The science of eating well: How to master healthy eating habits
Many of us want to make positive changes to our eating patterns in January. But it’s not easy. Ultra-processed foods, for example, are everywhere. So how can we make healthy habits stick?
In today’s episode of ZOE Science & Nutrition, Jonathan is joined by James Clear and Dr. Federica Amati, who offer strategies for overcoming obstacles and changing the way we eat, so we can all have longer, healthier lives.
James Clear is a writer, speaker, and author of the number-one New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits. Dr. Federica Amati is a medical scientist and an Association for Nutrition-accredited nutritionist, as well as the head nutritionist at ZOE.
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Mentioned in today’s episode:
Atomic Habits by James Clear
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Episode transcripts are available here.
[00:01:50] Jonathan Wolf: Welcome to ZOE Science & Nutrition, where world-leading scientists explain how their research can improve your health. James and Federica, thank you for joining me today.
[00:01:52] James Clear: Pleasure to talk to you. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:53] Federica Amati: Excited to be here, Jonathan.
[00:01:57] Jonathan Wolf: So Federica knows this, and I'm very excited to have her join the podcast, having been at ZOE now for a long time. But James, you will probably not be familiar, but we have this tradition that we always start with a quick fire round of questions from our listeners. And we have these very strict rules. You can say yes, or no, or if you absolutely have to, You can give us a one sentence answer. Are you willing to give it again?
[00:02:18] James Clear: I'm going to be so bad at this. All right, go ahead.
[00:02:20] Jonathan Wolf: Good. Well, you know, you can only imagine how hard professors find it. So, starting with you, James, is it easy to change our habits?
[00:02:33] James Clear: Yes.
[00:02:34] Jonathan Wolf: That was a long pause. All right. Can a small habit change now make a huge impact on our future?
[00:02:42] James Clear: Yes, definitely.
[00:02:45] Jonathan Wolf: Okay. Federica, does our modern environment push us to unhealthy eating habits?
[00:02:50] Federica Amati: Unfortunately, yes.
[00:02:53] Jonathan Wolf: Can simple changes at home help us to eat healthily with less thought?
[00:02:58] Federica Amati: Yes.
00:02:59] Jonathan Wolf: Okay, and James, we had this question from a lot of our listeners. Is it true it takes 28 days to break a habit?
[00:03:07] James Clear: No.
[00:03:09] Jonathan Wolf: Ah, okay. There you go I'm caught out. All right. And finally, James, and you can have a, you can have a couple of sentences now. What's the biggest myth about habits and habit change?
[00:03:20] James Clear: Well, one of the biggest myths is the very first thing you asked about, which is: is it easy to change your habits? And a lot of people think it's very hard to change habits. It's actually quite easy. You do it all the time. One of your brain's primary objectives is to change your behavior based on the room or the people that you are around. And so you're changing your behavior constantly.
What is quite difficult is to design your behavior to your liking. And so it requires much more strategic thought and tactics to do that, and we will talk about all of that today.
[00:04:15] Jonathan Wolf: I love that. So we're constantly changing. We're like a machine for changing. But the problem is, we respond to the environment as opposed to saying like, oh, I want to be like this. And if I say I want to be like this, this is tricky.
[00:04:24] James Clear: Correct. It's like proactive versus reactive. Are you in control of the process and shaping the design? Or are you responding to what's going on around you and reacting to what's happening in life?
[00:04:36] Jonathan Wolf: Well, we're definitely going to talk about all of these actionable tips for doing that, but I'd like actually to start by just setting the scene. So, you know it's January, which is a time when many of us plan to make positive changes in our lives. And some of us choose to do this in the form of New Year's resolutions. It's very much part of the culture. Now, we don't really love the concept of New Year's resolutions here at ZOE, maybe I can start with Federica. Why is it that in general we're not so keen on this idea?
[00:05:10] Federica Amati: Well, Jonathan, usually when we think about New Year's resolutions, we know that they don't really stick. So unfortunately people do go into January making huge changes and having very, very ambitious goals without a step by step plan and so a lot of these resolutions end up not happening by February.
So there's quite nice data around how long actually people stick to resolutions. And a vast majority of them have failed by the summertime. And certainly over 9 out of 10 of them have failed by the end of the year. So, at ZOE we're all about sustainable change and making change for life. So what we don't want is for people to feel overwhelmed in January with these huge resolutions that won't stick.
[00:05:50] Jonathan Wolf: And James, how do you feel as you hear that? I agree with parts of it.
[00:05:54] James Clear: So I'm probably more neutral about news resolutions. I don't think they're amazing or anything, but I also feel like if you have some kind of motivation to change and the turning over to a new year is one reason for attempting that, then that's totally fine to use it.
There is some research that shows, I think they call it the fresh start effect, but people tend to be more motivated at the beginning of the day, the beginning of the week, the beginning of a month or the beginning of a year. And we see this effect all the time with people choosing to, you know, start a new challenge at the beginning of the month or to, you know, adopt a New Year's resolution or something like that.
So certainly if you find that it gives you some desire to get started on something that you think is important to you, then utilizing that motivation is totally fine. That said, I don't think there's any reason to wait until New Year's to make a change. If you feel like making it in July or in October, that is totally fine and you don't need to save it for any reason.
I also agree with the data that Federica shared about the vast majority of New Year's resolutions falling off course and there are many things that show this to be the case. I think the summary is, if New Year's gives you a little bit of a boost of motivation and you want to get started, great, go ahead and use that. No reason to wait if you feel that way somewhere else throughout the year.
But mostly, what this comes down to, and I think is also at the core of what Federica was getting at, is coming up with a better system for change, coming up with a better approach for trying to achieve the things that we say are important to us. And if we do have a better approach, then hopefully the odds of success are much higher.
[00:07:25] Jonathan Wolf: Well, that's, that's quite relieving, I guess, because it means everybody listening in January doesn't have to say, okay, well, I better not make any resolutions now. I've got to wait till June. So you can keep listening to the rest of the podcast.
And I mean, one thing I was thinking, just as you said this, James, is what is true, is that in our modern world, we tend to have this idea that you sort of have a blowout from, you know, Thanksgiving, if you're in, the U.S. or Canada, through to, like, you know, Christmas or whatever festival you're celebrating at the end of December.
So you're like, no rules, just, you know, totally overindulge, and then this swing back in the opposite direction. And I think that is particularly hard, right, to manage when you're going to these two extremes, which maybe is a little different from just deciding in March, know what, I want to make this change to my, my lifestyle.
And I think one of the things that, you know, comes through across all the podcasts we do is that it doesn't really matter what you do on a day or a week, you know, if you want to really change your health, then this is about some sort of lifelong changes. And so you've got to believe in consistency.
Now look, this is ZOE Science & Nutrition, so obviously there's many, many different habits that people could be interested in, in changing in January, but I think we're inevitably really interested in saying, you know, what could you do if you want to change the way you eat in order to improve your diet, in order to improve your health. Given like this, you know, unbelievable evidence now about just how important what you eat is for your, for your health.
