Atomic Habits

by James Clear

Each morning when at work detail and waiting for count to clear I read the newspaper.  This book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for a while and I decided to give it a go.  The author provides tips, tricks and strategies on how to implement better habits into your life.  One idea that resonated with me is that of improving just one percent each day.  That our success is the product of daily habits and not once in a lifetime transitions.  Furthermore, if you want results, it is not about setting goals as much as it is the systems you put in place.  Goals are results you want to achieve.  Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.  His book is very systems based – how to align everything you need to so you can start good habits or break bad ones.

To say “I have a goal to read more” is not likely to have much of a result.  The output is reading more, the input would be putting a system into effect such as “I will read 50 pages per day, everyday, by reading for 30 minutes before the day starts and finishing the rest of the 50 pages before I go to sleep.  I will keep the book on my pillow and also treat myself to 3 pouches of mackerel once I stick to this schedule for two weeks.”  Fix the inputs, the outputs will come.

One of the catchy things Clear does is begin each chapter with a story that illustrates the essence of what he is going to write on.  Instead of telling the reader “this chapter is about the best way to build a new habit and here’s how you do that” he, in one instance, tells the story surrounding a Great Britain based study on exercise and motivation.  The study looked at three groups.  One was told to exercise, the second was told to exercise and read motivational materials about exercise, and the third received the same motivational material but they had to also formulate a plan for when and where they would exercise each week.  The time, day and place that the activity would occur.  Outside of what you can take away from this one study, I appreciated the stories.  People would rather see that something has worked and hear of it through a story than be told what to do.  Humans are more receptive to that type of messaging and it is more engaging.

Another example is how motivation is overrated and environment is under appreciated.  A  hospital wanted to decrease the amount of soda sold in it’s cafeteria.  They also knew that no amount of education would have any effect on the willpower or motivation of patients who wanted soda.  So they took a more effective route and modified the environment of the cafeteria by putting  coolers with water everywhere.  Next to food stations, by the cash register, and in baskets throughout the cafeteria.  Soda sales dropped, water sales increased and no one complained.

He applies all these studies to craft tangible ideas that allow you to increase the number of good habits in your life and decrease the bad ones.  The challenge I found is that 270 pages of non-stop information about habits was overwhelming.  To implement all he spoke about into your life would be a part-time job.  This book seems more like a series of essays than a one stop shop for all your habit crafting needs.  However, there was good advice to be taken away that I can apply here.

Due to the restrictions of my highly controlled schedule, I know exactly when, where and at what time I exercise each day of the week.  I also do not buy soda on commissary.  Therefore, water or powdered milk are the only things I can drink.  I think he’d be proud of me.  Through the limitations of prison I’m already effectively crafting positive habits.

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