If you have ever played baseball, you know the cardinal rule of being the batter —never throw the bat. Most of us may have been the batter who forgot once and let it slide a few feet or seen someone else do this. Rules in a game like baseball are for fair play and also for safety.
For most of us, it’s hard to imagine what might really happen if that bat were to fly. Not for James Clear. On the final day of his sophomore year of high school, a classmate took a full swing and the bat slipped out of his hand and hit Jame right between the eyes. James describes not even having a memory of the impact which caused a broken nose, multiple skull fractures and two shattered eye sockets.
This was a very serious injury and Clear was lucky. He recovered, but it took time, actually six years. Over that time he built a series of systems to build his way slowly and methodically back to being the athlete and the student he knew he could be. By the end of his four years at Denison University, he was selected as the top male athlete and named to the ESPN Academic All-American Team, an honor given to just thirty-three players across the country. That year he also received the university’s highest academic honor, the President’s Medal.
So why does Clear and his history matter to you and me? James Clear is the author of a book called Atomic Habits. I’ve done a lot of research around habits and have been tracking Clear and this book since it came out last year in 2018. There are a few reason’s why I’ve stayed interested in what he has to say and why I think his methodologies are worth further exploration.
I began taking a look at this idea of atomic habits after I watched a news clip where he said something that really caught my attention.
” We don’t rise to our goals, we fall to our systems.”
That made sense to me only because I have this love-hate relationship with systems. I love to design and build systems but sticking to them in the past, was very difficult for me. Seems I was the classic case of self-sabotage for building good habits. I would quickly get bored with the monotony and need to find something new to keep my attention. Clear delves into how to manage through the boredom and leverage the need for novelty.
Because of his injury and its impacts on his identity, and his history of training as an athlete with good study habits, he knew the power of habit compounding. Athletes know progress comes in the daily dedication to consistent training, of working out eating well and getting the right rest and recovery.
Sure he was just a sophomore in high school but he had enough of a foundation to know that systems were his best option to rebuild what mattered to him as an athlete, a student and a person. Over those six years, he would build a system for getting to the next level, ” getting 1% better every day,” and then build a new system when he was ready to progress even further.
He does not sugar coat that good habits take effort, they get boring and that a 1% better everyday habit for one year means being 37.78 times better at the end of the year. That is worth noting.
Habits to start and habits to stop
The book delves deep into the psychology about why we do what we do. Typically bad habits have an immediate reward, for example, french fries taste good in the moment. The negative impact of eating french fries on a regular basis is not going to be felt until much later. Often the experience of a good habit, not buying that pair of new shoes or running one extra mile does NOT feel good in the moment. You love those shoes, and you are tired and want to stop running.
Clear digs into the 4 laws of habits and how to make good habits easier and bad habits less appealing with some real suggestions that make a lot of sense.
Taking Stock with a Habit Audit
There are some real strategies in this book that I’d like to dig into deeper in the next few months, especially as we wrap up the year. He has a really helpful habit tracker that he suggests using to track the desired habits, but before I dig into committing to some new habit to up-level where I am, I want to do a habit audit.
I have made my way to finally not only understanding but staying consistent with some new habits. Last week I celebrated my one year anniversary of going to CrossFit. I am at a level of fitness I did not think possible and I can see I am just getting started. The idea of 1% better every day has seeped in so now I’m even more curious as to what else is possible. I have shifted my eating habits, and more importantly my relationship with food, over this past year also as part of a one-year-long nutrition program also that was modeled around slight changes adding up over time.
Clear does a really good job of showing that habits build and then need review and reflection in order for us to keep growing. At any point in time our habits are worth an audit.
Here is Clear’s habit tracker and this week I’m going to use it to begin to track what I am doing, no judgment, but as a way to collect data. I’m going to look at a few specific areas and see what habits I want to continue, and build upon and uncover any habits that I’d like to stop.
2. Exercise and Movement
4. Work habits
I invite you to do the same. Your audit categories might be different so customize them for yourself. Print out the habit sheet and keep with you for the next two weeks. Yes, two weeks so you get a sense of what is happening. (Even longer if you like more data.)
The other thing that is of interest to me that I’ll write more about is the idea of the context, including the space and setup of your physical environment supporting a habit, or not supporting it. So as you look at your habits, not how the environment is impacting that habit in a positive or negative way.
I’ll check back in with you in two weeks to see how it’s going. Happy habit auditing.
p.s. One idea that Clear talk about is to make a habit so simple it is silly. For example, if you wanted to have a consistent yoga practice, do one yoga pose every day this week. Or practice whatever pose you like for 2 minutes every day. Remember just 1% better every day.