Make It Obvious 

I drink coffee every morning. Like, every morning. It’s a deeply ingrained habit I’ve been entrenched in for many, many years. I don’t have to think about it. I get up, do the bathroom things, and then head straight to the coffee maker. 

About 2 years ago, I realized I had a headache a lot of mornings, and thought it was likely dehydration. So, I decided that I wanted to create a new habit: water before coffee. Make sense, it’s easy, shouldn’t be an issue, right? Except I’d find myself, morning after morning, sitting on the couch, sipping my java and going, “Oh, dang! I forgot to have water before my coffee!” 

Cue: Make it Obvious 

This month, I’m re-reading James Clear’s book Atomic Habits. This book lays out a clear (see what I did there? Haha), easy to follow path for implementing new habits or moving away from old ones you don’t want. The author sets out a 4-step formula: 

  • Cue: Make it Obvious 
  • Craving: Make it Attractive 
  • Response: Make it Easy 
  • Reward: Make it Satisfying. 

The first step is to create a visual cue, to make the new habit obvious by putting it right in front of your face. So, for me, with the water, I needed to find a way to make it obvious, especially first thing in the morning, before my brain is really fully engaged. Here’s what I did: the night before, when I was getting the coffee ground and the pot ready for the next morning, I started putting a water glass in front of the coffee maker. The next morning, when I would toddle over to the coffee maker in my half-awake state, the “cue” of the water glass would remind me to have a glass of water before having coffee. Simple. Right? Yes. And also effective. It only took a couple of weeks of doing this before I no longer had to use a glass as an obstacle to remember to have water first. Two years later, I still have water first thing in the morning. And guess what? I don’t think about it. It’s automatic. It’s a habit. 

Gratitude Habit 

Another habit I really wanted in my life was a strong gratitude practice. Every morning, I read, meditate, and journal. So practicing gratitude at the start of the day is early, when my cup is full and I am in the flow. However, as the day goes along and there’s distraction, aggravation, and sometimes obstacles, my cup would start to feel pretty empty. I knew that practicing gratitude throughout the day is an important way to keep my energy high and my mind in a joyful state. I knew I needed a cue to remind me to practice gratitude all day long… but what? 

Enter the water, again! I keep a big sipping bottle of water next to my desk. Throughout the day, I am sipping away on that water bottle, staying hydrated. It occurred to me that I could “habit stack” – another great tip Clear provides in the book – by using the water break as a cue for a gratitude moment. So now, every time I take a sip of water, I offer gratitude for something (even if it’s just the water!). This has been a very impactful change for me. 

Same Process, Big or Small 

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter if the habit you want to implement is a small thing like drinking more water, or a big thing, like saving more money, or changing a perspective or attitude. The process is the same. 

Try it! Try creating a cue for yourself, making the habit you want in your life as obvious as possible. I’d love to hear about it, so shoot me a note. 

Next week we’ll talk about craving – how to make what you want as attractive as possible. 

In the meantime, stay on point!