It’s been a while since I posted about Atomic Habits by James Clear. Amid house shopping, an insane new work schedule and a number of other unexpected surprises, my reading routine went on the back burner. Atomic Habits is still sitting on my coffee table partially finished. However, for what feels like the first time in a month, I finally found a moment to sit down and catch by breath. Here are my favorite bits from chapter 7 of Atomic Habits.
“Disciplined people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control.”
“It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often.”
“Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself.”
“You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it.”
“Self-control is a short term strategy.”
“It’s easier to avoid temptation than to resist it.”
Of course, sometimes this all feels far easier said than done but that doesn’t make it any less true. I don’t think there’s a single person in my life who hasn’t experienced the intense frustration of mustering enough energy to face the new day at some point. It’s exhausting and does seem to demand a heroic effort far too often. I want to be a disciplined person, one with enough self-control to avoid unproductive situations instead of simply muscling through them.
Chapter 6 of Atomic Habits imparted a couple shining jewels of wisdom that I currently find myself regularly struggling to remember in my daily life. They are however, very worthwhile lessons to take to heart wherever you are. James Clear is constantly echoing the idea that tiny changes can lead to big rewards and this chapter was no different. In these pages, Clear addressed changes regarding a person’s environment through the following words.
“A small change in what you see can lead to a big shift in what you do.”
I’m constantly surrounded by clutter; on my dining room table (my makeshift home office), in my Barbie sized apartment kitchen, at my desk in my actual office. It’s difficult to focus on a project at work when the dirty dishes in the sink keep staring at you over the top of the computer screen.
“You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.”
This is the level of organization and self control to which I constantly aspire. I desperately want to be the architect of my environment; the sort of person who washes the dishes immediately after using them, who opens the mail before adding it to the pile on the coffee table, who returns books to the shelf after reading them. I can’t wait for the day that these become automatic, ingrained habits.
“When your dreams are vague, it’s easy to rationalize little exceptions all day long and never get around to the specific things you need to do to succeed.” – Atomic Habits, Chapter 5 by James Clear
I think this is my problem. In order to get what you want, you must first know what you want and be willing to work day in and day out to achieve that end. On a good day I’m capable of being highly motivated but my efforts always seem to crumble, whether it be in a single afternoon or gradually over the course of several weeks. Each new self-improvement kick lasts for a couple weeks until my work schedule changes and newly developed habits inevitably go by the wayside.
Growing up, I was always a little envious of the dreamers, those people who seemed to know exactly where they were going from the very beginning. The focus, clarity and defiant determination with which these individuals pursue their dreams is staggering and something I’m constantly trying to imitate. For them, there is always a vision, a guiding light and a next step to take, however difficult that step might be. Life rarely goes according to plan and detours are inevitable but, when you know where you want to end up, decisions become far less complicated. While never easy, they will at the very least adhere to certain guidelines which can be considered by answering the following question.
Will this action bring me closer to my goal?
It’s a very simple question and yet impossible to answer without a highly specific and concrete goal in mind. The dreams you leave for someday will always stay there like the distant horizon, tragically out of reach no matter how many mountains you summit. You can’t go to the horizon but you can journey to a point on a map. X marks the spot. What are you doing today?
Maintaining effective habits begins when we take notice of our daily actions and reactions to the world around us. Subconscious routines must first be conscious decisions fueled by dedicated practice. Of course, it’s very easy to go on autopilot. According to James Clear in chapter 4 of Atomic Habits, actively acknowledging our daily habits can be a huge step toward leading more productive lives. Often, it can be as simple as a brief verbal confirmation that you do in fact have your keys in hand before leaving your apartment. This is a method called pointing-and-calling which can be employed to reduce errors and boost efficiency all at once.
Never be ashamed to talk to yourself. Many people use the pointing-and-calling tactic without realizing it, talking through every item in their gym bag to ensure they haven’t forgotten anything for their workout or speaking aloud an itinerary as they embark on a busy day of travel. This calls awareness to those little mundane activities in order to avoid autopilot mishaps.
However, it can also be an intentional strategy. In chapter 4, Clear recommends creating a habits scorecard which is nothing more than a list of all the tasks you complete each and every day without fail. Everything from snoozing your alarm four times to that 2pm cup of tea which propels you through the end of your work day is a habit to be considered. Once you have your list you can then rate each of your habits as positive, negative or neutral habits. Positive habits are routines which encourage effective problem solving while negative habits tend to do the opposite. You can then use your list to pinpoint specific areas for improvement throughout your day. As stated in previous chapters, developing productive habits has nothing to do with overhauling your current routine and starting over. In this step you’re simply “getting yourself to acknowledge the need for action.” What’s on your habits scorecard?
