'm cast out, almost always people choose belonging over loneliness, you know, like the desire to belong overpowers the desire. And so as best as possible, you want to get those two things.
Darya Rose: Yeah, you know, it's interesting, I, I literally just reread your book. You do mention this stuff. But you, you mentioned it more in terms of environments and identity, like a separate thing, the like [00:22:00] social pressure.
James Clear: Yes, I touched on it, I even have a chapter about like the influence of friends and family on your habits. You know, it's like, it's not like I didn't know it was important. It's just that I think it's more important than I realized at the time, and it's the external force, it's the, the power of uh-
Darya Rose: The power of shame. [laughs]
James Clear: Yeah, in a lot of ways, you know, or the, you know, it's two sides of the, of the same coin, like on one side, it's shame and being cast out or being um criticized. And on the other side, it's fitting in and being rewarded and being praised and being part of something. And we want that, and we want to avoid, you know, the shame and criticism. So that drives a lot.
Darya Rose: So I wanted to talk a little bit about New Year's resolution since it is January and I have a little bit of a reputation for being anti New Year's resolutions [laughs], mainly because I just think it's a weird reason to change something. If you want to change something, I think you should just do it. But uh I do know that it can be [00:23:00] meaningful for people like my husband's a great example. We just had a podcast about this a couple of weeks ago, where, you know, some people really do like kind of like let everything kind of get chaotic. And then they want to regroup and, and do something new on beginning of the year.
James Clear: Yeah, some people do it, those people are wrong.
Darya Rose: [laughs] Thank you.
James Clear: So I would say I'm probably somewhere in between, I like you, I don't think there's any reason to wait until New Year's to change. If you're ready to make a change, then let's do it now. But I don't think there's anything wrong with using that motivation or the energy or momentum of a new year. And I think that's probably where I ultimately fall. Whatever gets you moving, fine. You know, like, let's use that, let's harness that energy to direct it in some positive way.
Now, whether I think like resolutions should be unique in some way in how they're set or approaching that change in different way, I don't know that that's true. My big thing is let's start by focusing on the type of person you want to be, the type of identity you want to reinforce. And [00:24:00] then let's look for habits that cast votes for that identity that you know, build up evidence of being that kind of person. And the more that you show up and perform these small behaviors, the more you're building up evidence of that part of your story. And eventually, once you have enough evidence, and you believe in it from all these little times showed up in a small way, it becomes easier to keep doing it. You know, like once you identify as like, I'm a runner, those people don't have to convince themselves to go for a run in the same way that somebody who's you know, trying to do it for the first time does, like it's just it's part of who they are. It's part of the way they see themselves. So ultimately, I think that's where you're trying to get to is some form of identity change, so that the behavior can become something that's more deeply ingrained in who you are, and uh more likely.
Darya Rose: Yeah, 100%. One of the issues that I had looking at New Year's resolutions of others, so I've sort of been in [00:25:00] this game for a while, is I think a lot of time people kind of make the mistake that you talked about in the book about why setting goals, for example isn't necessarily uh the best strategy.
James Clear: Well, I don't think before I criticize goals, because I will have plenty to say on that. First of all, this is coming from someone who's been very goal oriented for a long time, you know, like I set goals for all kinds of things, the goals for my business, the how much weight I wanted to lift in the gym, you know, what grades I wanted to get in school, like all kinds of stuff.
And eventually, I realized that uh sometimes I would achieve them and sometimes I wouldn't. So clearly setting the goal was not like, you know, making the difference on its own. And there are some useful things that goals can do. Like, I think they're good for setting a sense of direction and clarity. So directing your energy and attention, I think they're good for filtering. So somebody comes to you with a new opportunity, you can run it through the filter of your goals and be like well, does this help me get closer to what I want or not? And uh if it doesn't, then it's easier to say no. Setting [00:26:00] those things aside, I think we tend to overemphasize goals and underemphasize systems and habits and process.
