Building Habits to Become a Software Developer, Part I

Slides for the session

Ideas here come from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear

Learning Goals

  • Understand the role of habits in changing careers to become a software developer
  • Understand how to reframe your approach to habits to be identity-driven
  • Develop awareness of your current habits
  • Create an implementation intention to build a new habit

This Week’s Career Journal

  • Identifying habits of a software developer
  • Working on the 1st Law of Behavior Change: Make it Obvious
  • Set Implementation Intentions


In the past two weeks, you’ve reflected on your strengths, identity, and values. Today we’re going to connect that reflective work to habits because our identity informs our habits (and vice versa).

When we says habits, we’re talking about:

  • A routine or behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic
  • Purpose of habits is to solve problems with as little energy or effort as possible
  • The habits we utilize are synonymous with our identity

Our Identity = Our Habits

When we say that our identities inform our habits, we mean:

  • Behavior (habits) that aren’t aligned with our identity won’t last
  • Cultivating new behavior (habits) means cultivating new parts of our identities
  • Changing unhelpful/unproductive behavior (habits) means letting go of parts of our identities

Consider the habits you utilize currently. Which are you proud of? What do they say about you?

Conversely, are there any habits you have that don’t reflect the person you want to be? Do you want to break them or replace them with better habits?

Putting This Into Practice

Read this 5-min article by James Clear on Identity-Based Habits.


  • The habits you put into place become your identity
  • Go from “I want this” to “I am this”

Since your goal is to become a software developer, this means cultivating the identity of a software developer in your regular habits. How to do this:

  • Analyzing your current habits
  • Continuously editing your beliefs
  • Expanding your identity

Goals vs. Systems

Something that may sound counterintuitive is that we’ll focus more on building systems than in trying to achieve goals. Why is this?

  • Goals are focused on the results you want to achieve; they are a one-off achievement
  • Systems are the processes to get there; they are ongoing

Goals are restrictive and conditional:

  • “When I get to the next module, I’ll be happy”
  • “When I get a new job, I’ll be happy”

It’s important to start by redesigning your goal. It’s not to learn to code; it’s to become a software a developer. And in order to that, you have to develop ongoing successful processes.

Do Now: The first 2 prompts in this week’s career journal asks you to consider what the traits and behaviors of a good software developer are.

Redesign the Systems: Utilize the Habit Loop

Now, if your goal is to become a software developer, what steps should you take to reach that goal and embody that new identity?

Start with designing a system that can achieve that goal. We’ll look here at Clear’s Habit Loop:

Habit Loop

This outlines how habits work:

  • Cue (trigger to do the behavior)
  • Craving (motivation; wanting a change in state)
  • Response (thought or action taken)
  • Reward (end goal; what satisfies or teaches us)

Example #1:

The Cue and Craving describe the problem you want to solve:

  1. Cue: You wake up
  2. Craving: You want to feel alert

That brings us to the solution phase with the Response and Reward:

  1. Response: You drink a cup of coffee
  2. Reward: You satisfy the craving to feel alert. You now associate drinking coffee with waking up.

Example #2:

The Cue and Craving describe the problem you want to solve:

  1. Cue: You hit a roadblock on a project
  2. Craving: You feel stuck and want to relieve your frustration

That brings us to the solution phase with the Response and Reward:

  1. Response: You pull out your phone and check social media
  2. Reward: You satisfy the craving to feel relieved. Checking social media is now associated with feeling stalled in work.

The Four Laws of Behavior Change

This brings us to the Four Laws of Behavior Change for creating an effective habit:

  1. The 1st Law (Cue) is to make it obvious
  2. The 2nd Law (Craving) is to make it attractive
  3. The 3rd Law (Response) is to make it easy
  4. The 4th Law (Reward) is to make it satisfying

For breaking an ineffective habit, the inverse of the laws applies:

  1. Make it invisible
  2. Make it unattractive
  3. Make it difficult
  4. Make it unsatisfying

Putting the 1st Law into Practice: Build Self-Awareness

In order to make your habits obvious, you have to start by observing what you do already. What behaviors are effective for becoming the person you want to be? Decide if your behaviors align with what you discussed are effective habits for software developers.

Then apply some strategies:

  • Create an implementation intention
    • Tie the new habit to time and location
    • “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”
    • Example: “I will meditate for 1 minute at 7am in my kitchen.”
  • Stack the new habit onto a current habit:
    • “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
    • The key here is to make the habit highly specific + immediately actionable
    • Example: “After I pour my coffee each morning, I will meditate for 1 minute.”
  • Design your environment for success. If you want to make something happen, how can your surroundings or available resources optimize your chances of doing it?

The rest of the journal prompts for this week ask you to put these strategies into place.