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August 5, 2019

Atomic Habits Part 2 - Understanding Cravings

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We are on to part 2 of the book, Atomic Habits, by James Clear. We are slowly but surely developing a well-rounded understanding of our habit forming process.  Remember, the habit loop is cues, cravings, response, reward.

First, we are going to discuss cravings. Cravings are the most underrated component of the habit loop because they have only recently been better understood. The strength and influence of cravings can best be demonstrated with a quick explanation of neurobiology. Dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter in our reward experiencing pathway, and it was designed evolutionarily to encourage positive behaviors that help in survival. Makes sense. But only recently was it discovered that the largest dopamine spike in the brain occurs in anticipation of the reward, not while experiencing the reward. This is really important because that is exactly when cravings are active.

So, let’s not fight against this normal pattern we have, let’s use it to our advantage. And that’s where James Clear presents his solution to optimizing for cravings. Make it attractive. If we want to add a positive behavior, it likely doesn’t have a natural high-dopamine release that sustains a craving. You can associate that behavior with something else that does to make the positive behavior more attractive. He calls this temptation bundling.  For example, if you want to meditate in the morning, link it with your morning coffee. The natural craving will help you act on the positive behavior once they become associated.

He also suggests changing your mentality, and sited an example I’ve used before. The difference between “I have to” and “I get to”. With time that self-talk will change the way you approach the thought and slowly train your brain to crave it more over time.

Part 2: Optimize for your cravings by making it attractive.

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