Tag: Default Options

Tiny changes can make a big difference!

Image Source: https://medium.com/@aidanhornsby/notes-on-atomic-habits-c021e38eeae7

“If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you will end up 37 times better by the time you are done”

First, let me tell you the story of this tiny plant. Last year during the lockdown, I was spending good time gardening, writing, and clicking pictures. I reused an old plastic bottle and filled it with some soil and planted a small stem of my favorite plant-pothos. I fastened it in my balcony grill. Every alternate day I was watering it. But after some days, I saw it drying. I got disappointed and stopped thinking about it. I also reduced the frequency of giving water. Days and months passed. One day on a weekend, I saw a tiny green stem inside the old plastic bottle. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like some extra grass grew. I went closer to the bottle and there was a sweet smile on my face. I finally knew that my plant survived. It survived: because of everyday’s care & nurture that got accumulated for days. On similar lines, your good habits are like these tiny changes you make every day that leads to a bigger change later in your lives. (Scroll it down to see the beautiful plant as of today)

Reading this book makes you believe that small habits can make a big difference. And what is a habit? A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. James Clear believes in incremental change. He feels that success is the product of daily habits-not-once-in-a-lifetime transformations. The interesting thing about this book is that it not only tells you how to create good habits but also how to break bad habits. He also warns the readers to be careful about the future trajectory of their lives as it will be dependent on their daily habits.

To me, this book feels like the combination of popular books Sapiens (A Brief History of Humankind) and Nudge(Improving Decision about Health, Wealth and Happiness) Like Sapiens, this book tells us that we have the brains of our ancestors but temptations they never had to face. We still crave calorie-dense foods because our brain’s reward centers have not changed for approximately 50 thousand years. Like Nudge, James Clear argues that the environment matters more than motivation. As Richard H Thaler talks about the concept of “choice architecture” that shapes people’s behavior, James Clear believes that every habit is context-dependent. People often choose products not because of what they are, but because of where they are. Accordingly, we need to design our environment such that we pursue our good habits. For instance- if you want to hydrate yourself, you must keep the water bottlers near you. We have to create space for every habit. A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is an environment where habits can easily form.

Change can take years -before it happens all at once

Our daily habits(positive/negative) compound for us and lead to a bigger change. And the thing is that whenever we have breakthrough moments, we don’t realise the reason behind them. The author has talked about the concept of “plateau of latent potential”. This is that moment where we get breakthrough results, but the thing is that we human beings generally don’t have patience. We can’t wait. I can share from my own personal experience. When I started preparing for civil services, things seem insurmountable and I also felt for some time that I don’t know if I can do this. But I got results. I couldn’t even clear prelims in my first attempt. But in my subsequent attempts, I cleared prelims and mains both. And it does not mean that I didn’t work hard in my first year. My result was a cumulative effect of all years and not only of the current year when I cleared the examination.

The author challenges the norm of setting goals if anyone wants to succeed. He adds: “If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.”

There are three layers of behavior change:

  • Outcome-based habits: What you get
  • Process-based habits: What you do
  • Identity-based habits: What you believe

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it. True behavior change is identity change. It means that to make your habit permanent, you must make your habit part of your life and identity.

One of the best things Clear has to say is that you need to unlearn and continuously edit your belief systems to upgrade your identity. And this cannot happen overnight. For instance- doing exercise is a good habit but to build a healthy body, you have to get out of your bed every single day at the same time. Go for a walk. Repeat this every single day despite all odds.

As per Clear, there are four simple steps to build a better habit: Cue; Craving; Response & Reward The cue gives you an indication about reward, craving makes you feel like getting that reward, the response is the actual habit you perform and rewards are the end goal of every habit. This whole process is also called a feedback loop.

The Habit formation Feedback Loop

Developing good habits or changing habits first and foremost requires you to understand what you are actually doing. The author tells us to create a list of our daily habits so that we can observe our thoughts and actions. We need to ask this question after making our daily list, does this habit help me become the type of person I wish to become? Below are the laws that we need to apply to cultivate good habits and eradicate bad habits.

The Laws of Habit Formation

Even our family, friends, and people we follow play an important role in shaping our behaviours. We pick up the habits from the people around us. As the author adds that ‘ we don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them’. We imitate the people we admire. The best strategy to develop a good habit is to surround yourself with the people who have the habits you want to have yourself. Sticking with good habits requires you to create short-term rewards. As our brains are still tempted towards instant gratification, we need to create a habit tracker. The author adds that a habit tracker makes you believe that you are working towards becoming the type of person you wish to become.

