BiggerPockets Podcast 485: Atomic Habits That Help You Achieve Unthinkable Success w/ NYT Best Selling Author James Clear

BiggerPockets Podcast 485: Atomic Habits That Help You Achieve Unthinkable Success w/ NYT Best Selling Author James Clear

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Three years ago, Atomic Habits was released. In this groundbreaking book, author James Clear asks a complex question “why do we continue our bad habits while neglecting good habits?” While it’s not as easy as simply saying, “I want to be better, hence I’ll stop doing this”, there are some ways that you can convince (and often trick) yourself into developing the habits that will help you create a better life.

The first thing to know about habits is that they aren’t a minimal part of your life. Your habits are what your life is built upon. Do you habitually clean your room every week? You’re most likely a clean and well-organized person. Are you constantly looking for ways to save money? You probably have a decent-sized bank account. If you want to become the “money person” or the “helpful person” or the “intelligent person” you need to start adopting the habits that someone in those positions would have.

So how do you develop a good habit? More importantly, how do you halt your bad habits from derailing your entire life? James walks through a few key ways to do this, from making habit cues less obvious, to changing your environment, to removing yourself from the choice entirely. One thing is for certain, if you want to change your life for the better, you need to start changing your habits.

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Read the Transcript Here

Brandon Turner:
This is the BiggerPockets podcast show 485.

James Clear:
The direction of your life bends, the arc of your life bends in the direction of your habits. So, sure, there are other things in life that influence outcomes, luck or randomness or misfortune, but by definition, those things are not under your control. The only reasonable rational approach is to focus on the stuff that’s in your control, and your habits and your choices are.

Speaker 1:
You’re listening to BiggerPockets radio, simplifying real estate for investors, large and small. If you’re here looking to learn about real estate investing, without all the hype, you’re in the right place. Stay tuned and be sure to join the millions of others who have benefited from biggerpockets.com, your home for real estate investing online.

Brandon Turner:
What’s going on everyone? It’s Brandon Turner, host of the Bigger Pockets Podcast here actually at BiggerPockets headquarters, which is weird because I’m never here in Denver, but here at BP headquarters with digitally, my buddy David Greene, who coincidentally is actually in Maui. What’s up, buddy?

David Greene:
Yeah, that’s funny. I’m actually in Maui at one of the condos that I bought and you left.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah. I got this a big huge, like 30 something million dollar multifamily deal that we’re buying here out in Vail county or Vail Valley is what they call it. It’s like out near the ski resorts, like Vail. It’s crazy. I went and looked at it, it’s awesome. So yeah, that’s what’s going on maybe, you got some condos, all that going good. You’re going to rent it out soon?

David Greene:
Yeah, I’m meeting with some people today to go over, putting a team together who’s going to kind of do the Airbnb thing, I’m still looking to find other people that have done this before that I can kind of consult with and possibly hire, but it looks like for the rest of the year, I’m going to kind of be moving in the direction of buying more short term rentals and putting a team in place to try to manage those and trying to figure that game out.

Brandon Turner:
Cool, man, I love it. I love it, taking action. Well, today’s show is with an author, you’ve probably heard it before, James Clear. He’s a … I mean, his book Atomic Habits has sold well over four million copies now, it’s been on the top of every booksellers’ list for … since it came out. It’s always like listed as like one of the top books in the world. It’s hugely influential to a lot of people, a lot of people have mentioned on the podcast before. So we are super stoked to bring you an interview with him today. We talk all about habit creation, how to build new habits that are good, how to destroy bad ones, what is a good habit versus a bad habit. We talk a lot about how habits get placed in the business, and I give some examples of my own business, how I’ve used habits in my team to buy a lot of real estate and David, I know you do the same.

Brandon Turner:
We talk about how habits affect, I mean, really every area of your life. So this is probably one of the most important episodes you could ever listen to, of any podcast. I’m not just saying that because I’m … it’s a BiggerPockets show. Literally, this concept is life changing. So I’m excited for you to hear it but first, let’s get to today’s quick tip. Listen on the show, we talk about habits and one of the examples I give is about the habit of analyzing deals. So, if you have not mastered that art of being able to run the numbers and feel comfortable making an offer, because you know exactly how much that property is worth and how much you should pay for it, if you have not done that, we offer free training every single week at BiggerPockets on how to run the numbers on deals.

Brandon Turner:
So we do these webinars every week and when you attend, we do a real life deal analysis every single time because we know that’s important. So attend any webinar that we do. Just go to biggerpockets.com, forward slash … I think it’s forward slash, webinars, plural, will get you there and you can attend the next webinar, learn how to analyze deals and get better and better at that. If you’re an existing pro member, by the way, you don’t even have to attend live. You can watch replays anytime you want to in the BiggerPockets Pro replay room. So that’s your quick tip, is build the habit of analyzing deals, it’ll change your real estate life forever. That’s our quick tip. All right, with that said, I think we’re ready to get into today’s episode. Now, David, anything you want to say before we jump in with James.

David Greene:
I really enjoyed our conversation with James, I think people are going to get a lot out of it. Especially if you are an investor who’s trying to figure out why you’re not getting traction. Why is it so hard to get going or why does this just feel scary all the time. Today’s episode has a lot for you specifically.

Brandon Turner:
Enjoy the episode, and if you like it, don’t forget to leave a rating review in iTunes or wherever you’re listening to the podcast at, let the world know it’s really good, maybe share it with somebody you think would be powerful. This is not a real estate show. We barely talk real estate today, so anybody that’s in your world that could benefit from better habits would probably like this show. So do us a favor, share it on your Instagram, on your Facebook, whatever you can do, clips of it, social media, take a picture of it, help us spread the word about the power of developing Atomic Habits. Let’s get to the interview with James Clear. All right, James, welcome to the BiggerPockets Podcast, man. It’s awesome to have you here.

James Clear:
Hey, great to talk to you. Thanks for having me.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, so let’s dive into your story a little bit before we get into the topic, I want to cover today which is obviously habits but before being the guy that sold millions of this book and kind of a household name in the personal development world, what were you doing, what was your kind of background?

James Clear:
Well, I was always into science and I like school and sports. So I played baseball all the way through college and then, I studied science as well. I was there. Technically, my degree is in biomechanics, but it’s mostly like chemistry and physics classes and stuff. Then after that, I went to get my MBA, which is kind of where I started to get exposed to entrepreneurship. I saw my job, my on campus job was I work in the Center for Entrepreneurship. So, I saw a bunch of people starting companies and rolling stuff out and I was like, “Maybe I should try that, after I get done.” So when I graduated, I gave it a shot and had no idea what I was doing. So the first two years, I just kind of stumbled around and tried a bunch of ideas and nothing really stuck.

James Clear:
Eventually, I realized that one of the reasons I was struggling is because I didn’t have an audience. I launched these products and didn’t have anybody to tell. So I started writing to build my business. I started writing to build an email list and have a company hopefully, that would succeed. This weird thing happened along the way, which is … it turns out, I liked writing and I was good at building an email list. So, I kind of stumbled into these skills that I didn’t seek out from the beginning. I wrote about all kinds of stuff early on. I wrote about health and fitness and weight training and medicine. I also wrote about habits and strategy and decision making and some of the stuff that I write about now.

James Clear:
It turns out, the other stuff was fine, but what people really wanted to hear from me on was about habits and strategy and decision making. The more I wrote about that stuff, the bigger the audience got, and I was like, “Well, that’s where the Venn diagram,” overlap is, of like, what I like, and I’m interested in and what the audience likes. So I’ll do more of that and eventually, after a couple years that led to signing the book deal for Atomic Habits, and then ultimately writing it.

