I don’t usually make new year’s resolutions. But after spending a year in captivity — and stress-eating the whole time — 2021 seemed ripe for a bad-habit overhaul.
Enter James Clear and his best-seller, Atomic Habits.
James’ story starts with a baseball bat to the face. The impact shatters most of his facial bones, and for a while it’s not certain he’ll even survive. But in his determination to recover he learns that every bit of progress, no matter how meager, is building a platform to even greater success.
This pursuit of excellence soon infuses every area of James’ life. He returns to baseball, is named an ESPN Academic All-American pitcher, earns academic distinction, finishes college, and becomes a globally acclaimed author and speaker.
Remarkable, right? But what makes James’ story most striking for me is that he meticulously documented the emotional and psychological processes that helped him succeed — and has now distilled them into a method anyone can follow.
If you’re in a hurry to start 2021 off on the right foot, here are three key takeaways:
1. SMALL HABITS MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE
“Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action,” James writes. But “… [while] improving 1 percent isn’t particularly notable — sometimes it isn’t even noticeable — it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run.”
In other words, aim for small positive actions you can commit to every. single. day.
2. FORGET ABOUT GOALS; FOCUS ON SYSTEMS INSTEAD
Most of us have been taught that the key to success is setting a specific and measurable goal. But a goal is the end point; to actually get there, systems are more important.
“If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you,” James writes. “The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change.”
I liked his sports analogy of shooting baskets over and over and over again, day after day, rather than focusing solely on winning the game. If you put in the work (and push yourself to improve) the results will take care of themselves.
3. MAKE IT EASY TO SUCCEED
This is the critical last step in which James’ book really shines, because he provides a roadmap for reinforcing good habits and breaking bad ones.
While his “habits cheat sheet” doesn’t cover the underlying biology, psychology, and neuroscience he discusses in the book, it still gives you some positive steps you can start implementing today.
These three takeaways are a gross oversimplification, of course — Atomic Habits has much more to offer and I recommend reading the whole book. But even if you implement only the first step above, you’ll still be better off a year from now.
One final thought: James recommends tracking your daily habits, so I created a weekly calendar to help me stay focused and motivated. Here’s how I use it.
You’re welcome to download this printable PDF for your personal (non-commercial) use, if you like. I hope you’ll find it helpful … and I wish you a happy, healthy year of good habits ahead.