So I think that's where we'd love to focus. Before we start to talk about all the clever ways that maybe we might try and achieve those habits. I'd actually love to start with, like, why is it so hard for us to achieve our goals about changing what we eat in the first place?
And, you know, I think both of you have talked quite a lot, publicly about how this is hard and about how things in our environment sort of actively push us away, maybe from following the things that we'd like to, and actually maybe I could start Federica with you about like, so what role is like the food that food companies are making and that, you know, are sitting in our grocery store, playing in this?
[00:09:43] Federica Amati: Well, I think Jonathan, it's important to remember when we talk about the role of the food industry, their primary goal is to sell food products. And we live in a world now where luckily we have more than enough food for everybody in countries like the U.K. and the U.S. at least. So if you're an industry that's trying to sell more products and there's enough food to eat, you have to make those foods extra delicious and not filling to make sure that more of them can be eaten.
Now, the food industry is very good at doing this. They formulate products and test them and see which is the most delicious and the most more-ish and which one can you eat more of. And those are the ones that end up on our shelves. And so, you know, food companies, I think we can't be, it's not about demonizing the food industry.
You know, they are an industry looking to make money and they're very good at that and their shareholders are happy about that.
It's just about working with the food industry and putting some regulations in place so that we're not constantly bombarded with this message and so that we do have some opportunities where, for example, near schools and where children are involved, where there's less of it, so that we can actually help to shape a better eating environment, especially for those who are more vulnerable and who are more affected by the impact of poor nutrition in the long term.
So yeah, they do definitely have a role to play, but it's really important we work together to try and resolve it, I think.
[00:11:04] Jonathan Wolf: James, what are your thoughts?
[00:11:05] James Clear: Well, I have two thoughts. One is internal to the person who's trying to change their behavior. And one is external to the food that we're actually talking about.
So to build off of Federica's comments, let's start with the external one so that, you know, there are many things that food companies do to try to create foods that are more palatable or more desirable. So some of them, like one thing that's pretty common is to use dynamic contrast, which is like this, this contrast between soft and creamy or crunchy or you know, like imagine like an Oreo cookie where it's like creamy on the inside but crunchy on the outside or the top of like creme brulee and you know.
That contrast is very desirable. It's very palatable. It's very interesting compared to say, like a crunch of broccoli, which is more or less the same texture throughout. And so they find ways to introduce novelty into foods in these highly engineered ways that are, you know, like we're still walking around with the same paleolithic hardware in our brains that our ancestors had and finding something like an Oreo in, you know, nature was impossible.
And so now you come across these interesting things that light your taste buds up. And so there, you know, there are tons of scientists and engineers working on problems like this to try to create foods that are highly desirable and structured in that way. And I don't know that we need to necessarily assign, like, some kind of evil to that, but just to say, hey, listen, this is, like, this is the reality now.
These foods exist and they did not exist for most of human history. And so, naturally, you are going to feel compelled to eat more of those, or to consume a greater amount of calories when, you know, things are structured in that way. So, that is just the reality of our environment that we're in. And you can imagine, at one point I saw a graph, and I can't remember the exact number, but just to explain the pattern, you'll get the general idea.
It's basically like you could explain a great deal of the rise in obesity over the last 50 years if people just ate an additional 300 to 500 calories a day. And 300 to 500 calories is so easy to find, especially with some of these highly engineered foods and the prevalence of food. So, I think the punchline here is just the external environment has made it easier than ever and cheaper than ever to consume more calories than before. And so that is just a reality of where we're at.
All right, now the second piece that came to mind is, I think your original question was something around like what makes it difficult for people to achieve their goals related to this. And I think if we connect this with our conversation about New Year's resolutions just a moment ago. A lot of the time when people set out with a goal or some kind of resolution that they want to achieve, they start out by thinking about the results they want. Oh, I want to lose a certain amount of weight in the next 6 months or something like that. And they don't think nearly as much about the type of person they wish to be or about the type of identity they hope to have.
And I think that is an interesting internal conversation to have. You know, like, we sort of assume that if we lose a certain amount of weight, then we'll be happy with ourselves, or that we'll be the kind of person we wanted to be, or that our lives will somehow be satisfying and better. And I think if instead we start with not, what do we wish to achieve, but who do I wish to become?
Deciding on that identity from the start, and then being able to draw a through line, being able to connect the habits that you're trying to perform with the type of person that you wish to become, I think gives you a deeper reason to stick to habits.
You know, we often talk about habits as mattering because of the external results that they'll get you.
Hey, habits will help you lose weight or make more money or be more productive. And it's true, habits can help you do that stuff. And that's great. But the real reason that habits matter is that every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. And so they are the way in which you embody a particular identity.
You know, every day that you make your bed, you embody the identity of someone who's clean and organized. And so by casting these small votes for being that person and drawing that connection between your habits and your desired identity, I think it becomes a little bit easier to stick to. The daily lifestyle and not get as wrapped up in the goal or the outcome.
[00:15:21] Jonathan Wolf: That's really interesting, James. So just to make sure I've got that, you're saying in a sense you're focused more on the things that you're doing each day that reflect like this slightly modified version of yourself, the version you want to be.
That's a bit better rather than just focusing on, like, I'm going to be slimmer or more beautiful. Or like I'm gonna be really healthy versus that unhealthy version at the end. But not thinking about like, oh actually that means that I'm gonna make this different choice when I go out for dinner, and I'm not going to have the burger and chips because actually the sort of person I want to be is the person who decides to eat, you know that other, you know, plant-heavy meal that's going to be really good for me, versus the burger and chips.
Rather than saying, oh, I don't really want to change that. I just want to be this, you know, healthy, you know, person in a year, but I don't really embody myself having a different lifestyle, just somehow magically being that other person.
[00:16:14] James Clear: To want the result but to not be interested in living the lifestyle is to basically guarantee frustration. And so it's just figuring out, having this honest conversation with yourself about the type of identity that you wish to have and the type of lifestyle you wish to live, and then connecting that to the results that are naturally, you know, reasonable given that.
Just to give like two other real brief examples. Rather than saying, you know, I'm the type of person who wants to lift a certain amount of weight, or I want to, you know, I want to hit a certain result in the gym, you can just be like, I want to build the identity of someone who doesn't miss workouts, and that gives you such a different lens for thinking about that, you know. Now you can feel successful anytime you went to the gym. You're not waiting to hit a certain number to feel happy with yourself.
Or the other thing that is a deep truth about habits, but we often overlook, is that your habit often needs to change shape over time. You know, life is dynamic, not static. And we never say this explicitly, but a lot of people have this kind of assumption that what it would look like to be successful with your habits is to pick one and stick to it and then you just do it forever for the rest of your life.
