Atomic Habits: How I'm Using It

Apr 19 2019

Reading through Atomic Habits

I was initially interested in the book Atomic Habits for the same reason I’ve been interested in bullet journals, planners, project management, etc.  I wanted a way to push myself to be better, and to do the things that I imagine my ideal self does each day.  While I read the book, I kept thinking what kinds of habits I would design, or what I would change based on the book.

I came up with nothing.

Instead, I realized that my interest over these topics in the past year, and my experimentation with habit trackers large and small, had already helped me hone down a set of habits.  When I look at the journal pages I’ve been setting up since the start of the new year, I see how they’ve been embodying the same values that Clear sets forth in his book.  I’ve enjoyed how this book has reaffirmed both how and why this method has been working well for me.

You can read my chapter-by-chapter breakdowns in my other Atomic Habits posts:

Weekly Journal Pages

Here’s an example of my page for each week.  In previous iterations, I had one large habit tracker chart for everything.  After a while, it became overwhelming to think about everything I need to jam into a given day, and I stopped wanting to look at all the blank checkboxes I needed to tick.  When I think about what I’ve repeatedly listed on different attempts at habit tracking, this is what I’ve boiled it down to: things that are fairly consistent across all of my days.  What I’ve also done here, for the first time, is separate them into morning vs. evening (or really late afternoon) activities. I like the symmetry of the grids—make it attractive—and how I can still feel accomplished for having a very together morning even if my evening falls apart or is interrupted.

[caption id=“attachment_138” align=“alignnone” width=“4032”]IMG_20190419_095433.jpg Journal Excerpt[/caption]

Some of these sound big but are small:  when I fill in the yoga box, it means I did a sun salutation sequence.  This takes all of one minute—making this a very easy habit to mark as fulfilled. I really enjoy being able to fill things in—make it satisfying—and I think I like it more because I can fill all of these in for each day without adding too much additional time to my schedule.  Each item takes less than one minute (except gratitude and packing lunch, which take maybe up to 3 minutes each). Not checking my blood sugar reminds me that I need to buy more test strips. Just recently, I added a row underneath the tracker to chart dips in mood so that I can better understand their frequency in relation to my consistency with medication, or with other factors during the week. For the act of gratitude, I write down three things I’m grateful for on the facing journal page.  Below the tracker, I’ll list accomplishments of the week, and what I’m reading, as well as other random notes I want to make on that week.  The journal itself is a bright pink and sits on my nightstand, giving it a very prominent and obvious place in my morning routine.

Identity-Based Habits

One point that still resonates with me is the idea of tying habits to your identity.  I don’t like to run, but I like being proud of myself afterward.  I am incredibly inconsistent with it.  I’ve cobbled together a network of influences and tools that can help me stay on track once I begin to run, but starting is still difficult.  Two things have helped with this, one admittedly a little more than the other:

  1. The RunBet app.  I have put $40 into a pot with 84 other runners that I will run four times a week and hit a minimum distance and pace each time. It's that sweet external accountability. I really don't want to have thrown away that money, and this makes me run. This is the primary drive, and provides the external accountability that Clear advocates for in the last section of the book.
  2. I am a runner. When I look at my week and say "Eh, I have four more days to do two runs, I'll do it tomorrow," I remind myself that I will do it today because I am a runner. I am not just meeting the obligation, I am building a consistent habit because this is something I like having in my life. This is the secondary drive that keeps me doing multiple RunBets and registering for races.  The app sets the status quo, the identity is what helps me push it further.

Clear (Atomic) Habits Journal

While I love the flexibility of the bullet journal, I would often forget to start a layout for the week and would often lose entire weeks or months.  Starting over felt like a disappointment, and the hope that maybe a more minimal layout would solve this issue would often be dashed.  When I saw the Clear Habits journal offered through Baron Fig, I knew the preprinted tracker was exactly what I needed.

[caption id=“attachment_143” align=“alignnone” width=“3854”]IMG_20190622_135058 Atomic Habits Journal Tracker[/caption]

I haven’t yet been consistent enough to have hit everything all 30 days.  However, having the habit tracker pre-printed in the journal gives me a structure to return to without having to put a lot of thought into how I’m going to pick things back up.  Because it’s effortless to return as I don’t have to draw out another grid, I’m less likely to feel guilt or be disappointed at having let it lapse a few days or even weeks.  I can pick back up again without having “lost” anything. If I remember that I did something, I can go back and add it.  The layout also turns those unchecked or dashed boxes into information for improvement rather than a sign of my inability to succeed.

While I haven’t had as much successful in developing an automatic habit from these, the tracker itself functions beautifully as a checklist.  As a checklist it grounds my day, helps make sure I am doing what I want to do each day.  It’s incredibly difficult for me to sustain doing the same thing at the same time each day.  This list allows me to make sure it is all done, even if it sometimes takes until the evening or the afternoon to check it off.