Atomic Habits

I heard about Atomic Habits from a podcast I frequently listen to. The idea that you can change your life by implementing a few new habits sounds very sexy. Everyone desires something whether it is money, power, status, praise, approval, to lose weight, or be less stressed. The book title may give the same impression, but the reality that James Clear presents is very different. Clear shows how it is the 1% improvements that are not noticeable in the short run that change you in the long run. Can one small habit change your life? No, but consistently applying the right habits over time and adding new ones can transform you through small changes. That is why I love the meaning “atomic” from the title of the book. In one sense it is the smallest unit of matter but in another sense it is something with extreme energy and power.

Identity

One of the points which Clear makes is that we focus too much on the results, goals, and outcome we want instead of focusing on our identity. Start with your identity and work backwards from the results that you want to the type of person who gets those results. First decide the type of person you want to be and then prove it to yourself through small wins. Clear states “Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity.” Instead of blindly following the norms, face life head on, decide who you want to be, and implement habits to become that person.

The steps

The crux of the book is defining what a habit is. Clear defines a habit as having 4 parts:

  1. Cue – our brains are constantly looking for rewards
  2. Craving – the desire to change our internal state
  3. Response – the actual habit
  4. Reward – the reason for our habit, satisfaction

Clear also develops the 4 laws of behavior change:

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying

In order to break bad habit we must do the opposite:

  1. Make it invisible
  2. Make it unattractive
  3. Make it difficult
  4. Make it unsatisfying

My habit

As I read the book I came up with a number of new habits I wanted to implement and a few bad habits that I want to break. However, I realized if I try to accomplish all of them at once I will probably accomplish none. The single habit I landed on is my exercising. At the end of 2018 I trained for and ran a full marathon. Once I got into the habit of running it became “easy” for me to just look at my schedule and run the allotted miles for that day. Ever since I finished that race I have struggled to maintain an exercise rhythm since the goal I was training for is gone. I have a foggy notion of what I would like to do but until I make a concrete plan nothing will change. When Clear described how we must associate a time and location with our habit, things changed for me. I wrote down 5-6 workouts that meet my current fitness goals and wrote this statement in my notebook: I will do my pre-determined workout at 6pm in my garage after I get home from work. This is no longer foggy. I know what I am going to do, when I am going to do it, and where I will do it.

Action vs Motion

Another idea that helped me was the idea of action versus motion. Motion is the planning, strategizing, and learning that go into the habits we want. Motion can make you feel that you are getting a lot done but really is a form of procrastination. Action is the actual behavior that delivers and outcome. In order to master a habit you have to get in the repetitions. I find this happens a lot with my reading. I love to read, learn, and share what I have learned with others. However, there are many things that I read which I should put into practice but until I do so they remain motion. Someone told me it is ok to sharpen the sword but at some point you have to use it.

Don’t miss habits twice

Clear points out that when we are developing new habits in our lives we should never miss a habit twice. If you miss it once you can call it an accident but if you miss it twice you are starting a new habit. This concept is extremely important when habits get difficult like when you are tempted to miss a workout on days you don’t feel like working out. On those days when you follow through with the habit you reinforce the type of person you are. You string together and unbroken chain of performing the habit. It is like the brick layer who lays one brick each day with the goal of building a wall. If he consistently lays bricks each day, after many days he will have the wall. If he stops laying bricks because it’s too hard, he doesn’t feel like it, or he is not seeing any improvement, all he will have is a couple of bricks but no wall.

Atomic Habits provided me with a framework of how habits work, how to implement good habits, and how to overcome bad habits. James Clear does not pretend that there are any quick fixes and any good habits we want will come through long term thinking rather than short term thinking. He provides many insights on how to make the process easier & more effective. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to improve themselves, especially to people who feel stuck in their current routine and habits and know they need to change.

The Man In The Mirror

Have you ever been reading a book and began to get the feeling the author was writing specifically to you about your particular situation? In that moment you feel as if the author is tapping directly into your thought life and discussing what they see there. This is exactly what happened to me a few times while reading The Man In The Mirror. There were at least 2 sections of the book that it felt like Patrick Morley was speaking directly to where I am at in life. Admittedly, this book has a narrower audience for men who want to answer the question “Why do men think the things they think, say the things they say, and do the things they do?” It is for men who want to learn to grow in their faith. I throw that disclaimer out just so you are warned. Personally, I found it very helpful and hope it will add value to others as well.

