The thing about goals is that they’re usually much too modest and too ordinary to generate much passion in the goal-setter. For the purposes of this discussion, that would be you. Maybe you’ve been getting stuck on the same goals for so many years because they bore you. Maybe it’s because you secretly resent being held to humdrum societal expectations. Maybe you don’t like the way magazines always use the imperative command: LOSE WEIGHT while trying this brownie recipe! GET ORGANIZED while buying a few sacks full of these objects in our advertisements! I’m tired of it, too. That’s why I’m so proud to share that there are sneaky and cost-free ways to beat the system. Here are some cheats for common goals.
Goal: DRINK MORE WATER. I struggled with this for almost twenty years. It was closely linked to my cola addiction. Advertisers will try to sell you all sorts of special bottles and jugs and jars and hydration systems and custom artisanal additives. What’s the cheat?
Cheat: STRENUOUS EXERCISE. If you haven’t been working out, and you start, one of the first things you’ll notice is that your thirst begins to take over your life, and for once Idris Elba isn’t involved. In marathon training, I found that I could drink 80 fluid ounces on one training run. In martial arts classes, I can empty a 20-oz bottle in two gulps. The concern shifts from “I should probably get around to this one day” to “maybe I shouldn’t shove people away from the drinking fountain?”
Goal: GET ORGANIZED. This is my wheelhouse, because I work with chronically disorganized people, and I know from experience that it can take three months just to have one square foot of space consistently clear. Our culture makes time scarce and material objects plentiful. As of the mid-twentieth century, it’s possible to live in clutter and disorganization the likes of which humanity has never known. What’s the cheat?
Cheat: DOWNSIZE YOUR LIVING SPACE. My husband and I rented a typical suburban house when we first got married. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a two-car garage, living room, family room, laundry room, dining room, and the biggest kitchen I’d ever had. We now live in a 612-square-foot studio apartment. Our dining table is stored flat under our bed. Getting an offer for the Epic Dream Job meant we had just eleven days to downsize all our stuff and relocate to a new city. The differential between a higher income on one hand, and lower rent plus no vehicle expenses on the other hand, means we could handily replace every object we downsized with plenty to spare. This is somewhat of a simplified version of a ten-year process, but this style of downsizing is not rare or radical by any means.
Goal: TOO BUSY AND TOO TIRED. Does this apply to everyone, or what? Being too tired to think straight is probably the biggest killer of goals and resolutions aside from the humble donut. This situation should not be tolerated. Even if you never make another goal or have any other aspirations in your life, finding a way to regain your energy level and get some peace of mind should matter to you. It’s the best reason to do anything. But how is it possible to get everything done without cutting back on sleep? What’s the cheat?
Cheat: GET RID OF YOUR CAR. Believe it or not, getting rid of our car two years ago was one of the most surprising and most effective ways to introduce leisure into our schedule. It takes longer to get places, and this has led to three things. One, we make fewer trips because it’s a bigger deal, so we consolidate or delegate errands. Two, we each have a BMW (Bike Metro Walk) which automatically adds more exercise, more time to listen to podcasts and audio books, and more time to sit and chill. On the bus (or rideshare, occasionally) you can text your friends, play games, read a novel, watch a TV episode, browse recipes, stare out the window, or set an alert and just nap out. Driving means that every minute, you’re either battling traffic, looking for parking, or wondering how you’ll ever find time to clean out your car. Wouldn’t you rather have that time for aimless entertainment instead? Oh, and the third thing is that because we moved and got rid of our car, we are now able to save 40% of our income, which has solved not just our leisure constraints but our financial issues as well!
What we’re talking about is how radical change can quickly and easily resolve challenges when making tiny tweaks to the standard-issue lifestyle cannot. Standard behavior includes standard problems. In our culture, those are stress, chronic sleep deprivation, clutter, money worries, sedentary behavior, and excess adipose tissue, commonly referred to as body fat.
Radical change does not have to be shocking or difficult. For instance, going to bed an hour earlier might be revolutionary for a lot of people, and it costs nothing and requires no extra equipment. All it takes is a willingness to say, I am tired of annoying myself, I am tired of facing the same issues year after year, and now I’m making the executive decision to put a stop to it. Being tired all the time is boring. Being broke all the time is boring. I don’t want the quest to remind myself to “drink more water” be my main purpose besides commuting and working at my job.
The real cheat for common goals is to wipe them off the board. Substitute some uncommon goals and see what happens.
Coming right up is a fresh start, a brand new year. This is a tested and well-researched method that really works for a lot of people who want to crush their goals. Unfortunately, beginners tend to choose great goals but match them with the wrong methods. Then they blame themselves and their lack of “motivation” or “willpower” or “passion,” the unholy trinity of the fixed mindset. Please don’t let that happen to you. Don’t get suckered by cheap marketing tactics or lame magazine articles. Especially one thing: Don’t join that gym!
Don’t get me wrong, either. I am a total gym rat - or at least, I am now. Like many people, though, I’ve wasted hundreds of dollars on gym memberships I didn’t use, DVDs and VHS tapes I didn’t watch, fitness books I didn’t read, and equipment that sat around until it got dusty. Please learn from the ghost of what used to be my nice flat green American dollars. Don’t join that gym! (Or buy that DVD or that book or that gigundous vat of indigestible protein powder).