Brandon Turner:
That’s awesome. Well, a couple years ago, I put together a … we have a journal. I mean, there’s lots of journals out there, but we have a journal at BiggerPockets called the intention journal, and I did a ton of research on habits and goal setting, and all that stuff. I just kept coming across your blog, like, over and over and over and over. I feel like half of my research just came from the research you did. So you save me a lot of time. So thank you for that, but why did habits or why do habits in this concept fascinates you? Why is it worth writing a book on? Why is it so important that we learn about habits?

James Clear:
I mean, first of all, your brain is building habits, whether you’re thinking about it or not. It’s a process that your brain goes through to try to automate whatever it can. So depending on the research study you look at, somewhere between 40 to 50% of your behaviors are automatic and habitual each day. So usually, it’s small things like tying your shoes or brushing your teeth or unplugging the toaster after each use, like stuff like that. I think actually, the true impact of your habits is even larger, because a lot of the automatic decisions that you make, end up setting the context for the conscious decisions you make afterwards. So like, if you’re standing in line at a store, and you automatically check your phone, you just kind of habitually pull it out of your pocket and look at it.

James Clear:
Well, the next 10 minutes might be carefully thinking, “Oh, I need to respond to this email, or I’m reading an article or browsing social media.” Everything you’re doing there was already … the context for that was set by the habit of pulling your phone out of your pocket. So the true influence to them is probably even larger than 40, 50%. I mean, they shape all kinds of stuff throughout our day. So, that’s one reason to learn about it, you’re already going to be building them. Well, might as well, if you’re going to be doing this all the time anyway, understand how to be the architect of your habits rather than the victim of them, because a lot of people feel like their habits are happening to them.

James Clear:
Then, the second thing is, if you step back and think about the outcomes in your life, the direction of your life bends, the arc of your life bends in the direction of your habits. So, sure, there are other things in life that influence outcomes, luck, or randomness, or misfortune but by definition, those things are not under your control. The only reasonable rational approach is to focus on the stuff that’s in your control, and your habits and your choices are, and they also strongly influence those outcomes. So, in many areas of life, your results are a lagging measure of your habits. Your health and fitness is a lagging measure of your eating and training habits. Your bank account is a lagging measure of your financial habits.

James Clear:
Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your reading and learning habits. Even like the clutter in your bedroom is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. So there’s kind of this, like great irony of life, which is we also badly want better results. We also badly want to be fit or to have more money or to have peace of mind. The results are not actually the thing that needs to change. It’s like fix the habits and the results will fix themselves, fix the inputs, and the outputs will fix themselves. So, because habits exerts such a strong influence on your results in all areas of life, I think they’re really critical thing to talk about and to understand, and that was one of the things that got me interested in them to begin with.

Brandon Turner:
That’s cool, man. Yeah, I wrote down a quote here from the book it says, “The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior.” Can you talk about … what do you mean by identity, and how does that play into what you just talked about?

James Clear:
So far, we’ve only discussed habits is like the method to achieving a particular result, and it’s true that habits can help you do those things. They can help you be more productive or get fit or reduce stress or whatever. That’s great, that they can get external results, but I think the real reason, the true reason that habits matter is that they can reshape your sense of self. They can give you a new story about who you are, the identity that you assign to yourself. So, in a sense, true behavior change is really identity change, it’s really changing the story about who you are, and why you do the things you do. That’s why I’ll say some stuff like, the real goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner.

James Clear:
The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader, the goal is not to do a silent meditation retreat, it’s to become a meditator. In those cases, I’m using actual labels like reader and runner and meditator, but you can do it with characteristics too. You can be like, I’m the kind of person who shows up on time, or I’m the type of person who’s reliable or I finish what I started, I’m a good teammate and all of these labels or characteristics, they’re aspects of your identity, some more than others but whether you believe in that being part of who you are, is heavily influenced by the habits that you perform. So, in a sense, your habits are how you embody a particular identity. Every day that you make your bed, you embody the identity of someone who is clean and organized.

James Clear:
The more that you do that, the more you believe in that story. So every action you take, is like a vote for the type of person you wish to become, and doing one push up, no, it doesn’t radically transform your body but it does cast a vote for I’m the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts. Writing one sentence, no, it may not finish the novel, but it does cast a vote for I’m a writer. The more that you cast those votes, the more you build up evidence of being that kind of person, the more you give yourself a reason to believe in that kind of story. I think that’s probably one of the things that’s a little bit different about my approach or philosophy than what you often hear. You’ll often hear something like, fake it till you make it.

James Clear:
I don’t necessarily have anything wrong with fake it until you make it. It’s encouraging you to believe something positive about yourself, but it’s encouraging you to believe something positive without having evidence for it. We have a word for beliefs that don’t have evidence. We call that delusion, right? At some point, your brain doesn’t like this mismatch between what you’re saying you are and what you’re actually doing. So, behavior and beliefs are a two way street. What you believe about yourself will influence the way you act and the actions you take will influence the story that you tell yourself about who you are. My argument is, let the behavior lead the way. Let’s start with one push up or sending one email or writing one sentence or meditating for one minute and it doesn’t sound like much.

James Clear:
In that moment, you cannot deny that you were that kind of person. The more you build up those votes, the more you build up this body of evidence, the stronger and more solidly you believe in that identity.

David Greene:
When you mentioned habits, I know … and I am thinking most of our listeners may be in the same boat, there’s this negative visceral response, I don’t like the thought of having to build a habit, habit immediately sounds like discipline routine, bad. There’s like … very rarely do I hear I need a good habit and get excited about it. It’s usually get rid of a bad habit, and this has come up in my life so often as of late, I’m constantly thinking about this. I started to think about the word habit and just exchange it for programming, what you’re really describing is every action you take affects the code that your life works off of. That code could be working for you in making your goals easier or against you and making them difficult.

David Greene:
When I started thinking about it as programming, it became a whole lot easier to embrace that this is really what life is about. If you want a better life, that’s how you get there in many ways and there’s a lot more we’re going to talk about, I’m sure but do you think James that I’m on the right path with my understanding of it?

James Clear:
Yeah, there’s something central about the meaning that you assign to events in your life and the story that you tell about what’s going on, and that programming as you phrase it, or that script that you’re running on, is at the core of every habit. I break a habit into four different stages. You’ve got this cue, craving, response and reward. The craving part is the programming part that you’re talking about. It’s a core piece of what drives the habit and it’s largely about the meaning that you assigned to different things. For example, if you walk into the kitchen, you see a plate of cookies, so that’s a visual cue. You see the cookie on the counter, but the next thing that happens is your brain kind of automatically assigns a meaning to it, it predicts, “Oh, those cookies will be sweet, sugary, tasty, enjoyable.”

James Clear:
It’s actually that story in your mind about what a cookie is, and the fact that it’s tasty, that motivates you to pick it up and take a bite and so on. So if you could somehow change the story, like imagine if every time you saw a cookie, somebody punched you in the face, well now, all of a sudden, you would have a negative connotation, a negative association with that thing. That of course, is an extreme example. I mean, it’s not going to work in real life, but the point that I’m getting at is almost all of your behaviors, we think life is reactive, we think, “Oh, something happens to us and then I respond. Somebody says something in conversation, and then I feel a certain way.”

James Clear:
In fact, almost all of life is predictive. Your brain is almost continually going through life and predicting. What should I say in the next sentence? What does that mean when I look across the kitchen, I see the cookies, what are those? Do they have favorable association and unfavorable one. So all of these predictions that your brain is constantly making that shape, the actions that you take and help determine, the next step that happens. So, yes, I think the short answer is the programming that’s going on or the associations that you’ve learned throughout your life are a core piece of why you fall into certain habits and avoid other ones.

David Greene:
You mentioned that results are a lagging indicator of the choices you’re making, or your habits that is referring to the Four Disciplines of Execution concepts.

