It’s the middle of February, and six weeks into 2021. How is your year going so far? Did you pledge to make a change or two on January 1st? Now is the perfect time to assess your progress. Making changes is not easy- in fact, it’s really, really hard. But in the words of Coach Jimmy in the movie A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” Coach Jimmy was talking about baseball, but I think it applies here too. When the hard parts becoming the best version of myself aren’t feeling so great, I go back and review the most impactful book I’ve ever read about change, Atomic Habits by James Clear.
The main idea of the book is that it’s the teeny-tiny atom-sized habits, added together over time, that stack up to build your life- for better or for worse. Clear says habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Habits are not goals- they’re systems for attaining goals, and systems are my love language! At EDC we focus on creating systems all the time. Systems maximize efficiency, output and results, while minimizing wasted resources like time, money and energy. When you think of new habits as systems, they make more sense. Simply work the system to achieve your goal!
So if you’re not yet making the change you desire, then perhaps what you’re lacking is a great system. Clear suggests “habit stacking” as a way to make your new habit easier to systemize. So you’re used to brushing your teeth morning and night, but now you want to make flossing a habit? Well, stack them together. Make a rule for yourself that you’re only allowed to brush your teeth in the morning AFTER you’ve flossed. In other words, stack the two habits into one. Leave the floss out next to your toothbrush to make it easier on yourself in the morning, and voila! You’ve got a system in place, and suddenly flossing is a no-brainer.
Clear says, “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.” For example, let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds, and you’ve been really good all week, but the scale hasn’t budged an ounce. Where’s the reward for your hard work? It’s frustrating, you’re annoyed, and you’re wondering if it even matters or not if you blow off today’s workout. Clear has a system for that too: focus on who you want to become, not what you’re trying to achieve. Losing 20 pounds means you are a fit person. That’s who you want to become. So, when deciding whether or not to skip that workout, you need to cast your vote with an action. Will you “vote” in favor of the woman who skips workouts and needs to lose 20 pounds by not hitting the gym today? Or will you “vote” for the fittest version of yourself by showing up even when it’s unappealing? These tiny daily votes are what create our trajectory in life. According to Clear, “you should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.” In essence, what we do repeatedly over time is who we become. So ask yourself, is your current trajectory taking you closer to who you want to become?
And lastly, my favorite idea in this book is about the Plateau of Latent Potential. Most of us understand that progress is not linear. However, we still most often quit the new habit we’re trying on because we’ve failed to see a tangible result… yet. It’s the YET, that matters, and the reason why we should keep chipping away. There’s a quote by Jacob Riis that always comes to mind when I find myself hanging out in a plateau: “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it — but all that had gone before.” Clear says, when you finally break through, people will call you an overnight success. So if you find yourself struggling to reach your goal, remember it is not because you have lost your ability to improve. It is most often because you have not yet crossed the Plateau of Latent Potential. Your “overnight success” could be just a day away. Keep calm and keep chipping away!