By: James Clear
New York Times Best Seller
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It’s all about the baby steps. I just finished Atomic Habits and the information seems obvious and like every other book I’ve read about success. Start small. If you want something you have to act. As Nike would say… Just do it. At the end of the day, it boils down to discipline. As simple as this seems, there is a lot to unpack in this book. There are practical tools and several reminders to get you on track to living a life that is more in line with who you want to be and how you want to live.
I’m a teacher, so a lot of the book reminded me of setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely) goals for students. Teachers often try to set goals, such as, better comprehension, read more, focus, and get good grades. But those never work because there is no follow through, and it is almost impossible to track. So, it makes sense that when people set goals like eat better or save money, it doesn’t work. This doesn’t seem like rocket science; it seems like common sense. However, here are some concepts that stuck with me.
- What do YOU actually want? This is harder to figure out than you might think. I would definitely get a notebook and start writing some things down. You might be surprised to see what you actually want.
- Once you figure out what you want…make it easy to do.
- Remember that doing even one miniscule step each day will get YOU closer to your goal. Adopt a something is better than nothing mentality. A single decision isn’t going to have a huge impact on your life, but hundreds of single decisions will. If you make a decision to get Mcdonald’s for dinner one night you can say, “Not the best idea, but I’m getting back to my plan tomorrow.” Or you can say, “Well, I screwed up by getting Mcdonald’s, so I may as well get pizza tonight. I failed at my new habit.” Don’t Break the Chain. Start again tomorrow.
- Don’t dismiss baby steps of the good habit, such as saying, “I only drank one extra cup of water, big deal? It’s not even making a difference.” This mentality leads to quitting good habits too. Celebrate your baby steps! I put a sticker on my calendar each day that I did one specific habit.
The next part of the book reminds me of Alice in Wonderland where the caterpillar asks Alice, “Who are you?” Habits needs to become part of your identity. The story you tell yourself about who you are becomes your identity. You must change the story. Don’t think about who you want to be. Tell yourself you are that person. I am a writer. I am a successful entrepreneur. I am_______. What is the first word that comes to your mind?
If you have a new goal and a new plan, it won’t matter if you don’t change who you are (Belief system). Clear states, “Forget about Goals and Focus on Systems. Goals set direction…systems get you there.”
- Unlearn parts of your identity. You become what you want to be through your habits.
- Decide who you want to be. Take small steps toward being that person.
- Ask yourself What would a writer do? What would a healthy person do? Etc.
- Become the person who achieves the things you want.
“It’s not about having something it’s about becoming someone” (41).
Four Laws of Atomic Habits
Make your habit Obvious.
- Create a roadmap. Where are you going? How are you going to get there?
- Write daily habits to hit that goal.
- What is the punishment if you fail? Make your punishment automatic.
- Write this in a contract.
- Have people sign it to hold you accountable.
- Find an accountability partner.
Make your habit Attractive
- Pair something you normally do with something you need to do with something you want to do.
- Pair a habit you hate with a habit you enjoy. Walking the dog with a motivational podcast works for me.
- Surround yourself with people who have the same habits as you or live the lifestyle you want to live.
- Make bad habits unattractive or hard to do.
Make it Easy
- The greater the friction the less likely the habit
- Commitment Device- A choice you Make in the present to control your Actions in the Future. Do something extreme to prevent you from doing the bad habit. When going to the library, leave your phone at home so that you aren’t hopping on social media while you are researching business ideas.
- Make your life predictable to make it easier.
- Make unproductive habits hard and productive habits easy.
Make it Satisfying
“What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided” (186).
- What do you gain from your new habit? What problem is your new habit solving?For me, my bad habit is having a couple of drinks after work. I do this because it makes me feel good, so I do it again and again. I need to create a new habit that makes me feel good to replace this habit.
2. Break habit make it invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying.
But…Routines are Boring.
“Professionals know what is important to them and work toward it with purpose; Amateurs get pulled off course by the urgencies of life.”
- Push through the boredom-Fall in love with it by knowing the boring leads to the long-term goal.
- You can’t just do the work when it is convenient or exciting. This one is a real struggle. I know I get excited about the end game when I am dreaming about my future, but a lot of mundane activities need to be done to get there. Keep reminders of where your roadmap ends.
- Be consistent and stick to a schedule.
- Challenge yourself just enough to keep going and stay motivated. Remember, it’s about baby steps.
Make a list of your daily habits.
Call out your bad habits out loud. For example, “I’m about to make a cocktail, which will make me feel like crap tomorrow.” Or “I’m about to waste two hours on tik tok.” This one didn’t really work for me. I said it while I made my cocktail and laughed about it.
Start a new habit
Be specific on when and where.
Instead of I will write more this week.
I will write in my classroom from 3:30 to 4:30 every day.
Stack an old habit with a new habit. After I do x, I will do y. Then Stack after I do y, I will do z.
Create an environment that puts the habit right in front of you. Easy to access.
Visual Cue Idea
2 Jars-One full of something…paperclips, marbles, etc. and one empty jar. Switch the item from the full jar to the empty jar each time you do something toward your goal. If you want to drink more water. Move a marble into the empty jar each time you drink 8 ounces of water.
Start over the next day.This isn’t a long term fill the jar. It starts new every single day.
*What would this look like for you?
Ok, so you have a new habit, you are consistent, you do it every day, even when it is boring. It is part of your identity. How do you keep fine tuning? Keep checking in with yourself. When you feel like you are not in line with the life you want, take your Atomic Habits book out and do the work again. People grow and change, so if your current habits aren’t working, it might be a good time to do a lifestyle inventory and start some new baby steps.
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