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How Atomic Habits Can Change Your Life

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As the Christmas decorations start to hit store shelves, you know it’s that time of year again. Time for my top books of the year list. (If you’d like to take a look at last year’s Top 7, which was really 8, then follow this link.)

I’m making sure the list arrives early this year, in time for Christmas, in case you’d like to get a book for that someone special this year.

I’m also making sure the Top 5, or 8, includes “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”, a book I devoured in less than a week.

The author of this book is James Clear. I’ve been a subscriber to James’s newsletters for a few years now, after I heard him on the Fat Burning Man podcast with Abel James in 2013. I always admired his writing and teaching styles of sending clear (I just noticed the pun there but I’ll leave it) and motivating messages that inspire you to act.

James is definitely someone I aspire to be like when it comes to writing and it turns out we already have more in common than I thought.

Both of us are obsessed with habits and how they influence our daily rituals. Coincidentally, we also were both hit in the head with a baseball bat in high school.

They were accidents, and his turned out to be a lot worse than mine as he had to fight for his life. Mine was simply patched up with two staples into the top of my head. I still remember the doctor’s words vividly “Do you want a shot and two staples, or just two staples?” I chose the latter.

But now we can both think and write clearly without fault. With the caveat that if we do screw up just blame the head injury.

James uses the story of his accident to show how he rebounded from it using tiny improvements each day. He looked around at what his peers were doing in college and on the baseball team, and instead of doing the same thing they did, he slept a little better, studied more routinely, hit the gym more, and kept his room cleaner.

He watched these small improvements turn into huge changes. James says, “As each semester passed, I accumulated small but consistent habits that ultimately led to results that were unimaginable to me when I started.” He ended up winning Male Athlete of the Year and the highest academic award achievable his senior year, and was named to ESPN’s Academic All-America Team.

While there are a ton of valuable lessons throughout this book, I will stick with my biggest takeaway to share with you today (look out for more in future posts).  As someone who coaches others for a living and as a life (parenting), I found myself highlighting almost every page.  Kindle officially tallied 223 highlights.

My biggest takeaway: small, routine habits that seem trivial in the moment, add up to to things you couldn’t imagine yourself completing when you started.

James states, “Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action. Whether it is losing weight, building a business, writing a book, winning a championship, or achieving any other goal, we put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement that everyone will talk about. Meanwhile, improving by 1% isn’t particularly notable—sometimes it isn’t even noticeable—but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run.”

I’ve been a goal maker my whole life. When I was 12, my dad had our little league baseball team turn in a list of goals to him.  At the start of every year or new journey, I’m writing up a new list of goals.  Being a goal oriented person has always been a part of me. You could say it’s a habit of mine to write my goals.

What I realize after reading this book, is that goals are good, but systems and processes are great. And when goals get too big, they can actually harm your progress. They can cause you to become stagnant or give up.

Another problem with goals is that there’s always a new one once you accomplish the old one. So where a goal once promised happiness, it’s replaced with a path to another goal.

If goals are always changing and moving happiness out of our grasp, wouldn’t it be easier to just be happy whenever the habit is taking place. Could you be happy just going to the gym? Or just cooking a healthy meal on your own?

Finding happiness in my daily routine has been a life changer.

My focus on improvement isn’t even at the 1% level that James talks about.  Instead, my focus is on effort, and it’s at the 100% level. If I can give something 100%; my workouts, my wife, my kids, my business, that is when I’m truly happy. The improvements in my health and relationships are just a byproduct of this 100% effort focus.

When it comes to my daily habits, I’ve changed everything that “I had to do” into stuff “I get to do”. I get to spend 40-80 minutes in the car each day taking my son to and/or from school. I get to workout every day and test my physical limits. I get to eat healthy food that nourishes my body. Changing the narrative from “have to do” to “get to do” completely changes the amount of effort I willfully put in, and the happiness I receive out.

I’ve been told and have told others to “enjoy the process” before. After this book, I believe it even stronger, thinking I need to “fall in love with the process” instead.

Since I was 12, I believed goals should get the credit for the things we accomplish. I realize the processes are the true hero of everyone’s story. As James points out, every Olympic athlete has the same goal of gold, but not all of them have the same process for getting there.

Goals are still sexy. It’s definitely much sexier to dream about that six-pack you’re going to have after purchasing that new diet book. And I’m still going to write mine, but I will save the love for the process.

The process is someone you can take home to mom.

Processes will be there for you every day, through the ups and the downs. Unconditionally, if you let them.

Keep Loving The Process & Living Superhuman,
Tony