James Clear:
I know 4DX, I know the term but I’ve never read the book, so I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to.

Brandon Turner:
It seems to be the same concept. Yeah.

David Greene:
Yeah, so just to catch everybody up, the idea would be, if you look at the scale, when you’re trying to … if your goal is to lose weight, if you look at the scale to see what you weigh, that is a lagging indicator, it is a revelation of things you’ve already done. Leading indicators would be the opposite of that, which would be measuring how many times you go to the gym or measuring your caloric intake.

James Clear:
So there’s definitely some similarity there. Like I said, I’m not totally familiar with how they phrase it, but it sounds like the same idea. In terms of habits, the important thing that I like to distinguish is … and I think this actually helps us define what is a good habit and what is a bad habit? Because a lot of the time people will say something like, “Well, it’s a bad habit, why do I keep doing it,” or they just feel that way? It’s like, “Well, obviously, why do I keep falling into these things that aren’t good for me?” The truth is, all behaviors serve you in some way, so like smoking a cigarette is like the classic example of a bad habit but if you smoke outside with a friend, as a part of the work break, well, then you get some socialization out of it.

James Clear:
You get friendship out of it or if you smoke at the end of the workday, maybe you get some stress relief out of it. So there are things that those behaviors do that serve you, even if ultimately they don’t. So the way that I like to distinguish good habit versus bad habit, and this ties directly to your point about leading versus lagging indicators, you can imagine pretty much all behaviors is producing multiple outcomes across time. So broadly speaking, we have an immediate outcome, and we have an ultimate outcome. With bad habits, the immediate outcome is often pretty favorable. You smoke a cigarette, and you get to socialize right away or you eat a doughnut, and it’s sweet, and sugary and tasty right now.

James Clear:
It’s only the ultimate outcome, if you keep eating doughnuts for two years, or if you keep smoking, that is unfavorable. With good habits, it’s often the reverse. The immediate outcome of going to the gym, certainly early on, is your muscles are sore, you sweat, it takes a lot of energy and effort. You don’t have a whole lot to show for it, your body looks the same in the mirror at the end of the night. It’s only the ultimate outcome, two or five years later, where you like, “Oh, now I have the change that I was working toward.” So a lot of the game, or a lot of the challenge of getting good habits to stick and getting bad habits to break is finding ways to pull the consequences of your bad habits into the immediate moment.

James Clear:
So you feel a little bit of that pain right now, and finding ways to pull the rewards of your good habits into the immediate moment, so it feels good, and you have a reason to enjoy it, and so on. Ultimately, once a good habit is really established and built, and it kind of ties into that identity concept that we’re talking about before, you’re getting some of the reward just as soon as you do it. If you view yourself as I’m the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts, well, right, when you’re in the middle of doing a set of squats, you’re kind of reinforcing that desired identity. So, already, you’re getting some benefit from doing it, even if you got to wait for your body to change. Now, of course, it takes a while for you to actually truly believe that. That’s kind of ultimately what we’re working towards.

David Greene:
So that brings me to the next point I wanted to ask you as one of the experts and habits. One of the problems that I found in business is it’s very difficult for me to distance myself from the actions I take in business that give me a direct dopamine hit and it sounds very familiar to what … or similar to what you’re saying when you say hey, smoking a cigarette actually does accomplish its purpose, drinking alcohol does accomplish a goal. Part of what you have to do is understand where do you want to go to know if this is a good habit or a bad habit, but I found that if I go take a listing, I have a real estate team and they signed that listing agreement, I get a shot of dopamine, I was clearly successful.

David Greene:
I did what I wanted to do. It feels good. I get an immediate gratification. Then, I have to go do all the work associated with that. The next time a listing comes, I have to go do it again. If I train somebody else, how to do it, I relieve myself of the problems that come with taking a listing but I also lose the dopamine hit that I got when I did a good job. I could have five people out there, taking five times as many listings and it is better for my business intrinsically to be that way but for David Greene, it does not feel as good. I’m missing that jolt I was getting and that is … it seems like it always … that’s why I get sucked back into doing things that I know, that I shouldn’t be doing. Can you comment on, if I’m the only person in the world that has this problem or if I’m going to keep going through this too.

James Clear:
Yeah, well, I mean, I’m sure you’re not. I think there’s like a … strategy is always one level up from whatever you’re talking about. Right now, we’re talking about the mechanics of listings and so on, so like what’s one level up from that? I would say, there’s a bigger conversation that we need to have about what am I optimizing for and you need to have a good answer to that question so that you can make choices like that because if you don’t know what you’re optimizing for, you almost always just end up doing what makes you feel good in the moment, because if I don’t know roughly what to choose between these two choices, well might as well choose one that makes you feel good. A lot of people find themselves doing that all the time. They aren’t sure what they’re really working toward, or what they’re optimizing for.

James Clear:
So it becomes hard to delay gratification, because it’s more difficult for you to envision what exactly is important to you. The truth is, from a business standpoint, yeah, it probably is better to have a team of listing agents doing that. If that’s what you’re optimizing for, then it’s easier to make that choice, but if actually you enjoy that part of the process, then maybe it does make sense for you to do it. I don’t know what the right answer is for you and it’s going to be different for each person. If I think about my business, technically, I could achieve a lot more scale, if I hired a bunch of writers to do the writing for me and then I play the role of editor or I just kind of oversaw the whole operation, we could be putting out more books, some authors, some real high level authors do this, like James Patterson has like a team of people who write for him, and he sort of just does the outlines.

James Clear:
That’s why he’s able to come out with a book every three months or six months. I’m not interested in that. That’s not what I want to optimize for. Nothing necessarily wrong with it for somebody else, but because I want to optimize for … I don’t know, I just feel like I should be the one producing the work and I should be the one writing all the words, then that’s going to change the shape of the business. So, I guess, there’s sort of two answers. The first answer is what you’re discussing about having immediate dopamine hits versus delaying gratification. Clearly, there’s an important life lesson there and the more that something serves you in the moment, probably the more you should question whether it’s the right long term behavior, because usually delaying gratification, is the better choice.

James Clear:
Then there’s also a separate discussion about what am I optimizing for and what actually does this look like for me, rather than just chasing status or chasing success or doing it because that’s how everybody else does it?

Brandon Turner:
I want to ask kind of a cliche question, but it’s one that comes up a lot. Is there a number of days, repetitions that cements a habit in, right? We’ve all heard, what are that, 20 something days and then I think the one thing, talk about 66 days, and they’ve got these numbers, but what do you see as the truth about developing a habit? How long does it actually take?

James Clear:
Yeah, there are multiple numbers floating around, 21 and 30 days are very common things that you’ll hear, those have kind of been I don’t know, historically, the myths or the statements people make, 66 days is a common one right now. There was one study that showed that on average, it took about 66 days to build a habit. Even within that study, the range is quite wide. So as soon as you start to unpack this, it immediately makes sense that the answer is it depends, because some habits are harder than others, so what the study found was that something really simple like drinking a glass of water at lunch might only take you a few weeks, something more difficult, like going for a run after work each day, might take seven or eight or nine months.

James Clear:
Then even within that … This isn’t part of the study. This is just me talking now. Imagine two people trying to build the habit of going for a run after work each day. Well, if one person lives with a bunch of roommates, who are all athletes, then that’s like much more within the social norm. If another person goes home and nobody in the apartment exercises, then now you’re going against the grain of the group. So, the same habit can be easier or harder depending on the context as well. The punchline to all of this, I think, is that the true answer, the honest answer to how long does it take to build a habit is forever, because if you stop doing it, it’s no longer a habit and what I’m getting at with that is, habits are not a finish line to be crossed, right?

