Atomic Habits

My favorite habits author James Clear’s book Atomic Habits is releasing today.

benefited from his work over the last many years. The concept of Identity-Based Habits which I first learned from his blog has helped me in many ways especially with building and keeping my exercising habit.

I like his style of writing and explaining ideas. So I bought the book as I know I not only enjoy reading it but learn a ton. If you are a regular reader of his blog like me, you may find some ideas repetitive, but I think that’s a good thing. None of us need more new ideas. Just simple basics repeated over time will create wonderful results. Having known all this, I still fail at a lot of my habits and that’s one more reason why I am looking forward to read the book and reinforce my learning and habits.

Here is how yo can help yourself as well as James:

James Clear’s “1% Better Every Day” video

I learned a LOT about habits by reading James Clear’s blog. He has heaps of great posts on his site, but if I were to pick one, it is this: Identity-Based Habits: How to Actually Stick to Your Goals This Year. The gist is that: Building good habits and changing ourselves for better is all  about our identity (what we believe of ourselves and who we try to become), not performance (the actions we take) or appearance (what others say about us). Performance and appearance are great, but for habits to last, they should start from within, from your identity, from what kind of person you think you are. This powerful idea changed me for better over the last few years.

James recently delivered a great talk in which he talks about the power of small habits. Check it out here. It is about 25 minutes and is very well worth your time.

Following are my notes from that talk.

Aggregation of marginal gains.

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

Good habits make your time ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.

Framework for forming better habits.

Four stages of habit formation: Noticing, Wanting, Doing and Liking.

Stage 1: Noticing

Implementation intentions.

Action step: Have a plan

Stage 2: Wanting

Design environment for encouraging good behaviors.

Put more steps between you and bad behaviors. Fewer steps between you and good behaviors.

Stage 3: Doing

Quantity vs quality. Put in the reps.

Repetitions matter. Iterations matter.

David Allen of GTD’s 2 min rule.

Put all energy into starting. It is all about milestones. Optimize for start line, not finish line.

Stage 4: Liking

The only reason we repeat behaviors is because you enjoy them.

Good habits have a problem: cost at the moment but reward is delayed. Bad habits : reward at the moment but consequence is delayed.

Figure how to bring reward into present moment: Seinfeld strategy of building the chain of actions.

The best way to change the long-term behavior is to act on the short-term feedback. You need a way to enjoy the moment. Don’t break the chain. Never miss twice.

Why habits are so important?  The ship of Theseus. Change happens habit by habit: Evolution; Not Revolution.

It is all about identity: the actions you take provide evidence to who you are.

Over a broad span of time actions you do once or twice fade away. Actions you do for the bulk amount of time day after day week after week accumulate the bulk of the evidence of what you believe of yourself. Every action you take is a vote for the type of the person you wish to become.

You don’t need to be perfect all the time. You just need to have the body of good work.

True Change is not behavior or results or process change, but it is Identity Change.

The goal is not to read a book; but to become a reader.

The goal is not to write a book; but to become a writer.

The goal is not to run a marathon; but to become a runner.

The way to become someone is by doing something. Your identity emerges from the type of habits you have. It is about getting you to believe something.

 

James Clear

James Clear is one of my favorite habit bloggers. I came across him some time last year. I am reading his blog ever since. It changed me for better. I love his content, consistency and writing style. His work has been immensely helpful to me while I was forming my habit philosophies.

Until last week he published two high quality articles every week on his blog JamesClear.com. From this week he is only going to publish only one. I welcome this change, wish him all the best and look forward to continue reading his posts.

I can go on talking about the lessons learned by reading his blog. But if I were to pick only one, it is this post titled Identity-Based Habits. And this image in that post sums it up.

habit-layers

“Decide the person you want to be and prove it to yourself with small wins”, he prescribes. This idea has helped set up my exercising habit.

I told myself exactly what’s in that image. I have been consistently showing up three times a week to exercise. I can’t do 100 pushps in a row yet but I did 30 this evening on my toes; my highest ever in a row. I have proved myself that I can do pushps on toes, over the last 128 days. I have no plans to stop; so I may be able to do 100 pushups in a row some day. I lost a bit of weight by the looks. Nevertheless, performance and appearance are external and doesn’t matter as much as my identity. I don’t pretend that performance and appearance are not important. They are. But focusing on them isn’t going to take me far. What if people don’t say anything about my performance? Does that mean I am not performing? Instead, I focus on my identity and see performance and appearance as offshoots.

I have few other identities that I would like to keep to myself at this stage. But the point is, identity is a powerful concept. Once you find who you want to be, it is difficult not to prove your identity to yourself. Do it often times and it becomes your reality.

I have no affiliation to James. I have only emailed him once to thank him for his great work and he thanked me back. But I always like to spread the good work and endorse its creators as much as I can. So go to his newsletter page, scroll down a bit and give your email id. You will learn a thing or two.

Habits and streaks

I clearly remember that July night in 2013. I discovered Medium and was on reading spree. Just like how I used to read any and every blog in 2006 when I discovered blogging.

That Medium post was titled Deliberate Practice, one of my favorite subjects. It mainly talked about two points which I can’t recall at the moment. I have this weird habit of exploring a bit more about the author if I liked any post. That post’s author is Tony Stubblebine, CEO of Coach.Me (then Lift.do). That’s how I discovered Lift. I somehow like the old name, Lift, although they renamed it to Coach.Me inline with their business model.

Lift is a habit building app. You pick up a habit you want to build, do that habit every day and open the app and check that habit. You build the  streak and you get better at habit. Eventually you just do the habit everyday without worrying about checking it in, unless you are keen on numbers. You also get props from strangers in the community. You can give props to other too.

Ever since I discovered Lift, I used it to track these habits: learn touch typing, learn planking, learn doing pushps on toes, getting rid of Facebook app on iPhone, meditate, exercise and a bunch of other habits. Besides getting obsessed with streaks, I also came across useful blogs like Zen Habits and interesting people like BJ Fogg and James Clear. These people and their blogs have been immensely helpful to me.

It is important to note that nobody becomes a super hero using apps. Nothing works until you do and you can work even without using technology. But I like using this app because it gives me a track of effort I spent. This helps me do the work on the days I feel like slacking. For e.g. By spending less than 2 minutes a day for the last 60 days, I am able to do 15 pushups on my toes in a row. Before that I could do absolutely zero. So I am more likely to continue the streak and in the process do more and more pushps. I can’t say how many. But I am certain that it will a few more than I was able to do last week.

So whatever habit you want to build, just do this. Download Coach.Me app. Search the habit and sign up to it. The app will tell you the bare minimum thing you have to do that day to earn your streak. Just do it. Check it in. Do it long enough, Boy! You built the habit you were wanting to build for so long. Then check the streaks and calendars, you will be surprised how little time it took and you wonder why did you wait so long. Good luck.