Multiple books have contributed to my discovery of what it means to find a sense of personal freedom in our lives, and I just finished up another great one: Atomic Habits by James Clear. So many points in this book resonated with me (you should read it), but below are five points and reminders that stuck with me in this particular season.
1. Tracking Habits v Tracking Time
I’ve been a fan and proponent of tracking my time for a while, but what I never really considered was that a deeper analysis of a time tracker would actually uncover personal habits (duh). In my mind, I was simply looking for things that sucked away time I could be spending elsewhere. But by understanding my normal tendencies, I can better implement the habit-creation methods outlined in the book to start new habits (and avoid old ones).
2. We tend to create habits based on outcomes, not identity
In my opinion, introspection is a huge part of being able to achieve personal growth. Assessing where I’ve come from allows me to course correct for the future. But James points out the fact that we often pick our growth goals in the wrong order. We start with the outcome in mind (ex: run a marathon) and then create a plan (ie. buy a training program). But what we fail to consider is if we even identify (or want to identify) ourselves as being a “runner”. Effective goal selection and habit creation has to start with an understanding of our own identity – either who we are or who we are striving to become. As I talk about in my TEDx talk, we have to weigh and rank our values to know how we ought to be spending our time.
3. Decisive Moments
I’ve never had a good phrase to describe this phenomenon, but I’m now going to start using this one. James calls a decisive moment those seemingly small actions that can compound throughout the day for better or for worse.
An immediate example of “for worse” that came to mind for my own life was that, over the last couple months, I got in the bad habit of turning off my 5:30am alarm and just crawling back in bed. On days when I did this, I missed my entire window to execute my morning routine. When that happened, the rest of the day had a different feel. It changed my mood and overall satisfaction by the time I get back in bed that night because I hadn’t accomplished those things that mattered to me earlier in the day.
As a result, I’m now trying to implement a new, simple habit that cues my body to stay out of bed and jump into my desired routine. We’ll see how this goes…
4. The importance of environment
One study referenced talks about the fact that it’s nearly impossible to avoid an ingrained habit if the cue still exists; we see this in addicts who relapse after leaving rehab because they return to the same environment. On the other hand, another study concluded that “disciplined” people are only more disciplined because they spend less time in tempting situations. They’ve designed an environment where they can succeed. James says, “Whatever habits are normal in your culture are among the most attractive behaviors you’ll find”.
When we think about that quote in the context of our work environments, the implications on company culture are massive. The same can be said for our family lives and relationships. Who we surround ourselves with has major implications on who we become.
5. To maintain habits, you have to fall in love with boredom
I really appreciated this perspective. I now see that it’s normal to be able to admit that I’m “bored” with a routine after a while. Simply put, “No habit will stay interesting forever”. However, I have to keep in mind that if that routine is serving a bigger a purpose, I need to push through and continue to do it. If it’s important to me, I have to slog through the slow times to keep advancing toward my ideal identity. Becoming great at something takes time and commitment. Peak results won’t come instantly. As Gary V always advocates, you’ve got to love the process.
In short, I highly recommend this book. It’s practical and applicable and has a ton more to offer than just these five takeaways of mine. Have you read it? What did you think?