But like, if we take my writing habit, for example. This is one of the biggest habits in my career. For the first 3 years, I wrote a new article every Monday and Thursday. So those were like 2000 words a piece. And that was a certain style and that really served me in that time. And then I signed the book deal to write Atomic Habits. And the next 3 to 5 years were a very different type of writing for writing the book.
And then now, the last 4 years, I write a daily newsletter called 3,2,1. It's much shorter. It takes like 3 hours to do, and it's a different type of writing. I've maintained a writing habit the whole time. So my identity, if I said my identity is I am a writer, well, now I have, I'm casting votes for that identity. But it's taking a different shape based on the season of life that I'm in.
And I think people often will pick a diet to follow. And then, you know, when their season of life changes, they can't follow it anymore. They somehow feel like a failure. They feel like, oh, I knew I wasn't going to be able to stick to it. Why did I even try? This always happens to me. You know, there's kind of like negative self-talk starts.
And if instead you can see your life as a series of seasons and maintain a cohesive identity throughout, you can cast votes for that identity in different ways depending on which season you're in. And so it also, by making it identity-focused and not necessarily results-focused, you give yourself some additional flexibility in figuring out how to make it work for you over time.
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Hey James, before we move on to, I guess, like, the positive ways of thinking about bullying up the habits, I think one thing I'd like to spend a minute with Federica on is just, it can be very easy, I think, to fall into that self blame that you just talked about. To feel that, like, everything is just because of your own failure and how hard it is.
And, you know, interestingly, you know, we are in this world where for the last 50 years, people have said, well, for example, losing weight is as simple as just like, have fewer calories, and if you can't do that, it's just because you have no self control. And interestingly, all the science and every single nutritional scientist I've spoken to in the last five years has said, well, that's just not true. That doesn't reflect the science as we understand it now and therefore, there's this sort of gap between everybody beating themselves up, because it's all about willpower. And then I think more and more of the science talking about, you know, the biology that we have for example, how much harder it is to to lose weight than to put on weight.
But also I think the increasing interest in the way in which the food that we eat, it's not just it has more calories or that it's tasty but we have this new concept sort of around ultra processed foods and that if you're listening to this in the States or Canada or the U.K., then, you know, you're probably eating more than 50 percent of your diet that is ultra processed.
Federica, can you tell us a little bit about, like, I guess what the latest science is telling us about that? Cause I guess that's part of the challenge that we're then facing, as James is helping us to understand, how to achieve our goals nonetheless.
[00:21:05] Federica Amati: Yes. And Jonathan, I think a really big part of it is for people to be aware. So talking about these foods and talking about what they are is. It's a step in the right direction because, as James said, if you know the kind of person you want to be and it comes back to the big why, like why are we doing this, why do you want to have a healthier diet, why do you want to feel better. We need to have also the right tools in our toolkit to be able to achieve those daily goals. And ultra processed foods and the science around them has shown us that, you know, if you are somebody who wants to see themselves as being healthy and active and your why is because you want to play with your grandchildren one day, ultra processed foods are not going to help you get there.
So, ultra processed food science is evolving very rapidly and there's a big body of evidence coming out specifically with association studies. So when we're looking at large cohort data and we're associating ultra processed food consumption with specific health outcomes. Now there's, I think at one point there was a paper coming out every single week that was a huge analysis of hundreds of thousands of people that looked at, okay, the more ultra processed food you're consuming, the more likely you are to suffer with consequences such as type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, you know, metabolic disease, mental health disorders. And what's important to say is that this body of evidence is really growing and, and it's all pointing in one direction, to associate these foods. And we're still looking to do more research to understand the mechanisms as to how this is happening.
In ultra processed food, there is a classification called the NOVA classification, which is like the gold standard for now, but I'm sure that will evolve too. And essentially, these are foods that are made, so they are some, you know, Tim Spector loves to call them edible food-like substances. They are these foods that are made in large factories, and there are a bunch of chemicals that are thrown together to look like food.
So essentially when you're looking at the back of a pack and you're looking at an ingredients list, if you see lots of ingredients that you wouldn't possibly have in your own kitchen, and if the food that you're about to eat doesn't look anything like food. So an Oreo is a good example, right? An Oreo doesn't look like anything you could ever grow or kill. They are very likely to be ultra processed foods. And these ultra processed foods, I mean, I think it's almost impossible to imagine a world where there's not going to be any of them. But all we have to do is zoom out a little bit to our European neighbors and see that it is possible to live in a world where maybe 10 to 15% of our calories come from these foods.
As opposed to, as you said, Jonathan, over 50% and in some groups in our, in the UK, up to 75%. So, they're these food-like substances that have mounting data showing that they are not helpful for us. They are not good for our health, physical or mental. And my biggest worry is the impact that they're having, especially on our children.
Because children are amongst the highest consumers of ultra processed foods.
[00:24:05] Jonathan Wolf: I think one of the things that seems to have really changed our view about this, is also understanding how this interacts with our microbiome and from there may even interact with our brain and elsewhere.
So I think historically the view of these foods is well, they're they're not very good for you because you know, they're high in saturated fat or they're high in calories. But Federica, I think what we've seen, you know, even just in the last couple of years, right, in terms of some of this latest research, is a suggestion that these foods may in fact be influencing our brain and that's sort of why I want to touch on this here.
Because I feel like you know, there's this double layer. It's not just that it happens to taste nice, but actually you may be fighting foods which are actively changing the things that you want to eat. Like, could you tell us a little bit about that? And then I'm hoping James is going to tell us how to fight back.
[00:24:55] Federica Amati: Yeah, for sure. I mean, you're right, Jonathan. We are, we have trillions of microbes in our gut. And one of the things that has emerged in the past couple of years, is that a lot of the ingredients we're adding to these ultra processed foods seem to interact with our gut microbiome in ways that we couldn't have predicted.
So yes, these foods are high in fat, salt, sugar, high in calories. But the emulsifiers, the sweeteners, and the fact that the food structure is completely destroyed means that our microbes are interacting with these foods very differently to anything you would find in nature.
And the thing is that when we disrupt the gut microbiome, we are disrupting an essential part of our immune response, and we're disrupting an essential part of our gut brain connection. Some of the science is pointing to the fact that these ultra processed foods actually change our gut microbiome composition, but also change the way that the gut microbiome interacts with the layers of the gut and sends messages through the vagus nerve to the point where we think it might be influencing the food choices we make.
So somebody who eats, for example, Big Macs every day might actually be also influencing their gut microbiome in a way that makes them want to eat Big Macs again. And in an evolutionary sense, this makes sense because if you're a gut microbe and you're thriving off some of these chemicals, or you're thriving off specific composition of the Big Mac, then it is in your interest to survive by getting your host, i.e. us, to eat more Big Macs.
And you know, if that's the case, then the impact, the layers of impact that ultraprocessed foods are having on us run really deep. And it also helps to address, you know, when I'm working as a nutritionist, I do work with people who really change their dietary habits and they'll say to me after some time, I can't believe I was eating this food so often, I don't even want to eat it anymore.