Let me go back to what I said earlier about the unholy trinity of motivation, willpower, and passion. Those things don’t exist, not like you think they do. Unless your excitement at eating hot breadsticks, your ability and determination to stay up past midnight binge-watching entire seasons of TV shows, or your fervent desire to own a hundred pairs of hurty shoes qualify. You only feel those feelings toward things that are already familiar to you, that you already love so much that you’ll build your entire life around them. The confusion here is that it’s impossible to feel that kind of drive around the unfamiliar.
That comes with time. It does, but only after you’ve gone completely through the beginning stages of uncertainty, distaste, embarrassment, and feeling like you don’t belong. Being a beginner at anything feels gross and annoying. That’s why the better you get at other stuff, like dipping mozzarella sticks, the bigger the gap is between where you are now and novice level at anything else.
This is important, okay? Because there are two ways you can go with your curiosity about the fit life and your willingness to make a physical transformation. One harnesses the cute habits you already have, and the other instead uses your proven ability to learn to get into other stuff that is completely unlike going to the gym. If you do choose to join a gym, a basic and inexpensive commodity gym, make sure you have the right reinforcements first. (The schedule, the daily fourth meal, the entertainment options, the triple-quadruple backups for when your schedule changes or you’re not in the mood).
When I say not to join a gym, what I’m talking about are the cheap gyms with room for a hundred people. The pricing structure of those gyms depends on the majority of people paying and not showing up. It’s a rip-off! They know full well that at least 80% of their customers will waste money, feel hopeless, and blame themselves. They’re selling false hope just like a liquor store sells booze in paper sacks down on Skid Row. Physical transformation absolutely is possible - people are doing it every day, every hour, right this minute. For it to happen at a standard cheapie gym, though, takes education that novices simply don’t have.
What you want, if you really want results and you know you can’t get them at home, is a highly specific gym. Most people truly will not work out alone in their garage or bedroom or living room, with just a book or a training plan. Nothing personal! Just ask yourself for a moment, what else in your life do you do that you learned entirely alone, at home by yourself? Even gaming you probably learned at the side of a friend or sibling. Most things that you do, you probably learned in some more formal manner, from your schooling to your job to driving a car. You can use that framework when you commit to train. Think of it as “training” in the same way you would at your job. You know how to learn, you know how to follow a class schedule, you know how to respect a teacher, and you know how to go from “zero knowledge” to “some knowledge.” Right?
The first “gym” I joined was a ballroom dancing school. I adored it. It cost me $200 a month that I really couldn’t afford, but I found a way. I basically lived there. I almost never missed a class. Now I can say I’m a “competent social dancer.” They clear the floor for us when we dance at holiday parties and weddings. I haven’t paid for ballroom dance classes in many years, but then, I don’t need them. I kept the ability and moved on to something else for training purposes.
Right now I’m enrolled in a martial arts school. It costs four times as much as the cheapie gym membership I used to have. Unlike that cheap commodity gym, though, I can credit my martial arts gym for making me the fittest I’ve ever been. It has also brought me a passion I’ve never known, which is my newfound obsession with knife fighting. (Doesn’t knife fighting make any other gym seem positively comfortable and relaxing? Thought so. That’s why I said it).
My expensive boutique gym still costs less than pay cable. Since I don’t have cable TV, I’m spending less money than most people, I have all the time I need to train, and I can also walk around at night without feeling all that nervous. I truly can’t imagine giving up my gym just to sit around watching TV five hours a night. Ugh, why?
Pay more, if you’re going to join a gym. Make a serious commitment. Show up and be awkward for a few weeks. If you hang around long enough to get your money’s worth, you’ll start making friends. Everyone will know your name. Not only will you finally get the transformation you always wanted, but you can transform your social life, too. It could wind up being one of the most fun and interesting things you’ve ever done.
Don’t join that generic gym. If you’re going to bother at all, shift some things around and join the specific gym, the one that focuses on something that really speaks to you.
Read this book even if you have no particular curiosity around the practice of bullet journaling. Read The Bullet Journal Method, because it happens to be one of the greatest productivity books ever written. Ryder Carroll makes a truly compelling case for why Getting Organized can be so transformative for so many people, whether their struggles are with attention deficit, PTSD, or, memorably, talking to emergency medical responders while a child is having a seizure. This book has so much to offer that the artistic aspects are really just a side bonus.
I use a paper day planner with bullet journal techniques even though I also use a tablet and a smartphone. Writing longhand really does work to help focus, think clearly, and remember details. Another benefit that Carroll describes is differentiating between our memories of what happened and what actually happened; we may have positive memories of something negative and vice versa. Writing down accurate details can help us see the truth that a job or relationship isn’t going quite the way we thought it was. This is why a written journal is so instrumental in spotting patterns and deciphering mysterious health problems.
Part of the practice of bullet journaling is the daily reflection. Carroll points out that it’s better to spend even one minute a day on this, as long as it’s done every day, because that is more valuable than longer but more sporadic sessions. He says he usually spends 5-15 minutes per daily session, and I can back this up. With a clear system in place, it takes very little time to maintain. More, it becomes a pleasure, even a stolen thrill, rather than a chore. This is where the beautiful artwork and hand-lettering of so many BuJo aficionados begins, because it’s a treat we give ourselves.
