A Little Story
Once upon a time, there was a young warrior. Every day, he wanted to learn something new. He was interested in a lot: programming, playing the ukulele, and performing a handstand were just a few of the list. One day he wanted to learn Spanish. Just because guerrero sounds way cooler than “warrior”. The first day he felt a burst of motivation and he played Duolingo for three hours straight. He was very optimistic that he would learn Spanish fast. How difficult can it be to learn a language? The next day, he played Duolingo again for three hours. Nevertheless the following days his motivation declined as fast as the motivation had emerged. “Duolingo is just a silly game and a waste of time,” he said to his friends. A few days later he gave up his Spanish learning journey and moved on to the next one.
Now, he wanted to read 52 books in a year, one for each week. However, this time he developed a routine because he didn’t want to make the same mistake he did with learning Spanish by solely relying on occasional motivation. He did some calculations and found out that to reach this goal, he had to read about 33 pages each day. That seemed a lot but also doable, so he started with his routine and was very strict about it. He wasn’t allowed to sleep before he had read 33 pages. It required a lot of effort and he often stopped right at the 33rd page, nonetheless, he kept with it, at least for a while. Some days had passed and he began to notice that he was becoming very tired and he even started to dislike reading. He was on the brink of giving up.
Until he encountered the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book eventually saved his reading habit, his sleep, and his motivation. SPOILER ALERT: There even occurred magic on some days.
Why Atomic Habits Work
Atomic habits are activities you do daily in order to reach your goal, but in such a small amount that it is very easy to keep up with it daily. Examples of this are reading one page, exercising for two minutes, writing a paragraph, or learning 3 new Spanish words each day. Atomic Habits combine the advantages of the two methods most people use: the occasional motivation method and the high demanding routine. I can explain why Atomic Habits work so well more easily by classifying the days that occur into three categories:
- High Motivation days: These are rare, especially when you’re already performing the habit for a while. Be grateful for these days.
- The “Just 1 page”-days: On these days, your motivation is on a vacation to Ibiza. You really don’t feel like performing your Atomic Habit, but just because it requires so little effort, you do it nonetheless. After one page, you close the book and you’re done for that day.
- The Magical days: I love them. These are the days that seem like a “Just 1 page”-day in the beginning, but when you’ve read 1 page, you realize it’s genuinely interesting and you keep reading. You feel the momentum and aren’t going to let go of it any time soon. You even feel like punching yourself in the face because you didn’t feel like reading just some minutes ago. These days are pure magic. Don’t waste them.
In this book, James Clear divides a habit into four parts: Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward. For example, you see a bar of chocolate while you are waiting in line in the supermarket (Cue). Chocolate is your dirty pleasure and you begin to crave it (Craving). You can’t stop yourself from buying the chocolate (Response). While walking back to the car, you enjoy tremendously every bite of the chocolate bar (Reward).
Let’s say you want to start a good habit. Then James Clear says that you should make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. If you want to break a bad habit you should do the opposite which means make it invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying.
Note that these four tips to make or break a habit correspond to the four parts of a habit. I recommend that you read this book Atomic Habits for more information about how to implement it in your life, but here are some things that I did. If you’re not interested in my life, you can skip the following paragraph, no hard feelings.
What I did because of this book
- I started to develop the rubber band technique. This rubber band technique combined with using a big calendar as a habit tracker ensures that I write daily.
- I read one page each day or let’s say at least one page because it’s often way more. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing a blog about reading 😉.
- I also signed a contract with a friend of mine which makes me pay him 50 euros when I perform a certain bad habit again.
- I increased the resistance to using social media by removing them from my phone and even removing some of my social media accounts permanently. Honestly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
- I started learning Spanish again. Duolingo opens automatically when I open my browser on my laptop, in that way I remember to learn my Spanish daily.
- The most fun experiment I did because of this book was placing a big bowl of fruit on the table in the living room. My mom didn’t like it because then the fruit would spoil faster than in the fridge. Nevertheless, the fruit-eating rate at home skyrocketed. Just because the fruit was now visible and not hidden in the fridge.
If you keep up with your Atomic Habits daily, you’ll get 1% percent better every day. By reading one page each day, you’ll get 1% smarter every day. However, you need to remember that reading itself shouldn’t be the goal.
I’m convinced that you can even take this one step further.
I assume that you want to read more. Why would you otherwise be reading this blog? Start today with reading at least one page each day. I know you can do it.