So the actual desirability of that food changes when you change what you eat. So feeding our gut microbes does also seem to feed. the foods that our brain then drives us to consume more of, which is really interesting.
[00:27:10] James Clear: There's a similar pattern that happens with a lot of habits. You know, like you'll hear gamblers say like, I don't even, I don't even want to do it anymore, but I can't stop myself.
And so there are a lot of bad habits that people know don't serve them, but they still find themselves compelled to do it. The brain is wired to notice and remember rewards that are in your environment. And so you're going to remember anything that feels good or that benefits you. And that includes not only food, but also many other experiences in life.
And so of course, if you're eating Big Macs or whatever, and that elicits a favorable emotion or a positive response, you're going to remember that for next time. And eventually the more that you repeat that behavior and the more that you receive that reward, the tighter the loop becomes and the more ingrained the habit becomes.
[00:27:59] Jonathan Wolf: Though one of the interesting things I think often about these foods is, you eat far too much and afterwards you don't feel very good, even when you start, right, James? So there is something interesting about one's brain you'd think would have recognized this wasn't a great pattern.
But before, rather than follow more and more down the loop of how miserable and difficult this is, actually, James, I would love you to dig us out of the hole that Federica's talking about, which is that we’re surrounded by all this brilliantly designed food by these food architects that is like genius for like triggering our desires. Maybe our microbiome is now putting us in the wrong direction. You have literally written the book on how to change one's habits. So could you, I haven't been able to say that before, I like, I like that, that's a good line, could you tell us about how to think about making changes that then might support..?
[00:28:50] James Clear: Sure, so there's a lot more science behind this for, just for the sake of this conversation, I'll say, if you're interested in the science, Atomic Habits covers that in much greater detail, so feel free to check it out there.
But what I'm going to do is cut to the chase in a practical sense, and in a practical sense, if we're trying to figure out what can I actually do about this, there are roughly four big categories of things that you can focus on and I refer to them as the four laws of behavior change. So if you want to build a good habit, there are four things you can do.
The first thing is you want to make it obvious. So you want the cues of your good habits to be obvious, available, visible, easy to see. The easier it is to get your attention the more likely you are to act on it.
The second law is to make it attractive. The more attractive or appealing a habit is, the more motivating or enticing it is, the more likely you are to feel compelled to do it.
The third law is to make it easy. The easier, more convenient, frictionless, simple a habit is, the more likely it is to be performed.
And then the fourth and final law is to make it satisfying. The more satisfying or enjoyable a habit is, just like we were talking about a minute ago, whatever you feel like is rewarding or pleasurable, the more likely you are to repeat it in the future.
So make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, make it satisfying. Now, there are many ways to do each of those things. And Atomic Habits covers that in greater detail. We'll talk about some examples here in a minute. There are many ways to do those different things. But if you're sitting there, and you're listening to this, and you're thinking, you know, I have this habit, I just keep, like, I want to get started, but I keep procrastinating on it, or maybe you're like, you know, I have this behavior, I do it every now and then, but I wish I did it more consistently.
You can just go through those four laws and ask yourself, how can I make the behavior more obvious? How can I make it more attractive? How can I make it easier? How can I make it more satisfying? And the answers to those questions will reveal different steps that you can take to increase the odds that the behavior is going to occur. You don't always need all four, but the more of them that you have working for you, the better positioned you are to follow through on a good habit.
Now, we can use that framework to talk about building better eating habits and that can be helpful because good habits can sort of like a plant crowding out another one, a good habit can kind of crowd out some of your bad habits.
It creates less space for those to kind of exist and be repeated, so that's a really effective place to start.
Of course, many people are also interested in how do I break a bad habit? And so to break a bad habit, you just invert those four. So rather than making it obvious, make it invisible. Unsubscribe from emails. Don't keep junk food in the house. If you're trying to follow a new diet, don't follow a bunch of food bloggers on Instagram, you know, like reduce exposure to the cue. Rather than making it attractive, make it unattractive. Rather than making it easy, make it difficult. So increase friction, add steps between you and the behavior. And then rather than making it satisfying, make it unsatisfying. Layer on some kind of cost or consequence to the action.
So to build a good habit, make it obvious, attractive, easy, satisfying. to break a bad habit, make it invisible, unattractive, difficult, unsatisfying. And again, there are many ways to do each of those things, but that's like the big picture framework to keep in mind.
[00:32:03] Jonathan Wolf: Thank you, James. I would love to dig into each of those in turn, just to make sure that I and the listeners understand it a bit more. So could we maybe start with the first one? You said make it obvious. So imagine someone's listening here and saying like, I want to go and make these changes to what I'm using.
What does make it obvious mean?
[00:32:23] James Clear: So it's mostly about how you structure your environment. And I think a simple question to hold in the back of your mind, just like think about one habit that you're trying to build. Maybe it's a certain type of food you're hoping to eat more of, or, you know, something you're hoping to, maybe you just want to cook more meals or something like that.
And then walk into the rooms where you spend most of your time each day, your kitchen, your living room, your bedroom, look around those rooms and just ask yourself, what is this space designed to encourage? What behaviors are obvious here? What behaviors are easy here? And, you know, if you walk into one person's house and the chips and the cookies and snacks are on the counter and visible and easy to get to, and you walk into another person's house and those things are either tucked away, maybe some of them already have been in the house or they're, you know, on the highest shelf in the back of the pantry and they're harder to get to, and they've got, you know, a piece of fruit out on the counter.
Individually, these are small choices, and no single one of them is going to radically transform your behavior. You're not just going to be able to put an apple on the counter and magically become a healthy person. But collectively, you can make a dozen, or two dozen, or fifty little adjustments like that. And the more that the good habit is the path of least resistance, and the more that the bad habit is distanced from you and has many steps or is higher friction, the more likely you are to fall through on the thing that you want to do.
And I think this is just true about many habits in general, which is, people often say something's important to them, but then you look around the spaces where they live and work each day, and the room is not optimized for that thing.
And so, the more that you can prime your environment to make the next action easy, whether that's cooking the next meal instead of purchasing it, or whether that's eating something healthy rather than eating something unhealthy, and so on, the more likely you are to be able to follow through on those things.
And when you have energy, and time, and extra capacity, maybe you make whatever choice you want. But when you're pressed for time, or you're stressed, or you're exhausted, you're tired, what are you going to choose? You're going to choose the path of least resistance. And so, redesigning your environment is a really effective way to promote some of those healthy behaviors. And one of the reasons why I love starting with environment design is because it's something that's very controllable, it's very tangible. And often you can do it once and it will continue to serve you again and again.
[00:34:41] Jonathan Wolf: So it's sort of resetting your defaults, if you like, as a result of this, because your environment has changed, just your sort of easy path of behavior has adjusted as a result of this.
