Wednesday 26 January 2022

Book review - Atomic Habits by James Clear

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Like many people, I approached the New Year with a plan for self-improvement and a few ideas in mind. I'd seen lots of habit trackers on social media, and thought this idea would be really helpful to me as I love making lists and setting myself targets and goals.

I identified four things that I wanted to work on. Eating my five fruit and veg in a day, exercise, playing the piano and meditating. Exercise is the only one that I didn't plan to do daily - I count exercise as a reasonable cardio workout for forty minutes or so and I just don't have the energy for that every day! Instead I just wanted to track how often I managed it.

In addition I decided to choose two habits just for January. These were writing a blog post every day (not publishing, just writing and scheduling) and not looking at any news websites and apps. I was particularly interested to try avoiding the news websites because I have been feeling recently that that constantly scrolling through news headlines and articles has a very bad effect on my mental health.

Habit tracker page in bullet journal
Photo credit Phrophsee Journals via Unsplash

While I was looking for ideas on habit trackers and how to make them work I couldn't avoid hearing about the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. It seemed to be the definitive work on the subject, and I read so many good reviews that I treated myself to a copy with some Christmas money. I'm really glad that I did, because I found this book so helpful and motivating.

The premise of the book is that by making tiny changes, atomic habits, in your daily routine you can see remarkable results. 

Atomic Habits book review by James Clear

I discovered that this book is packed with useful and interesting information. It's easy to read and understand, and all of the ideas make perfect sense. 

I found the concept of habit stacking particularly useful. I had noticed that I've been doing this already - I am lucky to have good teeth but last year, after a visit to the dentist and being kindly reminded of the fact that I'm not getting any younger, I decided to make more of an effort with daily flossing. I bought a new pack of dental floss and every evening after I brush my teeth I now floss. Because I'm already brushing my teeth every evening without fail, it was easy to add this extra step and I haven't missed a day since I started. 

So habit stacking is looking for something that you always do every day without even thinking, for example brushing teeth, eating lunch or doing the school run, and then adding a habit that you will always do at that time. Some examples from the book - "after I pour my cup of coffee each morning I will meditate for one minute" or "after I sit down to dinner I will say one thing I'm grateful for that happened today". 

You can then combine this with a second strategy called temptation bundling, which makes your habits become more attractive. So you do something unappealing, for instance for me that might be cleaning a bathroom, then you can do something that you enjoy afterwards, like sitting down with a book and a biscuit.

There are also some great tips for avoiding complacency. For example I want to practice the piano every day but I don't want to just sit down and play for ten minutes, I want to demonstrate improvement. So I am working on learning and memorising some pieces that I enjoy playing. The book has some really good tips on how to avoid getting stuck in a rut.

One thing that I really liked about this book was that I could identify with most of the situations described. Sometimes this type of book can be aimed at someone in a corporate environment, looking to improve their performance in the workplace. I can't relate to this at all. But I could relate to the habits that were being described in this book - simple every day things like exercise, eating more healthily, taking more time for yourself whether through meditation, reading or a digital detox. I also liked the focus on self-improvement and working towards goals and targets. 

So how am I getting on with my habits nearly three weeks in?

I'm pleased to say that I'm doing really well, although the one habit that hasn't stuck is filling in the daily habit tracker! After a few days I had the habits that I wanted to work on stuck in my head and I had worked out a routine for all of them. To my surprise I didn't feel the need to tick boxes.

Eating five fruit and veg - I started off with an app to track this but got fed up filling it in. I planned ahead, drinking orange juice for breakfast, making and eating two portion soup for lunch and aiming for two servings of veg with dinner. After dinner, if I've missed out I will have an apple or some dried fruit.

Exercise - I already had a good routine of exercising at least three times a week so I've been trying to fit in at least one extra trip to the pool.

Meditation - I've started doing meditation using an app straight after lunch and this fits in really well with my day. I just have to be careful not to fall asleep, this has happened several times! I feel like I'm definitely improving with keeping my focus.

Piano practice - During the the half an hour before school pick up works well for me. But if I miss it I have time after dinner to fit some in. I've completely memorised one piece and have another that I'm nearly there with.

Writing a blog post every day - This is going really well, and I'll be sharing my progress on this at the end of the month!

Avoiding the news websites and apps - Finally, this really has made a massive difference. I don't feel that I've missed out as my family keep me up to date and I've also watched the news on television a couple of times. The challenge isn't about avoiding the news entirely, it's just the mindless scrolling and anxious waiting for updates to stories.

If you are looking to make some simple changes to your life in order to see some great results then I would really recommend giving Atomic Habits a read. I found it very helpful and although some of the ideas were things that I was already intuitively doing, it helped and motivated me to see them written out and have the psychology behind them explained.

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