Productivity is all about gamification, or how we choose the metrics that will measure our success. Carroll includes some very interesting ways to gamify goals, including the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. (Set some goals for five years, four months, three weeks, two days, and one hour). He also teaches Agile methods, Sprints, and the Five Whys, which transfer readily between the home and the workplace: my husband relies on this system as an aerospace engineer, and we use it in our marriage as well.
The examples of problem-solving that come up in The Bullet Journal Method say everything about how universally useful it is. Everything from how to plan a vacation to I CAN’T PAY RENT is in here somewhere. Carroll writes lucidly about self-compassion, gratitude, mindfulness, and all those catchphrases that seem so abstract, until we see how directly they apply to daily life. This is a remarkable book that far exceeds its remit, turning “productivity” into pure poetry about how to live life well, even amid the massive jumble of it all.
Few things are more distracting than the cruel stories we tell ourselves.
Often all it takes to live intentionally is to pause before you proceed.
If everything is a priority, nothing is.
Yes means work, it means sacrifice, it means investing time into one thing that you can no longer invest into another.
Productivity is about getting more done by working on fewer things.
News junkies like myself often have a lot of trouble constraining our news consumption. That’s because the news cycle has been deliberately designed to hook users. It sells advertising and bumps up ratings. (“Ratings” as defined by number of viewers or readers, not by quality the way we rate other products). Constant news engagement is stressful and often pointless, since it’s planned around program schedules rather than merit or relevance. There’s a better way to stay informed. More books, less news, might be the answer to reclaiming some perspective and mental bandwidth.
‘More books, less news’ is not the same as recommending a complete news blackout. Not at all! The premise is to limit news time to a pre-defined chunk of the day. This is much easier to do when the first priority is to read a book. Headlines can be fit in the time that’s left.
At some point during 2018, I realized that I had only been reading maybe half the number of books I did in the past several years. I knew exactly where my time had gone, and it made me disappointed with myself. Five years from now, I probably won’t remember how many versions of speculation and guesswork I read about the latest hurricane or whether various royals might be expanding their family. I probably will remember the novels and non-fiction books I chose instead. I can stay informed on current events without sacrificing my lifelong reading habit, as long as I keep my book nearby.
An extra hour of news consumption a day is likely to raise my blood pressure, give me a headache, or make me want to crawl into my closet and hide. An extra hour a day of long-form reading is likely to keep me both informed and relaxed.
Choosing the right book is key to this enterprise. Sometimes certain books can only be appreciated in the right mood, and other times a poor fit can stall a reader’s progress for weeks or months. Don’t feel obligated to finish a book that isn’t working for you. Maybe it will seem like the perfect choice a couple of months from now. Something suspenseful or funny may remind you just what it was that you always loved about reading.
Books have, dare I say it, a shelf life. I’ve found that buying too many books in advance can put me off ever cracking a certain cover. If a particular title has caught my attention, I like to use that curiosity to get me into the book right away. If I set a stack aside, I might not touch it again until the next time I pack up my bookshelves to move to a new place. When that happens, I might as well give up. What was once an enticing treat somehow becomes boring homework.
Some people are devoted re-readers. I am not one of those people. Every time I have re-read a book, I’ve found that it ruined my first impression and spoiled my memory. I’ve never liked a title as much the second time around. This is why my book collection continues to shrink, as I move more toward e-books and sell off the hard copies I have finished reading. I share this because anyone who does love reading the same book over and over will be so offended and protective of these cherished favorites that it might inspire a mass re-reading marathon.
Shared reading is something I enjoy very much. My husband will occasionally read a book with me, if it interests both of us, and he prefers hard copies. He does a lot of business travel and it’s a good habit for the long flights and the endless waiting. He has this bizarre habit of picking up a book and starting to read it the very day he brings it home. This keeps me on-trend, reading our shared books while they are still fresh enough in his mind that we can discuss them. (A point of contention in the past is that I would foist a book on him and then not get around to it for several years). These hard copies often get passed around at his work when we’re done. It can be really exciting to sit down to dinner with friends and find that everyone has just finished a book we have in common. Discussions about a book tend to be much more interesting, nuanced, and provocative than discussions about current events.
(Particularly when the discussion veers off into professional sports, and not everyone knows anything about that sport or those teams...)
Books are great in so many ways and so many formats. I like reading in dark mode while my hubby is sleeping next to me. I like reading a hardcover library book on the elliptical. I like reading an audiobook while I do the laundry or walk around town doing errands. I like reading in the comfy chair while my hubby stretches out on the couch, and our poor dog has to decide who has the snuggle token for the day. It’s one of the best things to do when daylight is scarce and the weather is icky.
Reading is contagious, like most social behaviors. When one person turns on the TV, all heads swivel toward it. When one person whips out a smartphone, everyone else uses the opportunity to do the same. When one person curls up with a book, somehow it looks so cozy that others want to join in. Then, when everyone is done, all that’s needed is to swap books and begin at the beginning again.