[00:34:54] James Clear: I think that's a good way to describe it. There's a chapter in Atomic Habits that's called The Secret to Self Control. And one of the surprising things about a lot of the research around self control and willpower is that when you look at someone and you're like, oh, I just wish I had the discipline they had, or I wish I had as much willpower as they have.
What a lot of the studies have found is that these people are not necessarily superhuman. Certainly there may be some variances in willpower between people, but to a large degree, the people who exhibit the greatest willpower are the ones who are tempted the least. And so it's actually designing an environment that tempts you less, that positions you to make good choices by making those obvious and easy, that is the best way to increase your willpower.
And that, I always think, is something that's very in your control.
[00:35:41] Jonathan Wolf: It's funny, I'm listening to this and thinking I've got this massive tin of nuts here, which is one of the things that at ZOE we're very, very pro, because the science behind nuts almost, for the vast majority of people is incredibly good.
And so, I'm a big snacker. It's really effortless because it's just sitting there. And as you quite rightly said, well, it's a lot less effort. I'm sitting on my coals and the rest of it to do that than to go and try and eat something that is in fact less healthy. So that would be an example. It is like, it's obvious it's right there.
I see it in front of me.
[00:36:12] James Clear: To give an example that pretty much everyone can resonate with. Think about your smartphone. So I'm like everybody else, when my phone is next to me, I will check it every 3 minutes just because it's there. But I have a little rule for myself and I can't do it all the time, but I probably do it about 70% of the time, which is I leave my phone in another room until lunch and I have a home office and so it's only like 30 seconds away.
I just got to walk down the stairs and go get it, but I never go get it. And I always think that's interesting. I'm like, did I want it or not? You know, in the one sense, I wanted it bad enough that I would check it every 3 minutes when it was next to me. But in another sense, I never wanted it so bad that I would walk 30 seconds for it.
And you'd be surprised how many habits are kind of like that. They will curtail themselves to the desired degree if you just introduce a little bit of friction. I've noticed that I'm that way about beer as well. If I buy a 6-pack of beer and I put it in the front of the fridge and it's just like in the door or I can see it as soon as I open it, I'll grab one and have it with dinner just because it's there.
But if I put it like down at the back of the fridge, like on the lowest shelf and I kind of bend, I need to bend all the way down to see it, sometimes I'll forget that it's there. It'll be there for 2 weeks or 3 weeks. I won't even remember that we have it.
And so again, just optimizing your environment to make the good actions obvious and the undesirable actions less obvious or less easy to do. It sounds simple, but if you can do that in a dozen or two dozen or fifty different ways, you often find that it's much easier to stick to the behaviors that you want to stick to.
[00:37:43] Jonathan Wolf: James, can I ask you something a little controversial on this? One of my other guests said that in fact, therefore, the biggest thing that you could do to really change your long term lifestyle and health was to change your friends. Because they are the biggest driver, in fact, of your environment and what you do. And therefore, if your friends, like, don't do any exercise, eat really badly, all of these sorts of things, that's what you do with them. Whereas, you know, if your friends like to go for, like, walks or whatever, then, in fact, you go and do this different. Does that count within your, change your environment, make it obvious? Or is that a bit too radical for you?
[00:38:20] James Clear: Yeah, so certainly, I don't know about saying it's the biggest thing. I don't even know that it's possible to measure that or that you could even say that, you know.
[00:38:29] Jonathan Wolf: I don't think he had a clinical study to prove it, to be fair.
[00:38:32] James Clear: Sure, and the biggest is gonna change based on the situation and the habit and all kinds of other things. But setting that aside, I think we can say certainly it is a major element or a large factor in driving your habits. And it's not just your friends though.
It's also just if we more broadly think about, so we've been talking about the physical environment. If we just more broadly think about the social environment that you are in, that is an enormous driver of your habits and behavior. We are all part of multiple groups. Some of those groups are large, like what it means to be British, or what it means to be American, or something like that. Some of those groups are small, like what it means to be a neighbor on your street, or a member of your little friend group, or you know, a member of the local CrossFit gym.
Whatever it is, like those groups that we all belong to, large and small, have a set of shared expectations, a set of social norms. for what you do when you're in that group. And when habits go with the grain of the expectations of the group, they're pretty attractive. And this actually leads us to the second law that I mentioned, make it attractive.
So habits are really attractive when they help you fit in with the friends and the family and the relationships that you have around you. When they go against the grain of the expectations of the group, they're kind of unattractive. And so this comes back to one of the deepest human needs that we all have, which is this desire to bond and connect.
You know, humans are very social creatures. And even if it's just like your little family unit, we all want to be a part of something. And so if people have to choose between, you know, I have habits that I don't really love, but I fit in, I belong, I'm part of something, or I have the habits that I want to have but I'm cast out, I'm ostracized, I'm criticized.
You might be able to do that for a day or a week or I don't know, a month or two, but at some point it does not feel good to run against the grain of all the relationships in your life. And so the desire to belong will often overpower the desire to improve. And I think that is one really good reason to try as best as you can to get your social environment aligned with the habits that you want to build. And I think the punchline is actually pretty simple. The punchline is you want to join groups where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
[00:40:49] Jonathan Wolf: That's really, I think of drinking, for example, as you describe this, seems like a classic example. Lots of people will be listening to this saying, like, one of the things I want to do in January is probably drink less than I have been doing because they will be aware of the evidence that says, you know, I do, a glass of red wine might be fine, but, you know, more than that, isn't. And if your friends are the sort of people who go drinking, then there starts to be a lot of social pressure, right? And a sense of, of not participating. Is that an example of what you're, you're talking about, James?
[00:41:21] James Clear: Sure. There, I mean, there are examples like that, which are kind of like your, you know, a classic kind of habits example, but it influences your behavior in ways that you don't even realize, you know, like we're talking right now. I could be wearing a bathing suit for this conversation, but that would be weird. Right. It would violate every expectation.
[00:41:38] Jonathan Wolf: Just so you know, for anyone listening on the podcast and not on YouTube, James is not in fact wearing a bathing suit or if he is, he's got clothes on top. So just to set your, that there's a slightly anxious listeners at this point, James.
[00:41:52] James Clear: So. In a sense, I chose what I wore today, but only sort of, right, like the menu of options was already pretty restricted based on the social norms of what we were going to do and the group that we're involved in. Or like, you know, if I walk outside my house in the summer and I see my neighbor mowing their lawn, I might think, oh, I need to cut the grass too.
And you might do that for 5 or 10 or 30 years, like however long you live in the house. We wish we had that level of consistency with a lot of our other habits. And why do you do it? Partially because it feels good to have a clean lawn, but mostly it feels good to have a clean lawn because you're going to be judged by the other people in the neighborhood for being the sloppy one. And so it's the social norm that drives a lot of these actions. And certainly that is true with what you eat and what you drink.
