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Episode #5: Why Habits Are Powerful: How to Create Systems to Build New Habits & a Better Life

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Free habit trackers, by lifestyle blogger What The Fab

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#5: In this episode, we discuss the cliff notes version of the book Atomic Habits, and how habits, though they may seem small and unremarkable at first, are compounded into amazing results. If you’ve tried to build new habits before and failed, it wasn’t motivation that failed you, it was your systems. We get into: 

– The 4-step loop of human behavior that you have to understand in order to build new habits

– Different systems you can use for creating and sticking to new habits or breaking bad habits 

– Specific examples of how I’ve used these systems in my life

– Instant vs longterm gratification, how our brains are geared towards instant gratification, and how to trick your brain to your advantage

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Quick links from the episode:

Atomic Habits, by James Clear

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Episode Transcription:

Hello. Hello. And welcome back to the What The Fab podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today. Today’s episode topic, I’m really excited to get into it is all about habits, so, okay. Before we get into it, I have to acknowledge something. My voice might sound a little bit off. It might sound a little, little crack, little scratchy. That is because I have COVID. Yup. I know I was pretty shocked about it. Omied and I pretty much go nowhere, like my big outing of the week is trader Joe’s on a Tuesday at 11:00 AM. And I’m really vocal about this on my Instagram stories, because I think it’s important, but on the rare occasion that I do see my family, we all quarantine. We get tested beforehand. So, yeah, it came as quite a shock, but I started to develop symptoms. The first symptom I had was a cough. And then by that night, I was just exhausted. I went to bed at like 9:00 PM and I was like, Oh no. And then the next day woke up and definitely had the fatigue going on, cough, sore throat, runny nose, all that jazz scheduled an appointment to get tested and have been quarantining since those symptoms first came on. And yep. I, as our former president would say, I tested very positively, except for, by that, I mean, I actually was positive. And so it was Omied. So we’ve just been living that full on quarantine life, and to be totally honest, it really has in terms of symptoms, felt like a cold and not even a really bad cold. I’m not trying to diminish what COVID is at all. I will get to what’s really upsetting me in just a second, but I’ve definitely had other colds and flus that have knocked me on my ass way worse than this. What really is upsetting to me and just gives me a pit in my stomach and makes me feel physically sick. In addition to the COVID is when I think about how I could have spread this to my parents who are in their mid sixties and well into that at-risk age, we got together with them and we decided to keep it socially distanced. And so it was in the backyard. We wore masks and then everybody sat more than six feet apart when we ate lunch outside. And there was a moment before we were like, well, we, we got tested like we’ve all been staying home. Like, why don’t we just get together normally? And we kind of decided, you know what? Let’s just like, keep it safe. Like cases are exploding in California. Let’s just keep it socially distanced. And, Oh my God. Am I so, so grateful that we made that decision because it legit just feels like we dodged a bullet there, it seriously feels like playing Russian roulette with my parents’ lives and that is really, really scary. And I’m just so, so grateful that we decided to keep that socially distance, the other thing that really upsets me and keeps me up at night when I think about it is the fact that, I mean, fortunately from the moment that I started experiencing symptoms on, I quarantine and I stayed home, but what really upsets me is thinking about how I could have gone to the store that day when I just had like a little tickle in my throat at the beginning. And like, I mean, that could have been passed off it was so mild. It could have been allergies. It could have been the dry air and Napa like the cold winter air. Like I really wasn’t thinking I have COVID like, that was so far from the possibilities in my mind because. We don’t go anywhere besides the frigging grocery store, like right after senior hour while I didn’t go to the store or anything like that, it absolutely could have been within the realm of possibilities and the idea that I could have done that and passed it on to somebody else whose immune system is compromised or somebody else who’s older. It just makes me feel so sick and this has been a really important reminder for me and this is why I wanted to share it with all of you, that COVID is a sneaky bitch. And I think it’s really odd that cases are skyrocketing yet it’s sort of, a lot of people are just kind of acting like not that things are back to normal, but are letting their guards down. Like I see a lot of people getting together for like gatherings and, you know, traveling and I just feel like you can’t be too careful. It’s such a crap shoot. Like you might not get it if you hop on a plane, you might get, if you go to frickin trader Joe’s on a Tuesday, like you just don’t know, but what I will say is that even though I’m feeling fine, I’m really grateful, when I think about what could have happened and how I could have spread it to other people that I care about or other people’s loved ones, I just get a pit in my stomach over it, so that’s my COVID PSA for the week. And also my explanation for why my voice sounds like this, but I really wanted to get this habits episode recorded and up in time for early January in the new year and the podcast launch, because I think it’s going to be a topic that is going to be really, really helpful for you all.