James Clear:
They’re this lifestyle to be lived. As soon as you start to appreciate that and accept that, you look for changes that are small and non-threatening and sustainable, and that you can integrate into your daily routine, and you start to realize, “Oh, what I’m actually trying to do here is make a lifestyle change, not be healthy for 30 days, and then I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

Brandon Turner:
Yeah.

James Clear:
I think that the saying that it only takes 21 days or 30 days or whatever. It just sort of implies that, even though that’s not the reality,

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, I did that … you know that 75 hard program, I think Andy Frisella’s Program where like, yeah, for 75 days, you workout twice a day, a gallon of water, read 10 pages in the books. So, I did this, right? I went all 75 days. I worked out twice a day for 75 days and had the gallon of water and everything else. Day 76, I didn’t workout. Day 77, I didn’t work out. I drink a cup of water for like those days. Since, like I have not worked out everyday … I mean, I workout maybe three times a week now, two or three times a week, but I did that before too. It didn’t matter if I did it 70. I did it 150 times, right? It didn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter, because … the way I look at that is … Dave is laughing at me-

David Greene:
Why would you do that? That’s like, I went to BUD/S camp and I graduated, then they said, “Hey, are you ready be a Seal,” and you’re like, “No, I just stopped.”

Brandon Turner:
What’s funny, because it was a finish line. I mean, it was a goal, I don’t regret doing it. It was great. I got some good fitness and whatever, but the 150 time repetition wasn’t enough to make it a habit because in my head, it was a finish line I had to get to. It wasn’t an identity shift of I workout twice a day, every day. That’s how I am. Kind of like I’m not eating sugar for the next month versus I don’t eat sugar, right? Those are identity … like just revisiting that concept, those are identity phrases not quick actions.

James Clear:
I don’t necessarily have anything wrong with challenges, like if it’s something that motivates you and gets you going gets you to take action, then that’s fine. You often see the behavior that you just described, which is what I would call like, people fall into this yo-yo cycle where they do something to train for the half marathon or to complete the 75 hard or whatever it is, and then they find that they oscillate back to their old style immediately after, and then it takes two or three months, and they’re like, “Man, I haven’t done anything. Now I need to pick up something else and do that.” It’s just this back and forth, rather than a consistent ride. However, it’s kind of … there’s like this lesson about life where it’s useful to have a plan or to have made a plan, even if everything doesn’t go to plan.

James Clear:
It’s still helpful to have done that and I think that’s also true for frameworks or sometimes even challenges. It’s useful to know these things, or to try them or to have a framework to follow, even if you don’t end up sticking to it, because in order for anybody to get results, you have to have a willingness to experiment. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best book you’ve ever read in the world, or the most motivating documentary you’ve ever seen. The plan can be perfect, but if you don’t have a willingness to take action and to experiment, you’re never going to figure out how to apply it to your life. So, that’s kind of one of the funny things about people like, “Oh, but will this work for me?” The point is, actually, nobody knows if it will or not. You’re the only one who can figure that out if you’re willing to experiment.

James Clear:
So I think you actually need a combination. You need a really good plan, which obviously, I’m biased, but I hope that Atomic Habits, in the case of habits, like lays that out and gives you a good framework and this is a great starting place. Then you also need to combine that with a willingness to self experiment and a willingness to try things in your life and then, it’s the combination of the two that ends up helping you figure out something that actually works for you. So, I don’t recommend challenges personally, but I don’t necessarily have anything wrong with them, because I do think they get people to start experimenting, and start trying, and then maybe you find a couple things that work for you. Eventually you come up with your own system that fits your specific life, rather than worrying about following some perfectly outlined blueprint.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, that’s really good. Yeah, I’m like … I definitely drink more water now than I did beforehand. So, it like raised my thermostat, maybe a little bit, even if I didn’t get the full on and I’ve done other challenges over the years. Yes some of them have helped and been awesome, some haven’t. We do something every quarter roughly at BiggerPockets. We call it the 90 day challenge, and all I basically tell people is, “Can you analyze a deal every day for 90 days?” The only thing I really want them to do is just build up that skill. I don’t care if they actually analyze it for the rest of their life. I just want them to get good at analyzing numbers because in real estate, everything is about the math.

James Clear:
You know what’s funny. In most areas of life. The person who learns the most in any classroom is the teacher, not the students because you got to know the material really well in order to teach it. So, in many areas, we often tell ourselves something like, I’m not ready to get started yet, I need to learn more. The truth is the best way to learn is by taking action. So, exercises like that, where you analyze deals for 90 days. Yeah, now you’re actually learning because actually doing the work. I think almost anybody, regardless of field, who said something like that, like what I learned in college was okay but it doesn’t help me that much. I don’t think about back to my biology class or something.

James Clear:
It’s actually doing the work that teaches you the skills that you need to know. So the faster that you can get to doing the real thing, usually, the faster the learning comes.

David Greene:
I would say that stands very true in our world. If I think about the people who have the most success investing in real estate, they are people who bought a house, lived in it, decided they were going to move, didn’t want to sell it, had to rent it out, and just did the stuff that happened. The people who have to go buy that house and put 20% down, can’t stop asking questions to need to feel prepared. What do I do, if this happens? What do I do if that happens, but when you just fall into it, that’s kind of how I got into it. Those problems don’t seem very big. So Brandon has become very good at this.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, you just need a strong bias toward action. If you have that bias to … you trust that you’ll figure it out along the way, rather than feeling like you need to figure it all out before you can take a step, they lead to wildly different outcomes.

David Greene:
Yeah, I think you’re right, and what we end up telling newbies and what I tell myself a lot of the time in anything is if that person can do it, I can do it, that’s sort of how I get over that initial, I don’t know if I’m ready for this, is I find somebody who’s clearly unprofessional or not good at what they’re doing, and I see them having success and then I just remind myself, I don’t need to have all the answers because they figured it out. I’m sure I can do it. I guess what I’m getting at is, a lot of what it takes to be successful, is getting over the own sabotage that your brain comes up with that stops you from just taking action, that’s all it really comes down to,

James Clear:
For sure people are their own bottleneck, usually long before the circumstances are the actual bottleneck. They’re so worried about the circumstances holding them back, but they never get to the point where it actually is the reason for them not being able to move forward. There’s this weird tension that you have to have because like I simultaneously … what I also believe is, it is worth it to do the reading or to do the research, to be well prepared. Preparation is very important in life, but I think the key distinguishing thing is, at some point planning becomes its own form of procrastination. So the question is, is continuing to research and prepare and ask questions and try to increase my knowledge, is that enhancing the actions that I’m taking or is it substituting for the actions that I could be taking, because when planning and preparation starts to substitute for taking action, it’s no longer useful.

James Clear:
If it’s accelerating and enhancing the things that you’re doing, then that’s great, but a lot of people use it as a crutch rather than running the risk of potentially failing.

Brandon Turner:
Well, let’s talk about bad habits for a little bit. It’s probably something that people would love to hear about. There’s a lot of bad habits out there, whether it’s smoking, drinking, whatever, or the biggest habit of all, which is for most people, which is their phone, right? I mean, the number of times I pick up my phone every day, it’s ridiculous and I can go show Sprint of like, “Hey, 30 days, I’m not going to use my phone,” and I might do it and as soon as I’m done with that little challenge, I’m back to using my phone five hours a day, right? What kind of framework have you looked at as being successful for eliminating the bad habits in our life? You said, apply some negative consequences sooner, but what does it look like on a tangible level?

James Clear:
I generally think that the most effective place to start for breaking bad habits is one of two areas. So in my framework, it’s either the cue or the actual action itself, the response. So you either make the cues less obvious, or you make the action more difficult. So it looks like the following things, making it less obvious and stuff like if you are online shopping too much, then spending too much money there and that’s a bad habit, you want to break, well unsubscribe from emails, you shouldn’t be getting bombarded by Nordstrom, and all these other places, if you don’t want to buy those things. If you feel like you spend too much money on the latest tech gear, then don’t read the latest tech review blogs or follow unboxing videos on YouTube. If you’re trying to follow a particular diet, don’t follow a bunch of food bloggers on Instagram.