[00:42:37] Jonathan Wolf: And I think that's really interesting. As you were saying that I was thinking about my own experience, you know, changing my diet through ZOE over the last 7 years. And as some listeners have heard, like one of the things that made that most easy was the point when my wife ended up doing the tests and then starting the membership and following the program and changing her diet.
Because suddenly instead of being something that was a sort of source of conflict over dinner every night about maybe what I want to eat. Why do you want to eat all of those plants and things like this? Suddenly like, Justine was like all in and actually she's got really into it now. She's cooking lots of these dinners and I'm delighted in eating this.
And so it suddenly switched in the way it feels really attractive. We're very compatible in this and before we were quite incompatible. And actually there are quite a lot of members who've talked to me and Federica. I imagine you've heard a lot of these stories of people it's like, well, I managed to get my husband or my wife to do this as well.
Or we did it together and it's sort of been this journey of change. Versus people who are saying like, you know what, this is really hard. I'm trying to do this on my own, but like my husband and my children, like don't want to change any of this. And that makes it very difficult.
[00:43:45] Federica Amati: Yeah. We know through so much public health research that community is crucial.
So actually finding a community of like minded individuals that have similar goals massively increases the likelihood of success.
You know, to some extent, I think I, what James is saying, being aware of the influence of our social setting and the people we spend time with can also sometimes help us to maybe reduce the time we're spending with some of our friends who maybe are no longer on the same trajectory.
And I think we have to be a little bit less scared of that because, for example, you know, friends who I was friends with in my twenties who have very different lifestyle to me, I think it's a lot of listeners will maybe align with this, but when you have children, you do lose friends, right? Because suddenly you're not going out on a Saturday night until like, three in the morning, you have different priorities.
And that doesn't mean that you don't love those friends anymore, it just means that they're not aligned with the person that you're becoming anymore. And that's okay, like things change and you might see each other again later in life, but making sure that you know who you want to be and what is priority to you. Like, what is the big, why, what kind of habits do you want to cultivate to get you to that place where you want to be in 10 years time.
Sometimes that's going to have some discord with some people, but finding your new community that has similar goals and similar principles can really help to mitigate any sort of changes in friendships and communities.
[00:45:09] Jonathan Wolf: James, will you tell us about the third one? Make it easy.
[00:45:13] James Clear: Sure. So one of the most common challenges with building new habits is that people bite off more than they can chew. You know, they decide to try to do too much. And this is, I have made this mistake more times than I can count so, you know, it is something that is very natural to do.
I think particularly for ambitious people, there's kind of this conversation in their head where they sit down and they start thinking about the changes they're going to make. And then the assumption in the back of their mind, even if they don't state it explicitly is, man, you know, like, what could I do if I really got going? Like, what would peak performance look like for me? You know, if I was like really on my game and like living my best days, if I really have my habits dialed in, what could I achieve?
And I think when you're in that mindset, which is great, it's great to be hopeful and dream about where you could go. It's also really easy to end up doing too much. Oh, well, I'm going to change five, six, seven habits at the same time. And rather than asking yourself, what could I do on my best day? I actually think the place to start is by asking what can I stick to even on the bad days? And that becomes your baseline. That becomes the new habit that you try to get established.
And once you establish that, then you can start to feel successful and feel like you're moving forward. You gain some progress and a feeling of momentum. And then, great, now you're showing up each day and there's all kinds of things that you can do from there.
[00:46:29] Jonathan Wolf: And so does that mean your guidance is in general don't try and like, make this massive change all at once, but think about this more as a series of smaller habit changes step by step. And is that in fact, what the sort of the science shows is more successful?
[00:46:44] James Clear: So I think there are, let me give you two examples that'll probably help clarify. So the first one, this is just a really simple tactic. I think a very actionable thing that you can use for building better habits. I call it the 2 minute rule and it just says, take whatever habit you're trying to build and you scale it down to something that takes two minutes or less to do. So read 30 books a year becomes read one page. Or do yoga 4 days a week becomes take out my yoga mat.
Now sometimes people resist that a little bit because they're like, okay, buddy, you know, I know the real goal isn't just to take my yoga mat out. I know I'm actually trying to do the workout. So this is some kind of trick and I know it's a trick, then why would I fall for it?
Basically, but I have this reader. His name's Mitch. I mentioned him in Atomic Habits. He lost over a hundred pounds. So what is that? 40, 50 kilos. And he kept it off for more than a decade. And he had this strange little rule for himself where he first started going to the gym for the first like 6 weeks. He wasn't allowed to stay for longer than 5 minutes. So he would get in the car, drive to the gym, get out, do half an exercise, get back in the car, drive home. And it sounds ridiculous, you know, it sounds silly, obviously it's not going to get the guy the results that he wants. But what you realize is that he was mastering the art of showing up. You know, he was becoming the type of person that went to the gym 4 days a week, even if it was only for 5 minutes.
And this is a pretty deep truth about habits, which is that a habit must be established before it can be improved. You know, it has to become the standard in your life before you can scale it up and turn it into something more.
You need to standardize before you optimize. And so, the 2 minute rule kind of helps push back against that perfectionist tendency that we have sometimes, or against that tendency to try to do too much, and encourages you to master the art of showing up.
I'm reminded of that quote from Ed Latimore, where he says, the heaviest weight at the gym is the front door.
There are a lot of things in life that are like that, you know, the hardest step is the first one and the 2 minute rule kind of helps you open the front door. It helps you get started.
[00:48:42] Jonathan Wolf: I love that. James, could I just ask about the 28 days, because you laughed at that at the beginning, but I was still thinking, oh, so you need to do that for 28 days or is that maybe 6 weeks? So because you just talked about 6 weeks. I think everyone's like, well okay, but come on, how many times do I have to do this for it to somehow start to become a habit?
[00:49:02] James Clear: Sure, so this is a very common question. How many days does it take to become a habit and so on? You'll hear 21 days, 28 days, 30 days, 90 days. I don't know.
There's all kinds of stuff that people say, the answer is it depends. There was a study that shows that on average, it takes about 66 days to build a habit. So that's a common number you'll see floating around now. People, science says it takes 66 days. But if you actually read the study, the range is quite wide.
So something pretty easy, like drinking a glass of water, might only take a couple of weeks. Something more difficult, like going for a run after work every day, might take 7 or 8 or 9 months. And even that, I don't think, tells the story very cleanly because you can imagine one person who wants to build the habit of going for a run after work who lives with people who nobody is working out, and nobody's interested in that and it kind of goes against the friction of that group. And then another person who lives with all athletes that are excited about working out and they just need to join their friends to do it. Obviously these are two different circumstances and so it's going to depend.
But I think the real 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 trying to get people to realize with that answer is that we often think about our habits as this finish line to be crossed, but they're not a finish line to be crossed. It's a lifestyle to be lived.