Okay, so let’s talk about habits. It might not sound super sexy at first, but trust me, your habits are powerful. Your daily habits are what make up your life. If you want to know the quality of somebody’s life, all you have to do is look at the quality of their habits. So, as I said, I thought this would be a great conversation to have as we kick off the new year, because everyone has building new, healthy habits and wellness top of mind, or maybe getting rid of bad habits. But really, I also just want to take a moment and say that taking a look at your habits and making changes can happen at any point in the year. It does not have to be January 1st. I just got done reading the book, Atomic Habits by James Clear, and I would highly recommend getting a copy for yourself. I will link to his book in the show notes, which you can find at I’m also in the show notes, going to include a little habit tracker that I made we’re going to talk more about what that is and how to use it later in the episode, but just an FYI you can also grab that in the show notes and so again, that’s

And so after reading this book, I thought I would share kind of the cliff notes version of it, and a few of my key takeaways, as well as examples of how I’m using some of his systems and how I’m putting them to use and applying them in my own life. I listened to the audio version of his book and it was great. Again, definitely recommend, but he is a middle-aged white man. So a lot of his examples are like baseball. So I just thought it would be good to chat through with some examples that might be more relatable for my listener. And the What The Fab reader, you know, the fabulous go get her a woman who doesn’t have time for nonsense and is just like cut to the chase and give you the good stuff.

Okay. So habits, they seem small and unremarkable and frankly boring at first, but they compound into amazing results. If you’re willing to stick with them for years. My biggest example that comes to mind is my blog. My habit for six and a half years while I was working on my blog, as a side hustle was, I would come home from work and I would work on my blog, I would fire up my laptop and I would work on a blog post and while the first, you know, months, even the first year or two didn’t necessarily yield amazing results, six and a half years later, it gave me the result that I was able to take this and make it my full-time business. It’s the same thing with going to the gym or eating healthy for those first few days, weeks, or even the first month or two, you might not notice much of a difference, but if you stick to it, make it a habit, every single day, months later, you will see a difference and a year later, big changes have happened. If you stick with the same habits, you’re going to end up with the same results, but with better habits, anything is possible. That’s why I always say this when people ask what’s the one thing that for someone who wants to be a successful blogger, that they should keep in mind, right? I always say that consistency is key.

So here’s a quote from Atomic Habits that I really liked, habits are the compound interest of self-improvement the same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. On any given day, they seem to make little difference and yet the impact they deliver over months and years can be enormous. It’s only by looking back to five or 10 years later, that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.

Okay. But how do we maintain that consistency? How do we keep up those boring habits day in and day out after the motivation of the new year fades also, did you know that only 8% of people actually stick to their new year’s resolutions and make their goals. That is pretty abysmal, like actually kind of depressing. I was kind of depressed when I saw that stat, but you can be part of that 8% and you can do that through systems that build the habits you want to build. And if you’ve tried to create new habits before in the past, but failed, it’s probably simply because you didn’t have the right systems and environment in place.

Your goals are the results that you want to achieve, but your systems are all about the processes that lead to those results. So they’re even more important than your goals because you’re not going to make your goals without those systems in place. So, first we need to take a look at human behavior. So in the book, James Clear says that there is a four-step loop that underlies all human behavior.