My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 was to study a martial art. Every year I take on a personal goal that involves doing something I find scary, awful, difficult, totally unnatural and unsuited to my personality, and otherwise irresistible. This is where the utmost growth happens, from expanding into totally unknown areas. Previous goals included running and public speaking, although the hardest thing I ever did was to get my driver’s license. If you’re good at any or all of these things, good for you; now go away. And by “go away” I mean that you should go out and find a goal that is challenging to you in the way that getting punched in the mouth is for me.
When I started out, I knew so little that I didn’t even know which “martial art” I wanted to do. I didn’t even know how many there were. All I really knew was that I’d seen The Karate Kid umpteen times and that Jo from the Nancy Drew books knew judo.
January is for research. I made a plan as part of my New Year’s goal-setting. I would ask people about martial arts and solicit their advice. (People love that!) I would read a few articles online. I would find area martial arts schools and visit them. I would compare them, choose one, and sign up for lessons. I would acquire the gear.
What I did not do, which is rare for me, is to read a foot-high stack of books. I also didn’t watch any videos, which I guess sets me apart from Millennials, who often teach themselves crazy stuff like baby sign language or advanced stage makeup techniques by video.
I bumped into a personal trainer and we had a conversation about goal-setting. He signed up for my public speaking club, showed up three times, and vanished. That was long enough for me to absorb his advice, which was to try jiu jitsu because it’s designed for small people to fight off larger people. Then I bumped into a guy in line at Starbucks who was wearing a jiu jitsu t-shirt, and I asked him a bunch of questions.
I visited three schools, all extremely different, which made my choice easy. One was harder to get to, a better gym overall at the same price, but the “beginner” class looked like intermediate-plus from my perspective and the class schedule was less convenient. The third was closer but more of a club than a school. The second school was “just right.” I signed up for a free class the very next day, took the class, put on my shoes, and walked into the front office to sign the contract and buy my equipment. I came home with a big bag of gear, unsure what it all was or how to wear it.
Two belts, a t-shirt, boxing gloves, tape, shin guards, and MMA gloves, so stiff they would barely bend.
I didn’t understand the belt system. I didn’t know anything about international standards, or competition, or the history of these sports. I’d never seen a ring match. Empty cup, in other words.
So I guess I’m studying Krav Maga and Muay Thai kickboxing?
Showed up the first morning and, to my great surprise, the very first thing we did was: PUSH-UPS. Push-ups?!? But when do we learn to punch?
Found out I could not do a push-up.
A minute later, found out I could not do a sit-up either. Grabbing onto my thigh and trying to haul my sorry self up.
Next, ten jump squats. What the heck is that? Normal people do not do this.
If I had had any idea how many thousands of push-ups, sit-ups, and jump squats I would do in 2018, I most likely would not have signed the contract. I would have “studied a martial art” in a workbook and maybe a documentary film. I would not have committed my self or my nice flat green American dollars to dripping sweat upon an athletic mat for a hundred hours.
Instead, I found myself transforming in ways that would only seem to apply to students at Hogwarts.
My shoulders and arms changed. My feet changed. My posture changed.
I quit bruising and skin quit peeling off my knuckles.
It basically quit hurting if I got punched in the nose, the eye, the mouth (most of which strikes I inflicted upon myself). My pain threshold climbed and climbed.
I quit feeling skittish when Rude People and belligerent street folk accosted me. Instead I thought to myself, “Yeah, come at me.” I learned that people almost never actually do anything other than say rude things or make faces. Pfft.
I got an orange belt in Krav Maga and then an orange belt in Muay Thai. I understand the belt system and the stripes now and I’ll totally tell you all about it if you want.
I got a surprise flu shot and realized, and nothing in my life has ever astonished me quite this much, I realized that I no longer get needle reaction. This was confirmed when I had blood drawn months later and didn’t feel woozy at all. I think I might even try giving blood one of these days.
I found that I had a new ability to fight my lifelong tendency toward procrastination. When the resistant feeling rises up, I simply shake it off and say, “You’re doing this.”
The battle magic itself is the best. Learning to get out of chokeholds, learning to wrestle someone twice your size and prevail, learning to throw people onto the mat, it’s fun! Learning to knife fight and do gun disarms, well, that’s more magical than anything really. It’s a bit like ballroom dance school but with heavy metal.
I can fight five people in a shark pit, now. How crazy is that? I can fight with a bag over my head and I can fight with my hands taped together. I can do a couple of things that I’ve never even seen someone do in an action film.
My gloves are finally broken in. My shin guards probably need replacing. I know how to shape and how to wear a mouth guard. I’m not great... I’m a lightweight, I’m not fast, I’m not particularly gifted, it takes me lots of tries to learn new moves, and I look goofy when I shadow-box. My training partner is thirteen and she’s ten times as good as me. I’m not really a beginner anymore, though.
There were few things less likely for someone like me to try, when I first signed up and didn’t even know how to pronounce the names of my new sports. Couldn’t do a push-up, couldn’t do a sit-up, couldn’t throw a jab properly. I’m a nerdy middle-aged woman, a spelling bee champion, birdwatcher, and Scrabble enthusiast. How does this work? Now I’m also a boxer and a badass, unafraid of your common street scoundrel or your garden-variety riff-raff.
