“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”—James Clear
I’m currently reading an excellent recent book by James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. In this book, Clear argues that goals–while important for setting a direction—are not the things we need to focus on primarily to improve our lives. Rather, we should focus on processes to help us become the kinds of people who regularly meet their targets. The primary tools in the process tool chest are our habits. As the title suggests, the habits are small things that over time shape a life for accomplishment or waste.
Clear gives an example: “The goal is not to learn an instrument; the goal is to become a musician.” The same for becoming runners and readers, not simply finishing marathons or books. The more important target is making these habits a regular, automatic part of your life. You just do the stuff regularly without thinking and stressing about it.
The idea that “compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world” has been attributed to Albert Einstein. Einstein surely understood exponents if not banking. What Clear teaches us is that the steady progress of all habits, good and bad, do not reveal their force immediately but over time. The “10,000 hour rule” for mastery of a skill comes to mind.
Habits + Time = Self-Improvement10 Habits are extremely powerful!
I will share more from this excellent book in the days ahead. It has changed my goal-centered approach to my own growth to one that values the habits I cultivate. The habits can be small, but if repeated over a good chunk of time will yield remarkable results. The task is to begin small and repeat faithfully to build the automatic instinct to continue into your lifestyle.
Here are a few practical ways to begin:
- Commit to exercise ten minutes a day rather than a massive goal of five hours a week at the gym. That goal can come later.
- Get up fifteen minutes earlier to read rather than one hour earlier. Anybody can do fifteen minutes earlier and the benefit of feeding your mind will encourage you to lengthen those early morning self-care times.
- Have one half slice of pizza less than you normally would. Or one cigarette less. Or one drink less.
One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way (Robert Maurer)
Image Credit: Christian Fahey