Atomic Habits by James Clear changed my life.
If you haven’t read it, Atomic Habits is “an easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones.” To date, the book has sold more than 2,000,000 copies, and had a transformational impact on the world.
In the book, Clear lays out a powerful framework for building long-lasting habits: The 4 Laws of Behavior Change.
I have found this framework to be incredibly helpful for writers.
Here’s how you can leverage these principles to finally build a Daily Writing Habit, overcome Writer’s Block, and start sharing your ideas out into the world.
How Do We Build Habits?
Habits are made up of a four-part feedback loop:
To build any habit, you need to intentionally design each part of this feedback loop. That’s where the 4 Laws of Behavior Change come in:
- Make it obvious
- Make it attractive
- Make it easy
- Make it satisfying
Each one of these laws will help you go through the habit feedback loop effortlessly.
Keep In Mind Your Real Goal
Before you start to build a writing habit, it’s important to understand the real goal.
Your goal isn’t to start writing. Your goal is to become a writer.
Why the subtle difference?
Because true behavior change is identity change.
We don’t stick to habits that aren’t aligned with our identity. Luckily, habits that do align with your identity are easy to stick to. Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become.
So to become a writer, we have to consistently cast “writer votes.”
Now, let’s apply the 4 Laws of Behavior Change to our goal.
Step 1: Make it obvious
Time and location are the most important habit cues.
The most effective way to leverage them is to find your Sacred Hours. These are the hours where you are most likely to be focused and energized, but the least likely to be disturbed by the outside world. For example, my Sacred Hours are 5–7 AM.
But just having a regular place and time of day to write isn’t enough.
Writing is an activity that requires lots of concentration. So you also want to intentionally design your writing environment to maximize focus. Here are some good things to have handy:
- A go-to writing playlist
- High-quality headphones
- A comfortable desk chair
- Cold Turkey internet blocker
Step 2: Make it attractive
Habits with clearly defined benefits are easy to stick to.
So when building your writing habit, have a list of the benefits you hope to unlock once you start writing consistently. And review them every time you sit down to write. Whether that’s building an audience, learning faster, or thinking more clearly, this exercise will help you keep the momentum going.
We also repeat habits that align with the social norms and behaviors of the people we hang out with.
So if you want to start writing consistently, surround yourself with other writers. Find a community that gives you accountability, respect, praise, and feedback on your writing. And stick around — being part of a community of like-minded friends will make the whole process even more rewarding!
Step 3: Make it easy
Beginner writers think their first post has to change the world.
This kicks off “The Doom Loop”: procrastination disguised as planning.
How do you overcome this?
Start with writing one tweet per day. Repeat this for a week. Then, up it to a few tweets per day.
After a few weeks, you’ll stop overthinking and overcome your fear of publishing.
From there, you can start to expand your ideas. Now your writing flywheel starts to spin. You can go from writing tweets to writing short, Atomic Essays:
- One single idea
- Under 250 words
- That fits into a single iPhone screenshot
Again, make it easy to keep publishing until you’ve built unmatched consistency.
Step 4: Make it satisfying
Humans are dopamine chasers.
You want to find as many ways as possible to be “rewarded” every time you sit down to write. The easiest way to do this? Print out a giant calendar and make a big red X over each day you write and publish.
In the beginning, this will give you positive reinforcement and help you gain momentum.
Another great way to do this is to find an accountability partner. Team up with someone also trying to build a daily writing habit. Share your struggles, cheer each other on, and build a rock-solid relationship. When one of you falls off the ship, the other person can throw down a ladder to get back on.
The key to building a long-lasting writing habit is to design each stage of your habit feedback loop intentionally.
Here’s a quick checklist you can use as you build your own writing habit to make sure you’re successfully applying the 4 Laws of Behavior Change to each of these stages:
- Remind yourself what your real goal is: becoming a writer. True behavior change is identity change. If you want to stick to your habit in the long run, make sure it’s aligned with your identity.
- Make it obvious when and where you will write. Make these constraints clear from the beginning and stick to them even when you don’t feel like writing. Also, look for all the potential distractions you could face while writing and remove them beforehand.
- Make it so attractive that you don’t want to miss a day. Revisit the benefits you expect your writing habit will unlock for you every day. And find a community of writers where writing consistently is the norm.
- Make it so easy that it’s impossible for you to fail. Avoid planning too much and just start small. Set a set of creative constraints you can easily stick to (like writing one tweet per day), and gradually increase the difficulty as you get more and more momentum.
- Make it so satisfying that you can’t not write. Find ways to give yourself extra dopamine hits every time you write: put a big X on your calendar, get yourself a small treat or let your accountability buddy know when you’re done. These small reinforcements will compound over time and make building your writing habit inevitable.