“Habits are the entry point, not the end point. They are the cab, not the gym.”
– James Clear
Have you ever struggled to achieve your goals, your New Year’s Resolutions, or your intentions – even your most inspiring goals? Last year, I started off strong…or so I thought. You see, I fasted for 21 days for both spiritual growth and to gain clarity around my path forward for the year. During that time, I created a vision board based on nudges on my heart so I could stay true to my purpose. I had significant goals in some areas and was quite fuzzy in others. But the plan was clear enough to work on.
To take it a step further, I decided to keep this vision board posted on my office wall…all year. That would surely be the motivation I needed and the endless reminder to stay on track, or so I thought. But here is what actually happened. I let “shiny” objects derail my purpose and plan and never developed the necessary habits (or system) that would enable me to reach any of my inspiring goals. As December 2022 closed in, I looked at that board and…nothing. I had made zero progress on reaching my lofty goals in any area…not any progress at all.
As I was browsing for Christmas presents for my family, a book title caught my attention – you see, I love books and always find a way to wind down the book aisle and browse the titles. The book? Atomic Habits, Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear. I snatched it up, excited to have a “present” for myself!
A couple days after Christmas, my journey with Atomic Habits began. Within a few days, I had not only completed the book, but had a new level of motivation to create the system of habits I needed to meet my goals in 2023. James provides credible support for his theories in every area – from neuroscience to psychology and everything in between, pulling in 260 endnotes. But, most important, the theories were simple to understand and easy to remember. When I read a book, I look for the top takeaways that I can remember and use. I share the following simple strategies to help you reach your desired outcome in 2023.
“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret to your success is found in your daily routine.”
– John Maxwell
Takeaway #1: Focus your attention on your “identity” as your goal and not an action. This is the most important takeaway. As an executive coach, this aligns with my training and the significance of focusing on “who” you want to become, not “what” you want to achieve or do. Clear describes layers of behavior change as three circles: the innermost circle is your identity, followed by your processes, followed by your outcome. Your identity is the north star of habit change. The core of where to focus your behavior is on who you want to become, not what goal you want to achieve. For example, the goal is not to read a book, but to become a reader. The goal is not to build a business, but to become an aspiring entrepreneur. You will build your system to produce this identity through your habits.
Takeaway #2: The 2-minute rule helps you to “build” your initial habits. It is easy to plan the habits you want, but more difficult to implement them successfully. The 2-minute strategy is simple and based on the principle we often hear, start small and spend just two minutes on those habits you are initially struggling with. It is more important that you are consistent with your habits. Habits are about repetition, not perfection. Repeating a habit leads to clear physical changes in the brain. You may be thinking that two minutes does not seem like enough time to get anything done and you are correct. But the initial goal is not to accomplish something, but to build the habit you need to become who it is you want to become.
Takeaway #3: Don’t break the chain of your habits. This is another critical element of building your habits. Avoid skipping your habits and definitely do not miss two consecutive days in a row. Again, it is not how long you strive at each habit, but the effort to stay consistent. Consistency will lead to small accomplishments which leads to motivation and eventually to the outcome you desire. You also want to make it easy – create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. For example, if you are starting an exercise regimen at the gym, pick a gym that is as close to your home as possible or that you can stop by on your way home. Creating the right environment is one of the key factors to help you maintain your habit chain. Habits are a dopamine driven feedback loop. Every habit that is highly habit forming (think negative habits) is associated with higher levels of dopamine. The more consistent, the more you will feel that which will lead to increased consistency and results.
Takeaway #4: The concept of “habit stacking” helps you to build and maintain your habits. Habit stacking is as simple as it sounds: stacking one habit on top of another to create your “habit” routine to develop a strong system of daily habits. Start with those habits that you would rather not do right away – those you tend to procrastinate on. Follow those with the habits you enjoy as your reward for completing your other habits. Again, allow the power of psychology to fuel your system to becoming your “identity” – author, successful entrepreneur, fitness guru, marathon runner, etc. Keep your future identity front and center during the process of building your habits.
Takeaway #5: Aim for 1 percent improvement each day. Just as in creating a lean organization and improving two seconds a day (check out 2 Second Lean by Paul Akers), aim for microscopic daily goals of improvement. Just 1% improvements each day will compound over time and leave you with a powerful system!
In summary, your identity is the center, the nucleus of your habits, followed by your system of habits that catapults the outcome you desire. Whether you are focused on wellness habits, business growth habits, becoming an author, world class realtor, or you name it – your consistent habits increase your chances of success! We can DO this and create the life we most want, the life we yearn for. I highly recommend Clear’s book, Atomic Habits – Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results that will give you the edge you are looking for!
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Cynthia Legg, CPA, ACC, Founder of Inspired Success, is a certified executive level leadership and faith-based coach. A retired partner in a regional CPA firm, she helps leaders, teams, and individuals achieve greater purpose and impact and take their team and organization higher. She helps her clients to enjoy the journey of success as much as the destination of success. She loves working with individuals pivoting to a new level of greatness.