Atomic Habits: The Helpful Paradox of Small Improvements

atomic habits book cover by James Clear

What does my habit of writing a Newsletter every month say about my identity? I have never asked that question before! Does it say that I am committed to the Thinking Environment, to being in touch, that I am persistent, consistent, reliable as a source of information? I’m not sure what it says, and I’m asking because I’m fascinated by what Atomic Habits author James Clear has to say about identity and habits.

He suggests “Your identity emerges out of your habits…

More precisely, your habits are how you embody your identity…

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up so does the evidence of your new identity. This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity. And if a change is meaningful it actually is big. That’s the paradox of making small improvements.”

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. So if I want to be a healthy person then I start a new habit of getting up earlier – just 10 minutes earlier, he would suggest – and use the time to do something of benefit to my body/ mind/ self.  It’s easy to see how this could build to a strong habit of mindfulness or walking or an early morning Thinking Pair, and over time yield powerful results. And it’s the newly chosen belief that I am a healthy person that would keep me pegging away at the behaviours that support becoming healthy – because that’s what healthy people do.

What’s even more striking is to notice that the opposite is also true. Small actions with negative consequences also quickly build habits, curving us away in tiny increments from the identity we want to achieve, increasing our sense that it’s not for us, we are not ‘that kind of person’.

I love the concept of each action being a vote for the type of person you want to become because it’s so liberating. It has the power to free the mind of deep down lived-in calcified assumptions that say ‘no, I can’t do that, that’s not me, that’s more so-and-so’, keeping us locked into self-defeating pathways and behaviours. It’s a very interesting insight into assumptions.

And it could become a fabulous Incisive Question –

‘If I knew that every action I take is a vote for the type of person I want to become, what action would I change today?’

Meaningful, not radical. Incremental, not all-or-nothing. Deep work.

For more inspiring thinking from James Clear do listen to this podcast.

And for more from me, if you have time, there’s a new podcast here, hosted by TTT practitioner Mark O’Reilly, called Quality Action comes from Quality Thought – which does seem highly relevant!

Finally: if you want to create some vital thinking time for yourself in these increasingly busy months, do join a small group of qualified TTT practitioners on the 21st of June for a Discovery Day online – you’d be so welcome.

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