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Popular author and speaker James Clear says, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” That is, the effects of your habits multiply, when repeated, much like your money multiplies, as it sits in an interest-bearing account.
Clear is the author of the new Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, and he has a simple formula for making your habits Atomic, which he shared with Hack Learning creator and Times 10 Publisher Mark Barnes for Episode 127 of the Hack Learning Podcast.
Excerpts from Mark’s brief interview with James Clear
MB — In your new book, Atomic Habits, you say, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” Talk about that statement.JC — The basic idea is that habits don’t add up, they compound. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.This process can work for you or against you. That is, habits are a double-edged sword. We’ve all experienced this with bad habits: eating junk food or procrastinating for an hour seem like insignificant choices on any given day, but when you repeat them week after week they can really add up.It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes very obvious.This is why it’s so important to understand how habits work: you want to be able to design them to help you rather than hinder you. Understanding habits allows you to avoid the dangerous half of the blade on that double-edged sword.MB — People often connect habits to goals, but in Atomic Habits, you say “Forget about goals and focus on systems.” Why should we forget about goals and what systems should we focus on?JC — This is one of the core philosophies of Atomic Habits: You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.Setting a goal is fairly easy. Anyone can sit down for 10 minutes and complete a goal-setting exercise. But what you find is that setting a goal often has very little to do with actually achieving a particular outcome.In fact, the winners and losers in any particular domain often have the same goals. Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates them.MB — So what makes the difference?JC — I think it comes down to the system that you follow each day. Throughout my book, I give dozens of strategies and examples of how to build a system of atomic habits that make it easier to stick to good habits and break bad ones.Also, it’s worth noting: I don’t believe goals are completely useless. Goals are good for setting a sense of direction and gaining clarity about what you’re working on. But systems are better for actually making progress.MB — Can you share a system from your book?JC — How to stop procrastinating with the “2-Minute Rule.” The Two-Minute Rule states “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
You’ll find that nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two-minute version:
- “Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
- “Do thirty minutes of yoga” becomes “Take out my yoga mat.”
- “Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”
- “Fold the laundry” becomes “Fold one pair of socks.”
- “Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”
The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. Anyone can meditate for one minute, read one page, or put one item of clothing away. And, as we have just discussed, this is a powerful strategy because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it.
A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. What you want is a “gateway habit” that naturally leads you down a more productive path.MB – You have a wildly popular site and newsletter, with hundreds of thousands of subscribers. What can our listeners expect to find when they subscribe?JC — I write about self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research. Newsletter subscribers get a new article from me each week about topics like habits, decision making, and continuous improvement. Over 400,000 people subscribe to those messages.
Check out Atomic HabitsJames Clear’s new book, Atomic Habits: How to Easily Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, just arrived and is appropriate for us, because like Hack Learning books, it looks at a problem through a unique lens and offers simple, right-now solutions to making your habits Atomic. You can learn more and grab your copy at atomichabits.com.
James Clear is an author and speaker focused on habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Time, and on CBS This Morning.