I’ll continue to train. I’ve realized that the major difference between me and a sixth-degree black belt is the duration of their training. They got a head start and they might go to class more often than me, that’s all. Five years from now, I might be quite good indeed. It’s interesting enough on so many levels that I feel like I’m barely getting started at battle magic.
We could probably use more school bells, don’t you think? Once upon a time, a bell or buzzer sounded at the end of each class period, and you got to get up and leave. No more math problems, no more P.E., at least for that day.
Sometimes it would be nice to have a bell go off to get you out of traffic or boring conversations.
On the other hand, there’s a built-in end to nice things, too. Whether you want the bell to ring or not, sometimes it’s time to get out of the bathtub or quit licking the ice cream spoon. Or both; I don’t know your life.
Accepting these natural rhythms is part of living a full life. It’s also a big part of living in the time dimension, figuring out how to get to places and get things done without all the extra stress, strain and confusion of being late and disorganized. It’s time to go. The bell has rung.
This phrase can be a big help in shifting paradigms. Those of us who don’t work well in the time dimension tend to get into the zone and want to keep working on one thing as long as we can. This is how we “lose track of time.” We’ve stepped right out of the river, so of course we can’t feel time flowing on the way that everyone else seems to. Even when we use alarms and reminders and alerts, they don’t always solve the problem, because it’s still up to us to estimate when those alerts need to go off.
When the bell has rung, it’s time to quit doing what you’re doing and move down the hall. There’s something else that needs your attention, something else that you’ve chosen as a part of your day. You’ll be back again soon enough, maybe even tomorrow.
This is a transition that feels familiar and natural. It divides the workday/school day into equal units of time with established breaks. A lot of us were more comfortable in school, when we knew what the expectations were and we knew how to get those A’s. Others feel like we’d like another bite at that apple and we know we’d get better grades this time around. We can take consolation in the fact that in many ways, the working world is easier and less time-consuming than school.
Just like we probably don’t think about the academic work of third grade too often anymore, we can look at this time in our lives as just one grade level. This is just one level, not as interesting as future levels still to come. We’re learning and preparing for the next level, and in retrospect this one will feel a little too basic and uninspiring.
Looking at time like part of a school year also fits well into sprints. We can structure our projects by quarter or semester, we can set milestones like we had with exams and papers, and we can even build in extended breaks and vacations. This works just as well for athletic training as it does for art projects, writing, marketing campaigns, space clearing, landscaping, interior design, and self-directed educational projects.
As a runner, I had to learn to accept that if I try to run for distance all year, inevitably I will wind up on the couch, swearing at my ice massage cups. Every year, 80% of runners are sidelined at least temporarily by injury. It pays to plan around an off-season and to cross train. Burnout applies to everyone, everywhere. Push too hard on your goals without a break, and you’ll develop frustrating health problems. Train sensibly, and you start racking up the PRs.
Seasons are great for ambition when we can put our goals in the context of an otherwise long timeline. Yes, I’m training hard for a belt promotion in martial arts, and no, that doesn’t mean I will immediately lose interest next week. There’s just another belt, another symbol of advanced knowledge, effort, and ability. A goal without the context of a timeline is a lonely goal, a goal that probably never will be beat. It’s a snapshot when a movie would be more interesting. The bell has rung, the match is over, the scores are largely irrelevant because we’ll be hitting the mats again on Monday.
In this context, the ringing of the bell is nothing more than a marker.
In the classroom, we might be studying something incredibly absorbing, yet still have a bad class period. Maybe we can’t focus because we didn’t get any sleep, we’re fighting the flu (in which case, GO HOME), or that just wasn’t the best organized lecture. That doesn’t mean we don’t love the class and it doesn’t mean we’ll walk away with a bad grade. Maybe we still get that A. Maybe we continue to be absorbed by that topic for our entire lives. We can accept that today was a write-off and that the bell has rung.
This phrase has been a big help for me as I learn how to navigate in this, this most unfamiliar and awkward Time Dimension. It’s how I get so much done: three projects that I put out five days a week, including a newsletter, a blog, and a podcast; martial arts training; working on my Distinguished Toastmaster credential and supervising five clubs; coaching; travel; my main writing projects. Work on one until the bell has rung. Switch projects until the bell has rung again. Even when I’m writing hot and I don’t want to quit, I remind myself that the bell has rung and my other projects will suffer if I don’t pick up my books and shuffle out.
The bell is about to ring on another calendar year. This is a massively important time in my personal year, a time when I focus on how my life and my relationships and my work and my finances are going. I accept that whatever I did or did not manage to do, this year will soon be gone. It’s going to be rolled away and stored. Anything I want to happen in my life will now have to happen Next Year.
The bell has rung. It’s time to put things behind us and move on.
I’ve been following James Clear for about five years, so I was thrilled when I heard he had a book coming out. I pre-ordered it and read it as fast as I could! Atomic Habits is everything I had hoped it would be, and more. Learning about habit formation from James Clear has changed my life. New readers can pick up in one handy volume what the rest of us have had to learn in small bits over the last few years.
Pop culture has a lot to say about habits, and most of it is wrong. For instance, we think it takes 21 days to form a habit and we usually believe that successful people have unusual amounts of passion, motivation, and willpower. No wonder it’s so hard to make changes!