Out with the old and in with the new. Chapter 3 of Atomic Habits begins the discussion of making and breaking daily routines, one little habit at a time. As stated in the previous chapters, this process is not about completely overhauling current systems to start from scratch. According to Clear, the best way to implement new habits is to build them into your existing schedule by simply presenting them in a more effective way.
This is done by following the four golden rules outlined in chapter 3.
Make it Obvious.
Make it attractive.
Make it easy.
Make it satisfying.
These can also be applied in reverse to break bad habits. Often people fail to abstain from negative habits, not due to a lack of motivation but because these patterns are more readily accessible. For example, most of us have become attached to our phones. Wherever we are, it’s always within reach, tucked in our back pocket or set out with the screen face up on the table in front of us, mere inches away from our fingertips at all times should any notification light up the screen. We are tuned in to every single ring and vibration it makes. How easy it is to pick it up and spend a couple hours flipping through Facebook or Youtube clips.
This is one area in which I have often lacked discipline. However, as part of my resolution to reduce time eaten by social media, I’ve been experimenting with phone placement. I try not to carry it in my pocket if I can help it and during work hours, especially when working from home, I prefer to leave it on the dresser in my bedroom instead of having it out on the dining room table which has become my home office.
It’s certainly a work in progress. My motivation to maintain positive habits seems to come in waves and this particular change has yet to actually become a habit but practice makes perfect. As one of my college professors once said, “repetition is the mother of wisdom.”
As promised, I’m continuing to work my way through Atomic Habits. Today’s post is all about shining grains of wisdom I found in chapter 2. It turns out that a person’s habits are no more than an outward manifestation of their identity. Who you are determines what you do far more than any New Year’s resolution list. James Clear eloquently put it in his words in the following quotes.
“It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.”
A lot of people spend their whole lives wishing to be better people someday. They like to say things like ‘I’d love to run a marathon someday’ without ever actually planning to run a marathon. Wanting it is not enough.
“Once your pride gets involved, you’ll fight tooth and nail to maintain your habits.”
I’ve seen this in action firsthand. It’s why I prefer to run outside. There are people around who will see if I give up halfway through and, although I don’t know any of them, my pride always eggs me on.
“Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are.”
That’s why none of my self improvement kicks ever seemed to stick. It makes sense now! They were things that I did but I never really let myself consider them as part of who I was.
“The process of building habits is actually the process of becoming yourself.”
This is precisely what I’ve tried and failed time and time again to achieve. I’m well acquainted with the disappointment which comes from falling off the mental and physical fitness wagon. Toward that end, I decided to come up with my own list of identities I’m striving to take on in my life.
When I grow up I will be…
A morning person
A deep sleeper
A tea drinker
There are countless others that I’m forgetting but I think my list is best summarized with this statement. I aspire to be an adventurous hobbit. Who do you want to be?
I’ve recently begun reading Atomic Habits by James Clear and although I’m only a few chapters in, this book is bursting with helpful tools to becoming your very best self. It’s so loaded with information that I ended up with pages of notes just from the first chapter. If you ever read this book as I sincerely hope you do, I highly recommend doing so with a pen and notebook handy. I also tend to highlight, circle, underline or notate my favorite quotes and tips in the book itself. You’ll get much more out of it if you are actively contemplating the information as you read. This is not a book that you read for the sake of reading. Pick it up with the intent to learn and I guarantee you will be amazed at the changes you’ll be inspired to make in your life.
It would be nearly impossible to articulate all the little improvements I’ve been motivated to attempt in a single blog post so instead, I thought I’d simply share my key takeaways from each chapter as I go. Here are a few of my favorite bits from chapter 1.
“Success is the product of daily habits - not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”
“You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your results.”
“Mastery requires patience.”
Throughout this chapter, Clear returns to the idea of making one microscopic change every day until it becomes a habit (no wonder the book is called ‘Atomic Habits’). The payoff is often neither obvious nor immediate and people become discouraged before ever achieving that fabulous breakthrough that would have made everything worth it. I’ve been guilty of this far more frequently than I care to admit. I think I’m pretty good at motivating myself to change my ways but after a couple weeks I inevitably fall off the wagon. My exciting latest exercise regime or shiny new task management system never seems to work as quickly as it should. Completely overhauling my daily routine never turns out to be worth the effort and peters out eventually.
This is exactly the kind of situation that Clear’s book seeks to avoid. It’s not about rearranging your life in one day or even one week. Just complete a single extra task every day. It doesn’t have to be significant or life changing. Just do one thing differently. Clear speaks on the goal mentality that most people have when it comes to self improvement. They train for a specific race or diet to achieve a specific weight. What happens after that? The motivation that helps you get to those milestones doesn’t always carry you past them. Good habits can go by the wayside when the goal has been accomplished. I can pinpoint countless moments in my life when that is precisely what happened.
Thus, going forward the new idea that I will carry through my day-to-day after digesting the first chapter of Clear’s book is this. Don’t put happiness off until the next milestone.