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#176: A James Clear Atomic Habits Book Review Podcast with Chiropractor Rich Day

Want a Great Chiropractic Practice?

Having a great practice starts with having a vision of what you want your practice to have and the type of patient you want to serve. Figuring out what you want is the easy part, but obtaining it where we often fall short. Sometimes it’s because we don’t know WHAT to do, but often times we don’t know HOW to go about doing it. This is especially true when trying to initiate a change from our routine daily habits.

Marketing our Chiropractic Practice with a Live Event

When we opened our first practice we brainstormed about different ways to reach our community. I was eager to find things to talk about that weren’t chiropractic specific, in hopes of reaching a wider audience. I also wanted to find a venue to host a speaking engagement for free.

The local library was the perfect place to host such an event because it was close to our office and free to use, so I set about coming up with a topic that was relatable to just about everyone. After thinking it over a bit, I chose the broad topic of success. Who doesn’t want more success? To be successful at losing weight and getting healthy, to have a successful career, successful marriage. The desire to improve our situation is pretty universal. 

The Power of Habit

I had recently read a book called, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. In it, the author explains what he calls the habit loop. The habit loop consists of four parts: a trigger or cue...something that causes a craving. The craving for something. an action. The habit - this can be a good or bad action, and the reward. The reward is the result of your habit which was triggered by a cue. So let's take smoking. I’m not a smoker, but let's say I was and that driving is a trigger or cue. I get in the car and begin driving and my brain says, hey you’re driving you should light up. I start to crave a cigarette and I take action (which has become a habit) and start smoking. I then get the reward...a feeling of satisfaction. We can see the habit loop at play in many of our habits. Diet, exercise, how we use our time during the work day. 

The Habit Loop

In Duhiggs’ book, I learned about the habit loop and the psychology of habits, how it was studied and some of the findings. For example, I learned about the marshmallow test. What’s the marshmallow test? It was a test given to kids in the 1960s to determine their level of delayed gratification. The tester gave the kids a marshmallow. They could eat it immediately or wait 5 minutes and receive a second marshmallow to eat. The study followed the success of the children into adulthood and found that the kids who could delay gratification ended up achieving higher levels of success when compared to the kids who ate the marshmallow immediately. 

I also learned how marketers began to exploit the power of the habit loop by providing rewards in certain products. One such example is toothpaste. Marketers found that toothpaste, with a tiny bit of citric acid and mint, made the mouth feel clean after brushing. The reward of a cool, clean feeling mouth caused people to brush their teeth more often and for sales to spike for toothpastes that contained citric acid and mint. 

How Can you Change Your Habits?

The presentation was well attended and people stayed after for a brief Q&A. They wanted to know more about what they could do to change their habits, especially if they had tried and failed repeatedly. I had a few answers, but not nearly enough. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and giving the presentation, but I thought it could be improved by providing more specific ways to change old habits or ways to start new habits. 

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Enter "Atomic Habits". "Atomic Habits" was published in 2018 but I just recently read it after seeing so many people recommend it online. I was delighted when the author, James Clear, mentioned in the introduction that his book picks up where The Power of Habit left off. I thoroughly enjoyed "Atomic Habits". It is a wealth of actionable information that can help anyone implement better habits in their lives that can result in massive improvements. 

What is an Atomic Habit?

So what is an atomic habit? Atomic power is a powerful force that is derived from tiny elements; the proton, neutron and electron. The power from these tiny particles can deliver explosive results, and this leads me to my first takeaway from the book: 

  1. Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. I remember when I first learned about the compound value of money over time. It's the concept that banks use to profit from money they loan or the interest we earn when we save money in savings accounts or CDs. A dollar invested today can be worth 1000 dollars in 10 years.. Later in life Dr. Michelle Robin, a mentor and guest of this podcast, wrote a book called, “Small Changes, Big Shifts” and I was again reminded about how little things done repeatedly can significantly affect the trajectory of your life over time. It’s a simple and somewhat obvious truth, but it is one that is often forgotten. "Atomic Habits" describes the habits this way:  “Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations. Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat. Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.”

What One Small Thing Can You Change?