So it starts with the cue, then the craving, then reward, then response. And habits can be broken down into this feedback loop too. So here’s an example of a bad habit you might want to break and how that four-step loop plays into it. Let’s pretend this is post panty, and next to her office is a bakery. So you stop there almost every morning and get some kind of baked goods, even though you keep telling yourself, you need to start eating healthier breakfast instead of a buttery croissant every single day. But when you walk to your office, that fresh baked good smell just walks out and hits you in the face. That’s the cue. Your mouth starts watering. You start thinking about how good a buttery croissant sounds right now. You have a really tough day ahead. Like the will really cheer you up. That’s the craving. So you go in, you get that croissant, you eat it on your way up the elevator to your office, and damn it tastes amazing. That’s the reward. Your brain then gives you that dopamine hit. And that’s your response and now it’s even more ingrained in your mind that when you get that croissant, you’re going to feel happy and good even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Now to break that habit, you want to cut it off at the cue. So instead of going through the front door of your office, building that’s right next to the bakery where you can smell those delicious scents. And it sets off that cue and the rest of the four steps, start taking the back door into your office. It sounds basic, but it’s truly as simple as cutting it off at the cue that sets off that whole cycle of a bad habit. So this leads to the four steps in Atomic Habits for whenever you want to change your behavior. So those four steps are ask yourself, how can I make it obvious? Number two, how can I make it attractive, three? How can I make it easy? And four, how can I make it satisfying? Now these are the steps for building a new, good habit. But if you’re trying to break an old bad habit, you would still apply these same questions, but just in the inverse. So how can I make it less obvious, you know, out of sight, out of mind, how can I make it less attractive or harder? So, this is what we did with the croissants example. We made it less obvious. Personally, I know that if I have junk food around like chips, cookies, whatever, I don’t have a lot of self-control like, I’m going to eat it. So I just don’t buy that stuff. Like during a normal month, obviously the holidays were really different cause I was like baking up a storm, making tons of cookies and just like enjoying myself, but during a normal month, we don’t have desserts in the house. Like maybe I’ll make some like healthy, you know, homemade kind of oatmeal, hunks with like chocolate in them to kind of satisfy my sweet tooth. But like, we really typically don’t have that stuff in our house because I just know myself. And I know that if I see that cue of seeing that bag of potato chips or chocolate chip cookies or whatever it is, I’m going to want it. I’m going to have that craving. And I really don’t have a good impulse control when it comes to that. So that’s just something that I know about myself. And that’s an example of how I use that system to not give myself that cue.

So go through these questions as you’re trying to implement a new habit and the next we’re going to talk about a few of my favorite systems that are really helpful for sticking to a new habit and meeting your goals. So first you want to set good goals. And what I mean by that is to make sure that they’re really specific and make sure that they are actionable, they’re measurable, I mean, I’m starting to like say all of the things that are like smart goals, right? Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, or relevant, and then time-based, but it’s true. You want to make sure that you are setting goals that are not these big, lofty goals that are vague instead of saying like, okay, my new year’s resolution is to be healthier, like what does that mean? What does healthier mean to you? Does that mean you remember to take your daily multivitamin? Cause you’re really bad at remembering to take your vitamins. Does it mean that you meditate for five minutes every day? Does it mean that you work out at a minimum four days a week that you cook in for six meals out of the week, like set these really specific goals because that’s going to help you as you are thinking through these different habits systems.

Then you want to start your implementation intention plan. So this is the plan that you make before your hand about when and where to act. So how do you intend to implement a particular habit? What is your cue for this action? Usually time and location are common cues that you can use. But basically it’s saying that when situation X arises, I will do response Y, so a few examples of this could be. When I get home from work or closed on my laptop, since we’re all working from home right now, I change into my workout clothes and I go for a run, or when I’m given the option between taking the stairs or the elevator, I opt for the stairs, or after I finish eating lunch, I meditate for five minutes.

