Start to build good habits

The feet of someone lying in a field on a hill

I went for a walk last weekend. A very long walk. As I sit here aching from the hills I climbed I look back on that walk and I think about what I achieved:

  • Exercise – As well as a virtual commute around the local park for 30 mins every morning, I like to feel like I’ve pushed myself by walking up and down a lot of hills at the weekend
  • Relaxation – I find walking in fields and woods and along quiet country lanes very relaxing
  • Learning – I tend to spend half of each walk listening to an audio book and half listening to nature

I used to go for a walk most weekends and since the pandemic started, most has turned into every weekend.

I guess I am “in the habit” of going for walks and there are three different benefits for me. Now the question is, if I only had two let alone one benefit, would I have found it as easy to build the habit?

I am pretty sure it would have been much harder. In fact I know it would have been much harder!

During my walk at the weekend, I listened to “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. It has been on my list of books to listen to for quite a while as I had read that it builds on the “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg which is one of my favourite books and one I have listed to multiple times.

What is an Atomic Habit?

Atomic Habits aims to provide a guide for how to start building habits using some really useful concepts such as identity-based habits and habit stacking. The concept of the Atomic Habit is to define small habits that are easier to create, rather that large difficult changes. By layering a new habit on one that is established it is easier to build new, beneficial habits. For example, after I make my morning coffee I will meditate for 2 minutes. The new habit does not need to be long or make significant changes, it needs to create a change in routine that, over time, can be developed and built upon.

I would strongly suggest that you listen to or read the book in its entirety as it has many useful tips that everyone can use in their day-to-day lives.

After listening to the book it made me realise that I had combined several positive outcomes into a habit that would otherwise have been harder to build, but with multiple positive outcomes, it was easy to build the habit.

What I will do tomorrow

With the writings Charles Duhigg and James Clear it becomes apparent what good habits and behaviours might look like and there are an abundance of tips on how to implement changes to your habits, and those of your workplace.

I am now thinking about how to apply these to support more productive ways of working as described by Cal Newport in Deep Work, and more recently in A World Without Email.

I have been an advocate of using ceremonies to balance the commitments of knowledge workers to what, thanks to Cal Newport, I now refer to as the Hyper-Active Hive Mind, and to the inevitable need of those same knowledge workers to have focus time get work done.

The ceremonies I advocate are as follows:

  • Start the Week – Prioritise what is important, what you need to do and what you can realistically achieve
  • Start the Day – Identify the tasks you can complete that day and allocate time to them so that it is less likely you will be distracted
  • End the Day – Acknowledge and celebrate what you have achieved and update your lists of tasks ready for the next day
  • End the Week – Ensure that you have all new tasks logged in an appropriate location so are ready to switch off for the weekend

Applying the concept of Atomic Habits, I can now think about adding a single new habit either before or after one of these existing ceremonies (which are well established habits for me), or around my virtual commute so that I can build on the successful habits and tie in new benefits of an additional habit.

How to get started

If you have not established these types of ceremonies and are interested in doing so, my advice is to try the following:

After you switch on your computer in the morning, take 2 minutes to write down on a notepad next to you the tasks that you intend to complete that day.

You don’t have to do anything else to start with, just that one short activity.

As this beds in as a habit, you might find that you start to expand on the activities, but start with this one habit.

References

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World: Amazon.co.uk: Newport, Cal: 9780349411903: Books

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change: Amazon.co.uk: Duhigg, Charles: 8601404207808: Books

A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in the Age of Overload: Amazon.co.uk: Newport, Cal: 9780241341414: Books

Atomic Habits: The life-changing million copy bestseller: Amazon.co.uk: James Clear: 9781847941831: Books