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The Wisdom of Atomic Habits
Wisdom Letter #75 | The Basics
Hello and Welcome to The Wisdom Project. Your weekly dose of human curated wisdom in a world full of algorithmic noise.
Today we kick off our mini-series on The Wisdom of Atomic Habits.
We are reading the book ‘Atomic Habits’ all through this month and will be sharing our insights every week.
It’s an insightful book, with lots of practical advice that can be easily applied. It is one of the easiest ways to bring about positive real change to your life.
Our aim is to draw out these insights to help ourselves as well as our readers.
This post is the first of a 5-part series we did on Atomic Habits. We have compiled all the parts and condensed all the wisdom of the book in a short PDF.
We have also compiled all the tools mentioned in Atomic Habits and compiled them in a toolkit you can use to deploy them in your life.
Find them both here 👉 The Wisdom of Atomic Habits
Let’s get started. Today we talk about the fundamentals.
What are Atomic Habits?
“Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years. We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits.”
a single irreducible unit or component in a larger system.
a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
“A Habit is a routine or behavior that is performed regularly— and in many cases, automatically.”
Almost everything we do is out of habit. Knowingly or unknowingly, good or bad.
Atomic Habits are the base unit of our behavior. Tiny irreducible chunks of routines that add up to our overall lifestyle.
They are powerful because through small changes we can affect massive transformations in our lives.
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. “
The Power of Tiny Changes
“Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it.
Good habits make time your ally.
Bad habits make time your enemy.”
If you can get 1% better everyday, you will be 37 times better in a year. And if you get 1% worse everyday, you’ll decline down to nearly zero.
And the numbers get mind boggling if you change it to 2% better or worse everyday.
This is one of my favorite graphs👇
That’s how compounding works right?
That’s how money compounds — It seems to make little or no impact on a day to day basis, but over a long period of time it snowballs into hefty sum.
It is over 2, 5 or even 10 years that the value of good habits becomes apparent. As does the cost of bad ones.
And it is our habits that ultimately contribute to our success or failure.
There is no such thing as overnight success — “All success is a product of daily habits, not once in a lifetime transformations.”
“Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits.
Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits.
You get what you repeat. “
The Case for Systems vs Goals
“Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.”
We tend to rely on our intrinsic motivation to achieve any goal in life. But spur of the moment inspiration tends to fizzle out soon enough and what we are left with is our daily habits and systems.
A great example of the importance of systems is in the field of sports.
The goal is always to win every game you play, but you will be wasting your time if you keep looking at the scoreboard all the time.
The only way to actually win is to build systems that help you become better at your game everyday.
And then go out there and perform. As they say — “the score takes care of itself.”
Few problems with focusing on goals more than systems:
Winners and losers have the same goals. What differentiates them are their systems.
Usain Bolt has ran just 325 seconds on the Olympic tracks to win 9 Gold medals. That’s just 36 seconds of running per medal.
But it’s not his running on the Olympic tracks that has won him those golds, its his years of hard work and practice leading up it.
It’s his long standing systems and habits.
Goals are momentary. They change your life for the moment when you achieve them. That’s a temporary change, your life will not improve significantly if you don’t change your systems for good.
Imagine a messy room, you can have a goal of a clean room and can muster up the courage on any given day and clean it up. But if you don’t build systems to keep it neat regularly, then you would just end up with the same messiness soon enough.
Goals restrict happiness. With a goals-first mentality you promise yourself to not be happy till the goal is achieved. And once it is, you just move the goalpost farther.
You put-off happiness for your imaginary future self, while in reality, happiness is a state of being that can only be enjoyed by your instantaneous present self.
Build systems that make you happy everyday.
Goals are at odds with long term progress. The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue to play the game.
Are you a marathon runner?
Let me ask more precisely, are you a runner who also runs marathons or are you someone who trains for 1 marathon in a year and is unhealthy rest of the time?
If you focus just on a single race, you will train hard and will be healthy around the time of the big race, but you will soon revert to old bad habits once the race is over.
If you build a running habit over many years then a marathon will only be a minor milestone part of your larger identity.
James Clear calls for building A System of Atomic Habits.
A habit is not an independent entity, it’s a small fundamental unit of an entire of system of life improvement.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”
Habit change is Identity change
“Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last”
Our new year resolutions don’t last because we try to change the wrong things. We focus just on achieving outcomes instead of trying to change our processes and our identity.
Consider the 3 layers of behavior change👇
Outcomes are about what you get.
Processes are about what you do.
Identity is about what you believe.
Habits that last are often the ones rooted in our identity. They are not about what outcomes we want to achieve, rather about who we want to become.
This is the 75th edition of this weekly newsletter. When we started out we didn’t have a goal of writing for 75 weeks straight. I bet if we had, we would have failed at around the 7th or 8th week in.
We were able to come this far not because of what we wanted to do, instead for who we wanted to become.
We wanted to become people who write regularly, instead of people who wrote occasionally and only wished to write a lot more, but just couldn’t find the time.
Over time, this project has resulted in identity change for us. And that is why it’s become so easy to write every week as well. Writing every week is who we are, not what we want to do.
“True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity.“
“The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader.
The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner.
The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician.“
The goal is not write a blog post, the goal is to become a writer.
The biggest barrier to any positive change at any level is identity conflict. Good habits may make a lot of sense to you, but if they go against your identity then you will never be able to inculcate them in your life.
Your habits are how you embody your identity. Your identity is how you enforce your habits. It’s a never-ending feedback loop. You just need to set it in the right direction.
2 Step process to change your identity:
Decide the type of person you want to be. Reflect on your beliefs, your value systems.
If you are not sure, look at the outcomes you want and think about what kind of person might be able to achieve those outcomes.
At every juncture, think about what that person might do.
Prove it yourself with small wins.
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. “
Leverage the habit-identity feedback loop by building tiny habits that reinforce the kind of identity you want to embody.
It’s important to internalize the fact that your identity is not set in stone. You can choose to be the person you want to become by deploying the kind of habits that align with that identity.
Signing off for the week, here’s a quote worth pondering—
“Ultimately, your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you wish to be.
They are the channel through which you develop your deepest beliefs about yourself.
Quite literally, YOU become your Habits. “
Thank you for reading🙏
Hope this has helped you get the fundamentals of what Atomic Habits are and why they matter.
Next week we will look at the 4 simple steps to build better habits. And we will go deeper into the first two👉 How to make good habits obvious and attractive.
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This was Wisdom Letter #75. In case you want to revisit any of the previous 74 letters, checkout our entire archive.
Aditi & Ayush