So it's not like, do this for 30 days and then you'll be healthy and you won't have to worry about it anymore. It's much more along the lines of. What is the kind of lifestyle? What is the type of identity that you're hoping to build? And how can this become your new normal? And I think when you start to shift your perspective in that way, you can see the importance of choosing a small change, a non threatening change, something that feels sustainable and is going to last for the long term.
[00:50:50] Federica Amati: I think alongside that though, we have to be kind to ourselves and that if you forget to do the thing once, It doesn't mean you've broken that habit.
So I really resonated with what you said earlier, James, where people come to resolutions in a year and they take on a huge challenge or like six different things. So like, I'm going to start running, I'm going to go vegan, I'm going to write a letter every day. And you know, they take really lots of changes onl at once.
And I think when we scale it back and make it realistic and make sure it resonates with who we want to be, we also have to be mindful that, if you just don't make it to the gym one of the days you're planning to go or if you are trying to reduce how much alcohol you drink, for example, and you end up having an extra glass at a party, it doesn't mean you've broken that habit formation.
You know, the 80-20 rule where 80% of the time you're able to achieve the things that you set out to do and then you leave 20% of the time for life to happen, essentially, and unplanned things. And as long as you're on track for 80% of the time, you know, the long term benefits of what you're doing will show themselves.
Would you say that with habit formation, it's a bit stricter or do you think that it's again about the overall pattern as opposed to daily precision?
[00:52:04] James Clear: It's a fantastic point that you make and a crucial thing to remember that, you know, missing once does not ruin you. And I feel like it's almost even, there's an extra layer that gets thrown on top of all this, which is people fall off track. They do something for, you know, 12 days and then on the 13th day they miss, or they do something for a month really consistently and then in the second month they just start to fall off course.
And it's even worse than just missing. They, a lot of the time they start assigning, there's like self worth to it.
Oh, I knew I was going to fail at that. Oh, I, you know, oh, this always happens to me. I try to start something and then I fall off track. And my response is like, we don't need to turn it into that. You know, like it doesn't need to be this assignment of your self worth. It can just be that one day was different than what you had planned.
And now we can show up again the next day and try to get back on course. And what you realize if you zoom out a little bit is that it's impossible to go through your entire life and to not have days where you miss. And so if you are going to be missing at some point, one of the most important things to have is a plan for getting back on track quickly.
If the reclaiming of a habit is fast. The breaking of it doesn't matter that much. And I think we all have felt that at different times in life. You know, it's not really the first mistake that ruins you. It's the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. It's letting slipping up become like a new 3 month pattern. That's the real problem.
But if you get back on track the next time, then the mistake doesn't actually mean much at all. And so, one of my favorite mantras for building better habits is never miss twice. Maybe you've been following a new diet for 8 days and then the ninth day you binge eat a pizza. Well, you know, wish it hadn't happened, but never miss twice. Let me make sure the next meal is a healthy one.
[00:53:49] Federica Amati: I'm an Italian, there's nothing wrong with pizza.
[00:53:50] James Clear: In my case, the habit that kind of launched my career was that I wrote a new article every Monday and Thursday. And I did that for the first three years. And if I missed on Monday, well, you know, wish that hadn't happened, but never miss twice. Let's make sure that I get one out on Thursday. And again, if the reclaiming of the habit is fast, the breaking isn't that big of a deal.
[00:54:10] Jonathan Wolf: It's really, it reminds me of something we, we talk a lot about within ZOE, which is that no food is off limits. So clearly some foods are better for you. Some food is more like a treat. It's not creating lots of, you know, healthy things for you, but nothing is off limits. And I think once, because if you start to think about it like that, then it like, well, this is all a bit miserable, right? One should also be able to enjoy one's life.
But also I think you get to this point where you say, well, I sort of failed, right? So then you berate yourself and you give up and you sort of go into that spiral. Now, I would like to cover the last one before I'm so slow and we run out of time. Make it satisfying. So what does that mean?
[00:54:47] James Clear: So it's mostly about feeling good in some way, you know. Pretty much there are all kinds of behaviors in life and some behaviors are positive and make you feel good. Some behaviors are just kind of neutral and don't really mean a whole lot. And some things have a consequence. You touch a hot stove and you burn your hand once you're like, oh, I want to avoid that for the rest of my life.
But if a behavior is not rewarding in some way. If it doesn't have some positive emotion associated with it, it's really hard for it to become a habit because you're asking yourself to repeat something that your brain is like, well, why would I remember this? It didn't really get me very much. And so you need some positive emotional experience with it. You need to feel good about yourself in some way in order to remember it and come back to it in the future.
I think actually there was something that was mentioned earlier, Jonathan about like, a lot of these foods we eat, if you zoom out just a little bit, an hour or a day later, you actually feel terrible after eating them. And I think that's an interesting thing to realize with many habits is that it's often worth it if you want to have it to be satisfying, to find a different way to measure it.
You know, a lot of people, when they talk about food, the only thing they talk about is how it tastes. And really what they mean is how it tastes immediately. That's like their only measure for whether something is enjoyable or not. But if you can find a different way to measure the experience, and I don't even mean measure in a technical sense, I just mean a quality of it that you could say, well, I really like eating this food. And it's because of how my body feels an hour later. Or it's because of how much energy I have in the afternoon. Or some other. I mean, it's because of how well I sleep at night.
And if you can find some other aspect of the experience that feels enjoyable to you, then you can start to draw this connection between the habit that you want to build and what is pleasurable about it. And that is by changing the way that you measure the experience, you often give yourself a chance to find something enjoyable about the thing that you're trying to build.
[00:56:37] Jonathan Wolf: James, I love that. I want to ask you one last question, shifting topics a bit, but it just came up a lot from all of our listeners. And that was a question about approaches that we could use with our children as we think about healthy food. And I think everyone listening to this knows this is a really hard thing to do. There's no straightforward answer. And it's something that I struggle with a lot, but I also know that the science says that what my children need is quite important. Is there anything that you can share out of, you know, everything you've been studying here that might be relevant as we think about our kids?
[00:57:13] James Clear: Sure. So let me give you three quick things. So first thing is model the behavior that you want to see. To ask somebody else to do something and then to not do it yourself, like your kids are almost always going to imitate your behavior more than they listen to your word. And so if you want them to act a certain way, then you should try to set the standard as well. People often play to the standard that you set, not the one that you request. And so, like, how can you showcase that?
Second thing is, you cannot have a human that is outside of an environment. And so, in many cases, your kids and yourself, you share an environment together in your home. And so, how can you design that environment to optimize for the things that you want? So, we talked about that a lot earlier, but all of those things, the kitchen is not just a space that you walk into, it's also a space that they walk into. And so, how can you structure that in a way that promotes and makes the good habits easy and obvious?
