Atomic Habits chapter 16

Don’t break the chain

You might have heard this Jerry Seinfeld story. He writes jokes every day. Some are funny. Some are not. His goal has nothing to do with quality. His goal is to not break the chain.

You can buy habit trackers based on this idea. OK, I couldn’t find any with a quick Amazon search. But I’ve seen them there – giant, undated wall calendars. Anyway, this habit tracking hits 3 of Clear’s 4 laws.

Habit tracking is obvious, attractive, and satisfying,

And it goes much deeper than that.

Habit tracking makes it obvious. And it makes it evident. You don’t have to try to remember what you did or how you’re doing. You have evidence. Now you can accurately reward or chastise yourself. You can find trends and address shortcomings. That’s impossible without the proper information.

Habit tracking is attractive and satisfying. This is a habit that becomes a reward. It’s motivation on tough days. And, depending on how you do it, it can be a trigger.

Get back on the horse

Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is a start of a new habit.

James Clear

James has a rule: never miss twice.

When your habit breaks down – and it will – get back at it as quickly as you can. Do bad work if the alternative is no work.

Not a perfect idea

This might be the most disappointing section of the book. That’s easy to do. The book is excellent. But nothing is perfect.

This section is titled, How to Recover Quickly When Your Habits Break Down. It’s an idea I want to know more about. I “lost” February to an illness we couldn’t get out of the house.

The section never answers the question. It covers why it’s important and provides great examples

“Just Do It” is a marketing slogan, not actionable advice. And it isn’t at all helpful after you’re derailed.

Some tips for getting back in the saddle

  1. Document your habits and habit stacks. Ideally, you do this before your habit falls apart. But if you haven’t, recreate what you remember and invent the rest.
  2. Use habit stacks. Yes, this is another task best done while things are going well. If you’re using habit stacks and your habit breakdown, you can restart the entire stack with a single trigger.
  3. Create a new trigger. Clear discusses this in an early chapter. It’s easier to create new habits on new triggers than to modify your reaction to existing triggers.

And a thought about working on bad days: Know your limits. Know what you can do on a bad day. Know what you should avoid on bad days. Let’s just say that should never write code on cough syrup and I learned that the hard way.

What do you track?

Be careful what you’re tracking. Your brain likes shortcuts. It may subtly push you into doing things that make your numbers good without getting you any results.

And don’t ignore things you can’t track. Clear’s example is how losing weight makes you feel. If you only look at the numbers, you might quit if the numbers aren’t where you want them. But if your weight loss program is making you feel great, the numbers almost don’t matter.

Key takeaways and implementation

Consistency creates identity. Identity makes habits automatic.

I’m testing a productivity system that’s similar to a “don’t break the chain” type planner. It’s only been a week and I’m happy with its effectiveness and simplicity.

And I’m working on improving my life documentation. Life is complicated. I can’t believe I ever tried to operate without a written plan. Humans are designed for that kind of memorization.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
Author: James Clear
Amazon rating: 4.8
Amazon price: $14.99
Amazon data gathered on 1Oct2020
Review status: In progress

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