Now that the holidays and New Years have come and gone, I'm trying this new thing where I read this old school type of content called books. Revolutionary, I know. To start the year off right, I cracked open a book I picked up while in Nashville at Parnassus Books, one that I will fully admit caught my eye while doom-scrolling the Instagram pages of top athletes. This time, the recommendation came from running elite Eliud Kipchoge.
Atomic Habits, by James Clear is a book essentially about one thing: the constant pursuit of small improvements that build and lead to significant change over time. This is not a super recent book, published in 2018, and indeed has been the #1 NYT best seller for 111 weeks on the Advice/ How-To list. But, as someone that has struggled tremendously with consistency in my fitness and health goals, I thought it might be an interesting read, and one that I could pull some useful information out of.
It only took a couple of chapters before I was pretty much committed to finishing the book. Each chapter presents a core strategy Clear has deemed important to identifying automatic behaviors, both good and bad, and how to rebuild the mental circuitry to build habits that better align with our goals. One particularly powerful analogy that he discusses pretty early in the book was the idea that who we are as people is based on who we identify ourselves as being. That identity is shaped by the actions we take, by casting a "vote" for that identity. For me, as someone who wants to identify as an athlete, and as a scientist, my actions should align with that identity. For example, going for a run, casts a vote for being an athlete, while reading a paper casts a vote for being a scientist. Conversely, eating a donut and watching T.V casts votes for the opposite. Staying up late playing video games casts a vote for the gamer. The more "votes" we cast through our actions that support the identity that we are working toward, the more we become that type of person. This concept has really stuck with me as I work toward some more fitness and as I progress through the PhD process.
The whole book really breaks down the patterns of a habit (both good and bad). Each habit has an initial cue, craving, response, and reward cycle. For me this surfaced in a highly amusing way. One day a week I was driving Ellie in to work. On those days, it hit me that this habit cycle triggered, and triggered hard. My cue was dropping her off from work. I immediately started craving a Tim Hortons coffee and bagel. In response to that craving I drove to the nearest Tim Hortons and purchased my reward. This was a highly established, pattern that, despite two years of being at home during the pandemic, it resurfaced as soon as the old cue of dropping Ellie off at work was back. Despite years of not doing this, boom day one back at the office and there I was sipping my reward. As some of the old members of the blog may know, I have had a very self destructive relationship with bagels and that has still persisted to this day. Fortunately, Clear suggests that a way to break the habit is to make it difficult. For bagels, that meant leaving my credit card and cash at home.
I don't want to break down all of the details in the book, but there are quite a lot of things that I am working to put in practice in my day to day life, and for that reason alone, I think it is totally worth the read if you are someone who is looking to make some changes, or even someone who is interested in learning more about themselves. Leave a comment if you have read it, have any thoughts, or just want to say hi!
P.S- This blog post casts 1 vote for the blogger identity, hopefully I can cast more votes in the weeks and months to come!