I recently listened to an interview of James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. You can listen to it, or read the transcript, here. The podcast had a lot of excellent information about how to build lasting habits and how to live your life.I wanted to share some of the take-home messages that resonated with me.
Note: this article contains affiliate links.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Who is the person I want to become?
Habits flow from identity.
If you've been complimented on your fashion sense, you may come to see yourself as a fashionable person. You might pay a little more attention to what you wear. You might also tailor your environment to reflect your identity, e.g. leaving out fashion magazines, or coffee table books on the history of fashion, etc.
And it can go the other way as well. If you struggle with organization, you might see yourself as a messy person, and unconsciously “give in” to that identity. It might make you feel bad about yourself and lead you to be even messier.
So ask yourself who you want to become. Time is going to pass anyway, you might as well become something great.
How can I prove it to myself?
Habits are strongest when they reinforce our beliefs about ourselves. How can you prove to yourself that you're the type of person who…is organized, disciplined, a good friend, a good lover, etc.?
What is a small win that you could have to prove it to yourself every day? James gives a few examples on his website:
Want to become a better writer?
Identity: Become the type of person who writes 1,000 words every day.
Small win: Write one paragraph each day this week.
Want to become strong?
Identity: Become the type of person who never misses a workout.
Small win: Do pushups every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Try to find a small win that you can do to prove it to yourself. If you play basketball every day, sooner or later you'll see yourself as a basketball player.
As Clear says, “proving your identity to yourself is far more important than getting amazing results.”
What am I optimizing for?
Look at how you spend your time. What are you optimizing for? Are you trying to make the most money possible, or spend the most quality time with your family, or get the most creative fulfillment? What is your optimum outcome. How is it revealed in your actions?
What's the real objective?
What am I trying to achieve?
What lifestyle do I want?
Does this activity drain me of energy, or fill me with energy?
Does the amount of attention I'm giving this match its true importance?
Can my current habits carry me to my desired future?
What habits are upstream of the life I want to live and the person I want to become?
…of the day I want to have?
…of the way I want to feel?
…oof good things I want to happen?
What is the work that keeps working for me/us once it's done?
For example, podcast and YouTube interviews last longer than radio interviews.
What's the type of identity I want to be reinforced through my actions?
Every action you take is a vote you cast for the person you want to become.What votes are you casting right now?
What behavior(s) does this environment support?
We're all products of our environment more than we think. What is our environment supporting right now?
How can I create an environment (physical, social, strategy-wise) that will naturally bring about my desired change?
You don't rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.
This quote came up multiple times during the podcast. It's apparently a version of a quote by Archilochus, an Ancient Greek philosopher: “You don't rise to the level of your expectations, you fall to the level of your training.”
The Social Environment
We're all social creatures, and we need a community. It's very important to us to belong. If we have to choose between improving and belonging, 99.9% of the time we'll choose belonging. It's a matter of survival
You Can Choose Your Future Thoughts
When you choose who to follow on Twitter, you are choosing your future thoughts. What kind of thoughts and ideas do you want to have?
Reduce the Scope, Stick to the Schedule
You won't always have enough energy to run five miles, write 1,000 words or whatever your goal is. So try reducing the goal but still hit it. For example, instead of running five miles, run to the end of the block and back. Instead of writing 1,000 words, write 200 words. What you do on the bad days matters more than what you do on the good days. It's important to keep up with the habit, even a little bit, even when it's hard.
Quit Books Fast
Ralph Waldo Emerson used to read books “like a hawk looking for prey.” If there's nothing to gain from a book, you should be ready to move on quickly.