And then the third and final thing, which is something we haven't talked about yet. And this is not just for your kids, but also for yourself. I really think it's worth asking yourself or asking them or thinking about this for them. What would this look like if it was fun? And in a lot of ways, I actually feel like this is maybe one of the biggest hurdles to cross when you're getting ready to start a new habit. Is to figure out the version of it that works best for you. You know, we started by talking about New Year's resolutions. I think a lot of people are going to the gym in January just because they feel like they should go to the gym or society wants them to go to the gym, not because they actually want to do it. But we could come up with a really long list of, you know, ways to live an active lifestyle, rock, climb, kayak, do yoga, go for a run like that. You should list those out and then pick the one that makes the most sense for you.
Another example, related to healthy eating and perhaps to kids. Let's say you want to get your kids to eat more greens or eat more salads. I just talked to a woman who wanted to get in the habit of making a salad for lunch every day. And when she started, at first she had this idea in her mind that it had to be like, pure and perfect, that it wasn't, if it wasn't like a perfectly healthy salad, then it wasn't worth it for her to do it. And then she shifted to this idea of like, what would it be like if it was fun? And so she tried to make each salad bowl like a party and she would put little toppings on it. And she even, someday she would even like crumble up potato chips and put them on or whatever, but it made the habit enjoyable. And then, once she got to the point where she was actually having a salad 90% of the days, there are all kinds of ways to improve that and to, you know, optimize it, because she's actually showing up and eating it every day.
And so I think you can take a similar sort of approach, whether it's with yourself or with your kids and whether it's an eating habit or something else. What would it look like if this was fun? Let's start there, get the habit established, and then we can optimize and improve it from there.
[00:59:57] Jonathan Wolf: James, I love that so much. I have many more questions, but we're definitely hitting time. I would like to do a quick summary, which is something we always do here. And please, both of you keep me on it if I've got any of it wrong.
So we started by just saying, like, why is changing food so hard? And I think there were two parts of this. One is just, like, what we're talking about, which is that all habits are hard in part because we focus too much on, like, what the end result is. Like, I want to be healthier, you know, I want to look better and less on the type of person that I want to be as I show up every day. And James, I think you gave this great example. If I decide I'm the sort of person who doesn't want to miss workouts, then every day, if I just turn up to the gym, I've already modeled that person. But of course, if I turn up to the gym I'm going to do some exercise. I'm sort of on the path.
And so I guess the same thing is about like, I want to be the sort of person who is eating food that is better for my microbiome. It's going to get me to the point where I'm actually going to be much healthier and all the rest of these things.
And then the second thing we talked about is, our food environment is really difficult. So this is not an easy thing. You're surrounded by foods where super smart scientists, food architects, have been designing this for decades to make you want to eat more, to design the food so it tastes yummy, but doesn't fill you up. And then there's all this new science around ultra processed food that suggests this is actually changing your microbiome, it may be affecting your brain. So this is like literally trying to, you know, fight against some very real things. So you need all the tools you can have.
But James you have this wonderful guide your four laws So these are our tools to to try and get started on the on the positive direction Your first is make it obvious and I think the heart as I understand it ,is changing your environment so that somehow you're you're defaulting into the right direction And so I think examples you gave was, you know in your kitchen, you know, you're having your nuts, you're having your your fruit and as opposed to maybe you know default unhealthy choices.
The second thing is make it attractive and interestingly you said that your social environment is a very big part of this. So human beings really want to fit into the environment they're with. So if your social environment, your friends, all these sorts of things, are actually supporting your habits, that becomes very easy. If your social environment is really at odds with the change you're trying to make, that's very difficult.
The third thing you said is make it easy and I think you both talked about lots of people trying to do too much. So if you're listening to this in January, you may have created this crazy list of goals just like you know, somebody might start ZOE and want to just you know go from you know, a diet that in our wording might score 45 and jump straight to 75 and it's just not realistic. You've got to go step by step.
And James, I think you mentioned a 2 minute rule. So you said if you could scale that all down to something you can achieve in 2 minutes, that might be a lot easier. And again, you have this beautiful example, take out the yoga mat. And as you said, presumably once you take the yoga mat out, you probably don't just roll it up and put it away again. But like success is just that first step. But the associated part of it is, you've just got to keep doing it forever. So you can't just do the 2 minute rule, do this forever. Like all of these habits are really about lifetime habits.
And then the fourth rule was make it satisfying. So how do you get some reward? Because you were saying our brain is wired to respond to rewards. So if there's nothing positive about these habits, it's very hard to get anything. And so I think you're sort of saying, can you reframe what's going on? So for example, as you're thinking about food, think less, oh, it's so sweet and sugary in the second I've got it, and more like, actually, how do I feel two hours later? Because actually the reality for most of these foods is you feel terrible two hours later. And if you start to think about it in that and you've changed your diet, you might be shocked how within just a few weeks iIt's shifting the way that you're feeling.
And then I think you said, if I were to paraphrase, give yourself a break. Like, if you break your habit, it's not the end of the world. Don't give up forever. Mixing once doesn't ruin you, but try and get back on track. And James, you're quite tough. You're like, never miss twice, so like, once you fail, get straight back on. But I guess if you have missed twice still, you can still do it the next day, right? So there is always it's not like it's all over.
And then finally we asked about kids, which I think might be a whole podcast if I can tempt you back because it's such an important topic, which I'd love to do. But I think the three rules you said here is, model the behavior you want to see, right? So if your kids don't see you doing it, why will they do it? Secondly, again, think back to the environment. So what's in the kitchen for them? What are they surrounded by? And then and then thirdly, what would this look like if it was fun?
[01:04:45] James Clear: It's a beautiful summary. You guys don't need me. Just run that.
[01:04:48] Jonathan Wolf: We definitely do need you, James. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed it. And I would definitely like to tempt you back for the, you know, what do we do with our children? Which I think if there's other listeners like that, this is the thing that makes me consciously, frequently a bit anxious. So, I need that.
[01:05:06] James Clear: Well, this has been great. Thank you both so much. Appreciate the opportunity to chat and learn from both of you. And it was a lovely conversation. I appreciate it.
[01:05:14] Jonathan Wolf: On today's episode, we've learned four great rules to change our habits, to improve the way that we eat. And I hope that, armed with this knowledge, you feel that you're in a great place to make positive changes.
Now, if you want to take things further and get personal support and advice on how to improve your diet and eat the right foods for your body, then you might want to consider becoming a ZOE member.
ZOE can help you to feel better now and live healthier in the years to come. Why not give it a try? Head to http://joinZOE.com/podcast now to learn more and get 10% off your membership.
As always, I'm your host, Jonathan Wolf. ZOE Science & Nutrition is produced by Yella Hewings-Martin, Richard Willan, and Tilly Fulford. The ZOE Science & Nutrition podcast is not medical advice. It's for general informational purposes only. See you next time.
One final thing, listener. If you're enjoying ZOE Science & Nutrition on Google Podcasts, I want to let you know that Google is closing down its podcast app in the next two months, in favor of YouTube music. We wanted to share this so you aren't caught out.
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