Let's face it. We all know where we fall short and where we could benefit from changing our behaviour: Most of us should eat a little healthier and exercise a little more, spend a little more time outdoors and a little less time on the (social) media; many of us should sleep a little more and dedicate a little more of our waking hours to something constructive. Still, when it comes down to it all the New Year's resolutions and miracle cures in the world don't make much of a difference, and even if we really try to change things for the better it's typically just a matter of days or weeks before we're back to normal.
It was not without skepticism that I opened the book with the inciting subtitle Tiny Changes, Remarkable results. But after hearing the author talking to Brian Rose I was still curious enough to want to know more . . .
James Clear's approach to habits and lifestyle is remarkable, because he mainly deals with systems and daily repetitions, not with quantifiable, chrome-plated goals. The result is almost irrelevant, while the process means everything.
Atomic habits is used in the sense of molecular habits: So small we don't notice them, as opposed to the declarations of intent and big words we typically put forward when we decide that NOW is the time to change course 180 degrees.
The problem with lifestyle changes is precisely that the majority of the time it is the ingrained habits that determine how we act; not conscious, well-motivated choices. Thus it is necessary to start from scratch and initiate and train the autopilot properly if the good intentions are to have any grounding. Once one's habits and self-image have changed the behavior naturally follows suit.
It is always good to have things put into a system, and Atomic habits is recommendable precisely because of the systematic approach to actually changing the bad habits into good ones:
1. Make it obvious
First of all, it is important to design your everyday life and your environment so that you create the right (and avoid the wrong) cues. So the running shoes out in the first row in the entrance, and the fruit bowl out on the kitchen table. And while you're at it, just delete Facebook from your mobile and keep the remote controls out of sight.
2. Make it attractive
When we link small rewards to the actions where we feel the most resistance they quickly become attractive. Once we've been out running on the beach let's just treat ourselves with the good dark chocolate and the good local beer. If we make it a habit to start our winter mornings with the coziness and calmness of candles in the kitchen it is much easier to get out of bed a little earlier.
3. Make it easy
Break the habits up into small, more manageable atoms. Rather than setting out to become a morning person from one day to the next, it is a significantly better strategy to start by turning off your internet router every day at 10 p.m. After a week, you can settle down to be in bed at the same time. Small steps in the right direction accumulate and make a world of difference over time.
4. Make it satisfying
Whether we're talking about exercise or some project you've set out to make part of your everyday life, it's a good idea to track your progress and pat yourself on the back every day you get the job done. No reason to focus on the things you don't achieve but every good reason to celebrate even your smallest victories.
I read. Listen and practice.
Writing has gradually become a daily routine. Not necessarily because I have great hopes of turning it into something else and more than these columns, but because I consider myself a writer and writers by definition spend time writing. I write – you could say – because it matches the image I have of my best self.
In the same way, I repeat to myself that it is not the end of the world that I (until now, due to busy August Saturdays) have missed Ringkøbing Fjord Rundt 3 times. There will definitely be a new opportunity and a new race and my goal with running was never to run a specific marathon or ultra. My goal is to be a runner and simpley get out across the steppes on a daily basis.
James Clear: Atomic Habits
Hardback: 320 pages
Avery Publishing Group (2018)