James Clear:
People are constantly being triggered by the things they’re trying to avoid. So reduce exposure to the cue is one way. You can also do this with physical things, so like for myself, I’ve noticed that if I buy a six pack of beer, and I put it in the fridge and it’s like right in the door or right there at the front, where I see it as soon as I open the fridge up, I’ll grab one every night and have it with dinner just because it’s there. If I put it at the bottom of the fridge and tuck it like all the way in the back where I kind of got a bend down in order to be able to see it, sometimes it’ll sit there for weeks, I won’t even remember that I have it and I noticed something is a similar pattern with my phone, you mentioned and checking your phone all the time. I’m the same way. If my phone is next to me, I’m like everybody else, I’ll check my phone every three minutes just because it’s there.

James Clear:
I have a home office. So, I tried to follow this little personal rule where I leave my phone in another room until lunch each day and I’m at home anyway, it’s only 30 seconds away. It’s just down the hallway, but I never go get it. So, I’m like, “Well, did I want it or not?” In one sense, I wanted it because I would check it every three minutes if it was next to me but in another sense, I never wanted it bad enough to go work 30 seconds and walk down the hall and get it.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah.

James Clear:
You’d be surprised how many bad habits fall into that kind of pattern that if you just increase the friction a little bit, the behavior sort of curtails itself. So, I think that’s the first place to start is with environment design. Let’s remove it from the environment entirely, so don’t keep junk food in the house or something like that, or let’s just reduce exposure to it by reshaping the environment a little bit, or unsubscribing from emails or whatever. Just those things are a good start. Tons of examples for social media stuff, turning off notifications or when you log out of the app, just delete the app from your phone. So next time, if you want to log into Instagram, you have to download it again. Just that little bit of friction of having to go to the App Store and wait a minute, is often enough for you to realize I don’t really care about this, I’m just checking it because I got 10 seconds free.

James Clear:
You’d be surprised how many behaviors just doing that kind of stuff will help reduce to the desired level.

Brandon Turner:
I once heard Tim Ferriss say that he turns his phone on black and white, and so that way, it’s black … so he picks up the phone. It’s just like this little quick trigger to go like, “Oh, that’s right. I don’t really need my phone right now,” I use that on and off but I like that idea. I haven’t even set up a shortcut. If I click my button three times, it’ll go black and white and then, it’s just a little bit of a cue there, just to remind me, “Hey, don’t do that.” I also got myself one of those … the Apple watches that have like the cellular so the idea being, I can still text, I can still call. It just adds this barrier that makes it annoying. So I rarely do it.

James Clear:
It’s just enough of the hassle that you’re like, I’m not going to bother.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, because I’m going to text somebody. I’m going to like do the voice text, right? I’m like, “Hey, I’ll meet you at noon,” and it says, “Hey, look at the moon.” I’m like no, and I send the wrong one. In fact, he’s trying to text right now, just I mean, mostly with my hand. It’s just enough of a hassle that I’m like, “I didn’t really need to respond to that right now anyway.”

James Clear:
There are some really extreme examples, there’s a product called the Kitchen Safe, that is a Tupperware container and it’s programmable, so you can lock the top. So, I’ve talked to a variety of different people that want to curb late night snacking, or something like that. So after dinner ends, the Doritos, and the chips and everything go in the Kitchen Safe, and they lock it, and it won’t open again until 7 AM the next day. They’re not going to eat anything before they go to bed. There are ways to use technology like that. Ultimately, I think those things are short term solutions, but they can all be helpful in kind of getting you toward the desired outcome.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, there’s a … I don’t know where this falls in this conversation, I guess but I’ll throw out the example anyway. For years, I would drink a peppermint hot chocolate every single day from Starbucks, every day. I love them. I mean, every single day, seven days a week, 365 probably like three years. Then, definitely a habit. Definitely like I needed it every day, it just was a thing. Then one day, I looked at the sugar content of how much was sugar was in there, right? I realized there was more sugar when I was drinking, in a can of soda, a can of Coke. Now, I would make fun of people or laugh at like my dad who would drink a can of Coke or two, every single day and I realized I was worse than my dad in terms of my sugar consumption for the same thing that I made fun of other people.

Brandon Turner:
That day was my last peppermint hot chocolate, other than I get one on Christmas now. That was never had any … like no withdrawals. I mean, there was no like … my habit changed immediately because there was like this emotional, maybe it’s an identity thing, right? Maybe, something changed in me. So today, I would say like media changes mindset, a lot or there’s other things like if something convinced me in my head, and this wasn’t really media, but if something in my head changed, that I was like you, gross, right and like it’s deeper than just a, “I’m not going to buy peppermint hot chocolate today. I’m going to have strong willpower.” Something else changed there that made that no longer an issue. I just feel like if I could apply that to every area of my life, I could build any habit or destroy any habit and I haven’t been able to fully repeat it with almost anything, but that’s one example of what I did.

James Clear:
Yeah, I do think that’s close to this kind of identity conversation we’ve had, with the story that you tell yourself about what things mean.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, I don’t eat that much sugar. That’s ridiculous.

James Clear:
It changed the meaning that you assigned to what a cup of peppermint hot chocolate was. It changed how you felt about the prediction that you made about whether that was enjoyable or useful or favorable or not. That’s a real life example, which I love, that you have that I’ve often given this hypothetical example of like, imagine you walk into your kitchen in the morning and you see a loaf of bread and you’re like, “Oh, I’ll make some toast for breakfast,” and you put it in, you make it and whatever. You kind of do this throughout the … every day and then you go read some diet book that convinces you that like, carbs are terrible, and grain is the devil, and you should never touch it again.

James Clear:
If you genuinely have that kind of mindset shift, the next morning you walk in, you see that loaf of bread and you don’t think I should make toast, you think I need to throw that out. People have those types of mindset shifts or epiphanies, or whatever you want to call that, occasionally. It’s rare, it’s hard to bank on but you are right. If you could do that, if you could reassign the story in your head about what that habit means or about what that item signifies, then it’d be much easier to stick to a whole host of behaviors. That’s a very interesting example of how you were able to do it.

Brandon Turner:
I went vegan for a while, or at least vegetarian and the way I did it, I just like, to make it not … I watched like three documentaries on Netflix about like Veganism. I’m like, I didn’t even cared about meat. Now eventually, I got kind of back on it now, like a little bit of meat, but-

James Clear:
Kind of like intentionally propagandize-

Brandon Turner:
Exactly, exactly what that is. I did that for my wife when we got into real estate investing. There’s a book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and I really want her to read it because it changed my whole mindset about money and saving and kind of like what people should do, right? So she didn’t want to read it. So, I traded her if she read Twilight … or no, if I read Twilight, she would read Rich Dad, Poor Dad. So I read all of Twilight and she read Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and immediately changed her mindset as well, because like media, like the books you read, the podcasts you listen to, it changes your mindset. So, you kind of propagandize yourself, is that the word, propagandize yourself?

James Clear:
That’s actually … pretty much every thought you have is downstream from what you consume.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, yeah.

James Clear:
So, in this case, you’re talking about books or documentaries, which is obviously a crucial thing about selecting but the real big one for all of us is social media.

Brandon Turner:
Yes, yes.

