Ambitious goals are important for us to improve ourselves.
But, in his book "Atomic Habits", James Clear reminds us that long-term goals are not achieved all at once. They are the result of thousands of steps performed daily or nearly daily. To achieve our goals, we need to change our behavior; and the best way to change our behavior is to decide on what we want to do and to make a habit of that.
Clear advocates four ways to make something a habit: Make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying.
Make it obvious
Be explicit and aware of what you are trying to achieve.
Make it attractive
Control your environment. Pair your habit with a pleasurable activity. Surround yourself with people who will give you positive reinforcement.
Make it easy
Do not overcommit. Start slow and work your way up to your desired habit.
Consider automating your habits
Make it satisfying
This is what keeps you going over time.
Reinforce the habit with a reward.
Do not beat yourself up for missing a day; but never miss two days. This leads to a new undesirable habit.
Removing bad habits
We can reverse these same four ways to help break a bad habit: make it invisible, make it unattractive, make it difficult, and make it unsatisfying.
Clear cautions against relying solely on habits to achieve your goals. Habits become unconscious and discourage us from analyzing our behaviors, which inhibit progress. Step back from time to time and make sure you are still focusing enough to make progress. Only by doing so can we achieve greatness in an area.
Some of this book is common sense, but nearly all of it resonated with me. Too often, I have failed to achieve goals because I stopped doing the daily and weekly activities necessary for success.
Clear rightly points out that daily improvements increase exponentially, like compound interest. A 1% improvement every day adds up to a 3800% improvement over the course of a year. Of course, a 1% daily improvement in anything for a year is probably not sustainable (can you imagine losing 1% of your weight or getting 1% stronger every single day), but this idea is correct, even if the magnitude is exaggerated.
I used some of Clear's techniques to improve my daily exercise routine. I moved a yoga mat next to my desk and determined to do pushups, crunches, or stretches at regular intervals throughout the day. My health and strength have improved noticeably after just a few weeks. Next up, I will try to build a habit of practicing piano every day - something I have attempted several times in the past couple of years.
"Atomic Habits" is not a complex book. The writing is simple, and the ideas are presented in a straightforward manner with a summary at the end of each chapter. This simple style makes it easy to read and easy to adopt the principles contained therein.