Last week I covered James Clear’s 4-step process to building a habit: cue, craving, response, and reward (from his excellent book, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones). (#ad)
This is Why You Didn’t Change
As you recall, all habits begin with cues. Clear reminded his readers that cues affect us whether we are aware of them or not. So, the goal was to make cues obvious. We can be intentional about our cues in order to shape our habits. In the lesson, I gave the example of leaving my vitamin bottle out on my desk so I would remember to take my vitamins.
Next, we talked about cravings. A cue is most likely to create a response if the cue triggers cravings. You can do this by pairing something you need to do with something that you want to do.
Next, we talked about the response. I explained that you could automate many actions and use technology as an ally.
Finally, we talked about rewards and I explained that if a particular response was satisfying, the behavior was likely to be repeated again and the cycle would continue on its own. I ended the lesson with the question “So now you have the 4-step plan for building good habits. What new habit will you develop?”
Yet, I’m pretty sure that you didn’t change. Why didn’t you change?  The people reading my articles are intelligent professionals. What’s going on?
Clear offered an answer, but first, let me tell you about a study.
In 2001, researchers began working with 248 people who were trying to build the habit of exercising. They broke the participants into three groups. The first was a control group. The second group was given motivational talks and they were told to track their exercise habits. The third group was given a different intervention. Each member of the third  group was asked to fill in the following sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”[1]  This was the only difference between them and the other two groups.
The results were astonishing. The first and second groups exercised at about the same rate (35% – 38%), so the motivational talks clearly had little effect.  But 91% of the third group exercised at least once a week during the study. That is a phenomenal result. The only difference was that they completed one sentence. They wrote out an implementation intention.
An implementation intention is a cue that you set to remind yourself to do what you know you want to do. According to Clear:
Once an implementation intention has been set, you don’t have to wait for inspiration to strike. Do I write a chapter today or not? Do I meditate this morning or at lunch? When the moment of action occurs, there is no need to make a decision. Simply follow your predetermined plan.
The simple way to apply this strategy to your habits is to fill out this sentence: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].[2]
You can use his behavior intention in any way that you see fit. For example:

  • [When I wake up in the morning], I will [use the first hour of my day] to [work on my strategic goals]
  • [Before I enter an important meeting] I will [pray that I say the right thing and discern the right course of action]
  • I will [only select food that makes me feel healthy] when [ever I eat]
  • I will [give my full attention to work] while [I am at the office] and I will [be fully present] when [I am at home with my family

I am pretty sure that you have an area where you can improve. Before we are done together, I want you to take a concrete, measurable step toward your goals. What is your goal? When will you do it?
This is Why You Didn’t Change

What About You?

Take out a pen and paper and write out your intention. What do you know you should do? Write out the full sentence: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Then report back and tell us what you did next week.


[1] Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. New York: Penguin Publishing Group. (p. 69)
[2] Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. New York: Penguin Publishing Group. (p. 71)