Atomic Habits is based on extensive research. One of Clear’s major strengths is that he will chase down a reference until he can either document it or... well... not. An example would be the oft-mentioned Seinfeld rule “don’t break the chain,” from a conversation with a fan of his standup comedy. I read recently that Seinfeld himself said he couldn’t figure out where that anecdote came from. Then James Clear references a documentary. He remains the only writer, among at least a dozen I’ve read, who has cited a specific reference to back up that particular claim. If he uses an example or a quote, he has found the citation. That’s his standard.
Another strength of Clear’s work that appears in Atomic Habits is the beautiful simplicity of his illustrations. I particularly love the DECISIVE MOMENTS diagram showing how small choices can add up to make the difference between a good day and a bad day.
Although I have been reading James Clear’s newsletter and taking his webinars for several years, I still received some surprising and valuable new insights from Atomic Habits. One of these is the concept of the “decision journal,” something that I am going to implement immediately. Another is the habit contract; I’ve seen this idea before, but Clear’s example suddenly made it relatable. I also glommed onto the concept of “resetting the room,” and I’m going to steal it and use it all the time.
If you have tried and failed to change your habits, don’t despair. Atomic Habits is here to help. This research-based book will entertain, inform, and probably surprise you as much as it did me. James Clear is changing habits, and if he keeps it up he’s going to change the world.
Once your pride gets involved, you’ll fight tooth and nail to maintain your habits.
Hearing your bad habits spoken aloud makes the consequences seem more real.
The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least.
...I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.
Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism.
Volcanic Momentum is the sort of motivational book that you don’t put back on the shelf when you’re done. You leave it out where you can see the cover, because just reading the words VOLCANIC MOMENTUM puts you in the right frame of mind. Jordan Ring has ‘it,’ ‘it’ being the mysterious factor that can transform a self-described overweight, broke gamer into a veritable productivity machine.
A lot of motivation and productivity books speak in the abstract. An example would be a single person giving parenting advice, or someone who has always been athletic offering diet advice. We believe Jordan when he talks about the “sugar dragon” or procrastination or wasting time because it’s clear he’s been there. He is us.
The heart of Volcanic Momentum is its deep focus on meaning and purpose. Why are we doing what we are doing, and who are we doing it for? This is part of what makes the book stand out. That, and it somehow feels lived-in. Some of the productivity advice is a little quirky, like having whiteboards in the living room, but we can believe that it actually works. It would make a particularly great companion for an active journal-keeper, as it provides pages of excellent journal prompts.
This book busted me up. There were several points where I snorted, laughed out loud, and at one point couldn’t stop giggling through two pages. Something to do with eating a pizza over the sink like a rat. Jordan Ring has a gift for highly relatable and somehow stealthy humor. Volcanic Momentum is approachable, surprisingly comprehensive for its length, and, best of all, really fun to read.
What we do in this life really matters.
There’s no harm in asking, other than hurt pride and a few wasted minutes.
Admit that you are probably not living out your maximum potential right now.
Everyone is called to do more than they already are.
In the home stretch of 2018! Anything that’s going to be attributed to this year needs to happen within the next three months. This sense of impending deadline tends to make me perk up and push a little harder.
How are things going?
Um, not great. I had a major personal loss and my family is going through some Category Five drama. Aside from that, I went down with two colds - that’s six times I’ve been sick this year, if anyone is counting - our building has been under construction almost constantly, the apartment gym is closed, and my husband has been traveling for work basically every week for two months. It’s been really hard to focus or get much done. I’m just... sad. Sad, tired, and unmotivated.
Life goes on, though. No matter how I feel, I have obligations, both to other people and to Future Me. I have to recognize that now that I’m in my forties, I probably won’t go a single year without someone close to me either being hospitalized or dying. That means I have to remember to show up for my loved ones while they’re here, while they can appreciate it. I also have to decide if my life is going to be about more than sadness and processing grief.
So, gratitude. Also in third quarter, our wedding anniversary happened. We managed to fit in a full two days in Las Vegas. This is how it happened: my hubby flew back from a business trip on a Thursday, came home, repacked his suitcase, and we flew out again the same night. We came home on Sunday and he flew out again on another trip the next day. A little crazy but with points and miles we made it work. Even when life is hard, we have each other. We have memories to make.
I added a few things to my usual yearly planning. I made a ‘43 for 43’ list for my birthday, and I’ve done a few things from that. I made another list of things to do during the last 100 days of the year, and so far I’m completely on track, because it’s fun. I also made a fall reading plan. I chose six books for September, and read four of them. In retrospect, I should have chosen the books first and then set a deadline, because, surprise, all of my choices were on hold at all five libraries to which I have access. Or, what, buy them with cash dollars? Part of goal-setting is creating rules that you can follow, setting yourself up for a win.
My personal goal was to explore a martial art. I did my second belt promotion, and now I have two orange belts. Given the way the program is structured, it will probably take me roughly a year between belt promotions now. I’m still feeling out of my depth and extremely challenged at the advanced level, but not to the point of total vapor lock. In other news, my husband recovered from his back injury and joined the school as a beginner in Muay Thai.