And the truth is, in most areas of life, the winners and the losers tend to have the same goals, you know like, presume if you look at the Olympic Games, presumably every athlete that competes at the Olympic Games has the goal of winning the gold medal, right? It's like the goal is not really the thing that separates their performance. It's the system that they follow, the way they train, their nutrition, how much sleep they got the night before, their coaching, all kinds of stuff.
Or if you have a job opening, and 100 people apply for the job, presumably every candidate has the goal of getting the job. So the goal is not you know, the thing that separates the, the difference in their performance, how much experience they have, how well they prepared for the interview, their networking connections, you know, all kinds of stuff. So to put a little like finer point on the language, I like to define goal [00:27:00] as your desired outcome or your targets, or the thing that you're shooting for.
What is your system? It's the collection of daily habits that you follow. And if there's ever a gap between your goal and your system, if there's ever a gap between your desired outcome and your daily habits, your daily habits will always win. Right? Like almost by definition, your current habits are perfectly designed to deliver your current results. So it's kind of one of the ironic things about life, like we all so badly want better results, you know, we also badly want to be more fit or to make more money or to reduce stress or you know, whatever it is, be more productive. But actually, the results are not really the thing that needs to change. It's like fix the inputs, and the outputs will fix themselves. Change the habits, the little gears of the machine, and the system will carry you kind of inevitably to a new, a new result. So I think that's my primary distinction between systems and goals. Ultimately, of course, [00:28:00] you want to have them aligned. But if you're only going to focus on one, the system will always deliver a result whether you're thinking about it or not. So that's the one to resolve.
Darya Rose: Another thing that I often see as potentially misguided when people are setting New Year's resolutions, is I, I tend to say people with a lot of ambition, like they, they set a really big goal. Often that leads to immediate and catastrophic failure. [laughs]
James Clear: I think um the style that, that I like to because I you know, I'm like many people yourself, and you know, many, I'm sure many other people you know, like, I, I want to be ambitious, right? Like I you know, I want to think big and so on. But I think the, the distinction is not whether to do it, but when to do it. So when making plans, I like to think big, but when making progress, I think it's best to think small. And so on any given day, the mistake is usually trying to bite off more than you can chew. Or more really, it's over the course of [00:29:00] like a week or so, you know, like you get really excited about something and you go all in on it, and then it's not sustainable.
So, fundamentally, I kind of feel like there are two core issues with building habits. The first one is getting started and the second one is sticking with it. And almost without fail, the number one pitfall that keeps people from getting started is starting too big. Uh you know, it's picking something that's, that's too big to sustain. And I like to think about habits as kind of like a chemistry problem like they have like an activation energy.
Darya Rose: Yeah.
James Clear: And so like imagine one person is trying to do 100 pushups a day, and another person is trying to do five pushups a day. And the activation energies for those habits are very different. And maybe on your good days when you have, you know, capacity and you're well rested and you feel good, maybe you can get 100 pushups in throughout a day. But when you're stressed and exhausted and tired, you're not going to have enough energy to get that done. And that means you miss and if you throw up a zero on that day, then you start to [00:30:00] feel bad about it, you feel like you're behind. And so it just becomes this kind of like downward spiral.
Meanwhile, starting with five pushups does not sound impressive in any way. But you know that even on your worst day, when you're exhausted, the last thing you can do before you crawl into bed at the end of the night, you could still do five push ups. And that means you're not throwing up to zero. And if you don't have a zero day, then you get to add another like little vote to the pile, that starts to accumulate and feel good. And so I think one of the biggest benefits of small habits is not really that they deliver results right away. It's that they fuel the psychological fire that you have, and they give you a reason to keep showing up. And that counts for a lot in the long run. Because if you stick to the habit, all you need is time. And people who can't stick to habits because they're too big, or they started out with something too ambitious, well, then all of a sudden, you're trying to find energy.
