I’ve been reading James Clear’s runaway best seller, Atomic Habits. I knew about the book since 2018, but I thought it was similar to Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect, which depressed me when I read it years ago because it was aimed towards big money super achievers, leaving me feeling discouraged and even more lost than I was already.
Then last month I “happened” upon a WordPress post about Atomic Habits. (I say “happened” because everything is based on cause and effect. There are no haphazard accidents.) The post opened my eyes to the value of the book, and when my sister asked me what I’d like for Christmas, I requested it.
Atomic Habits is written by a regular guy in a clear, friendly and approachable manner. His personal story of overcoming great adversity one good habit at a time is encouraging. There’s a reason the book has sold more than three million copies!
A couple of lines (among many) that I highlighted while reading are:
…the process of building habits is actually the process of becoming yourself.
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
He goes on to say: “The good news is that you don’t need to be perfect. … Your goal is simply to win the majority of the time.” Phew! That’s a relief!
I wanted to get some fresh air and daylight this afternoon, as I work inside a fluorescent-lit, recycled-air office five days a week. The weather was warm by Canadian winter standards. And even though pale grey clouds blanketed the sky, I read somewhere that even an overcast sky will get brighter light into your eyes than any indoor illumination. But I also had inner resistance – the same inner resistance that had stopped me going outside for many weekends.
Buoyed by Clear’s advice to become the sort of person who can get the results that she wants by adopting the appropriate identity, I told myself that I’m the kind of person who loves fresh air and being under the sky (which is true). I kitted up with ear muffs, thick socks, face mask and warm jacket, grabbed three full composting bags that needed to be taken downstairs from my sixth floor apartment, and sallied forth.
It’s a good thing I like fresh air, because the wind energetically whipped my blond hair around my hatless head. I went over to the large green bin that serves my apartment building. Plastic bags spilled out of it, and one lay open on the ground, next to a pineapple top, likely a casualty of raccoon exploration.
My hands safely covered by blue PEP gloves, I stuffed my bags into the bin deeper and higher than the other bags, and with some pushing and shoving, even managed to get them all inside it. A couple smaller bags contained dog poo, but I deal with cat litter every day, so that didn’t faze me.
I walked away, feeling quite good about myself. Until I found myself wondering why I had left the open bag with its fruity debris on the ground. When I realised I thought it wasn’t my responsibility and it was too much to ask of me, I did an about-face, picked up the offending pineapple top, stuffed it in the bag and deposited it inside the bin.
This time as I walked away, I thought: “I’m a take-charge kind of person!” And by the time I walked down to the bottom of the ravine close to my home and back up again (it’s really steep!) I had also liberated the brush at the side of the tarmac trail of a large tattered black garbage bag and a ubiquitous white plastic shopping bag.
Which brings me to the title of this post: One thing leads to another. If I hadn’t decided today that I’m the kind of person who enjoys fresh air and open sky there’d still be a mess outside my building and two offensive plastic bags blighting Mother Nature’s beauty.
So I got a good taste of James Clear’s proposal that our behaviour arises from our sense of identity. And that there’s a feedback loop, because what we do reinforces our sense of self. So even though I didn’t do anything earth-shaking today, I did a little good, for myself and for my environment. And the whole premise of Atomic Habits is the big difference a seemingly tiny improvement can make over time.
I leave the last word to Mother Teresa, who knew a thing or three about life.