My career goal was to launch a podcast. Believe it or not, this is in progress! Even more surprisingly, it’s going to be two, not one, because my hubby and I are doing one together. We’ve had to learn how to use the equipment and the software, but we’re recording some good stuff and making each other laugh.
My physical goals were to do the Shamrock Run back in March and to build a daily stretching routine. I crushed that, and in addition I’m doing my advanced martial arts classes and riding my bike. I was doing a few hours a week on the elliptical trainer, which I’d like to resume when the apartment gym opens again. Now that the weather has cooled, I plan to get back to running. I’m tossing around the idea of training for a half-marathon with my brother next year. Also I lost eight pounds on the Grief Diet.
Our home goal was to lower our rent, which was a success. I’m about at my wits’ end with this apartment complex; the whole place has been under construction much of the year, in addition to all the other issues. Was it worth it? We’ve been pricing out comps and scoping out neighborhoods. I also put in some new closet organizers, which is the kind of thing I do for stress relief.
Our couples goal was to go on an international vacation together. Then we discovered that the best season to travel to the place we want to go would put us in early 2019. We probably won’t be able to count this as a win unless we have tickets in hand by the New Year.
My stop goal was to stop losing focus on incomplete projects. I think I’ve turned the corner on this. I’m reframing how I define a project and retooling how I set up my schedule.
My lifestyle upgrade was to upgrade my laptop. It took half the year, but I finally realized that I don’t want a laptop at all! It’s a combination of the keyboard arrangement, weight, and the questionable wisdom of carrying a fragile, expensive work tool around on mass transit. I’ve started to feel out what I want in a desktop computer.
My Do the Obvious goal was to speak more slowly, with more pauses. I am making considerable progress with this. Recording our podcast conversations and editing them is bringing yet more focus to this.
My quest was to travel to Asia and/or a fifth continent. This probably will not happen until after the New Year.
My wish was to find an amazing pet sitter. Our pet sitter moved, but she still has clients in our building, and we’re working it out.
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE. It occurs to me that having a cold or flu more times than usual is one way to reflect on this. Every time I choose a mantra for the year it winds up having a hidden meaning that makes me wish I’d picked something else.
Personal: Explore a martial art - SUCCESS
Career: Launch a podcast
Physical: Run Shamrock Run 2018, build a daily stretching routine - SUCCESS+
Home: Lower our rent - SUCCESS
Couples: Go on an international vacation together
Stop goal: Stop losing focus on incomplete projects
Lifestyle upgrades: Upgrade laptop
Do the Obvious: Speak more slowly, with more pauses
Quest: Travel in Asia / a fifth continent
Wish: To find an amazing pet sitter - SUCCESS
Mantra: PAUSE AND BREATHE - ha, yeah
I realize that this is equivalent to a full season, over a quarter of the year, but still. There’s something exciting about a countdown, isn’t there? Today is a Monday, and we now have one hundred days until New Year’s Day. How are we going to use the time?
I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, because I’m obsessed. I do almost all my planning around the New Year, and it’s a major milestone for me. Almost anything fun or interesting that I do is a result of this regularly scheduled strategic session. Working backward from there, I also get really into Thanksgiving meal planning, and I spend the full month of October wallowing in Halloween everything. Planning ahead is a way to remind myself to make time for celebration.
Also, I hate cold weather. The only advantage I see is that it’s finally cool enough to use my kitchen. Planning is a way to see myself through to sunshine.
I’ve come around to the idea that the main function of a calendar is to make sure the positives happen. Somehow or other, we’re going to get groceries and do laundry and clean hair out of the drain. All the crises, bills, chores, interruptions, and urgent demands see to themselves. Then time passes, and we realize we’ve gone at least a year without going to the beach, or three months without touching base with a friend, or that we can’t even remember the last time we made cinnamon rolls.
I’m “naturally” a wing-it kind of person. I’m a night owl, I lean toward ADHD, I’m a right-brain creative, and I’ve spent much of my life chronically disorganized. I have basically no concept of time and I’m useless with maps. I started picking this stuff up from my husband, who is an engineer and the kind of person you can literally set your watch by. While I’ve helped bring some spontaneity and flexibility to his life, he’s taught me that there are advantages to this clock-oriented, calendar-focused mentality. Plan ahead and you get the good seats. Show up early and you have plenty of time for the extras, like dessert. Book in advance and you get everything before it’s sold out.
There’s a whole new category of life that’s available to the advance planners. I had no idea. Restaurants you can never try if you wait until that night. Shows you can never see unless you’re willing to wait three years. Hotel rooms that are booked a year ahead. It’s an even bigger deal than the day I figured out how to put books on hold at the library.
That reminds me. I need to make some dinner reservations.
Let’s work backward, shall we?
We’re tentatively planning a vacation in spring, so we leave March and April open. That means it’s important not to put any boring stuff in for those months. We can use February as a “get it done” month, with vacation anticipation as our motivation. (How’s that for syncopation?)
Also, our lease is up in January, and more likely than not, we’ll be moving. As a favor to Future Us, we’ll push any “get it done” stuff further back. We know not to inflict anything like that on ourselves from mid-November through the New Year, because of weather, finances, and holiday traffic. This is how we start to realize that it actually matters what we do in autumn. We have the power today to make our upcoming move a little less shambolic, with the reward of a smoothly planned vacation to follow.