Darya Rose: Yeah, it's so funny, you actually reminded me. [00:31:00] So my husband gave me a New Year's resolution. [laughs]. So he, so I, I used to be a very avid meditator. And then I had children. And now I do not. I yeah, I just it's like one of those things where it's like, I have to choose between eating, showering, working out, or meditating, like the meditating is falling off sideways first.
James Clear: Also your kids just provide such a sense of calm and relief that meditation is something else.
Darya Rose: I don't need to meditate. That's right. [laughs]
James Clear: [laughs]
Darya Rose: But you know, I have been having uh anxiety, I have been having sleep issues. And he keeps saying, like, you need to meditate because he's gotten really into meditation in the last year or so. And I'm like, I agree. But-
James Clear: The hours have to come from somewhere. So where are they coming from?
Darya Rose: Yeah.
James Clear: Yeah.
Darya Rose: And he was like, here's the deal. For January, I volunteer to take the kids for like this normal bedtime, like the first half hour of bedtime. Normally, we sleep together. And he's like, I'll do it. And he's like, you can step in the second half because I always do the second half alone. And then I did, I did have [00:32:00] COVID, I got COVID. And, and like, all this other stuff got in the way. I'm like not doing bedtime anymore. Like the whole plan was derailed. But last night was a great example. Like, I was actually in a great mood, really great, but totally forgot about my meditation promise to myself. And I was already in bed, lights out. And I was like, "Damn it, I forgot to do my meditation." But like, I just set the goal so small, I just got up and did 10 minutes. And, you know, that's not my daily goal, my daily goal is 20 minutes, but like, had I not done it, then I would have failed, you know, the whole month.
James Clear: Yeah.
Darya Rose: So it's one of those things. It's so empowering actually, when you give yourself permission to just do the small thing.
James Clear: There's so many days where I don't have time for to do a full workout. But I can just go down and do a couple sets of squats. And like, no, a 15 minute workout is not what I was hoping to do. But it feels good to know that even though the circumstances weren't ideal, I still was able to get something done and I was still able to be the kind of person I wanted to be that day, even though it wasn't, you [00:33:00] know, ideal. So-
Darya Rose: And it counts.
James Clear: It does, it, it counts for a lot. And uh again, I think it almost uh counts more for the mindset than for anything else. And if you can maintain the mindset, then in a way, the bad days are almost more important than the good days. Because if you can find a way to show up on the bad days, even if it was less than what you'd hoped, then you maintain the streak and you keep the momentum alive and you don't cut into like the compounding that comes from uh that process. That can really count for a lot.
Darya Rose: That's so awesome. The other thing I wanted to talk about on this subject is implementation intentions.
James Clear: Yeah.
Darya Rose: Just kind of a mouthful. [laughs]
James Clear: Yeah, it's so simple. You know, it's one of these things you're like, wow, I can't believe we have research studies on this. But you know, there are hundreds of studies showing this. And implementation intention is just whenever you state your intention to implement a behavior at a particular time or place or location. So, for example, one of the studies uh [00:34:00] was on flu shots, and they found that people were much more likely to go and get their flu shot if they specifically wrote down, "I will do this on November 15, at 1 p.m. at this location."
Same thing with you know, recycling. If they say specifically where they're going to drop the recycling off or with exercise, if they say, you know, "I will exercise for 20 minutes on Monday at this place." So, you know, it sounds simple to say, "Hey, you should just make a specific plan for when you're going to implement a habit." But the more that you do that, the more likely it is that you're actually going to take action when that moment arises. Rather than just no, I think what a lot of people do is they wake up each day and they kind of feel like, "I hope I feel motivated to meditate today, or I hope they feel motivated to work out today or right today." And you're kind of like always hoping there'll be uh, the right moment for it. And you know, for most of us, there is never one right moment. It's you have to make the moment. You have to carve out the time and by having [00:35:00] an implementation intention, you are more likely to carve the time.
