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.
Do you ever have those days when you drag your feet for no reason? No matter how you try, you can’t seem to motivate to do any of the things you know you’re supposed to do.
Today was one of those days. It’s okay. If you had one too, don’t beat yourself up. It happens. Tomorrow the Sun will come up and I will be productive. I will smile and laugh and peel myself away from the sofa long enough to go out into the world and experience the small joys of life. Tomorrow I will say yes to everything, all of those daunting, difficult, uncomfortable things that will bring me one step closer to a more fulfilled life but today, I did the responsible thing and took a nap.
“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?
I have no idea what I’m doing. How many times does that sentence cross your mind in a day? It’s so easy to look at other people and remark on how wonderfully successful and put together they seem to be when in reality, we’re all thinking the same thing.
It drives me insane at times. There are so many questions that it feels like I should have found answers to by now. How does another degree compare to a few more years of work experience? What are the best ways to cultivate in-person relationships amid a global pandemic? Where do I want to be in five years? If I had to describe myself in one word, what would it be? These and many more plague my lonely angst riddled brain in the quieter moments when working from home or else relaxing solo style during yet another uneventful weekend. The faintest hint of monotony seeps into our daily routine if we’re not careful.
But it’s okay to not have all the answers. No one does. We’re all just human, going about our lives the best way we know how. What question are you answering in your life?
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.”
Do you ever have those moments when you feel like a very small fish swimming upstream, fighting against a roaring current instead of flowing with it? Have you ever finished with a rough work day and thought, “Nope… That definitely wasn’t it. Better luck tomorrow?”
It’s okay. We’ve all been there. It’s days like these that make the good times all the more special. Sometimes you just can’t help feeling burnt out even when you think you have no right to be. For whatever reason, things didn’t go your way today but life is full of ups and downs. You might be struggling to see the silver lining right now but it really does get better.
Always keep looking up because you can move mountains and take whatever life throws at you even if you’re not sure exactly how yet.
January is well under way. The chaos of catching up from a long Christmas vacation is winding down and life is beginning to resume its usual rhythm (albeit a slower one since COVID measures were first put in place). It’s high time I renewed a few promises to myself and started making good on them. I think my previous struggles in this area stem from a combination of poor planning, a lack of discipline and a tendency to be overly optimistic about what I can reasonably accomplish in a day. There just aren’t enough hours to do everything everyday. However, there are some things that I’m confident I can achieve this week.
Read – Whether it be to finish the Mistborn Trilogy or to start Atomic Habits, even if it’s just a few pages between now and Sunday.
Write – Before midnight. Write during daylight hours when the creative juices are still flowing and there’s sun filtering through the windows.
Knit – That striped sweater won’t finish itself. Wouldn’t it be nice to add it to the rotation of warm woolen handknits next winter?
Be tidy – Dirty dishes and a greasy stove top can not be allowed to dominate the kitchen for more than 24 hours after cooking.
Exercise – Yoga, hiking, running, it doesn’t matter. Just do something!
SLEEP!!! – So many problems would be solved with a few more hours of regularly scheduled rest. Break the college habit and get a good night’s sleep.
“Don’t let great be the enemy of good.” – Kelly Williams Brown
Everyone wants to be great at something. Being solidly middle of the pack just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Number One. Everyone has dreams of someday becoming the best at whatever it is that they do. Looking ahead, it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come. Greatness is rarely something that is handed to you and each little step you take today will determine your greatness tomorrow. What steps will you take today?
Life is far too short to spend it in a fog of fatigue. The army of the walking dead is among us already, drifting half asleep from one moment to the next. Don’t let the infection spread! Stay safe today and take a nap.
This is a friendly reminder to myself (and whoever else needs to hear it) to keep your eye on the prize, whatever that may be. In this time of working from the home office and with few extra curricular activities to occupy myself, my attention is so easily scattered. Even a minor crisis sends me reeling into panicked overdrive until the problem has passed. These days, I can’t even make up my mind about what to cook for dinner.
To anyone feeling this way, it’s okay. Stop, take a deep breath and settle yourself before parking in front of your computer to begin your work day. You can do this.