James Clear:
People don’t think about it this way, but when you choose who you follow on Twitter, or Instagram, or wherever, you’re choosing your future thoughts. We think, “Oh I’m just following a celebrity or, and I’m following this person, or whatever,” but you’re crafting the information flows that are going to be coming to you. You’re crafting the content that you’re going to see, day in and day out. So you are choosing your future mood and your future emotions and your future mindset. I think we need to think much more carefully about who we select, and who we follow, because it’s going to influence you in a much larger way than you think, that media changes mindset idea, I think it’s very powerful.

Brandon Turner:
I don’t know, yeah, it feels so stupid, because we feel like as humans, we should just be able to make a decision, like why can’t I just not eat the chips that are on the counter? I posted a thing on my Instagram somewhere. We shared some meme the other day. It said, you’ll never know how little self control you have until you get to that Mexican restaurant with this chips and salsa. I was like, that’s totally true. I cannot not eat the chips and salsa, because I just lacked the self control, but while we can’t necessarily … I mean, if they can’t, but why don’t change the action in the moment, like you said, you can back up a step and change the cue, I can choose not like … it’s easy for me to choose to go to a Mexican restaurant or not. I mean, “No, let’s go here instead.”

Brandon Turner:
Once I’m in that moment, it doesn’t work anymore. So I mean, is that the key to self control is just environmental change in that or some people just really good at just saying no to the chips?

James Clear:
I think it’s the key long term. You can overpower your environment for a day or a week, like you can do … you guys have already talked about some of these challenges and stuff you do it for 30 days, you cannot eat chips and salsa, if that was like a big important thing for you, but in the long run, environment overpowers your willpower. It’s kind of like a form of gravity. It just pulls you toward. The reason I think it’s fairly simple, I mean, we all have busy lives. We have multiple priorities, we got kids to take care of our parents to do favors for or things that are due at work or organizations we volunteer for. It’s less stuff competing for your time and attention. When you don’t have capacity, when you’re tired, when you don’t have a ton of energy, when you are just pressed for time and need to make a quick choice, what do you do?

James Clear:
You often choose the most obvious thing, you choose the path of least resistance. So, if the chips are on the table, and you’re hungry after a long day at work, and you’re chatting with friends, you just eat them because they’re there. It’s not because you are incapable making the choice, it’s just that the energy has been spent in many other areas. So you can’t choose something you can order a dish if it’s not on the menu. That idea I think can be applied to pretty much any environment, just shape the environment and if it’s not a choice there, then you don’t have to worry about falling into it when you don’t have energy and so on. So I feel like environment design is a very powerful way to change behavior. In the long run, yeah, it probably is the secret to self control, because environment tends to overpower your willpower and discipline.

David Greene:
I have an example of how that sort of working out in my life right now. Do you guys want me to bear my soul in front of all 250,000 people? So Brandon, and I recently started doing Jiu Jitsu, and when I say that, I mean like, once every week or two, maybe less than that. Actually, it’s not that often, but doing it is terrible. I’m not as good at it as I want to be. It is physically taxing and painful. It’s humbling in a lot of ways. It’s overall a really unpleasant experience for most of the time, but it triggers a part of me that I’m not going to quit it, and I don’t want to be bad at it. So what happens is, I start thinking, I want to be in better shape. I want to have more energy, I want to be conscious of what I’m doing. I want to have more discipline.

David Greene:
So the choices I was having a very hard time making regarding like my diet, I know I should not eat, if I eat a sandwich in the middle of the day, I’ll get in like a fog, and for five hours, I’ll have no energy, I won’t be able to think. I always tell people, for the 23 hours and 59 minutes of the day, I have amazing willpower except for the one minute when it’s actually time to make the choice of what I’m going to eat. Then all of a sudden, that salad that I’ve told myself, I’m going to eat all day turns into the sandwich. Knowing that I’m going to go train that day, I will not eat that sandwich, because I’m thinking I’m not going to be sluggish when there’s someone trying to pop my head off of my body, right?

David Greene:
It makes it easier to make that choice. The same thing goes with like, “I really should get up and exercise today but I don’t want to.” When I’m training for something, when I was going into the police academy, when I was playing a sport, now that I’m doing this, I know I’m going to be going to classes, that discipline required to go exercise or eat better, it becomes way easier. So, it really ties into what you’re saying, James that I put myself in a different environment and all of a sudden making better choices became a whole lot easier. There was some skin in the game as far as those choices I made, and I’m sort of talking out loud thinking, that may be why, when we say your environment will dictate how you act, that we can make a conscious choice to put ourselves in the environment. Being in the environment will lead to all the results we’re talking about here.

James Clear:
Two things that popped in my head as you’re talking through that. So first is you joke about like having willpower for 23 hours and 59 minutes, but then not for that one minute when you need to choose, what you’re really saying is you have willpower when you don’t have to make the choice, which is actually more insightful than it might seem on the surface, because what it’s saying is, if you’re not surrounded by the choice, you’re fine, you don’t go seek it out. It’s just when it’s right in front of you. That I think is one of the key points, I’m trying to get at with the environment design pieces. Let’s just remove that stuff. If you don’t face the temptation, you don’t have to worry about resisting it. So, yeah, you can choose to reshape that environment in a way that reduces the temptations that you face.

James Clear:
You don’t have to worry about that one minute because now it’s just 24 hours straight where you don’t face it.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, as I said, David hired … Because I actually wanted this too. You hired like a cook in your area, right, to make you seven lunches, and they’re pre-made and they’re in your fridge ready to be warmed up every day. All of a sudden, it’s there, you just change the environment.

James Clear:
So you don’t have to decide, it’s already pre-done. I mean, there’s … and that actually leads into kind of the second thing I was going to say, which is you know that this Jiu Jitsu or whatever you’re focus on is important to you. So, once you know what you’re optimizing for, a lot of the other decisions that used to be challenging are no longer challenging, it’s easy to say no to it. Imagine how much easier it is to say no to going to happy hour for an Olympic athlete versus like the average person who’s just part of the team at the office. Well, the athlete is like, “Listen, this does not help me get closer to my goal,” and they know what that vision is very clearly. So saying no to happy hour is like not even … or a sacrifice for them, really.

James Clear:
It’s just like, “No, that doesn’t make sense.” It’s only when you don’t know what you’re optimizing for that it becomes difficult to delineate and to choose between these different options. So, in a sense, it’s nice to have a priority to organize your life around, I’m not saying everybody needs to be as intense as an Olympic athlete, but it’s just that the more clearly you know what you’re optimizing for, the more decisions sort of naturally make themselves rather than you having to carefully choose.

David Greene:
Yeah, it’s amazing how much easier those right quote, unquote choices become when you have the goal. I think about people that struggle with saving. Most of my life, I was a really good saver, spending money, I just didn’t understand why people can’t save money. It just didn’t make any sense to me. That’s because I always wanted to invest in something. I was always saving to buy a car, saving to buy a house, saving to do a thing. I was tracking it and as we’re talking, I’m realizing that’s why that was so easy for me is I had goal the whole time. For the people that are having a hard time saving that might be exactly why it’s tough, is they don’t have a reason-

Brandon Turner:
If they’re optimizing for immediate pleasure and improvement of their life, they’re not optimizing for retirement or for 30 years from now.

David Greene:
Or for the gratification they’ll get from buying a house instead of renting one or owning an investment property or whatever it is that that goal is like, I would think the minute that someone commits to, “I’m going to buy a house in 2022 or whatever, I need X amount of money,” all of a sudden saying no to that new video game or whatever it is that you like to spend money on, just like you said, James, going into the bar. People spend 80, 100 bucks in a night, just buying drinks, right, which makes no sense and they’ll go do that type of thing. I think that becomes a lot easier when there’s a goal. So now I’m wondering if the people I know that seem to have the least self discipline are the same people that have the least clearly defined goals?

James Clear:
I don’t know for sure, but I think there’s probably a connection.