Darya Rose: Which is why when I told Kevin I didn't have time to meditate, we were like here's the half hour.
James Clear: Yep.
Darya Rose: Here it is. Then so he basically gave me an implementation intention [laughs] that, that was I knew I could do, didn't have to take any time out of my day. And it wouldn't work.
James Clear: Now you can just do a like whole week silent meditation retreat.
Darya Rose: Exactly. Except for I'm so excited to like have all this like non parenting time.
James Clear: Right.
Darya Rose: I've got so many ideas, so many things are happening now that I'm not sick anymore. So once I heard you say in the past that I thought was I love is that there aren't really good habits or bad habits, that there are effective habits and less effective habits.
James Clear: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Darya Rose: I love this so much, because psychology and a lot of the work I've, I've done over the past few years, has shown that moralizing your behavior can really undermine your motivations. And, and [00:36:00] that often results in the opposite of what you want. What happens is you get, you know, all of a sudden, you're a good person if you do it, and you're a bad person if you don't do it. And it can really reinforce sort of the wrong, the wrong behavior. Because it, it makes actually the, the bad thing more appealing.
James Clear: In the worst cases that can like literally backfire. You know, like you'll hear some studies about, you know, like showing smokers pictures of chronic lung disease, and it makes them very stressed and nervous and understandably, well, but then what do they do when they feel stressed? They revert back to their favorite coping mechanism, which is they just smoke more.
Darya Rose: Exactly.
James Clear: It's not, it's the exact opposite behavior of what you're hoping to do with it.
Darya Rose: And I think where we people get really hung up is with bad habits. They just hate them. And they hate themselves for doing them. And they definitely understand the value. But there is a value there, which is why you do it.
James Clear: Right. I mean, all behaviors serve us in some way, your brain is not stupid, your body is built to survive. And from a biological standpoint, we all kind of have this like hardwiring, this [00:37:00] collection of, uh you know, our nervous system, and so on, that is on the lookout for rewards, for things that are pleasurable, for things that are enjoyable for even not necessarily pleasurable in the sense of like eating a doughnut, but pleasurable in the sense that it solves a problem that we're facing, you know, like, you can imagine, you know, let's say you come home from work, and it's 6 p.m. And you're exhausted from a long day of work. Well, in a sense that exhaustion and stress is a problem that needs to be resolved.
And so you can imagine one person might resolve it by playing video games for 20 minutes, or somebody else might resolve it by going for a run. And the third person might resolve it by smoking a cigarette. And some of these behaviors are more healthy or beneficial than others. But they all solve the problem. They're all effective at reducing the exhaustion or the anxiety or stress.
So even bad habits serve you in some way. The way that I like to distinguish between good and bad so to speak, is most [00:38:00] behaviors produce multiple outcomes across time. So broadly speaking, you have like an immediate outcome and an ultimate outcome. And the hard part is, you know, the immediate outcome of most of our bad habits is actually pretty favorable. The immediate outcome of smoking a cigarette might be that you get to socialize with friends outside the office, or you curb your nicotine craving, or you reduce stress in the drive home from work.
It's only the ultimate outcome, if you keep doing that, that you know, five, or 10 or 20 years later, it's unfair. With good habits, it's often the reverse, like, the immediate outcome of going to the gym, especially like your first week back after a long break, I mean your body looks exactly the same, you're sweating, it's hard. If anything, your muscles are sore, like you don't really have a whole lot of payoff until six months or a year or two years later. And so that gap in rewards over time, uh I think is how I like to distinguish between whether a habit is good or bad or beneficial or not is good habits tend to serve you in the long run. Bad habits tend to not, [00:39:00] but they can still be very effective at resolving the needs that you have in the moment.
