This month, I read a really great book by James Clear, Atomic Habits. Atomic Habits sets out to break down the key ingredients on the ways to build good habits and break bad ones. A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. We traverse so much of life and business without even thinking about why we are doing what we’re doing. How many times have you heard from a colleague, “Well, we have just always done it that way”? I found Atomic Habits to be quite inspiring. Here are some key learnings:
1. Habits that stick are driven less from the outcome you seek to desire, but the identity of what you want to become.
Rather than say, “I’m going to run a 10K,” it is much more powerful if you say, “I am a runner.” Now, as a runner, you can begin the journey that can lead you to a 10K and beyond. In a business context, you might say, “I operate a cash flow engine,” rather than, “I am going to become cash flow positive”.
2. Winners and losers have the same goals.
Just because you have the goal doesn’t make you a winner. In fact, many of us already have ambitious goals. What makes the difference between those that win and those that lose are the systems they put in place for continuous improvement. Achieving a goal only changes your life for a moment. Implementing a system will change your life forever.
3. Here are the 4 ways to create good habits:
- Make it obvious (the thing you need to do)
- Make it attractive
- Make it easy
- Make it satisfying
4. It’s the anticipation of a reward that makes it attractive, not the achievement of it.
Research has found that when you bundle the reward (the thing you want to do) with the habit (the thing you need to do) that there is a strong spike in dopamine and our motivation to act. For example, if you want to go mountain biking but you need to make sales calls, you might say: “After I get back from lunch, I will call three potential clients. After I call three potential clients, I will go mountain biking.”
5. We are the people we surround ourselves with.
We imitate the habits of three groups in particular: the close, the many, and the powerful. In other words, we are highly influenced by those around us. As I like to remind myself, “I am the average of the 5 people I surround myself with.” If you want to adopt better habits, join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
6. Practice vs. planning.
Habits are formed when you do them…which is practicing. The path to making something automatic is breaking through to cut a new pathway in the brain, something neuroscientists have validated.
7. We are lazy.
We naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of effort. Therefore, we should break our system down into small enough parts so that each one individually doesn’t seem overwhelming. We then isolate those parts and seek to optimize them. It’s the way that we approach process design at Stride, doing it in a way where each part of a process continually gets stripped of inefficiency.
8. Track your habits. Don’t break the streak.
My wife has been using the language learning app, Duolingo, for over 370 days to learn Spanish. She can’t break the streak. Duolingo makes it really easy to see your track record and encourages maintaining daily activity. Where can you do that in other areas of your life? Document the habit you are trying to create and keep the streak alive.
9. Stack the deck where the odds are in your favor.
Feeling successful and motivated is about playing a game where the odds are in your favor. Think about what feels fun to you but work to others. What makes you lose track of time? Where do you get greater satisfaction than the average person? What comes naturally to you? Michael Phelps, the most successful swimmer of all time, would not have been a great runner. He found his zone early. What is yours?
10. The most successful people can handle the boredom of practicing every single day.
This may be the most profound learning for me. What makes highly successful people vs. average is that they are good at dealing with boredom. Mastery requires practice but the more you practice, the more boring it becomes. The greatest threat to success is not failure, but boredom.
As you think about the business that you are building and the habits you are trying to put in place for yourself and your organization, Atomic Habits has a wealth of learning to convey. Just reading the book helped create some cues for me to look at my actions and the systems that I want to build in a different way. Enjoy!