3 simple ways to radically improve your chance of sustaining good habits.

If you are looking to cultivate good habits, I highly recommend reading James Clear’s work. I’ve been keeping his book, Atomic Habits, by my bed side and thoroughly relishing each chapter since the last week. The book is an “insight avalanche” and quite simply will stump your pre-conceived notions about developing good habits right from page 1.

My favorite part of James’ work is how despite being science-backed, his advice is extremely actionable and ridiculously simple.

Anyway, as a self-ordained “sucker for habit science” (is that even a thing?!), I’ve decided to run a few experiments and share my lessons based on the book over the next couple months. I’m not a world famous marathon runner or a triathlete with gold medals (outcomes) to flaunt but I’ve surprised myself consistently this summer by developing simple habits like getting good at writing, meditating and outdoor activities.

But for now, to get things started, I’d like to share an initial sample on the topic: (before the experiments)

A huge mis-understanding about habits is thinking we need more will power to keep us going. We can’t rely heavily on motivation and mood to keep good habits in our life. Then, you might ask, what are some ways to radically improve your chance of sustaining good habits? I’ll give you three.

1) Get your fundamentals right, first show up.

James has an incredible phrase. Every habit needs to be established before it can be improved or optimized. How true! A couple months ago, I joined a beginners’ tennis course and the hardest thing about tennis was actually finding time to show up. Once that rhythm was established (every Saturday 9am), our minds went into auto-pilot every week and we started to get better and enjoy the game more. The aspects of the game itself took care of our enthusiasm and mood. I’ve seen this happen in writing too. 3 months ago, I committed to writing every weekday 8:30a no-matter-what and it eventually took care of my writing style and flair. Now I have the power, luxury and options to worry about better topics and/or better prose styles but in the beginning it was all about just showing up and writing something. Even if it meant something crappy.

2) Use your small wins to propel you

Nothing is more motivating than momentum and action. However small it is. Every 100 steps after work, every 2 min meditation break, every 1 glass of water, every broccoli piece is a vote for the kind of person you are becoming. These small wins might look tiny on any given day but they rack up quite quickly and give you a sense of pride in taking action. Action doesn’t need to be mighty, just meaningful. You don’t have to lift weights like The Rock in your local gym but your 20 lbs x 15 x 4 sets carry meaning to you. They are breaking old habits and internally molding you — the person who once thought he/she couldn’t bring herself to the gym.

However there’s a trap. It’s called motion. It looks almost like action but it isn’t really. It’s doing everything around the actual habit (like talking to a trainer at the gym, geeking out about the optimal protein shakes for your body type etc) without putting in the hard work. Do a damn squat. It’s worth 10x more than getting that supplement right.

Nothing is more mystifying than motion into making you think you are doing something but you are really not.

3) Change your focus from the outcome to identity

The biggest kicker of the first few pages of the book (which I hope will be the overall theme as I read more) is James’ deep insight on how we should change our focus from goals to identity. He discourages us to go after the finish line all the time, in stead his advice is to look for an identity change. Don’t try to force yourself to write 200 words every day but rather mentally decide (and visualize) that you are a writer. Then automatically you’ll do things that align with that new label. Don’t try to run a marathon, aim to be someone who runs marathons. This subtle difference has huge implications like compound interest. You’ll do anything and everything if you hack your identity to match the one who accomplishes your desired outcomes.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll be posting more on this topic in the next few months and hope to bring some more of the lessons from the book to life. Want to know my latest habit/experiment? Read this.

What else? What are your favorite lessons on habits?