Although this book has lots of quality information, if I were to distill it down to the two most helpful ideas for me it would be the idea of finding significance and how to prioritize & use our time.

  1. Significance

We all want our lives to have significance and meaning. We all want to be successful and seek glory on some level, but what actually provides significance to our lives? Our memories are short. When we base our significance on fame and worldly accomplishments, we choose something that will fade with time. Some of us seek significance through power, but enjoy it while it lasts. When you retire no one will call you anymore.

“We often only spend our energies to satisfy ourselves, rather than to serve others. Significance is not possible unless what we do contributes to the welfare of others.”

“Does what I am about to do contribute to the welfare of others in a demonstration of faith, love, obedience, and service to Christ?”

“Accumulating wealth, power, influence, and prestige are self-gratifying but will not satisfy a man’s need to be significant in a lasting way.”

“The secret of job contentment is not getting what you want but redefining what you need.”

As these quotes from the book reveal, it is difficult to attain satisfaction & significance in life through selfish ambitions. True lasting significance only comes through serving & helping others. This truth hits home to me as a husband and future father (we plan to have children in the future). Honestly I am guilty of spending lots of my time and energy thinking about how to be more successful. Whether this is at work, in my friendships, or at church. I love to read books about leadership and listen to podcasts about how to develop myself. However, at the end of my life none of this knowledge will matter if I lose my marriage. It won’t matter if my kids don’t want to speak with me. I don’t want to seek success at work at the cost of spending time with my kids and wife. I realize there is a balance; there is a time for work and for play. The bills need to be paid. However, when it comes to priorities and how I want to make decisions about where I spend my time, money, and efforts, I need to have a framework for what my priorities are. These thoughts from Morley’s book have helped me with that.

  1. Time

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Plato

My goal shouldn’t be to attain greatness but to be faithful with the time given to me. Defining the purpose of my life through a personal mission statement helps prioritize my life. The decision of what I stand for has already been made; I just need to apply it to all situations. The purpose of my life can be summed up in Jesus’s words in Matthew 22:37-39 “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

I am often looking for tips and techniques of how to be more productive and effective with my time. The truth is I don’t need tips and techniques but a strategy. This is exactly why priorities help because they give me a strategy to live my life by. We can all be successful as long as we do the little things in a single direction.

There is a difference between efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. Most of us don’t just want to be efficient with our time but effective. We don’t want to be successful at work and in our careers but let family life deteriorate. However, if we don’t examine our priorities and make some changes, that can be exactly where we are headed. I am thankful to learn the difference between efficiency and effectiveness and learn to not mix them up.

This book has revealed to me a number of areas in my life, which I need to examine. Not only did it reveal some areas for growth, but gave helpful action steps. I love to read books, which are not only interesting but also applicable to my life. This is why I read books and write this blog: to hopefully provide some insight and application that adds value to others. For this reason I would definitely recommend this book, especially to men who may feel stagnant in their careers, marriages, or friendships.

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

I first learned about Marshall Goldsmith when he was a guest on the EntreLeadership podcast and quickly decided I would read one of his books. What stuck out to me about his interview on the podcast was when he described his purpose in life and what motivates him. He said his purpose in life is not to prove himself smarter than others but to provide positive value to other people’s lives. This struck me as something that I also strive for but often fall short of and I wanted to learn more. A few weeks later I found Goldsmith’s book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There sitting on my bookshelf at home. It turns out my wife had a copy from years ago! I grabbed the book off the shelf and began to read it. Here are a few of the helpful ideas I got from the book.

  1. Changing behavior

“People will do something – including changing their behavior – only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”

The fact is that I cannot make anyone change unless they choose to change. I cannot convince anyone to change unless that change aligns with the values they hold. I am learning that I see the world not as it is, but as I am. I see the world through the lens of my own experiences.

