People use the term game-changer far too liberally. I see it all over the internet to describe anything that promises to make even the smallest of differences to your lives and, usually, the alterations are minimal.
But not this time.
Today’s book club is about the most essential guide to game-changing productivity that I have ever seen. It’s the one text that is almost always recommended by every single person in the productivity sphere. I first saw it discussed by Ali Abdaal, Thomas Frank and Matt D’Avella, but there’s only so much that can be said in a single video.
That’s why you need to buy this book. (If you use this link, I may receive a small percentage of the sale)
If you’re too busy for that (or too cheap – I listened on my local library’s free audiobooks service), then keep reading for the four main talking points that I absorbed while speeding through the text.
This is Atomic Habits, by James Clear
James Clear makes clear (see what I did there?) that, to build habits, we need to focus on what’s easy. He spends a lot of time on the importance of removing the friction between yourself and the positive habits that you want to form, and breaking each habit into smaller steps will make them far, far, far easier to stick to.
Is your end-of-year goal to get a sick pack, like mine is? Don’t set go to the gym as your habit from the off. Make your habit tying the laces of your running shoes. If you’re trying to write a new bestseller, your new habit shouldn’t be to write 2,000 perfect words a day, but rather to turn on your device of choice and open a Google Doc.
This sets you up for what I think is Clear’s most pertinent point: focus on being 1% better everyday. Doing so leads to us making small, very achievable gains without becoming overwhelmed – which is very easily done if you’re not consistently feeling down from not being contacted to represent Under Armour as an athlete (call me?).
As a result, we’ll pick up our new, positive, habits, which we will start to embody. A great strategy to help with this is to start thinking ‘I want to be the sort of person who does x’. For instance, when at a restaurant, if the habit that you want to pick up is to eat a bit healthier, consider: what would a healthy person order? Do that. Be that person.
Success isn’t easy
Of course, it’s not always as easy as thinking about what a healthy person would do. What even counts as ‘healthy’ these days? Constantly comparing yourself to society’s definition of fit and healthy could quickly turn toxic, so don’t worry if you slip up every now and then.
We are all human, after all.
Instead of kicking yourself for eating a chocolate bar during the week, when you might outlaw anything considered even remotely unhealthy, don’t feel bad – just don’t do it twice. If you start slipping up and doing a habit that you consider bad two days in a row, you might pick it up permanently.
Focus on doing your best to avoid being that person, but don’t feel that if you can’t do something perfectly, you shouldn’t do it at all.
Here’s another strategy that’ll do you wonders: make positive habits visible. I now have my ukulele, which I’ve owned and not played since 2014, next to the chair in my bedroom. I always tend to sit there immediately after getting in from work (when not teaching remotely), and might feel like doing nothing other than watching Netflix or scrolling social media.
However, since moving my uke, I’ve made a habit of playing nearly every day, practicing on the app Yousician (#NotSponsored), and it feels great to know that I am making actual, genuine progress.
Likewise, make your bad habits invisible. Do you go on your phone for half an hour, aimlessly scrolling social media, when you’d rather be working on a side hustle or skill? Put it in another room. Better yet, hand it to a family member/housemate and ask for them to keep it until you’re done.
If a bad habit’s invisible and a good habit’s visible, I wonder which you’re more likely to spend time on?
This one’s dead simple if you’ve got a friend in a similar situation to you: be each other’s accountability partners. Go to the gym together to make sure you both do it. Schedule a video meeting where you can both sit down and write for half an hour.
If nobody you know wants to do these habits, simply take it one step further, which I picked up from one of Ali Abdaal’s Youtube videos: tell them that you will transfer them £50 if you don’t do these habits.
Now, it doesn’t have to be £50 – it could be any more or any less – but by scheduling this as a payment you would have to cancel, it makes you that little bit more likely to keep up these positive habits, doesn’t it?
I should add as a quick caveat before you go that my definition of a good/positive habit may differ wildly to yours. Just because I described eating a chocolate bar as a bad habit doesn’t meant that it is. Our definitions will be drastically different depending on our goals, which is really important to remember when you start telling people about your desire for lifestyle changes.