In October of 2018, when the book Atomic Habits by James Clear was first published, I was in the middle of dealing with debilitating postpartum anxiety. My physician and I were experimenting with different medications, and my life seemed to be falling apart.
My to-do list seemed impossible to accomplish. It was all so big. Whether it was responding to an email, or washing dishes after dinner, every action felt gigantic. And I was failing at everything.
After a few tries and failures, I finally found relief. However, when the fog of postpartum anxiety was lifted, I had no idea how to get back on track to achieving my personal and professional goals.
As the direct manager of a team of 13, and indirectly supervising 65, I needed to get my stuff together. Quickly.
Fortunately, not long after finding relief through therapy and medication, I also found support in Atomic Habits, and the way I work towards my goals, coach my team members, and manage my household has been changed ever since. I listened to the audiobook for the first time at the beginning of the pandemic, and my mind was completely blown!
The foundational message of the book is that one good habit leads to another good habit, and the next thing you know, you’re out there living your best, most organized, productive, healthy life.
It was exactly what I needed to hear to recognize that everything I was overwhelmed with getting done could be accomplished just by building small habits on top of other small habits.
There is nothing that I can’t do thanks to James Clear’s process for creating a system in order to build habits that lead to success.
Most importantly, the new habits that I created gave me more confidence to assert my needs at home and at work with others because I was finally showing up, and I finally had the tools to show up, for myself.
Start with tiny habits.
After going through the first couple of chapters of the book, I was eager to test out Clear’s theories.
The first habit I started with was to manage the most basic of tasks. For example, I’ve always been good at deep cleaning, but the day-to-day tidying just wasn’t something I was able to maintain.
It would be simple things, such as leaving a blanket that was used to cuddle on the couch would stay on the couch, unfolded, until the next time I used it. A mug would be left on the coffee table. Overdue library books would sit in my car for weeks until I finally dropped them off at the library.
I decided that keeping my house neat was the first habit I wanted to build on. I was amazed at how easy it was to take my mug to the kitchen sink after I was finished drinking. Or how folding up the blanket before I left the living room took seconds. SECONDS.
Soon, these things became second nature, and I was shocked at how I was able to keep my home neater longer, even with two kids and a husband also living in the home.
Raise the stakes.
Once that habit was solidified, I moved on to bigger challenges. Things like completing work by its deadline, sending agendas out ahead of calls with my team members, and shutting down my work computer in the evening were on my list of habits I wanted to improve.
It was truly remarkable how doing what I said I was going to do became easier once I not only learned how to create systems, but also when I was able to experience how much I had blown tasks and goals out of proportion!
Doing the work of strengthening my” habit” muscle helped to make success and getting things done a part of my identity.
The change was noticed (and greatly appreciated) by my family and folks at work. I never missed an opportunity to talk to them about how folding my blanket after family movie night was turning me into a more productive, successful Brandi!
Share your process with others.
Sharing my experience with Atomic Habits, and the work that I was doing to improve myself both as a leader and personally seemed to make everyone more willing to get me things in the time that I was asking, in the format that I needed it, because they knew I had a process and they could see it was working.
Whenever we are intentional about self-improvement, it can seem to others like we’re trying to change them. Many people push back, even though they are the ones who are benefitting from your new habits. Let them know what you’re doing so that they don’t feel defensive about your sudden “hands-on” or engaged approach to working.
Give yourself permission to fail. And share that, too.
Let me be clear. I’m still not perfect. Even knowing, thanks to the book, that real change and all success can be reached just by adding up the small decisions I make and habits that I build every day, there are still times when I come short.
If I go three months without forgetting to send out an agenda, and then my streak ends, that doesn’t mean that I failed. Now that the system is in place and I know what to do, I’ll pick up next week where I left off.
But first, I’ll look at what were the circumstances that led to me not getting the agenda out and see if I need to tweak anything in my actions there.
Since everyone I work (or live) with knows how passionate I am about habit building, I want to tell them about the mistakes, too. I’ve had several team members share that they don’t know where to start with a project, or they feel like they’re behind. The Atomic Habits method might feel unattainable to folks like that unless they are able to see that they don’t have to be perfect in order for it to work for them.
When you start the work of being intentional about building positive habits that will lead you to success, it becomes a part of who you are. Mistakes will happen, but success will occur a lot more frequently. As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”