Brandon Turner:
All right. Well, we got to start kind of wrapping up things. Well, on the … I mean, this is like the last topic. I’m wondering how do you view like goal setting? Kind of before we moved to the Famous Four, do you think it’s good to have like … I got my annual goal, I got my … it’s the new year’s resolution, where do you view that stuff?

James Clear:
I think goals are necessary, but not sufficient for success.

Brandon Turner:
Instagram quote card right there.

James Clear:
Let’s take like … consider, we’re just talked about Olympic athletes, imagine any athlete at the Olympic Games, presumably, all of them have the goal of winning the gold medal but only one does. So clearly, the goal is not the difference in their performance or if you have 100 candidates apply for a job, presumably all of them have the goal of getting the job, but only one person does. So you see this type of pattern again and again, which is in most domains in life, the winners and losers often have the same goals. So, if they have the same goals, but different outcomes, the goal cannot be the thing that makes a difference in their performance. This is one of the reasons why I come back to habits so much, what is it that makes the difference, if it’s not the goal, it’s usually the system that they’re following.

James Clear:
It’s the collection of habits that they follow each day. In fact, if there’s a gap between your goal and your system, if there’s a gap between your desired outcome and your daily habits, your daily habits will always win, right? Almost by definition, whatever system you’ve been running for, say the last six months or year, has carried you inevitably to the results that you have right now. So, if you want to change the outcome, you need to change the habits, you need to change the system that you’re following. Now, that doesn’t mean that goals are useless. I think goals have quite a few use cases that they’re very helpful for. The first one is what we’ve been talking about clarity and knowing what you’re optimizing for, and so on.

James Clear:
Second one is filtering. It’s much easier to filter out opportunities and say no to stuff or say yes to certain things, if you know what the goal is. If you know is this going to be taking me closer to or further from the thing that’s important to me? So that’s really helpful, so my general approach … this ties back to a couple different things we’ve talked about today already. First, let me try to envision the ideal outcome. So I like to phrase work backwards from magic. What is the magical outcome going to be? Then can I work backwards from there, but I don’t want to fix myself into only one line of thinking or only one path. I want to have multiple pathways to the magical outcome, multiple pathways to a successful result, because the truth is, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know how things are going to play out.

James Clear:
So I heard this framework recently. It comes from Sean Perry’s Entrepreneur Investor, but he calls it ABZ. So know your ABZs. So A is where you are right now. B is your next step. Z is ultimately where you want to go. So I start at Z, let me figure out where I want to go. Then you have to be honest about A, where am I right now? What do I actually have? What resources do I have? What skills do I have? What is the truth of the situation? What’s the reality? You don’t actually need to know, C through Y, you don’t need to know the rest of the steps. All you need to know is what is B going to be? What’s my next step going to be? Can I take action right away and then I can just repeat that again.

James Clear:
So now B has become A, this is the current spot? How can I do it one more time? If you do that all the way and kind of keep revisiting Z and thinking backwards and is this taking me closer or further away, you can often do some really cool stuff, just by trying to follow that. So that’s kind of more generally how I think about goal setting. I think it’s important to know where I’m heading, but I want the bulk of my attention focused on the system and the habits and just going from A to B

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, that’s really, really good man. Yeah, really good. When I think of like my real estate investment, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this example, but my real estate investment company, we buy like apartments and mobile home parks and stuff. Anyway, we had a goal for like … a three year goal, like the Z was to buy 50 million dollars in real estate, but then we broke that down quarterly and then more importantly, we set like these habits that … and I never thought about in terms of habits until just today on this call, but that’s really what they are. We have these habits that we do all the time. Do we contact this broker? Do we analyze this deal? Do we make this offer? These are the habits that we just like, track meticulously and make sure that we’re accomplishing them to the point that they’re second nature for my team.

Brandon Turner:
So, over the course of a year, we ended up buying that 50 million dollars, which was awesome but then what was crazy is like two weeks ago or three weeks ago now, we got 50 million dollars under contract in a single week. So like my three year goal just happened in a week and when my team … we kind of all sat down going, “What just happened? How did this happen?” We realized like, it was literally just because like, we did that exact ABZ kind of thing. We knew where we’re going but there was always, “Okay, what’s the what’s the habits? What’s the A, what’s the B? Okay, now we move to B to the A.” It’s this continual rhythm. Like you said, we focus on the systems and it’s almost like laughable how well this thing works, yet majority of the world just doesn’t operate that way. They just operate on why didn’t I lose the weight? Why didn’t I buy the real estate thing? Why didn’t I write the book?

James Clear:
What I like about that is this general approach, you kind of simultaneously have to hold these competing tensions in your mind, which is, don’t rush. Don’t do things thoughtlessly. Don’t do things carelessly but also don’t wait because waiting, all it does is just reduces the amount of life you have left to accomplish these things. So you need to have this bias toward action, but you also need to be thoughtful about the process. It doesn’t mean you’re … you’re not rushing around or doing things carelessly, but you’re never waiting longer than you need to. So, don’t rush but don’t wait is … I think ABZ kind of aligns with that too. You’re not rushing because you know what Z is? You know what you’re optimizing for, but you’re not waiting. You’re trying to go from A to B right now.

Brandon Turner:
Yeah, I think that phrase is going to stick out to me the most from today’s interview, which is that what are you optimizing for? I love that concept and I’m glad you brought that up, because let’s say, what are you working toward and are the habits lined up to get you there? If people just thought more that way, man, the world would be a different place. Thank you, man. Well, before we get out of here, we got a last segment of the show and that is called our …

Speaker 2:
Famous Four.

Brandon Turner:
These are the same four questions we ask every week of every guest. So we’re going to throw them at you right now. First question actually is very closely related to what you teach. So the question is, what is the current habit or trait you’re trying to develop or improve in your own life?

James Clear:
I’ve been working now for a long time, but I have never worked out five days a week. Usually I have done anywhere between two and four. For the last two months, I’ve doing it five days a week. So, I have changed the style a little bit and trying to scale that up and just kind of make it more of a daily thing than an every other day thing.

David Greene:
Next question, what is your favorite business book?

James Clear:
I actually have one on my desk right now that I really enjoy, which is called Positioning. That’s an old school. It’s like 80s and 90s, but it’s all about how you position ideas or position products, how you package things and I’m not going to say it’s my favorite business book, but I do think it’s important and it’s what I’m thinking about right now. As an example, so Atomic Habits has a section later in the book, where I talk about deliberate practice. It could have been a book about deliberate practice, where I talk about habits, but instead, it was a book about habits where I talk about deliberate practice. I think the difference in how those two books would have sold is enormous. It all has to do with how the book is positioned. I decided to position the book, the core topic around habit change and habit formation, rather than around deliberate practice.

James Clear:
I think that’s key because most products that really do well tap into a desire people already have. Just by virtue of being part of society, and growing up in society, you sort of know already that good habits are important or favorable and bad habits are unfavorable. If you’re not familiar with the term deliberate practice, it takes like 30 seconds to unpack it and you don’t get 30 seconds, from people who are looking at book cover. That’s too long, you’ve already lost them. So anyway, how you position your product, how you position your offerings, I think is really important. So not my favorite business book ever, but one that I think is important and I’ve been thinking a lot about recently.

Brandon Turner:
No, it’s phenomenal. I’m such a junkie for like frameworks, and how you teach a concept that people are going to be able to grasp on to, how you position it. So I’ll pick up a copy of that book. Yeah. It’s huge. I mean, I literally wrote a book called How to Invest in Real Estate and then one called The Book on Rental Property Investing, because I’m like, “This is what people are searching for. This is what they want,” and both of them are in the top, whatever, three of best selling real estate books because like, people … it’s how you present stuff. It’s how you … the framework you lay out, which is why I love the Atomic Habits, you have such good frameworks.