On the other hand this has shown me that when I continuously fail to change my own behavior, even though I know I need to change, it means I need to look deeper. Is it because I am not fully convinced of the value of the change? How do I link the change to what motivates me? A good illustration of this idea happened recently in my home. For weeks my home office has been a mess of unpacked boxes as we just moved into the house. I do not love to unpack and organize my things; however, my wife loves the house to be organized and looking presentable. I do not love to unpack but I love a clean and organized work space. I realized the motivation to unpack and organize my office came from the fact that I love my wife and want to please her and I value a clean working environment. I had to link the mundane task of unpacking and organizing to a deeper value that truly motivates me.

  1. Interpersonal behavioral habits

Goldsmith outlines 21 behavioral habits in his book that we have all probably been guilty of at one point or another. The trick is picking the right ones to begin working on. Here are the four that stuck out to me as the ones I need to work on the most:

#2 Adding too much value – when we feel the need to add our own opinion to every conversation or discussion.

#12 Making excuses – when we express our behavior as fixed trait so that people will excuse us. If we set low expectations for ourselves they become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you fight for your limitations you get to keep them.

#16 Not Listening – this habit is very disrespectful to others. It sends the message “I don’t care about you”, “I don’t understand you”, and “You’re wasting my time.”

#21 Goal obsession – when we are so focused on achieving our goal we do it at the expense of our larger mission.

The habit of goal obsession is the behavior I have been working on changing recently. I love to read and learn from books. I have certain goals and ways to measure those goals based on how many words per minute and how many books I want to read. When I am reading a book in the morning and my wife or someone else interrupts me, how do I respond? My goal is to read, learn, and grow so that I can be a better communicator, leader, and serve others better. When I get interrupted by someone it is often a chance to display the same behavior I am trying to grow in. I should not obsess over the goal of reading a certain amount at the expense of ignoring people around me.

  1. Feedback

“It’s my contention – and it’s the bedrock thesis of this book – that interpersonal behavior is the difference-maker between being great and near-great, between getting the gold and settling for the bronze.”

In order to develop better interpersonal behavior, we need to receive feedback. We know we need to change, we know we need feedback from those around us to know what to change, but we don’t always know how to get the feedback. Goldsmith writes about three forms of feedback: solicited, unsolicited, and observation.

Solicited feedback – we ask people for their opinion and they give it. This is hard because in general people don’t want to give this kind of feedback and we don’t want to hear it. It’s best to get this kind of feedback confidentially so that no one is embarrassed and we don’t get defensive. Instead of asking “What do you like about me?” ask “How can I do better?” The first question is basically asking a person how they feel about you, which if you think about it is irrelevant for enabling you to be better.

Unsolicited feedback – Every once in a while we get feedback which we did not ask for, but that truly opens our eyes to how the world sees us. These experiences can be painful and uncomfortable; however, they often reveal how the world actually sees us and can motivate us to change. There is a disconnect between the way we see ourselves and the way the world sees us. Often those around us have a more accurate perspective.

Observational feedback – People and situations are giving us feedback all day long but whether we pay attention or act on it is another matter. People are sending us feedback through their eye contact, body language, and response time. It is up to us to observe these moments, accept them, and act on them. Here are five ways Goldsmith gave for observational feedback to be used:

  1. Make a list of people’s casual remarks about you. At the end of the day rate each of them as positive or negative and see if any patterns emerge.
  2. Turn the sound off. In a meeting or interaction, pretend you’re watching a movie with the sound off. Concentrate only on how people present themselves physically.
  3. Complete the sentence. Pick something you want to get better at and list the benefits for you and those around you if you accomplish it. For example, if you want to take better care of your body and eat better you will…live longer, feel better, set a better example for your family, etc. As the benefits become more personal and less expected, that’s when you know you have hit on something that you need to fix.
  4. Listen to your self-aggrandizing remarks. We all have heard friends boast about some quality they think they possess when in reality the opposite is true. A friend may claim they are always on time, when the truth is they are always late. What do you boast about? Observe yourself and you may find out that a strength you claim is actually a weakness.
  5. Look homeward. If you want to change certain interpersonal behavior, it is good to get feedback from your colleagues. However, if you don’t believe them, take the same questions for feedback home and see what your family thinks. This will ensure feedback from those who truly want you to succeed and have no agenda.

I am very thankful I found this book on my shelf at home and took the time to read it. I learned a lot about changing behavior, common behavioral habits that many of us need to break, and how to get feedback. I hope you can also get some value from my three takeaways.