Atomic Habits and Badminton

Posted on Mon 13 June 2022 in Writing

Atomic Habits probably needs no introduction, and neither will I bore you with one. All I'll say is that I found a friend in hostel with a copy of the book, and when I went home, I found a physical copy on my Dad's bookshelf (all of us have kindles, and only buy hardcopies of books that we really want a hardcopy of).

So What's the fuss about

Like it's predecessors, Atomic Habits preaches more of the same old myelination tricks

  • Don't break the chain
  • Condition your environment to make habits you want to adopt easier and those you want to drop harder
  • Systems produce results, not goals
  • Join groups of people doing the same activity if you want to pick it up, and support systems if you want to drop something eg alcoholics anonymous etc

What sets it apart then? Personally, there are a couple of things that were truly new ideas

  • Habit Scorecard: A Habit scorecard is a list of all your daily actions, scored as constructive, neutral or destructive depending on how they influence your life in the long term. Going through the exercise of making a habit scorecard and then rating it showed me a lot of things about my life that I probably shouldn't be pursuing
  • Dopamine: The dopamine explanation is probably not new and might be found in the recesses of some medical journal, but props to James for making it Clear. TL;DR Dopamine spikes in anticipation of an activity, and not as a consequence of the activity itself.
  • Layers of Behaviour Change: Behaviour change happens at three layers: changing outcomes, processes and identity. It's easiest to change outcomes, but hardest to change identity. However, changing our identity will probably have the most impact.
  • Habit Loops: I learnt about habit loops in Hooked by Nir Eyal, but here's a refreshing take on the other side of the coin: While Hooked focused on how to inculcate habits in others for using your products, Atomic Habits focuses on how to exploit the dynamics of the habit loop to make and break habits.

A Habit loop goes from Cue -> Craving -> Response -> Reward. Traversing this loop multiple times creates an association between Cue and Reward. Therefore, to break a habit, we can

  1. Remove the cues: environmental conditioning, etc
  2. Reprogram the Cue to a different activity, one with lower reward

The main gist of atomic habits is that small habits are what shape large outcomes, and focusing on marginal improvements on these small habits will cascade to have large effects, kind of like The British Cycling Team did.

Badminton and Non-Atomic Habit Building

On another line, I picked up badminton this week. This has definetly been a molecular, maybe even a complex habit compared to the atomic habits James focuses on (see what I did there :)). Overall, I've been playing everyday for over a month (except one sunday when my hip was injured), this form of habit building is a very different flavour compared to what atomic habits preaches

  • There was no system in place: I'd go, play, and focus on playing better than before
  • It felt great actually exerting my body for a change, and there was dopamine as a result of playing rather than just imagining
  • There was no Cue, or rather, most of the times, I was the one generating the cue for my group to come play.

I've probably not done justice to explaining how I built this, but the only way of building habits doesn't have to be marking crosses on a grid everyday (although I do that with badminton, how hypocritical of me). Habits are not always things we do everyday, but rather predictable ways we act in over a period of time.

Here's to more habit-building over the coming days!