We spend so much time thinking about what we want to achieve, where we want to be and who we want to be, but maybe our focus should be less on the grand outcome and more on the minute details that could be changed in our everyday to be the person or do the thing we're trying to be or do?
I recently read a brilliant book given to me by a good friend called 'Atomic Habits' by James Clear. In which, Clear challenges the psychology of setting goals verses making minor changes to your every day habits in order to achieve the thing you're trying to achieve. Whereas the goal is the desired identify or achievement, the way of becoming that person or achieving that thing is much easier done by looking at the atomic changes we can make today and then everyday here after. This really got me thinking.
I'm the kind of person that likes to have a goal. It gives me a sense of purpose and guide, but really I find great strength in identifying them for myself. If I'm honest though, I rarely create a plan for getting there, but instead share the intension and use it where possible as a destination. It's the end that I'm working towards. But what does 'the end' mean? And that's what 'Atomic Habits' got me thinking about. I spend so much time thinking about the end goal that I don't realise what decisions I'm making on the smallest level every day that could be projecting me to get there.
Clear's book speaks about giving yourself an identify that you would like to have. For example 'I want to be healthy', or 'I want to be an artist'. The identity is another form of goal, but instead of it being aspirational, it's immediate. By embodying the identity that you want to have, you can lean on it for the smallest decisions in your every day. For example, when making a decision on how you should spend your time at the weekend, you could ask yourself 'what would a healthy person do?', or 'what would an artist do?'. That way the decisions you make reinforce your identity. In doing so we focus on the now and the immediate changes we can make for ourselves. In making these immediate decisions based on our identity, we're being that person or achieving that thing straight away. We're not having to wait for months or years to achieve the end goal, we're doing it. This is where the atomic idea comes into it. Clear's book outlines the power of making tiny decisions and repeating them so that they become habits. Over time, these tiny habits make a huge impact and overall are what enable you to achieve the thing you're trying to achieve. He calls it the 1% change, and it goes a little something like this - if you can improve something by just 1% every day, over time those percentages will add up and you'll see a bigger and longer lasting change and outcome than if you were to do big changes less frequently. So, if you're trying to achieve something, consider what tiny thing you could do today about it in order to become it or to achieve it. It might be making a certain decision, or introducing something to your existing habits such as changing your breakfast cereal to one with less sugar because you're a health person and your goal is to remain health or get healthier. It may be that if you're trying to achieve balance in your life, a 1% change to your day today could be to spend 5 minutes meditating. If you're trying to develop your career then your 1% change today could be connecting with 1 new person on LinkedIn. The trick here is to not focus on the big but instead think about the smallest thing you could do, and here's where it counts, to do it every day. The 1% change you've made today, do it again tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that, and so on. Keep doing it. Embed it into your everyday. And don't stop there, your 1% change tomorrow will be different from today, and the day after that and so on. Keep making those tiny, tiny, changes and then overall you will see the difference. By breaking it down into the smallest change you can think of it's easy. You don't have to spend ages doing it, or buy new equipment or spend time considering it too much, you can do it in a flash as it's 1% of your whole day. It's 14 minutes of a 24 hour cycle, or 9 minutes if you're roughly awake for 15 hours a day. That's nothing. Less than ten minutes every day doing something that adds up to the overall.
This is where we go to next on this journey of creating new habits. Clear shares the act of 'habit stacking' which is a way of building a new and healthy habit into your day without it feeling like it's another thing you have to do. Plus, the research Clear has done (amongst so many other phycologists!) shows that by introducing new habits into a daily routine means that we will sustain them for far longer. To start with, we need to think about, create a diagram or a list of all of our daily habits. Things we do every day without fail. Having thought about it, my mornings are always pretty set in a structure regardless of what I'm doing that day. I will wake up, use the bathroom, feed the dog, let the dog out and make a coffee. Habit stacking means that I would introduce a new habit into this existing routine so that it becomes part of the routine itself. So now I, wake up, use the bathroom, feed the dog, let the dog out, take my probiotics, and make my vitamin drink whilst making my coffee, all because I want a better gut microbiome as a healthy person. What I have done is I've identified the identity I want, I thought about what I do as that person to have and remain having that identity, followed by making small changes in my day-to-day by including them in my routines and making them habits. That's just one example, but hopefully it gives you the idea behind habit stacking.
I don't know about you, but this was a bit of a game changer for me. I can get overwhelmed by goals and have peaks and troughs of how active I am working towards them. By making these tiny changes to my everyday, I'm working towards them without really thinking about it. I've made small additions or changes to what I do on the everyday and whilst they're not making any real difference right now, I know that over time and the more tiny changes and better choices I make, I will achieve the overall intention much quicker and sustain it for much longer as it will be habitual.
Clear goes on to discuss making healthy and positive habits rewarding, whilst making bad and unhealthy habits unattractive. As well as making things obvious and intentional. It truly is a brilliant read and written in a way that is digestible. It certainly made sense to me and gave me a new perspective on how small changes can make huge impact. As a coach and mentor, I speak a lot to people about intentions and goals - where do you want to be? How does it feel when you're there? When are you going to start working towards it? What will you do? I ask a lot of those questions in order to help my clients identify their own paths and ways of reaching and achieving the thing they are seeking. 'Atomic Habits' is definitely one to read if you're considering change in your life or have goals you want to reach.
Enjoy and have fun creating new habits for yourself that amplify your identity.