October is my Halloween Month. This began with an all-day Halloween horror binge, and gradually extended because I couldn’t contain myself, couldn’t force myself to wait until the 31st. Because this is super-fun for me, I can use it as both a deadline-enforcing tool and a reward system. If I know I’m going to treat myself to a scary movie or dole out episodes of a show like American Horror Story, I can assign myself an obnoxious chore earlier in the day. Maybe I’m down on the floor, grumbling and organizing the cleansers under the sink. Before I know it, I’m done, everything is wiped clean, it really only took eight minutes, and I’m wrist-deep in a bag of candy, frightening myself half to death. Yay!
Let’s run through a sample countdown. These are just ideas, many of which won’t be relevant to anyone other than me. Use it to spark your own list, and make sure you fit in plenty of time for fun and celebration, okay?
100. Make list of celebrations, traditions, and fun stuff for the rest of the year
99. Write down spring and summer highlights and wistfully missed opportunities for next year
98. Round up all unread books-in-progress
97. Clean out pool bag
96. Inbox Zero
95. Throw out old, partial bottles of sunblock
94. Write third-quarter 2018 progress report
93. Start a Halloween entertainment list, reserve and download as appropriate
92. Plan costume, convince hubby to wear couples theme costume. Squirrels??
91. Try on winter coats and jackets; check pockets for surprise cash
90. Sort through scarves, hats, gloves, and umbrellas
89. Sort through sock drawer
88. Shop for cardigans
87. Look through digital photo album on phone
86. Go through phone and delete unused apps
85. Trade in old phone (and PREVIOUS old phone, *blush*)
84. Sort through chargers, cables, and backup batteries
83. Practice a new hula hoop trick
82. Sort through pet travel bag
81. Sort and clean costume jewelry
80. Wipe down shelves in medicine cabinet
79. Try a new soup recipe. Tortilla soup?
78. Confirm plans with Halloween party committee
77. Trade in bag of books at used bookstore
76. Work on costumes
75. Make special dessert for party tomorrow
74. Costume party!
73. Make pot pie
72. Wash pillows and summer bedding
71. Sort cabinet under kitchen sink
70. Track down hubby’s favorite candy rarity as a Halloween surprise
69. Sort cabinet under bathroom sink
68. Cull summer clothes
67. Costume party!
66. Go out for hot cocoa
65. Personal candy shopping for Halloween candy bender
64. Go to movie theater and watch a horror movie
62. Kitchen inventory; start using up contents of fridge and freezer
61. Try a new soup recipe. Maybe pho?
60. Book tickets for Thanksgiving visit
59. Put heated mattress pad on the bed
58. Vacuum out kitchen drawers
57. Mushroom barley soup
56. All-candle evening
55. Museum field trip!
54. Watch The Princess Bride for special project
53. Acquire cranberry sauce for sandwiches
52. Make stew with dumplings
51. Plan a New Year’s Resolution workshop
50. Drink chai tea while gazing out the window
49. Pull together vacation ideas for our next status meeting
48. Visit a library branch where I’ve never been
47. Make some cornbread
46. Plan our vacation for next year
45. Try to teach my dog to jump rope again
44. Trade foot massages
43. Come up with my next ten speech topics
42. Last day to shop before holiday shopping moratorium. Need anything?
41. Thanksgiving Day
40. Family board game marathon
39. Put together my holiday wish list for hubby
38. Come up with gift ideas for hubby, who is hard to shop for
37. Go to parking garage and practice unicycle
36. Learn about palmistry because why not?
35. Sort and back up digital contacts
34. Purge/transfer files on old laptop
33. Curate/transfer digital photos from old laptop
32. Panini for lunch!
31. Start writing down pent-up New Year’s plans for 2019
30. Start accumulating list of 2018 highlights
29. Round up list of unread books in any series I’d like to finish
28. Make a lasagna
27. Drop off pre-New Year’s Eve dry cleaning
26. Annual file box purge
25. Scan and shred relevant paper documents
24. AC/DC and Van Halen Appreciation Day
23. Secret craft project marathon day 1
22. Secret craft project marathon day 2
21. Secret craft project marathon day 3
20. Secret craft project marathon day 4
19. Secret craft project marathon day 5
18. Secret craft project marathon day 6
17. Lounge around reading all day long
16. Practice a new updo for New Year’s
15. Work on vision board/planner for 2019
14. Breakfast for dinner
13. Tabs Zero - what are all these webpages and why did I open them?
12. Inbox Zero - hopefully enough to coast through until the New Year
11. Festivus - feats of strength
10. Festivus - airing of grievances
9. Do some cryptograms
8. Make cinnamon rolls
7. Sew buttons back on fancy winter coat
6. Pack clothes and planner for New Year’s trip
5. New Year’s trip travel day
4. Talk about highlights of the year with hubby
3. Write up New Year’s blog post
2. Confirm New Year’s goals and resolutions
1. HAPPY NEW YEAR! Start as you mean to begin! In other words, sleep in, lounge around in pajamas reading, and put off all your self-improvement projects until tomorrow.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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