What things are we doing frequently that are hindering our success? What one small thing could we do each day to help us achieve our goal? For me, it is the need to find stillness. Haley and I have three girls between the ages of 4-8. To say that our house is loud and chaotic most of the time would be an understatement and I often find it difficult to decompress when I get home, let alone try to hold an adult conversation with Haley. After reading "Atomic Habits", I decided to begin a morning ritual that consists of meditation, journaling, and exercise. I’m only one week in so far, but so far so good. While these activities may not seem directly related to living in a noisy house, they are directly related to my mental and physical health, and improving those things will help me deal with difficult environments. I’m interested in looking back a year from now to see what progress grew from the seeds I’m planting today.

How Can We Help our Patients with Atomic Habits?

Our patients see the outcome of their choices as well.  Maybe they have bad feet from a lifetime of running, or have health issues related to a lifetime of poor eating habits. With my patients I’m all thinking about what small changes they could make that would directly impact their health over time? 

Small Changes

The challenge with small changes is that we want instant results. We want our dinner “door dashed’ immediately, our Amazon orders to arrive in two days or less. The author explains, “small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You need to be patient.”

  • Habit Stacking - How do I start a new habit? In my practice, I often give patients home exercises or stretches to do as part of their care plan. I always instruct them to pair the activity with something they already do on a daily basis. For example, if I tell them to stretch twice a day, I tell them to do it right after they brush their teeth in the morning and after they brush their teeth at night. Little did I know I was engaging in something that "Atomic Habits" describes as, “habit stacking”. “The habit stacking formula is: ‘After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].’” For the business side of chiropractic that  might be something like,”after I lock the doors at night I will complete new patient thank you cards” or “after I return from lunch I will post on Facebook and Instagram. Habit stacking works because you are piggybacking on an already established habit, which ultimately requires less effort for the person who is attempting to develop new habits. 
  • How long does it take to form a habit? According to "Atomic Habits", it’s not strictly about the length of time. It’s also about the frequency. How often are you doing it? For example, when it comes to explaining to patients the importance of following their care plan, I often compare the frequency of chiropractic care to the frequency of eating right and exercise. I ask them, who do you think would lose more weight. The person who diets 1 day a week or the person who diets 5 days a week? Who do you think is gonna get all swole, the person who works out 1 day a week or the person who works out 5 days a week? The answers to these questions are obvious, but sometimes we need to be reminded. When you are developing your new habits, remember frequency matters - not just time. This is true for us as business owners as well. Let’s say you want to increase your number of new patients, look at what activities you are currently doing to marketing and the frequency you are doing them. Create an easy and obvious reminder to do them, maybe using reminders on your smartphone or habit stacking with another activity, and increase the frequency of those activities. 
  • Set the bar low. I recently heard Jordan Peterson, who is a clinical psychologist, explain that for people to become successful they need to set the bar low. The interviewer seemed somewhat bewildered and said, “why would you want to set the bar low in order to become more successful?” I was interested in what Peterson was going to say because setting the bar low seemed counterintuitive to becoming successful. It directly flies in the face of the “crushing it” and “10x everything” that is so pervasive among success coaches and entrepreneurs. Peterson explained that human psychology needs small wins and that if our initial goals are too ambitious we will fail and give up much too soon. Instead, he recommends setting the bar low initially and bask in the feeling of achieving something even if it is small. From there, you can incrementally make the goals more ambitious. He shared that research literature he reviewed repeatedly demonstrated this approach to be an effective one. In "Atomic Habits", James Clear describes this same concept. “We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying. The human brain evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards. The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided. To get a habit to stick you need to feel immediately successful—even if it’s in a small way. The satisfaction of the success increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated next time.”  

Celebrate Small Wins

When Haley and I first started our practice, we celebrated small wins. Our first day of having 10 patients, then our first day of having 20 patients. We didn’t do anything extravagant, but we rewarded ourselves by having a nice dinner and wine...this was pre kids of course, back when we had time for those things! Over time we would push ourselves to do more and more and nights out for dinner became beach vacations and later, the purchase of our home.  Each success builds momentum and these small wins create a habit of winning, which , over time, compounds with bigger and bigger rewards. 

Buy the Book & Make Changes for Yourself

If you are looking to develop meaningful habits that you can integrate into your practice and your life, I highly recommended picking up a copy of “Atomic Habits!"

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