In the end, the author talks about ‘the Goldilocks Rule’ that will help you to stay motivated in life and work. As per this rule, humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard, Not too easy, Just Right. Reaching the goldilocks zone makes you achieve the state of flow. Flow is something one achieves when they have immersed themselves in what they are doing. But doing the same thing or following the same habit can also bring some boredom. The biggest challenge for self-improvement is dealing with this boredom. “The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over & over. You have to fall in love with boredom”, adds the author. Mastery requires more practice than planning. Though habits are important, they are not enough. You need to have a combination of automatic habits and deliberate practice. And most importantly, you need to review and reflect on these habits to continuously fine-tune them as one thinker has rightly said” a genius is not born, but is educated and trained”.

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Review of the Nudge

This book was really different and difficult for me because I never read this kind of book before. The title of the book conveys the main idea of the book. Nudge can create a sustained push for not only changing the human behavior towards everything but also help in various policy matters.

Richard Thaler, the writer has provided various examples to prove his theory. In fact, after reading these ideas, we can also realize those things after a keen observation in our personal life.

The most recent and important example can be remembered in the context of India is the issue of prohibition. Supreme Court of India has banned the shops from serving liquor if they are located within a 500m distance of national highway. Various state governments have also banned liquor in their state. Bihar is the recent example. Here, the question is: Will banning any substance solve the real issue? Will it really solve the issue of drunken driving?  It was always found that banning/ restrictions have failed miserably to solve any problem. Here we need an innovative form of pushes in the form of nudges as described in the book. Why not the government should start an innovative campaign of information dissemination regarding prohibition. For instance, popularize the information that spending on alcohol can be used for other productive purposes like buying a house or a vehicle. There is need to create a feedback mechanism to make the people realize about their choices.   For example, banning junk food will not solve the problem of obesity but providing the fresh fruits, vegetables at a reasonable rate to the public will create a powerful nudge. Make eating fresh fruits as a fashion statement. It is really happening nowadays for organic foods.

This book has provided various concepts:  Libertarian Paternalism, Choice Architect, Default options etc. These concepts decide the choices we make in our life. Our parents, governments act as a choice architecture which provides us various options to choose in our life. Why not provide good choices to the people so that there is no need to ban anything.

In fact, I found something very interesting in this book regarding how we think and why we choose bad options despite knowing that they are not good for our well being:

  • Because we use our automatic system to think which is effortless and uncontrolled.
  • We generally do not use our reflective system which is rational and controlled.
  • The most prominent example is of Voters who seem to rely primarily on the automatic system. They just go by the pictures or possibilities that who is going to win.
  • We follow guesses, rules of thumb, behave in overconfidence, work in the spirit of unrealistic optimism and more worried about losses than gains. Not only this, the status quo bias also hurts our choices.
  • We are not able to resist temptation and sometimes act mindlessly. For example, eating is one of the most mindless activities we do in our life despite knowing that it affects our health, well being and overall life. But we don’t care whatever garbage comes in front of our eyes, we just grab on that because of lack of self-control.
  • Sometimes, we also behave in that manner due to social influences.

So, the issue is how to solve these issues: There is need to NUDGE people towards good choices. And the writer has provided six principles:


The policymakers, as well as people at the helm, should provide incentives to the people to follow rules. The recent example, I can remember about providing various prizes under DIGI DHAN MELA programme of Government of India to make India digital.

The default options are very powerful and ubiquitous. People generally do not change the default options. So why not make good choices as default so that number of people can follow it. The writer discusses this option so many times. For instance, if we want to save money, why not deduct the amount from the salary automatically. In fact, the saving and insurance ideas of today are mostly based on this concept. In fact, he has highlighted the concept of SAVE MORE TOMORROW.

Providing feedback is also a good option. If we provide feedback to the people in comparison to others, they tend to improve their situation. This also works in cases of comparison.

The writer has written this book analyzing the policies prevailing in the USA. However, the basic idea of nudge can be used in India’s various public policies. In fact, the campaign of Texas-DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS was very successful in reducing littering in the city. It can be adopted in India in various manners. For instance- DON’T MESS WITH DELHI.

The writer also discusses various objections to the idea of LIBERTARIAN PATERNALISM.

In fact, the book is a good read for future as well as present policymakers who really want to provide good choices to the people to make their life better.

Just now, I found a very interesting implementation of this idea by the UK government. The UK government has a “NUDGE UNIT” in the name of BEHAVIORAL INSIGHTS TEAM.  This organization was set up to popularize “nudge theory”, which is a combination of behavioral economics and psychology. It is helping the government to improve policy options and bring about change in the behavior of the people.