Readers just had a fantastic discussion on habits — and I’m in the midst of reading Atomic Habits, so I thought we’d discuss. What habits are you trying to form right now? What habits are you trying to break? Have you identified good systems (the habits behind your goals) or worked to create good systems?
I think a lot of people are thinking about habits right now. We’ve discussed how to build good habits in the past, but it’s been a while — and I don’t think we’ve ever really discussed good “systems.” So let’s discuss.
In the recent threadjack, some of the habits the readers mentioned they were proud of recently included things like:
- working out regularly or every day
- reading before bed instead of screen time
- getting outside every day, even in bad weather
- maintaining a good skincare routine
- flossing or using a Waterpik
- taking vitamins/supplements
- waking up at the same time
- making your bed in the morning
- drinking a certain amount of water
- setting up automated savings
- “closing the kitchen” at night
These are all amazing things! I am about halfway through Atomic Habits and it’s such a rich, amazing book with tons of actionable takeaways – particularly in how to build habits, namely, how to create systems to accomplish your goals.
One of his big suggestions in the book is that you shouldn’t focus on goals (e.g., lose 20 pounds, run a marathon) but instead focus on systems, because systems are key to building a habit and maintaining it for a long time. Plus, you’re more likely to see success and early wins with systems, whereas with a goal you have to wait until it’s complete.
And, once the systems are in place, the third level of habits kicks in — your identity starts to shift into someone who does the habit (or does not do the habit). Goal: quit smoking. System: Give yourself a checkmark for every day you don’t smoke; try to chain as many days together as possible. Identity change: “I used to be a smoker” (versus “I’m someone who is trying to quit smoking.”
Like I said, he’s got a ton of actionable takeaways for how to build systems, such as
- Stacking a habit you want to start doing with one you already do — I think the 10-15 squats I do each morning between applications of my Vitamin C serum, moisturizer, and sunblock count (three sets, whee!).
- Committing to 2 minutes of a habit — similar to the idea of “the run is a success if you put your shoes on and close the door behind you.” Starting really, really small helps you get used to doing the habit, and then you can start to level up.
- Training yourself to do a habit every day at a certain time — for example, if you commit to going for a walk after dinner for 8 weeks, after the time period is up you will probably crave going for a walk after dinner.
- Bundling a habit you want to do with something you really enjoy, i.e., only watching Netflix when you’re working out. (I do this a bit with Fitbod!)
- Using reinforcement like habit trackers to create streaks (like the stock photo at the top of the post. (Digital journaling is GREAT for this, as are regular planners; the author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, even sells a Clear Habit Journal!)
I’ve been thinking a lot about my own habits as a result of the book. Some of the areas where I think I’ve got great habits include things like
- Filling a 32-oz carafe with water (so it’s easier for me to pour myself more water than it is to get up and get a new glass of water). I almost always hit 64 oz. a day, although I’ve been wondering if I should increase it.
- Bringing a washed apple to my desk so that it’s right in front of me if I want a snack.
- Moving my body 4 to 6 times a week, whether through walking, streaming workouts like Les Mills on Demand, FitBod, or Downdog (yoga or occasionally barre). It’s super dorky but I used my old resolutions chart to get my systems/habits in place after they fell off early this year. I’m also more recently back to using the Done app.
- Eating eggs as my default lunch — cheap and generally healthy. I’ve been trying to make them more of a vehicle for vegetables (habit stacking, I guess) by adding mushrooms, spinach, kale, etc.
Things I sometimes do that I think could turn into great do-all-the-time systems:
- Immediately putting away/out of sight things that are more conducive/triggering to bad habits; for example, if the bag of my kids’ dried cherries are on the counter I almost always steal a handful (ditto for crackers, chips, etc.). (I think the author, James Clear, would call this “controlling the environment”)
- Adding one “really healthy/lean/whole food night” into our weekly meal plan (like broiled chicken plus veggies).
- Not buying a lot of carbs and empty sugar. (I’ve gotten into a bad habit these past six months of buying allllll the foods that I used to not buy with the caveat, “You can just run to the store and get one if you want it so bad!”)
- Committing to one outdoor activity with the family per weekend, whether it’s a long walk or a hike or kayaking or whatever.
Goals I want to accomplish and I just need to find the right system to get there:
- Working on bigger projects like books, courses, etc. My current plan is “find an extra day to do it,” which neeeeever works (go figure!). More recently I am trying “15 minutes a day and here’s a list of things you can do in those 15 minutes” but even that isn’t working well. Maybe I need to bundle it with a habit or time like lunch, and maybe start smaller with 5 minutes. Maybe I should end the day by putting the thing on my desk to do. Hmmmn.
- Going to bed earlier — I really really need to put my various screens down at 10:30, and I keep making poor decisions and not doing that. The big habit that would make a dent here is not bringing the screens into the bedroom, but that doesn’t seem doable at this point. I’ve tried alarms and reminders and those all fail, so I need to think of something else to do. Perhaps I will start brushing my teeth at 10:30 and leave the devices outside at that point (except for my Kindle, which totally does not count, riiiiight? seriously don’t tell me if it does).
- Closing my tabs at the end of each day would go a long way toward starting the next day less distracted and cluttered — and yet I don’t do it. Maybe I just need a carrot to get there — maybe I’ll start checking off the days when I successfully do it and trying to chain them together. Hmmn. (I have…. a TON of tabs open. At all times. On all devices. I literally just got a warning from Safari that I couldn’t open any more tabs until I closed some of the others; I forget if I was at 400 tabs or 500 tabs. Too many.)
- Keeping Casa Griffin clutter free. I could greatly improve my systems here; please hit me with your best systems for keeping your spaces free of clutter.
I don’t know, ladies — how about you? Have you read Atomic Habits or another systems-oriented book? What systems have you implemented that got you to the goals you wanted to reach? What systems work best for you — charts, habit stacking, temptation bundling, etc.? Have you experienced an identity shift as a result of a habit or system (and now you’re someone who loves exercise, or someone who doesn’t smoke or drink, or someone who saves her money)?