jeff meyers blog

Atomic Habits

Ever wonder why some things seem so difficult while others happen almost effortlessly? The power of habit is often the difference maker. In his book Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, James Clear presents a compelling case for habits being the primary driver of change and growth in our lives, and lays out a simple plan for forming effective habits.

Clear caught my attention with his statement in Chapter 1 that we often “overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements every day. … Getting 1% better every day counts a lot in the long run.” Success depends on building daily habits. Having to remember everything we need to do daily can be mentally exhausting. Habits reduce the mental energy necessary to accomplish tasks, thereby freeing up mental capacity for other tasks.

formingatomichabitsFrom a young age, we are encouraged to set goals. Wrong approach, says Clear. Rather than focusing on goals, focus on your system, or your process, for getting better. As Super Bowl winning San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh said, “The score takes care of itself if you focus on doing the right things.” Focus on your system, on your process, if you want better results.

So how do we form habits and develop systems that drive long-term change and improvement? Clear takes the reader through a rather lengthy process, which is worth reading. But for purpose of this blog, his process follows four basic steps: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it rewarding.

  • Step 1, Make it Obvious. The best way to make an activity obvious is to write down a specific time and place you will perform the activity. The easiest way to do this is to connect it to something you always do. In other words, stack your habits. For example, after I brush my teeth, I will read two pages in a book. You no longer have to think about where and when you’ll start your reading. It follows naturally after brushing your teeth. This is all about not having to exercise heroic efforts of willpower, but rather training yourself to complete your habits daily without thinking.
  • Step 2, Make it Attractive. Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before, or at the same time, as a difficult habit. For example, if you are a fan of football and want to run 30 minutes per day on a treadmill, commit to watching replays of the top 10 Super Bowls while you run.
  • Step 3, Make it Easy. Make doing the habit convenient. Redesign your life or your environment so the activity is easy to do. I particularly loved his discussion of the “two minute” rule. When you start a new habit, do it for less than two minutes. Make it easy to start. Start with a “gateway” habit. The frequency with which you do the habit is more important than the duration.
  • Step 4, Make is Rewarding. Tie doing your habit to an immediate reward just after you finish. Add a little bit of pleasure (immediately) to the habits you’re trying to develop. Maybe have a small scoop of ice cream after you’ve finished reading your two pages.

Let’s finish by taking the example of working out and following it all the way through. First, stack it with another habit, maybe right after making your morning coffee. Make it attractive. Maybe listen to your favorite music or watch NFL reruns while you work out. Then make it easy. How about having an exercise bike in the room next to your bedroom. Finally, make it rewarding. Use the neck massage machine immediately upon finishing. Maybe sounds silly and maybe these aren’t the right activities for you, but hopefully you get the point.

The power of habit can change your life, but you have to take habits one at a time and build on them. Remember, getting 1% better every day can make all the difference.

Jeff Meyer
Baillie Lumber

 

 

"In the hardwood lumber industry, we can think of what we do as cutting logs and processing boards, or instead we can see our work as rearranging the raw materials of creation (trees) into useful products (chairs, tables, cabinets, floors) that help people to live better and more productively.

For me, viewing our work as rearrainging creation's raw materials is more motivating and inspiring, and brings dignity and meaning to all kinds of work."

Jeff Meyer

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