So, you know, I think there are a couple different solutions we can try to take for that. One solution is, rather than worrying about the bad habits, you try to focus on building good ones, uh and let the good plants sort of crowd out the bad ones. So imagine you wanted to do two things. You're like, "Oh, I watch way too much Netflix. I need to stop watching so much television. And I would love to start a workout habit to, you know, improve my fitness. Well, you could just leave the TV thing for a minute and just be like, well, if I usually work out in the evenings, like what if I just focus on building a workout habit at 7 p.m.? Because by definition, if I'm working out for those 30 minutes or the 60 minutes [inaudible 00:39:46]. That's one possible solution. But there are other ways to attack it too. But I, I do agree that it doesn't really benefit us that much to moralize and judge the behaviors.
Darya Rose: Yeah. And also, I, I mean, I think one of the key things about what you're talking [00:40:00] about that can really help you is identifying that reward from that bad habit. I find that people get so wrapped up in the shame and, and the disappointment in themselves from doing it. Like uh binge eating is a great example.
James Clear: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Darya Rose: People will binge and they hate it, you know, they don't, they feel horrible. They want to hide it. It's shameful. But figure out what you're getting here. Like, and, and if you can do that, then you have a chance at maybe getting that somewhere else.
James Clear: Yep.
Darya Rose: Remove yourself a little bit from, from the emotional component and just figure out what you're actually trying to accomplish.
James Clear: Figure out what you're getting is a great, you know, phrase or charge, I think for us, as we sit here and think about, you know, we all have habits that we don't love, things that we've just kind of learned over the course of life that we you know, we find ourselves using those as problem solving techniques, or, um you know, as coping mechanisms for something that is resolving. So let's try to figure out what that is.
But one really simple strategy you can use to, to help do that, you can either do it with an index card, if you just want to write it down manually, or just have a note on your phone. But pick the habit that you [00:41:00] feel that way about and maybe you feel a little shame about or you want to change. And whenever you notice yourself doing it over the next week, just pull up that note and write down like where am I? What time is it? Who am I around? What room am I in? You know, what was I doing right before this? And that kind of like who, what, when, where, why of the habit, you don't have to do it that much, like you, I bet if you do it for three days or a week, you're gonna have a pretty good sense of the context that that habit usually happens in.
And if you know what the context is, which you'd be surprised. Often we're just kind of unaware of how frequently we're doing something. But once you become aware of the context, then you can start to look for areas, things that you could change. Maybe there's something in the environment you could tweak, like maybe just remove something from the living room or the kitchen that was prompting the behavior. Maybe it was a certain route that you're taking on your commute home from work, and you can take a different route. And that'll, you know, help, there's there, you'll start to see areas of opportunity.
Darya Rose: I love that. Is, is there more? What else? [laughs]
James Clear: Yeah, so in the book, in [00:42:00] Atomic Habits, I break habits into four different stages. And I think for breaking a bad habit, the most useful stages to focus on are the first and the third. So the, the first stage is all about the cue, it's about the things that prompt the behavior. And, you know, in the case of building good habits, you want to make your cues obvious. You want them to be in front of you all the time. But when you're breaking bad habits, you want to make them invisible.
So unsubscribing from emails or you know, like you're trying to stick to a new diet or do mindful eating, like don't follow a bunch of food blogs on Instagram, you know, like you're constantly being triggered. Reducing exposure to the cue is something that can help a lot. I know for myself, this is not something that will work if like it's a true addiction. But you'd be surprised how many behaviors will curtail themselves to the desired degree, if you just reduce exposure to the cue. So like two things that I do personally. I try to leave my phone in another room until lunch each day. I don't always do it. But a lot of the time I do it. And I almost always have a better morning when I do.
And you know, I have a [00:43:00] home office. So my phone is 30 seconds away if I don't have it in the office, but I never go get it. And I'm always surprised by it. Because I'm like, well, when it's next to me, I'm like everybody else. You know, I check my phone every three minutes.
