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How to Find and Fix The Cause of Your Bad Habits - Atomic Habits - Week Five with Robin Saul

Cue Craving Response Reward

Why do we find ourselves repeatedly doing things we don’t really want to do?

Often, the habits that served us in the past during times of uncertainty or stress are no

longer relevant. Those habits kept us safe and helped us to survive or they were

maladaptive responses.

Your brain is continually running a cost benefit analysis of each decision made and you decide if a habit is worth repeating or not. James Clear in Chapter #10 states that every

action is preceded by a prediction. Life feels reactive but it is actually predictive. The cause of your habits is actually the prediction that precedes them.

When you predict that you would be better off in a different state, that is when you will take action.

For example, if you are a person who exercises, and woke up one day uncertain if you

wanted to go to the gym, mentally your brain would be tallying the benefits and costs for

that decision. On one hand you can sleep later but the cost would be feeling badly not

following through with your fitness commitment. Also, you were cued by waking up

tired, you craved more sleep and then chose a behavior(reward or consequence). So

what do you desire, to get in shape or to feel you let yourself down? Imagine craving a

sweaty workout and taking a well deserved shower.

Another example that comes to mind is related to a mental exercise I learned. When

starting to do a maladaptive type behavior, stop and think about your last stream of

thought. For me, I was cleaning my kitchen in preparation for a family visit and I got the

urge to eat a particular food not on my food plan. I stopped and focused on what I had

been thinking about. The stress related to the family visit and I was looking for comfort

food to soothe the emotion.

A craving is a desire to change your internal state. How many times has a craving

derailed the best intended new behavior? When a behavior makes you feel good you

are cued to repeat it. Forming new habits is hard because we are hardwired to expend

the least amount of energy in everything we do. That is why the habits we are trying to

create need to be obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.

Stress and boredom are emotions that can lead to bad habits. They are considered

negative emotions to some people but even negative emotions have their place as

warning signals to make change. Sometimes it makes sense to play detective to find

the underlying causes and other times we can choose to move forward and push

through these feelings. If negative emotions are overwhelming and cause bad habits

such as addictions, finding a support group may be very helpful.

If you have developed poor habits because of the stress of uncertainty then consider

new habits to develop:

1. The habit of being kind to yourself

2. The habit of remembering your successes

3. The habit of developing a new skill

4. The habit of performing self-care

5. If doing a hard habit is stressful then try combining it with a positive experience.

“Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast

and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive.”

One example James Clear gives is the habit of saving money which often evokes

feelings of sacrifice. The turnaround is that the money you save now brings you

financial freedom in the future. That sounds like the freedom I want to have.

Clearism: “Odds are, the latest office debate or family squabble isn’t worth winning. Most arguments are only tangentially related to your end goal.”


About the author James Clear

James Clear is known for his ability to distill complex topics into simple behaviors that can be easily applied to daily life and work. Here, he draws on the most proven ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. Along the way, readers will be inspired and entertained with true stories from Olympic gold medalists, award-winning artists, business leaders, life-saving physicians, and star comedians who have used the science of small habits to master their craft and vault to the top of their field. He writes about habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement at His work has appeared in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Time, and on CBS This Morning. He is a regular speaker at Fortune 500 companies and his work is used by teams in the NFL, NBA, and MLB.


Robin Saul is a registered dietitian who earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture and human nutrition from the University of Florida. Although not discovering the benefits of a plant-centric, no processed foods diet until 2016, she raised her four kids with an abundance of plant foods and home cooking. Robin has specialized nutrition knowledge in the areas of gastroenterology, food intolerances and allergies, gerontology and recipe development.


Be well


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