David Greene:
What are some of your hobbies?

James Clear:
I like weightlifting. I have a cabin in the woods and I love going ATB-ing and hiking in the woods and hanging out, out there. Pre-pandemic, I love traveling and have done travel photography in over 40 countries now and so I kind of like spent the last decade bouncing around and trying to do a lot of that. My two entry points into a culture when I visit some place are photography, so I try to find like cool places to take a few pictures that kind of encapsulate the trip and food. So yeah, I would say those are kind of my main things that I find interesting and exciting outside of the work I’m doing.

Brandon Turner:
I would say, what’s the best food in all Columbus Ohio, like if you could pick one thing, if I’m going to go there for one dinner, where do I go? This is not a Famous Four question, but …

James Clear:
It really depends on what you like, of course. If you don’t like Indian food, I’m not going to send you to an Indian restaurant. Yeah, there are a couple different ones that I would recommend. Barcelona is a really good one, a Spanish place, they got great paella. They have like a porch out there, you can just sit on, the weather is nice. It’s awesome. So I think you’d be very happy with your dinner there.

Brandon Turner:
I love asking food people those questions because-

David Greene:
I wanted to ask you for a favor, James, if you’d be so kind. We had Jocko Willink on the podcast, and he forced Brandon to commit … to doing Jiu Jitsu and Brandon actually then had to do it, which I received the passive benefit of now that he has a personal trainer, I just jumped in with his guy and now, I’m doing it. Can you get Brandon to commit to weightlifting because he hates it, but I think he would be much happier if you would do it.

Brandon Turner:
No, actually let me speak to this. I wanted to bring this up earlier. I want to know your thoughts on this, James. So, David said earlier, he’s like … David said when he does Jiu Jitsu, it’s hard. It’s miserable. He struggles while doing it, but he knows it’s good for long term. So he’s in there and he’s really like … it’s terrible. He’s out of breath. When I do Jiu Jitsu, I said this to a buddy yesterday. I said, every second is like the best second of my life. When I’m doing it. I’m not … I love every second of it. I’m just in there and I love it. It feels so light and easy for me. Now, I’m not making fun of David here because the exact opposite is true for David, when I was weightlifting. I go to a gym. I hate every second of it. I go because I have to, because I know I want to get muscly.

Brandon Turner:
I show up and I’ll do it for a month maybe and then I’ll stop again, because I just don’t love it. So I’m wondering like, I mean, how much? Do you feel … I don’t know if it’s a habit question, but is that why I’ll probably continue with Jiu Jitsu for a long time and David won’t, or like, can you muscle your way through something you don’t like, just because you want the outcome?

James Clear:
Look, it’s hard to beat the person who’s having fun, because at some point, everything gets hard. The person who is still having fun doing the hard thing is going to want to do it for longer or more than the person who feels like it’s a grind. I think in a lot of ways, that’s one of the central quests of living a good life is trying to figure out what is that thing that feels like fun to me, but feels like work to other people, because if it feels like fun to you then you just get to keep doing it and showing up. You often will stick with it long enough to develop better skills, which then means you’re winning, so to speak, more in whatever way that happens to be true for that thing.

James Clear:
Usually when you’re winning more, you also feel even better about it. So it’s kind of this like positive feedback loop. The other thing I’ll say about it is, I don’t really care. You guys should do whatever is exciting and enjoyable for you. I think a lot of the time people assume like, “Oh, this guy writes about habits. He probably is judging me for which habits I’m doing.” No. I don’t view it as my job to figure that out. So I’m happy to be helpful and give a toolkit that people can use and it’s like, sometimes need a hammer and here’s a strategy that can fit that, and sometimes you need a screwdriver, and here’s the strategy that can fit that. I’m not here to judge, that’s for sure. So, I say choose whatever form of a habit serves you and if you do that, you’re having a good time. I’m happy to.

Brandon Turner:
Take that David Greene.

David Greene:
My Jocko angle gained zero traction with you, James that had no impact. I was really hoping I could get a little … get some hooks in there. Brandon, nobody skinny likes lifting weights. Okay? You just got to do it for a little while. I didn’t like it either when I was really skinny all the time, here’s … I’m going to get so good at Jiu Jitsu that you won’t be able to get me off of you and the only way is if you get stronger.

Brandon Turner:
All right. All right. All right. Last question from me of the day, and then David’s got one final one, but what do you think sets apart successful, I will say, entrepreneurs, from those who give up fail or never get started? If you could sum up all your advice, what makes somebody successful?

James Clear:
Well, entrepreneurship is like this personal growth engine in disguise. You think it’s about building a business, but actually you end up facing all of your own flaws and fears and worries and concerns. You’re forced into having uncomfortable conversations, you’re forced to realize not all of your ideas are good. So, you have to be self aware, in order to realize like, where those holes are, and what the gaps are. More than anything else, I’d say you have to be willing to trust that you’ll figure it out. There’s always some point on the curve just ahead of you that you don’t have the answer to. I mean, it’s just the nature of running a business. Things are changing, the business is changing.

James Clear:
There is no way that you can have it all mapped out ahead of time. So I think trusting yourself that you will figure it out as you go is probably the single biggest thing because the people who don’t start, it’s because they don’t trust themselves. They feel like they need more information. They feel like they need to have the answers. They need a playbook, whatever and you can have some of that, but you’re never going to have it all. They’re just always going to be things that have to be resolved as they arise. So I think, one way I heard it phrased recently is that some people are problem solvers and some people are problem adders. So, with problem solvers, they look at what is awesome about this situation, and then they resolve the problems as they arise.

James Clear:
With the problem adders, they look at what could go wrong with this situation, and they dream up problems before they happen. If you have that kind of mindset, then you’re always going to be able to come up with reasons for why it’s not the right time to start yet. If instead, you try to focus on the awesome bits, and then you solve things whenever they need to be solved, and trust yourself to figure it out along the way, then yeah, you got a shot. It doesn’t guarantee success, but I think you need that mindset. If you’re adding on layers of complication and layers of problems to it, it’s just going to make it way harder than it needs to be.

David Greene:
All right, last question of the day, James, where can people find out more about you?

James Clear:
So if you enjoyed the conversation, you want to learn more about habits, Atomic Habits is probably the best place to start. You can find the book at atomichabits.com. If you just want to see more of my work, generally, it’s all at jamesclear.com and probably the best way to start or get into the work is to join 3-2-1, which is my weekly newsletter. So each issue has three ideas for me, two quotes from other people and one question to think about during the week. It takes about two or three minutes to read. It goes out every Thursday. I think like 1.2 million people subscribe now. So anyway, feel free to check it out and I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for listening.

Brandon Turner:
By the way, man. 3-2-1 is another perfect example of like a framework or positioning, like you have something cool but people can wrap their head around that and go I want that, I want that right now. I’m going to go sign up for it right now. So very cool, man. You’re awesome at this.

James Clear:
Awesome. Thanks, guys. Appreciate the opportunity. Great to talk to you.

Brandon Turner:
It was great. Thank you.

David Greene:
Thank you James. This is David Greene for Brandon, do you even lift Bro Turner. Signing off.

Speaker 1:
You’re listening to Bigger Pockets radio, simplifying real estate for investors large and small. If you’re here looking to learn about real estate investing, without all the hype, you’re in the right place. Stay tuned and be sure to join the millions of others who have benefited from biggerpockets.com, your home for real estate investing online.

 

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • How James developed his interest in habits and psychology
  • Becoming “the architect” of your habits and not falling victim to poor choices
  • Understand the end goal and slowly work your way to it
  • Taking on the actions of someone successful and becoming that identity 
  • Why bad habits can be so hard to break
  • How long does it take to develop a habit?
  • Intaking media that will change your mindset and influence your actions
  • And So Much More!

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