The other thing that’s really helpful for me in my implementation intention is adding my habits to my Google calendar, when it makes sense. I live and die by my calendar. Like if it’s not on my calendar, it might as well not be real. So I block out time for my workouts and I commit to that time and I get into a routine so that it is habit. So you can find me on any given Monday or Wednesday at 5:30PM that’s not AM, not a morning person. You can find me at that time and date every week, working out doing my virtual HIIT workout. Shout out to my trainer. On Thursdays at 4:00 PM, I have a quickie 4:00 PM class that I do for a half hour. And then on Sundays. I do Pilates. So this is the routine that I stick to and those times are sacred. So as much as I can I schedule around those time blocks. Now, obviously life happens for example, I have COVID right now, so I’m not working out this week, but during a general week, that is where you can find me. That’s what is on my calendar. And that’s what I’m sticking to.

People who make a specific plan for when and where they’re going to perform their new habits are so much more likely to follow through. If you try to change your habits without these basic details, figured out, chances are you are going to fail the implementation intention, it gets rid of foggy ideas, like I want to lose weight or I want to be healthier and it transforms them into an actual action plan and it gives you clarity. Another habit system that I love, and that has worked really well for me is habit stacking. It’s one of the best ways to build a new habit. So you identify a current habit that you already have and you naturally do each day and you stack a new habit on top of that.

So for example, I already mentioned. I am not a morning person. I love my morning coffee. So I know that my morning habit is I’m going to make myself a cup of coffee. Like that is just non-negotiable. I don’t even think about it. That’s going to happen every single morning. So the habit that I have been stacking onto making my morning coffee is taking my ritual vitamins, and I’ve also incorporated the cue part of the human behavior four-step loop, and I now keep my vitamins on top of my coffee grounds. So when I reached for the coffee grounds in the morning to do my pour over coffee, my ritual vitamins are right on top and I’m grabbing both at the same time and I just pop the vitamins in my mouth by doing this and stacking it onto a habit that I am already naturally doing every single day. I also am taking my vitamins every single day. So I encourage you to think about what are the habits that you already naturally have in your life? Is it making your morning coffee, brushing your teeth, walking the dog, things that you know, you’re going to do every day and think about what are the habits that you’re trying to build, that you can stack onto those habits that already exist.

Okay. Next, we have accountability, which is huge for sticking to your habits. It is really hard to build a new habit, if you’re surrounded with people who are potentially doing the opposite. We tend to adopt habits that are approved of and praised by our people, our community, because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong. That’s just innate and ingrained in us. So once you’ve identified your habits, find a group that has the same goals. So you can check in with each other, cheer each other on, support each other. And I will say if you live at home with a partner, a roommate, talk to them about these habits, you’re trying to change, even if you’re not working on the same habits and goals, because they can support you in this. And I think it’s especially important if you don’t have the same habits and goals that they at least understand and are aligned on what it is you are trying to achieve. So my big example for that is after a few months of admittedly, heavy drinking during quarantine and I mean, I was drinking like almost every single night, whereas before the panny, I probably drink a few times a month. So after a few months of that, I was like, okay, I really need to reel it in. Like I am not feeling great. It’s too much. So I was trying to limit myself to two nights out of the week that I would have, would drink and not heavily like a glass of wine or whatever, but Omied, didn’t have that same goal. And so on a Wednesday night he would open up a bottle of wine and pour two glasses and hand me one. And it’s really hard because of course I would love to have a glass of wine right now. Like sure. Why not? Like you’re handing it to me. Like, of course I’d like to drink it, but this didn’t align with my goals. I was really trying to save my drinking nights for like, Friday and Saturday night. So I had to have a conversation with him and be like, look, this is what I’m trying to do here. I’m really trying to cut back on how many nights a week I’m drinking. And when you open up a bottle of wine and offer me some it’s like, cue again, right? Like I don’t have the willpower to say no, versus if you would just like, pour yourself a beer, I don’t even like beer. So that works especially, well, pour yourself a beer that I don’t even want and you enjoy that. And you, you know, do your thing. I’m not given that cue of, Ooh, I’d really like a drink and we’re good. And so once he understood that this was my goal and this was what I was trying to achieve and that by him, you know, he thought he was being nice by offering me a glass of wine. It’s actually to my detriment and working against my goal, he was able to get better aligned with that and understand, and, you know, refrain from throwing me off track of the school.

