After hearing about Atomic Habits from multiple sources whose opinion and life experience I hold in high esteem, I figured it was about time I read the book and found out for myself what everyone was talking about. While it only took about 5 days to listen to, [it’s a 5 hour read on Audible which equals 4 hours on 1.25x speed ;)] every one of those days felt transformative as I started seeing just how deep my habits ran, and how with some careful analysis and planning I could make a serious trajectory change in my life. It pretty quickly earned its spot on my A List.
Ever since I first read The Slight Edge when I was 20, I have understood and highly valued the power of small things compounding over time. I have generally thought of myself as being pretty good at creating and keeping habits, but this book opened my eyes to a whole new level of how to hack my own human nature and tendencies to achieve a higher level of performance, output, and optimization.
Here are two insights that caused paradigm shifts for me from just the first hours of the book:
1. We Don’t Rise to the Level of our Goals, We Fall to the Level of Our Systems
I am, for better or worse, a serious day dreamer. I love thinking through how I could be/have/achieve things in the future, and my mind-chatter is incessantly concocting new ideas of things to build, places to go, expeditions to go on, etc. It’s fun, but in a lot of ways it’s ineffective, because as Miranda often reminds me, it’s okay to have those dreams and goals, but they won’t happen just because I’ve thought them up—I need some plans to accomplish them.
As I started analyzing my regular behaviors and seeing the systems I have set up, it hit me how many of the supposed goals I have don’t have effective automated systems to make them actually happen, if there are any at all. I started doing a thorough analysis of the goals I have, then analyzing what “obvious, easy, and satisfying” ways I could build towards them every day (read the book for the details of each of these).
I try to set goals for each year, quarter, and week and do my best to achieve them (here are my yearly goals for 2019). I’d say I do an okay job on the weekly goals, a mediocre job on my quarterly goals, and an abysmal job on my yearly goals. While I’ve always understood that goals are just dreams until we actually take the actions to achieve them, Atomic Habits opened my eyes to just how much EVERYTHING comes down to the systems.
For example, one of my life goals is to become an exceptional cellist. I never had the opportunity to participate in orchestra or learn the cello as a youth, but it has always been my favorite instrument. When I was 20 I got a cello and started taking lessons off and on. I am still very much a novice, and have a long way to go. I usually practice twice per week, but it’s usually on the weekends and crammed in between other events. As I thought about how we fall to the level of our systems, I realized that if I wanted to one day play the cello with the virtuosity I dream of, I would have to create much more consistent, habit-based systems. The system I switched to is playing for 15 minutes everyday as part of my work lunch break—I play from 11:45-12:00 pm then eat lunch.
2. Changing Our Identity and Beliefs About Ourselves is the Quickest and Most Effective Way to Change Our Habits
As Clear explains in his book, we often think of habits as those things we do day to day, focusing on the actions themselves and not so much on the “whys” behind the actions. However, our actions stem both from how we perceive ourselves and from our intrinsic beliefs of what’s most important. Rethinking how we see ourselves and the way we think/speak about ourselves then becomes one of the fastest and most effective ways to change our actions.
For example, think of the difference in power between these two beliefs:
“I am learning to play to cello”
“I am an exceptional cello player”
Even though I may not believe myself to be an exceptional cello player yet, if I adopt the mantra that “I am an exceptional cello player,” there is a mental shift in my mind to thoughts like, “because I am an exceptional cello player, I do what exceptional cello players do.” Suddenly the habits of picking up the cello, playing through drills, creating routines, and putting serious effort into becoming a cellist become innate and natural. I do those things because it’s how I identify, and intrinsically I want to maintain that identity.
He gives an example of how a woman he knows lost significant amounts of weight by shifting her thinking from “I am trying to eat healthy” to “I am a skinny person.” Even though it was a lot of fake-it-til-you-make-it at the beginning, repeatedly saying to herself and believing the thoughts “I am a skinny person” made making choices in her kitchen, exercise routine, and other actions easy. She found herself doing them because she believed, “this is what a skinny person would do, and I am a skinny person” instead of focusing on forced plans and diets.
Changes I’ve Made After My First Time Through Atomic Habits
I will be revisiting this book at least once per year to help me analyze the systems and habits I have in place—it’s just that good. Here are some of the major changes I made after my first read-through:
I have begun waking up every weekday at 6:00 am and doing the following routine. I never would’ve thought to get this detailed about my schedule before reading this book, but the power of habit stacking really is phenomenal. The times aren’t super precise, but the order of everything is:
6:00 am – wake up, turn off alarm, pray
6:02 am – baño
6:04 am – drink one glass of water, fill cup again and take morning supplements with however much water I can stomach
6:06 am – do Internal – a morning energy/warm up/wake up routine I learned in Kung Fu
6:16 am – Do 20-25 minutes of stretching/moving/exercise while listening to talks or self development book
6:40 am – Do 15 minute loving kindness meditation on meditation cushion
6:55 am – Read scriptures for 10 minutes
7:05 am – ponder on day, set goals for each area of work and life, write in journal, read from book
7:30 am – leave phone in living room, go to home office and work on A Lot a Bit of Everything stuff – writing, graphics, website, and videos
8:40 am – Shower and get ready
9:00 am – Begin work
Before I read Atomic Habits I had done most of the things described in the first hour pretty regularly, but many days would pass with only 2 or 3 of them happening. Using the power of habit stacking, consistency, and routine has made it much easier to make sure they all happen every weekday. My goal is to get to the point where I can be doing them on the weekends too, but the reality is that most weekends we are up until midnight or later, and the older I get, the more and more I value every hour of sleep.
I have also started trying to figure out habit stacking routines for work. This is proving much harder as I work at two companies that are essentially still in start-up mode. The focus needs to change quickly from task to task and I am often in a project-oriented mode more than a repetitive task situation. However, at the very least, I have started trying to accommodate productivity boosting hacks into my routine more; I have broken down my schedule into specific focuses at specific times, and every 90 minutes I take a few minutes to detach from the screen and move my body to clear my mind and recenter. These are things I have heard recommended before from several sources, but being reminded of the power of habits helped me integrate it into an automatic routine.
Check out Atomic Habits on Amazon or Audible and let me know what changes it inspires you to make! I’d love to hear your experience in the comments here or on Instagram @alotabitofeverything
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