Habit stacking. 1% better. Showing up. There are lots of buzz words out there, but how can they help you actually build the habits to achieve your goals?
Recently, the Daily Motivation team started a Book of the Month Club, and we just finished James Clear’s Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.
We thought it would be a good idea to share what we’ve learned with you in the community!
Overall, for someone who is a mix of 'Fun' and 'Perfectionist' procrastinator, (Find out what type you are here.) this book helped me like crazy. It was a fast read (Well, I listened to it on Audible), but unlike some of the personal development books I’ve read, I got a few excellent takeaways from it.
I loved this message. Instead of thinking we can turn into superhumans with endless reserves of determination, Clear simply tells us that we just need to focus on being a little bit better every day.
Skip a workout? It happens, you’re human. But the point of this thinking is to establish habits. If your goal is to lose 50 pounds, you’re definitely not going to do it in a day. You may go hard for the first week or so of initial inspiration, and maybe further, if you are more determined than the usual resolution-makers.
But it’s unlikely.
In a 4,000 person survey, Sundried found that 43% of people thought they would have given up their goals within a month. But why do we start so determined, and give up so quickly? Setting such big goals can make the journey to get there seem just impossible.
One key thing I got from Atomic Habits is to build a habit, not a resolution. And one of the ways to do this is to just try to be a little bit better every day.
Let’s say you switch from 18% creamer to 10% in your morning coffee. That can't make too big of a difference, right? For fun, I did some quick math.
I drink 3 cups of coffee a day, on average. So, if I successfully make the switch from 18% to 10% creamer, that’s saving 135 calories a day. As my uncle would say, “It’s a bucket of sand off the beach.” But! If I do that every day, that’s 49,725 calories a year - or the equivalent of 14 pounds. Hmmm…
Taking baby steps makes the end goal seem not so hard. And if you are 1% better every day, it will add up over time.
I’m one of those people who keeps losing and gaining the same 25 pounds…over and over and over.
I am able to stay on track if I feel motivated enough, but I always focus on losing weight. So I lose it and then I don’t know what to do.
I start eating all the stuff I’d denied myself for the 6 months I had a goal. And then I have no goal anymore, so I start gaining the weight back until a few months later, I realize I ate my way back. Sound familiar?
In the book, Clear talks about building a system that will help you develop the habits to reach your goals.
“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.” - James Clear, Atomic Habits
Looking back now through a different lens, I can see where my system failed as soon as I reached my weight goal. I had a specific system that helped me lose weight (I did the keto diet), because I had to follow rules about what and how I ate. As soon as I stopped following that system, and didn't replace it, everything fell apart.
My goal was always “Lose weight.” But maybe my goal should have been, “Be a healthy person.” That way, when I lose the weight that was my initial goal, I won’t just stop and revert. I will just continue following the system I created, with a process that I had built into good eating and exercise habits.
I like this one too. Like many of you, I am very, very hard on myself. I tend to just not start something, rather than to do it and not have it be absolutely incredible. If I start a new workout regime, or diet, or habit and I miss one day…I give up because I broke my streak and failed.
I bet this sounds familiar too, right?
“Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.” - James Clear, Atomic Habits
Clear talks about his rule of, “Never twice.” So you miss one day of your new habit, be it a walk after dinner, a swim at the public pool, watering your garden, doing your Spanish lesson. One day happens. But when you skip two days in a row…well now you’re developing a new habit away from your original.
You don’t have to be perfect. Just start somewhere, and keep it up. Which leads to…
This one makes a lot of sense, and you can see how powerful you can be when you apply it in a way that works for you. (In a way that you’ll actually do it.) Once you have an established habit, you stack another on top of it.
So here are things I do every day:
I’ve been working on a habit where I practice yoga every morning when I get up. I don’t focus on doing yoga for losing weight, or how long I do it, or being able to do a headstand. I just get up and do yoga. Every day. (FYI - if you want to start as well, Yoga With Adriene has hundreds of free videos for all levels.)
Other than the yoga, I am completely inconsistent with when I do almost everything. I sleep in. I end up doing my Spanish lesson in a rush, 5 minutes before I go to bed. Of course I walk my dog, but now that it’s summer out, it gets WAY too hot to take her out between the hours of 10am - 9pm.
I find myself juggling to fit all these things in, so I am frazzled and distracted because I know I have to get them done, but I still procrastinate on them.
Learning about Clear’s habit stacking, I shuffled my schedule to layer these things together. Here’s how it looks now:
I don’t always get up at 8am and I don’t always do yoga for the same amount of time. I definitely can’t do pushups without being on my knees - yet. But the point is, I now have a morning routine. I don’t have to do it perfectly. I just have to show up.
Because I was already in the habit of doing yoga every morning, stacking the others on top is pretty simple. And when I say, just show up, I mean, sometimes I find the shortest yoga video possible just to get it over with. I don't feel like doing it every day. But most days, I really love it, and I always feel better after.
And the best part is, I’m done most of the things I have to do before I start working. It’s done. No procrastinating.
Overall, I don't tend to read these kinds of books. I find them too detail oriented and dull. I get psyched up when I'm in the midst, and then forget or lose interest.
Clear really kept this interesting with cool stories about his background and how he came about the ideas, plus a lot of fascinating stories about the history of behavioral psychology and how our brains are wired.
He kept the language simple and comes across as though he's someone you know, which didn't put me on the defensive. He also made his points clear and simple, so it's not hard to remember the overall concepts, which I appreciate.
His website also has a ton of helpful articles on the subject of habits that could help you further. If you do end up downloading or purchasing his book (We highly recommend checking it out!), you can unlock his supplementary resources, like how to apply Atomic Habits as a parent, for example.
Whether it’s habit stacking, or just learning to be a little bit better than I was yesterday, I am psyched to keep building my system, and see where it takes me over time.
It’s easy to get used to having everything as soon as we want it, but sometimes, patience and consistency really pays off. I am a work in progress.
Have you tried any of these? Tell us in the comments below!