3. How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

If you have ever wondered, “Why don’t I do what I say I’m going to do? Why don’t I lose the weight or stop smoking or save for retirement or start that side business? Why do I say something is important but never seem to make time for it?” The answers to those questions can be found somewhere in these four laws. The key to creating good habits and breaking bad ones is to understand these fundamental laws and how to alter them to your specifications.

Chapter Summary

4. The Man Who Didn’t Look Right

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

Pointing-and-Calling is so effective because it raises the level of awareness from a nonconscious habit to a more conscious level.

One of our greatest challenges in changing habits is maintaining awareness of what we are actually doing.

“Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?” Habits that reinforce your desired identity are usually good. Habits that conflict with your desired identity are usually bad.

Hearing your bad habits spoken aloud makes the consequences seem more real. It adds weight to the action rather than letting yourself mindlessly slip into an old routine.

With enough practice, your brain will pick up on the cues that predict certain outcomes without consciously thinking about it. Once our habits become automatic, we stop paying attention to what we are doing. The process of behavior change always starts with awareness. You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them. Pointing-and-Calling raises your level of awareness from a nonconscious habit to a more conscious level by verbalizing your actions. The Habits Scorecard is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior.

5. The Best Way to Start a New Habit

But 91 percent of the third group exercised at least once per week—more than double the normal rate.
The sentence they filled out is what researchers refer to as an implementation intention, which is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. That is, how you intend to implement a particular habit.

Hundreds of studies have shown that implementation intentions are effective for sticking to our goals, whether it’s writing down the exact time and date of when you will get a flu shot or recording the time of your colonoscopy appointment. They increase the odds that people will stick with habits like recycling, studying, going to sleep early, and stopping smoking.

The punch line is clear: people who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through. Too many people try to change their habits without these basic details figured out. We tell ourselves, “I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to write more,” but we never say when and where these habits are going to happen. We leave it up to chance and hope that we will “just remember to do it” or feel motivated at the right time. An implementation intention sweeps away foggy notions like “I want to work out more” or “I want to be more productive” or “I should vote” and transforms them into a concrete plan of action.

Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for the time to be right to make an improvement.

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].

Meditation. I will meditate for one minute at 7 a.m. in my kitchen.
Studying. I will study Spanish for twenty minutes at 6 p.m. in my bedroom.
Exercise. I will exercise for one hour at 5 p.m. in my local gym.
Marriage. I will make my partner a cup of tea at 8 a.m. in the kitchen.

We often say yes to little requests because we are not clear enough about what we need to be doing instead. When your dreams are vague, it’s easy to rationalize little exceptions all day long and never get around to the specific things you need to do to succeed.

Give your habits a time and a space to live in the world.


The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases.

Going to the bathroom leads to washing and drying your hands, which reminds you that you need to put the dirty towels in the laundry, so you add laundry detergent to the shopping list, and so on. No behavior happens in isolation. Each action becomes a cue that triggers the next behavior.

When it comes to building new habits, you can use the connectedness of behavior to your advantage. One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called habit stacking.

“After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”

Meditation. After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute.
Exercise. After I take off my work shoes, I will immediately change into my workout clothes.
Gratitude. After I sit down to dinner, I will say one thing I’m grateful for that happened today.
Marriage. After I get into bed at night, I will give my partner a kiss.
Safety. After I put on my running shoes, I will text a friend or family member where I am running and how long it will take.

Your morning routine habit stack might look like this:

  1. After I pour my morning cup of coffee, I will meditate for sixty seconds.
  2. After I meditate for sixty seconds, I will write my to-do list for the day.
  3. After I write my to-do list for the day, I will immediately begin my first task.

Or, consider this habit stack in the evening:

  1. After I finish eating dinner, I will put my plate directly into the dishwasher.
  2. After I put my dishes away, I will immediately wipe down the counter.
  3. After I wipe down the counter, I will set out my coffee mug for tomorrow morning.

Chapter Summary