Darya Rose: [laughs]
James Clear: If it's not next to me, if it's in a different room, I never go work 30 seconds to get it. So it's like did I want it or not. And there are a lot of habits that are like that. Just when it's not right in front of you, the desire curbs itself. Another example is like with beer. If I get a six pack of beer, and you know, put it in the front of the fridge or in the door or something where I can like see it as soon as I open it up, I might drink wine every night at dinner just because it's there. But if I put it like on the lowest shelf in the fridge, or it's like all the way in the back and I can't really see it, I have to like bend down to find it, I'm sometimes I'll forget it's there for like two weeks, you know? So like, [inaudible 00:43:48] we bought this I didn't even, but now I don't even like think about it.
Darya Rose: So you're a much better person than I am.
James Clear: Yeah. [laughs]
Darya Rose: [laughs]
James Clear: There's, you know, it won't always work in every situation. But I think if you can find ways to reduce exposure to the cue, [00:44:00] you'll often find your behaviors kind of subsiding, maybe, maybe to the point where you're like, "Yeah, that's fine. You know, it's not like I never want to use my phone. I just don't always want to be [inaudible 00:44:09]."
Darya Rose: Yeah, brilliant. Thank you. So as I've gotten older and started a family, I'm pretty good at shaping my own habits. But now there's all these people around in my house doing things that I don't like.
James Clear: Yeah.
Darya Rose: Constantly. I know all the moms that I'm talking about. So I actually I heard you talk about this a little bit on Peter Attia's show not too long ago, and my mind kind of exploded and I want you, I want you to talk about it more. So he gives you advice of praising the good and ignoring the bad.
James Clear: [laughs]
Darya Rose: [laughs] It sounds so hard.
James Clear: Yeah.
Darya Rose: It just sounds so hard. Can you talk about it a little bit?
James Clear: Yeah, I think-
Darya Rose: Let me troubleshoot my husband.
James Clear: [laughs]
Darya Rose: [laughs]
James Clear: It is interesting. Fundamentally, there's like a good psychological or biological reason for it. The brain wants to repeat experiences that are rewarding or pleasure. [00:45:00] I mean, we, we all want that. If something feels good, if it you know, if you get a burst of positive emotion from it, whether it's eating a doughnut, or getting a bit of praise from your boss, or you know, whatever it is, it feels good. You're like, "Oh man, like, that was nice, I'd like to repeat that experience again.", even if you don't consciously think that.
And the converse is also true, you know, like, we want to avoid consequence, or cost or punishing, or get criticized, like, nobody likes those. And it is surprising how often you'll find people kind of criticizing the very behavior that they actually wanted, you know, like I was, I was at the gym one night, it's like a Friday night, this was before the pandemic. And this guy, like made this comment to somebody who was next to me, and basically said, like, we were getting ready to walk out of the gym after being done. It's like pretty short workout or whatever. And I was like, "Man, what you should be saying is like, great, you're in here on a Friday.", you know?
Darya Rose: Right.
James Clear: And,yeah, maybe it was only 20 minutes or whatever. But they're here, you know, a bunch of other people are home.
Darya Rose: Right.
James Clear: And so again, like criticizing the very behavior that you like to see, or [00:46:00] you know, you can imagine the quiet kid in the family comes down to dinner, and like says something about their day. And it's like, oh, look who spoke up, and you're like, oh gosh, it probably took them like so much courage just to like, say something. And then they're getting criticized for it.
Darya Rose: Uh I'm so bad at this, help. [laughs]
James Clear: [laughs] So I think being careful about sarcastic comments and things like that, that may eat into the motivation that people have to do the thing that you actually want them to do. So that's like, kind of trying to remove the downsides of it. But then there's also the other side, which is just offering praise a little bit more. And I will say, for myself, this is something that's hard, because I try to hold myself to a very high standard. And if you are expecting results to be exceptional, well, you know, they're not going to be exceptional, especially at the start, and they're not gonna be exceptional all the time. If they were, then they would be average.
