Kwik Brain 075
November 7, 2018     |   805 VIEWS
Understanding Habit Triggers with James Clear

Kwik Brain 075: Understanding Habit Triggers with James Clear

"Small shifts in behavior can make a huge difference."
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, His first book, Atomic Habits, about building habits through tiny achievable changes, was published in October 2018.

Connect with James: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Atomic Habits Book

This week’s podcast is all about the power of habit—and we welcome special guest James Clear

All of us have habits we want to change for the better. I’m excited about today’s conversation with guest James Clear—author of Atomic Habits, entrepreneur and habit formation expert—who is here to tell us how we can alter the shape of our daily routines through tiny, achievable changes. 

In the previous episodes, we’ve talked about how “you create your habits, then your habits create you.” Today we’ll dive deeper into this topic, and speak about exactly how to form habits, and how to identify the triggers in our environment that can lead to negative behaviors taking up precious blocks of our time. 

Habits make up a huge proportion of our daily behaviors, so having positive habits in place is essential to our success, health, mood, and relationships. Many of our habits have been formed through routine and previous experience, so it’s helpful for us to stop and consider whether our habits are still serving us—and start up a new, more positive habit if need be! 

In this episode, we’ll explain how much of our daily behavior is determined by habit, how to identify environmental habit triggers and give you some quick tips to form better habits around phone usage and sleep. We’ll talk about how you can break free of the cycle of technology dictating your daily routine, explain the habit change framework, and discuss the role your social circle plays in influencing your habits. 

Show Notes


  • 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, therefore, 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, 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!

Related Kwik Brain Episodes You Might Enjoy

Episode 42: Solve Problems And Make Better Decisions Quickly

Episode 48: Get Into Your Creative Flow with Steven Kotler

Episode 64: Work Smart – Not Hard

Episode 68: Productivity VS. Effectiveness with Ari Meisel


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