Recently I saw James Clear, the author of best-seller Atomic Habits, speak in Auckland. The MC was our good friend Holly Ransom who spoke at our Nurture Change business retreat in Fiji this year (and will return). I had read James’ book a few years back — and enjoyed it so much that we have since bought over 300 copies as gifts for everybody who has done our Effective Leadership workshop.
I might be a massive fan of the book and of James, but I still like to be reminded about the power that comes from creating good habits. I think it’s something we can all benefit from. Today I’ll share a summary of my best learnings from James’ talk.
Effectively, we are all the sum of our habits (good or not so good). Over time, you either become the architect of your (positive) habits or the victim of your (negative) habits. James shared that it’s important to focus on your current trajectory, not your current position. With good habits trajectory, you just need time to see the results. Ditto with your negative habits — they will not hurt you today but in the future, you will pay for these bad habits. (I really must focus on knocking my sugar addiction as it is not going to have a happy ending if I keep it up.)
A good local example of how positive habits changed the trajectory of a team was the All Blacks and how much they improved between 2007 and 2011 when coached by Sir Graham Henry (Ted). They are a great example of what James calls ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’ which is effectively getting that little bit better every day and every week until, over the long term, your performance improves exponentially. It did just that with the All Blacks, with Ted’s promise of constant incremental improvements resulting in them winning the World Cup after being not-so-hot to begin with. Excellence is not about radical change, it is about consistent continuous improvements.
Goals are great but you need to create systems to help you reach them, be it in your life or job. If you are failing to improve and get closer to your goals, your problem is likely your system. Your system is your collection of daily habits and these habits need to be connected to your goals, otherwise those goals are just a dream. Say your goal is to get healthy — what system do you need to achieve that? What habits do you need to form to get you incrementally closer to that goal? Your habits might start with walking every weekday morning, going to the gym three times a week for strength training, prepping all your lunches on a Sunday so you can have a homemade salad every day, and having a glass of water before every meal. These are habits that add up to a system that get you closer to a goal.
James shared a lot of detail on how to create new habits and how to change the negative habits you have, which is all about behaviour change. Behaviour change is really hard unless you have a scientific (measured) approach to it. I will leave you to read his fantastic book for the detail about his approach — it really does work if you follow it to a tee.
Habits are not just about you personally. Your family life will have habits (good and bad). The team you work in or the business you run will have ingrained habits. Holly Ransom shared how it is a great idea to list the habits that you have in your life (family, team, business etc) and consider whether they are positive or negative habits. And then, of course, do something about those negative habits.
Many of us are aware that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Well, we also soak up the habits of the people we hang around — very interesting food for thought.
James encouraged us to consider the habits that determine whether your day will be a good or a not-so-good one. Each morning James personally has a moment that determines whether he will be happy with the rest of his day. He needs to write something every day and ideally he does this first thing in the morning. But each morning he’s faced with a decision: should he read the sports news and get lost in that for the next hour or should he write for one hour? For a friend of mine, the decision is whether it’s her daily morning walk or hunker down in bed for another hour, scrolling her social media feeds. Guess which sets her up for a better day… What are the key two or three things you must do each day to be able to say that you have had a successful day?
One part of James’ great thought-process about forming habits is the two-minute rule. Whether you want to read daily, exercise daily, meditate or whatever, show up and do it for two minutes to start with. Once you have mastered actually doing it, then you can start to try and improve the habit. Too many of us try to start our habit at an Olympic gold medal standard. This means we are setting ourselves up for failure as it is humanly impossible to be brilliant at something when you start so we get discouraged and give up or we burn out. Also, beware: many of us use research as a form of procrastination, believing we need to research that little bit more before actually making a start. As James said, the heaviest weight at the gym is the front door — just open it and make a start and you will get better over time…
A really important part of considering what habits you need in your life is to have a big think on what success looks like to you. Who do you wish to become? Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. Want to be better read? Then start reading! Want to be more philanthropic? Then start routinely helping out or donating! Let your behaviours lead the way; every small action you take leads to the type of person you will become. Consider how can you get 1% better on a regular basis to help you move closer to what you need to become.
James shared that he wrote the books to be a constant reminder to himself. He has now sold over 15 million copies. He has done humanity a great deed by putting habits and behaviour change at the front of our minds. The best thing is, creating better habits is within our reach. It’s not about money or other people or where you currently are — we all have the opportunity to implement better habits to improve ourselves.
I will leave you with this closing thought: will your current habits carry you to your desired future and if not, what will you do about it?