So the book then.. Whoa, COVID voice. So the book then goes on to talk about the law of least effort. So we naturally will gravitate towards the option that requires the least amount of work. So you want to create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible, and then you make doing the bad habit more difficult, right? This goes back to step three of behavior change, make it easy. So reduce the friction for good behaviors. When the friction is low, those habits are easy. An example would be if you’re trying to build a habit of working out first thing in the morning, have everything out and ready to go the night before, pick your workout, have your water ball already, have a protein bar on your nightstand, have your workout outfit picked out. I have a friend who did this while she was trying to get into morning workouts and she even slept in her workout clothes so that when she woke up, she literally just rolled out of bed and it was as frictionless as possible. A personal example I’ve been doing, one of my habits I’ve been trying to build is to cook in more and eat healthier, so I’ve been meal planning, dinners and planning my, and placing my grocery orders every Sunday night. So that way I’m all set for the whole week. I know what we’re having for dinner and Omied does some of the cooking too, so I know which meals I’m cooking, which ones he’s cooking. And on Monday I already have all of the ingredients for everything, so there’s no like, you know, Tuesday night at 5:30 being like, Oh, what are we going to have for dinner? I don’t know. I don’t feel like cooking. Let’s just order in. So that has been a really great way that I’ve been more intentional with this habit and doing the planning beforehand to make it as frictionless as possible during the week.

And then of course the opposite is also true when you increase the friction associated with bad habits, those habits are made more difficult. My personal example for this is I have been wanting to break the bad habit of mindlessly scrolling on my phone in bed before I sleep. So instead of using my phone as an alarm, which means that I’m keeping it on my nightstand, I even just by putting it across the room or like in our closet and using a regular alarm has been a game changer because it’s so much less likely that I am going to get out of my cozy, comfortable bed to grab my phone and look at it. If it’s there. If I need it, if I think of something like, Oh, shoot, I really need to set a reminder to do X, Y, Z, tomorrow like I can get out of bed and do that, but that rarely happens. And it’s really cut down on my mindless scrolling for like, a half hour when I really should have just gone to sleep. So these are all examples of priming your environment to help facilitate your habits. Okay. And then lastly, the Cardinal rule of behavior change is to make it satisfying. For this section, I want to talk about something that I found so interesting that I learned in this book, Atomic Habits, and it has to do with instant versus long-term gratification. So in our brains, there’s far more neural circuitry allocated to wanting something than to liking something. The wanting parts of our brain are large. There’s the brainstem, amygdala, prefrontal cortex and others. The liking centers are so much smaller. They’re like these small hotspots and they’re distributed throughout the brain. 100% of the nucleus incumbents is activated during wanting versus only 10% is activated during liking something in that moment.

