I recently read James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” after hearing so many good things about it! I found it to be a very clear and straightforward guide to mastering habits.
However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my short time in an amazing STEM program, called TKS, it’s that you NEED to take note of what you learn so you can act on it!
Here are my top 4 key takeaways from the book. Read until the end to find out about the new habits I’m trying to implement!
Takeaway #1: Habits Are Like Compound Interest
One of the first things I learned through reading this book was the importance of taking “baby steps”. If you’re a high schooler in this day and age, you know the pressure that’s put on students to achieve more and more, and part of that includes building healthy habits. If you build the habit of getting straight to work after school, your life would be a lot easier 📄
What we often forget is that improving significantly, but only once, is much less valuable than growing one percent but doing so every single day 🗓 The opposite is true too; eating lots of ice cream on a hot day with your friends is totally okay. But eating ice cream every single day can be very detrimental to your health.
Still don’t believe me? Then believe the math!
1% worse every day for one year => 0.99³⁶⁵ = 00.03 1% better every day for one year => 1.01³⁶⁵ = 37.78
Habits act like compound interest, and so you should treat them like a savings account. Start saving in your 20s instead of your 40s and you’ll be set for life 📈
Takeaway #2: It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better
Have you ever heard the saying “progress isn’t linear”? What does that actually mean and how does it apply here?
I’m sure you’ve noticed how you don’t improve or grow at a steady pace. You build the habits of working out everyday and don’t see results for one month, but then one day, you realize that you’ve just run a distance you found horrific at first with ease 💨
This instance falls under the Plateau of Latent Potential. The human brain often thinks that you should see steady results as soon as you start working or building a habit. The truth is, all the work you put it to a new skill/habit often gets “stored” for a while, until BOOM, you have a breakthrough where you improve significantly 💥
It’s so important to keep this in mind when implementing new habits! There’s nothing wrong with you if you haven’t improved after a week; just stick with it and the results will come!
Takeaway #3: Systems Are Where It’s At!
We often focus on the end goal instead of how we’re getting there. “Become more physically active” or “learn to code” 🏃♀️Goals are great in that they help guide you in the right direction but they don’t provide any guidance on how to get there. This quote from James Clear (the author of the book) sums this idea up well:
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
Some of you may still think systems are too complicated and that goals are good enough, so let me convince you otherwise. First of all, both “successful” and “unsuccessful” people have the same goals. (Just to clarify, successful and unsuccessful refer to whether you reach your goals).
A Senior Software Engineer at Google and an aspiring coder both likely had the same goal to begin with, “learn to code”, but it’s how they approached those goals that determined where they are now.
Second, goals only bring about temporary change. Going back to the “learn to code” example, once you learn the basics of Python, you may think you’re done, you’ve reached your goal ✅ But someone with a system that encourages working on a Python project for an hour a day will be constantly and consistently improving.
And lastly, goals and systems affect you emotionally in very different ways. When you reach your goal of “run a marathon”, your journey’s over and that happiness you were chasing is gone. But with a system that helps you run 40 km (or 25 miles for our American friends) a week, this sense of pride and joy will continue and not be restricted by the accomplishment of a goal.
Takeaway #4: You Gotta Push Through
This is actually a very small detail within the book but one that very strongly resonated with me. The idea that professionals and top CEOs never get tired or demotivated is something that’s been ingrained in my mind personally 💤
But it’s absolutely critical to remember that it’s people’s ability to keep going regardless of any setbacks not because they never face setbacks that sets them apart.
Let’s go back to our old example of “learning to code”. Let’s say you start learning Python using U of Waterloo’s Computer Science Circles (which by the way is a great course that I’m using to learn Python). You build a system of going through one hour of the course everyday at 6 am before school 🕕 You do this for a week and enjoy it. But then the coding problems start getting harder and you give up. Is something wrong with you? NO!
We need to learn that building habits, especially ones that challenge us and push us outside of our comfort zones can be hard to maintain, but if you push through and keep going, you will become the next Big Tech CEO.
My New Habits!
An idea that’s discussed at length in “Atomic Habits” is the effectiveness of social accountability! So I’m going to be sharing some of the new habits I’m trying to implement into my life and you can help me stay accountable!
#1: Wake Up at 5:30 am Every Morning
After years of dreading waking up early, the quarantine helped me realize that waking up at 7 am wasn’t the worst thing 🕖 In fact, when I started waking up earlier I was able to be so much more productive and happier throughout the day. But I don’t just want to improve, I want to maximize! So I have begun going to bed earlier and waking up earlier too. So far it’s been a bit difficult, but I’m trying to keep Takeaway #4 in mind and push through!
#2: Consume with Intention
This might seem a little vague, but ever since joining TKS, I’ve realized that I often listen to or read very interesting podcasts or articles but I completely forget about them a few hours later. I now know that I wasn’t consuming with intention. I was being passive.
So to fix that, I’ve started writing down my main takeaways from the media I consume in a Google Doc and this has already been so helpful ✍️
Just a few hours ago, I was reading Eason Wu’s article on the ethics of AI and really enjoyed it. I was about to comment something like “Loved it!” but caught myself. Instead, I wrote about my top 3 takeaways.
I’ve really been enjoying this mindful consumption but the obstacle I see coming is losing that motivation after a while!
#3: Be An Active Participant (in Discussions)!
This applies especially to bigger group discussions. I have a tendency to just stay quiet and listen to others, even if I have something insightful to share 🗣 This diminishes from my experience and honestly, it just leaves me with a bad feeling afterwards!
So how am I going to tackle this? Another takeaway (that I didn’t have time to talk about) was about making habits easy and specific.
Here’s my revised goal: Say at least 3 sentences (other than an introduction) during a large group discussion. Along the way, I might update this goal, but let’s see how it goes for now!