Our book this month is called “Atomic Habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones” by James Clear.
I was introduced to this book by Kelli Calabrese, one of the members of a mastermind that I’m part of. I have to say that the book has been impactful for me as I’ve been examining my own daily habits in the areas I’m seeking to redefine.
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.
One of the core concepts in the book is that small changes can compound. A 1% change can seem small. But if you start doing push-ups. On the first day you do one push-up. On the second day you do two. On the third day you do three. After 100 days you’re doing 100 push-ups.
We often dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment. If you save a little money now, you’re still not a millionaire. If you go to the gym three days in a row, you’re still out of shape. If you study Mandarin for an hour tonight, you still haven’t learned the language.
We make a few changes, but the results never seem to come quickly and so we slide back into our previous routines. Unfortunately, the slow pace of transformation also makes it easy to let a bad habit slide.
Your identity emerges out of your habits. You are not born with preset beliefs. Every belief, including those about yourself, is learned and conditioned through experience.* More precisely, your habits are how you embody your identity. When you make your bed each day, you embody the identity of an organized person. When you write each day, you embody the identity of a creative person. When you train each day, you embody the identity of an athletic person.
The labels “good habit” and “bad habit” are slightly inaccurate. There are no good habits or bad habits. There are only effective habits.
It turns out that habits are anchored in several loops of human behaviour. The first is the notion of conserving mental energy. Items that require conscious mental effort to bring to reality are not habits. Getting dressed in the morning, making a cup of coffee, emptying the dishwasher, all can be habits that don’t tax the conscious mind.
People who try to form habits operating exclusively from the conscious mind are destined to fail at habit formation. Habits, both good and bad don’t require a lot of mental energy. How much energy does it take to check your news feed in social media?
Forming new habits can often be accomplished with habit stacking. For example, if you do 20 pushups as part of making your morning coffee, then you will have a much easier time forming a new habit because it is associated with a pre-existing habit.
Brushing your teeth with your morning shower adds one more step to an existing habit, but doesn’t require a new separate habit to be formed.
It turns out that your environment contains powerful cues that are mentally associated with repeated behaviour patterns. If you can make a radical change to your environment, so too can change the patterns. Often a return to a previous environment will cause old patterns to re-establish because the cues are encoded in your memory as being associated with those patterns.
As I read the book, my awareness of my own autopilot behaviours became crystal clear.