Isn’t that so interesting. I can think of so many examples of how this rings true to me. Like I remember being a kid and all of the anticipation that would lead up to like a birthday party or a sleepover and like, wanting that to happen. And then it happened, like it was fine. It was fun, was it as Epic as I had like built it up in my mind? No, not really. Maybe you can think of some specific examples of this in your life. You know, I’ve heard people say they get as much or more pleasure from planning a trip as they do from taking the actual trip. The brain gives so much precious space to craving and desire because that is what drives our behavior. So every action that we take is done purely because of the anticipation that comes before that action. It’s the craving that leads to the action and response. We need to make our habits attractive because it’s the expectation of a rewarding experience, that’s going to motivate us to act in the first place. And not only do we need to make our habits attractive, we need to find a way to make them more attractive than the other options that we have that we could do instead that might provide more of that short term gratification in that moment. So what I mean by that is, okay. It’s Sunday afternoon, you’re deciding between working out or watching the next episode of the bachelor and eating leftover Christmas cookies. Can you tell that this is a real life example for me in that moment? Eating Christmas cookies and watching the bachelor is going to give you that instant gratification. It’s going to give you that dopamine hit versus working out. It’s kind of a pain in the ass. It’s not necessarily that fun. Like you might get some endorphins a little bit after, but in that moment, your brain really wants Bachelor and the Christmas cookies. It doesn’t want to work out as much. So that’s one example. Another one would be, I was chatting with some of my blogger girlfriends, and we were talking about the instant gratification of Instagram versus the long-term kind of schlog of building our website, traffic, which has a longer term gratification, like it takes a long time, you have to work super hard at it. It is a slow roll to build that blog traffic. Oh my God. My COVID voice you guys. And it was a slow roll to build that blog traffic. But when you think about the long-term longevity of your business as a blogger, it makes a lot more sense to spend more time working on building that blog traffic, because that is what you own. You don’t own Instagram and your photos, you own your blog and the people that are signing up for your email list. Like you, not that you own those people, but you own that information so that you can communicate with them and continue to email them and send them your latest blog posts.

But with Instagram, you get that instant gratification of like, The likes and the comments and the DMS, and, you know, looking at your stories views and impressions, like all of that gives you all of those dopamine hits in that moment versus working on SEO for a blog post. Trust me, I’ve done it a lot. You’re not getting dopamine hits from that at all. So just another example of that instant versus long-term gratification. A quote that I really liked from the book is, it’s the anticipation of a reward, not the fulfillment of it that gets us to take action. The greater, the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike. Okay. So how do you create that anticipation around these habits you’re trying to build so that they actually stand a chance against these other options that have immediate gratification? Well, one way to do that is to reward yourself and celebrate as soon as you have done that habit. So maybe you create a vacation fund. For when we can all travel again and every time you work out, you add $10 to that fund. And the anticipation of seeing that fund grow and thinking about booking your flight to Bora Bora with that fund, helps drive you to choose working out. Or maybe you use a habit tracker, like I mentioned, at the beginning of the episode and you color it in each day, they used stick to your habit and you get this little hit of dopamine, senior tracker getting filled out. It’s the same thing with how satisfying it is to cross things off of your to-do list. Now, I created a cute little habit tracker for you that you can download and print out and color in. As you complete your habits each day, you can find it in the show notes

Another thing I’ve seen suggested is to literally celebrate yourself and say positive things out loud to yourself, as soon as you complete this habit. So look in the mirror, tell yourself, yes, queen, you are such a bad-ass getting that workout and you look so strong and beautiful. Like do a little dance, whatever it is, celebrate yourself. It might sound silly, but try it. Do it, give yourself that little boost and see if you can get your brain to start associating this habit with that positive anticipation. I do want to say, just to make sure that whatever rewards you’re giving yourself, aren’t counterproductive to the habit you’re trying to create. So if your habit is. you are trying to be better at saving money, you know, after the end of a month that you did a good job of doing that, don’t like go buy new shoes that you don’t need. So just something to keep in mind.

Okay. So that is pretty much it on my episode, all about habits. I hope you guys found it useful. If you give these things a try, I know that they will help you stick to your habits because they have helped me stick to my habits. So if you found any value in this episode, I would so appreciate it. If you could subscribe and also rate via whatever platform it is that you like to listen to podcasts on, it really helps me out as I grow my new podcast.

And if you could screenshot this episode and share it on your stories, maybe include a line, a quote, a pointer, or a tip that you learned and tag me, @WTfab, I would love to see it, would love to DM with you and see what habits you are tackling, how you’re going to set up these systems. I can’t wait to see what all you get into, and I hope that this really helps set you up for a successful new year and helps you stick to any new goals and habits that you’re training incorporate into your life.

All right, that’s it for now. I will talk to you next time.

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