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Understanding Habit Triggers with James Clear

James Clear has dedicated his work to try to answer the question: “How can we live better?” James is an entrepreneur, author, weightlifter, and travel photographer in 25+ countries.

James writes about the art and science of how to live better, the root causes of our behavior, and the data behind high performance at his website, JamesClear.com. His first book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, about building habits through tiny achievable changes, was published in October 2018.

Do you watch too much Netflix or check your phone first thing in the morning?

We all have habits we want to change for the better. But how do you form healthy habits? Usually, when we’re talking about changing habits, we’re focused mostly on the habits we want to take on, like journaling, meditating, working out at the gym, eating healthy, etc. Or getting rid of negative habits that get in our way of accomplishing the goal.

In previous episodes, we’ve talked about habits. You create your habits, then your habits create you. But how do you go about creating those habits? I’m excited about this episode because we brought in James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, to talk about how we form habits and the triggers we have in our environment that leads to those habits.

Listen in, as we go over how tiny changes can have remarkable results on your daily habits.

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"Small shifts in behavior can make a huge difference."

James Clear

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  • Rough 40-50% of your behaviors on any given day are habits.
  • James believes true power of habit is even greater (70-90%) because an automatic habit can determine your next chunk of time – e.g. pulling your phone out of your pocket will lead to you spending 20 minutes checking emails, social media and so on.
  • Common habit: using the phone as an alarm clock.
  • Picking up the phone in the morning can lead to checking social media and mood being influenced early in the day.
  • Counter strategies: keep the phone in another room until lunchtime each day and avoid the impulse to check it every 3 minutes just because it’s there.


  • Technology makes certain behaviors so convenient—we can fall into them without realizing. Worsened by experts working for tech companies trying to get you using devices as often as possible.
  • Small shifts in behavior can make a huge difference.
  • Addiction: a behavior you continue to repeat despite negative consequences.
  • All habits serve you in some way, but addiction is when your brain continues a habit despite it no longer serving you as a solution (usually, your brain should update and change the behavior as it ceases to serve you).
  • Habit: an automated solution to a problem faced in your life.
  • Technology can be negative, but you can also set technology to work for you – e.g. James’ friend who had his internet modem power killed at 10pm each night, removing the temptation of late-night television.


  • 4 stages: cue, craving, response, and reward.
  • Another definition of a habit: an automatic response we employ based on the current situation and our previous experiences.
  • Craving: a desire to change your state – e.g. I don’t want to be bored anymore. Anytime you say I am currently here, but I want to be somewhere else.
  • How we respond to stress at the end of the day is dictated by our individual past experiences – e.g. you might smoke, watch television, or go for a run.

Example of a behavior viewed through the framework: watching television

  • Cue: entering the lounge-room, couches, and chairs facing television, time of night, ease of access to devices e.g. a laptop with Netflix.
  • Craving: wanting to resolve boredom and stress.
  • Response: turn on and watch television.
  • Reward: get to be entertained for 30 minutes.


  • Whether we want to form a habit is influenced by the tribes we belong to, big and small e.g. nationality, neighbor, volunteer.
  • Many habits are socially reinforced by groups, and negative habits violate the shared expectation of the group.
  • Ideally, join a group where your desired behavior is the normal behavior and can become a behavior you also use to fit in.
  • Habits can influence our self-perception and the perception others have of us.
  • Peer pressure can be negative or positive—if you can, leverage it to have a positive impact!
  • You can find James’ book, here!


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