As Christmas rapidly approaches, so does the new year. For many of us that means new beginnings, a reminder to reevaluate our lives and the changes we want to make. And we most often go about making those changes through our New Year’s resolutions.
But most of those resolutions fail. In fact, it’s become almost a joke in our society, the futility of starting each January with lofty goals, only to abandon them by February.
I’ve always been reluctant to set big goals because (shockingly!) I’m not real big on wasting energy on futile efforts. But I do have things I want to accomplish. Like you, I have dreams and aspiration, things I want to accomplish in my life.
Most of us go about building new habits in the wrong way, like the people who quit smoking cold turkey, determined to make the change through pure willpower. Sure, some are successful, but most start out with gusto But soon the excitement wears off, the willpower wears thin, and they’re right back where they started in no time.
The same goes for making changes in other areas of our lives. Then, we do the same thing the next year. And the next. And the next.
But if we keep doing the same things we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting the same results we’ve been getting. If we truly want to make changes in our lives and in ourselves, we have to approach the problem with a different plan.
And this is why I found (and still find, since I’ve read it twice now, bought a copy for myself, and plan to read it again after Mom finishes with my copy) Atomic Habits by James Clear so valuable.
What It Is
In Atomic Habits, Clear not only helps us understand how we form habits but also how to deliberately change the systems in our lives to successfully create and maintain good habits and eliminate bad ones.
He’s not a scientist or psychologist, but he combines research done by scientists in a number of fields and lays it out in a way the less scientifically minded among us (you know, people like me) can easily understand.
He explains how to make these changes in clear, simple steps. One of the things I appreciate most about this book is that, while Clear is relatable and well spoken and illustrates his points with stories and clear explanations, he structures the book in a way that you can read through it and then go back to review previous points.
Each chapter ends with a brief summary, and each section contains a chart outlining the points covered so far. While that makes it sound a bit like a textbook, I see it as accommodating different learning styles. It definitely makes it easier to go back and find a point I want to revisit.
What It’s Not
First, while Clear uses examples and stories from his own life, it’s not a novel. An engaging nonfiction book is still nonfiction. The purpose of this book is to help you change your habits, not necessarily entertain you.
That’s not to say that it’s not entertaining and engaging, but that’s not the main goal here. If that’s what you’re looking for, you might want to try a memoir.
Second, Clear lays out how to change your habits in a clear and simple manner. But clear and simple aren’t necessarily easy. You have to decide how to apply the principles to your own unique situation. And you have to make the actual changes. No one is going to do the hard work for you.
This isn’t a gimmicky “do this one thing and completely change your life” sort of book, either. The purpose is to give you the tools to make the most of your efforts.
Finally, it’s more of a practical how-to book, rather than a deep dive into the science of habits. It’s based on research and, therefore, does contain some science, but the focus is on the practical application rather than the technical explanation and analysis of what habits are.
If you’re interested in a deeper understanding of habits, a great companion read to Atomic Habits is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
How It Has Affected Me
As I read the book, I realized that I had instinctively been following several of the principles he lays out. I have found that if I prepare my lunch and set out my workout gear the night before, I’m more likely to start my day with exercise and eat well the next day.
However, understanding what makes some of the changes I try to make fail and some succeed has helped me structure my life to succeed at the things that are truly important to me.
For example, I wanted to create a habit of exercising more. So, I started going to bed at 9 p.m. so that I could get up at 5 a.m. because, if I put it off until later in the day, I’m more likely to be tired and talk myself out of it. I lay out my exercise clothes and change into them first thing in the morning, and I set out my yoga mat before doing anything else. Then, I set a timer so that I don’t lose track of time and have to rush through the rest of my morning routine or get tired of exercising and quit early. Finally, I do my exercise before breakfast, making breakfast and my morning cup of tea while I read a book the reward for working out.
And I do something similar the mornings I ride my bike to church, except I eat breakfast before exercising, for obvious reasons. Having a destination becomes my reward.
And I’m still looking for ways to incorporate good habits into my daily routine (like working on my blog before doing all of the things around the house that I’d rather do). Life is a continual work in progress, and we’re not done until we’re done. Atomic Habits is one of the latest tools I’ve found to help me along the way, and maybe you can find some value in it, tool.
If you’ve made it this far and are still interested, you can find a copy of Atomic Habits at James Clear’s website or at your local library. I highly recommend it.
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. New York: Avery, 2018.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.