So I think the trick is to focus more on the effort and less on the result. And to praise the fact that they, they being [00:47:00] your spouse. or your kids, or your friends, or whoever, praising them for the effort that they're putting in and helping them feel good, so that they can continue the process and keep showing up. Because all humans are learning machines. People will improve if given the chance, that doesn't mean everybody will be world class. But anybody can get better, like, not everybody's gonna be able to play in the NBA. But almost every human on the planet will be better than they otherwise would be if they practice basketball. And so what you're trying to do is encourage them, praise them enough to get them to show up and practice again, rather than focusing on the results and the fact that it's not good enough.
Darya Rose: I think you just made my brain explode.
James Clear: [laughs]
Darya Rose: I think I do exactly what you said, I hold myself to a really high standard. And I realized that I'm doing the same thing to other people. But that's not fair. And it doesn't help.
James Clear: It's tough, too, though, I don't think I have the perfect balance of it. You know, like, I'm still learning it too. But it's so hard for me, because I'm so hardwired into how I view myself. It's like, well, results do matter. [00:48:00] You know, like I can't act like it doesn't matter.
Darya Rose: Right.
James Clear: But I think the point that I'm trying to get at and maybe even trying to convince myself of as I talk about it is you can't have exceptional results, if you haven't put in the work beforehand, right? If you're not the kind of person that's showing up consistently, and so the first hurdle to cross is to encourage them enough to build the habit. And once the habit is built, then we can start to focus on optimizing and improving.
Darya Rose: Ignoring that is tough when it's like if they don't brush their teeth, their teeth will fall out.
James Clear: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Darya Rose: [laughs] I can't really ignore that. [laughs]
James Clear: I think there's probably some level of assuming when I'm, when I'm saying this, that the person is capable of making the decision on their own. One of like, my kind of central thoughts about decision making is the person who bears the consequences should make the decision. And whenever possible, that usually leads to better decision making. But of course, we can all think of outlier examples where that's not a good choice. The four year old will bear the consequences of crossing the street without looking [00:49:00] but they're four. They don't know. In that case, like you need to step in as a parent, or the dementia patient will bear the consequences of not taking their medication, but they have dementia, they can't remember. So there is a certain balance there with correcting, especially with you know, parenting.
Darya Rose: Yeah, it's really tricky. Well, what do you, what are you working on now?
James Clear: So I'm working on a new book, and still very early, going much more slowly than I would like, but that's how books go. I think one of the questions people could have after they read Atomic Habits is like, okay, that's great. I have a good idea of how to build better habits and what to do. But which habits should I focus on? You know, like, what is the high leverage stuff? And so I'm thinking a lot more about those concepts and topics. And then uh I'm working on a podcast.
Darya Rose: Oh, exciting.
James Clear: Yeah, we're in the middle of producing some episodes. It'll still be a little while before it comes out. But yeah, so those are kind of my two main projects.
Darya Rose: Oh, that's great. That's a lot of press to look forward to.
James Clear: Yes, yes.
Darya Rose: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for joining us. If people want to find out more, where should they [00:50:00] go?
James Clear: Yeah, thanks for the opportunity. Great to talk to you as always. Uh if you enjoyed the conversation, I think you know, going to jamesclear.com and checking out the articles that I have there's probably good start. Of course, if you want more on habits, Atomic Habits book. If you're just interested in hearing from me each week, feel free to check out the newsletter, goes out every Thursday.
Darya Rose: And you're on the socials. Are you at James Clear on all the socials?
James Clear: Yeah, yeah, just James Clear on Instagram and Twitter.
Darya Rose: Thanks so much.
James Clear: Great, thanks, Darya. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Darya Rose: Thank you for listening today. If you enjoyed today's show, it would really mean a lot to me if you would go to Apple or Spotify now has reviews as well and leave us a five star review so that we can continue to get amazing guests like James Clear. Thank you so much for listening, and I will see you next time.