Instead of waiting for the New Year to roll around to make your list of “good habit” resolutions, we thought we would review and share some of the wisdom provided in James Clear’s book and Master class on Atomic Habits to give you a head start.
If you are not familiar with the book Atomic Habits, it’s a guide built on real-life tales that represent how to form good habits and break bad ones. Clear argues that the key to success is not to focus on massive changes, but rather on small, incremental improvements. He calls these tiny changes “atomic habits.”
“It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change: the fastest way to lose weight, the best programme to build muscle, the perfect idea for a side hustle. We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action.
As Voltaire once wrote, ‘The best is the enemy of the good.'”James Clear
Atomic habits are so small that they could seem insignificant and useless. However, over time, they can have a profound impact on your life. For example, if you want to lose weight, you don’t need to start going to the gym for two hours every day. Simply starting by walking for 10 minutes after dinner can make a big difference. You will be building muscle and burning calories. And boosting your immunity.
Here are a few examples of little habits that could have lasting effects even if done in just 10 minutes:
- Read one page before bed. This simple habit can help you expand your knowledge, learn new things, and relax before going to sleep.
- Meditate for one minute. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, improve focus, and boost mood. Even just one minute of meditation can make a difference.
- Exercise for 10 minutes. Any type of exercise is beneficial, but if you’re short on time, even a 10-minute walk or workout can make a difference. Dr Rangan Chattergee a GP and best-selling author of The 4 Pillar Plan suggests placing a kettle ball in your kitchen and doing some lifts while waiting for your tea’s water to boil or your coffee to brew.
- Declutter one space. Take 10 minutes to declutter your desk, your closet, or even just one corner of your living room. Getting rid of clutter can help you feel more organized and less stressed.
- Cook or food prep one healthy meal. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Take 10 minutes to cook a simple, healthy meal for yourself.
- Learn something new for 10 minutes. There are endless ways to learn something new, whether it’s reading an article, watching a video, or taking a short online course. Even 10 minutes of learning each day can add up over time.
The real reason you fail to stick with habits is that your self-image gets in the way. This is why you can’t get too attached to one version of your identity. Progress requires unlearning. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.James Clear
How do you make habits stick?
Clear suggests you start small and focus on one habit at a time. Make your habits easy to do by setting yourself up for success by removing any obstacles that might get in your way.
- Be consistent. The key to forming a habit is to do it regularly. Even if you can only spare 10 minutes a day, that’s still better than nothing.
- Track your progress. Seeing how far you’ve come can be motivating and help you stay on track.
- Reward yourself. When you reach a milestone, reward yourself with something you enjoy. This will help you stay positive and motivated.
One of the best ways to build a good habit is to make it obvious. For example, if you want to start reading more, put a book on your nightstand before bed. If you want to eat healthier, keep a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter. Sounds simple but we all need reminders and positive triggers to get us to do good habits.
Making a habit attractive means finding ways to make the habit enjoyable. For example, if you want to start exercising, find a type of exercise that you enjoy. If you want to eat healthier, find healthy recipes that you like.
Make habits easier to do so you are more likely you are to stick with them. For example, if you want to start exercising in the morning, put your workout clothes out the night before. If you want to eat healthier, keep healthy snacks on hand.
Reward yourself when you complete a good habit. This will help you to stay motivated. For example, if you go for a run, give yourself a healthy snack afterwards.
To break a bad habit, you need to do the opposite of the above...
Make it invisible. If you want to break a bad habit, make it invisible. This means removing the cues that trigger the habit. For example, if you want to stop eating junk food, don’t keep it in the house. If you want to stop checking social media first thing in the morning, don’t keep your phone in your bedroom.
Make it unattractive. Find ways to make your bad habits unattractive. For example, if you want to stop smoking, imagine the negative consequences of smoking, such as bad breath and stained teeth. If you want to stop eating unhealthy food, imagine the physical consequences, such as weight gain and acne.
Make it difficult. The more difficult a habit is to do, the less likely you are to stick with it. So, try to make your bad habits as difficult as possible. For example, if you want to stop watching TV, unplug the TV. If you want to stop eating unhealthy food, don’t keep it in the house.
Make it unsatisfying. When you complete a bad habit, give yourself a small punishment. This will help you to avoid the habit in the future. For example, if you check social media first thing in the morning and you want to use that time instead to write down your daily goals or to meditate, do your least favourite exercise (i.e. a side plank or 10 push-ups). That’s why it is suggested you have someone who keeps you accountable.
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The power of perseverance
In Clear’s article “Stay On the Bus,” James Clear introduces a simple but profound theory about how to do unique and meaningful work. The theory is called the Helsinki Bus Station Theory, and it is based on the following metaphor:
Imagine that you are at a bus station in Helsinki, Finland. There are many different buses at the station, each one is going to a different destination yet they travel almost the same route for the first kilometre. You need to choose a bus and get on it. Once you are on the bus, you need to stay on it until you reach your destination.
Clear argues that the same is true for doing unique and meaningful work. You need to choose a field or area of interest, and then you need to stick with it for the long haul. It takes time and effort to become an expert in any field, and it is easy to get discouraged along the way. However, if you persevere and stay on the bus, you will eventually reach your destination.
Clear provides the following advice for staying on the bus:
- Choose a bus that you are passionate about. If you are not passionate about your work, you will be more likely to give up when things get tough.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone is on their own journey. Focus on your own progress and don’t worry about what other people are doing.
- Be patient and enjoy the rise. It takes time to develop your skills and expertise. Don’t expect to be an overnight success.
- Celebrate your successes. No matter how small your successes may seem, take the time to celebrate them. This will help you stay motivated and keep moving forward.
People who persevered and achieved great things:
J.K. Rowling was rejected by 12 different publishers before her first Harry Potter book was accepted. She could have easily given up, but she persevered and went on to become one of the most successful authors of all time.
Michael Jordan was reportedly cut from his high school basketball team. He could have let that setback discourage him, but he used it as motivation to work harder. He eventually went on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985. He could have given up on his dream, but he didn’t. He went on to start NeXT and Pixar and eventually returned to Apple and led the company to its greatest success ever.
Basically, if you want to do unique and meaningful work, Clear suggests you need to “stay on the bus”. It won’t be easy, you will question yourself multiple times, but it will be worth it.
Share an atomic habit you have tried and conquered or one you would like to start
James Clear recently announced that he will teach a class on how to build habits that actually work. Exclusively with MasterClass, Clear refreshes his Atomic Habits philosophy through today’s lens and shares his approach to designing “smarter habits and tackling today’s challenges—from amping up productivity to shutting down distractions in remote or hybrid working environments.”