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We read and reviewed the 15 best investment and money books (according to the experts) so you don’t have to! Having completed that personal goal, I’m able to read more ‘good reads.’ I went ahead and broke the bank and signed up for Kindle Unlimited ($9.99/mo. with the first month free; I’m bout this life for real, for real). Now, because I’m cheap, I have to read a book a month to justify the expense. Sometimes I’m “lucky” enough to read three in a week.
I’ve followed James’ work for years through his newsletter. I read a lot of newsletters, but James is one of my favorite recommendations. “The most wisdom per word of any newsletter on the web.” I was excited to finally get around to reading his book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.
Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.
Because new habits still don’t prevent Murphy’s Law, I immediately opened my Kindle to read my notes and studious highlights, only to find out they had all been deleted. Here are the areas that made an impact on me…from the best of my Senior Millennial recollection.
The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiple as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.
Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits.
Breaking Bad Ones and Building Good Ones
Reinforced by James’ book is the beauty of simplicity. We often assume that complicated accomplishments require complicated efforts. This is incorrect.
For example, highlighted in the book is the two-minute rule which, which I have implemented successfully in my own life a few years ago. The ease of the rule often is often met with disappointment, but I cannot overstate the benefits. While I keep several “Calls to Action” lists to keep me organized, the “two-minute” list is arguably the most important.
I try to never let my 2-minute list get longer than 10 items, and I try to keep it under five whenever possible. Most importantly, if an item takes less than 2-minutes, I try to do it immediately, rather than leave it to procrastination and forgetfulness. Since I’ve been ‘habit forming’ for years, I can often knock out most two-minute activities before the list needs to be updated.
For example, important emails for business inquiries and opportunities that would have usually sat in my Inbox for weeks are responded to immediately. Other basic “Action Items” that can be quickly knocked out get done right away. These simple acts have increased my output and provided clarity on which items are “quick” versus those items that I need to organize, prioritize, and add to my many other Calls to Action list(s) for the week or month.
If you do nothing else, start a two minute list today. Like, in the next two minutes. Try it for a week. I think you’ll be surprised how much you get done (as well as how many “two minute” activities you normally procrastinate on).
Habit Replacement and Habit Stacking
I did a ‘habit replacement’ in another area of my life. Like most Senior Millennials, I wanted to cut back on social media. I already deleted several apps. That helped at first, but over time I saw diminishing returns, again.
Like everyone on Earth, I get bored. Social media is candy for the brain and a quick-fix to a common problem. I found myself regressing from my commitment to “use social media less.” I had correctly diagnosted the problem. I misdiagnosed the solution.
Problem: I need to fill my downtime. I deserve to decompress but with a better solution than watching cat videos and Instagram Lives (I’m too old for TikTok, sorry).
My habit replacement and improved Atomic Habit system were to use my downtime to read newsletters I’m already subscribed to or previously downloaded books on Kindle. In this way, I still kill time and fill my boredom hours, however, I do so in a more meaningful way.
As an added bonus, rather than end my social media binges completely unfulfilled, I have a group of reads, posts to share, or inspirations for my own additional reading or writing. With a simple change, I went from wasting time in the short-term to doing something beneficial to me, our business, and our audience in the long-term. As proof of concept, I read three books in one month. More importantly, I’ve been able to sustain this habit, because it didn’t feel like a sacrifice. I just changed the outcome of a habit I was already doing.
Life rarely has to be zero-sum. With the right system, you truly can have your cake and another cake too.
Sytems are More Important than Goals
I emphasize that people shouldn’t get caught up in the specifics of the system. The best system is the system that works.
Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
Another key takeaway I had from James’ book is a concept he calls ‘habit stacking.’ Whereby one habit benefits from the activities of the previous habit.
In my systems, providing clarity on my “2 Minute” Call to Actions clearly delineate between which items I need to knock out immediately versus those items I need to prioritize for later. Put simply, it removes the “I don’t know WTF to do” excuse. The paralysis by analysis speed trap is often the first excuse on the highway to procrastination and inaction.
Success is Not Guaranteed But It is Improved When You Reinforce Your Systems
Falling off the wagon is as natural as well, falling off the wagon. You will make mistakes because you’re human and imperfect.
Over the years, I’ve realized I need to reinforce and revisit my habits. As James notes, even good habits have a plateau. In the book, a coach he interviews explained the “great ones” are great because they become immune to the boredom of repeating good to great habits over time. The rest of us lose focus, regress to our previous stagnation, or outright quit.
The act of reading books’ like James, revisiting my lists on a frequent basis (typically quarterly), and coming to peace with the fact that some habits are boring (it is what it is) helps me keep moving forward even when I don’t feel like it (which is inevitable).
Remember, all players are in the game of life to win it.
While showing up is a good start, just showing up is not the finish line. For complicated systems, James recommends focusing on your two minute start.
For instance, instead of the generic promise of “I want to get in shape,” you develop a system that will move you towards that arbitrary goal. Your “two-minute start” might be as simple as putting your gym shoes by the door or near your alarm clock. Your ‘head start’ is the catalyst for starting your system; it’s not the outcome itself. But it jumpstarts you in the right direction. Sometimes a jumpstart/reminder is all we need.
For the gym inclined, the person who does one push-up is better off than the person that does zero. For the financially inclined, the person who saves $1 towards their goal today and tomorrow is $2 closer than the person who saves $0 every day.
Every Action (or Inaction) is a Vote for the Type of Person You Want to Be
Of the many points made in James Book, this one really stuck. For starters, I’m already list-oriented. However, I’m often too busy focusing on the goal and not the system.
Specifically, I created a list (yes, another one) of 1-10 items that I want to do each day that will be a “vote” towards the type of person I want to become in the future. I don’t have to get it perfect. James advises, “be a person that doesn’t miss two days in a row.”
This gives me room to fail some days but no excuse to fail two days in a row. Imagine how much further you would be if every day you made the effort to act (vote) for the person you want to be instead of imagining the person you claim you want to be?
Goals by themselves are just dreams you make-up while you’re awake. But, if the outcome is always inaction, then you might as well just go back to bed. A system moves you towards completing your goals.
Disciplined Habits Take Disciplined Planning
In closing, James notes that we are also too hard on ourselves. Atomic Habits is clear to explain that “disciplined” individuals aren’t more discipline by nature. They are not superhuman. They are not much different from you and I. What’s the magic secret sauce he found behind remaining disciplined over a lifetime?
Disciplined people habitually remove the temptation to be undisciplined.
If you’re trying to cut back on drinking. Don’t go to happy hour. If you’re trying to quit smoking. Don’t hang around smokers. If you’re trying to save more money. AUTOMATE THE PROCESS. It’s a lot easier to put a system in place that automates (votes for) the action you want to occur than to overcome your plethora of very human flaws.
As with all reviews, I can’t do the full book justice. I highly recommend you check it out for yourself and join James’ (free) weekly newsletter. You can also check his Atomic Habits “cheat sheet” at atomic-habits/cheatsheet.
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