Just Do It For 5 Minutes

Key takeaways from James Clear's Atomic Habits

June 23, 2019

I am a big fan of all things library-related, and I have the good fortune of having the Boston Public Library as my go-to. I have several books on wait lists, and get giddy when I see that email in my inbox that tells me that my book is waiting for me at my local branch - the place where everyone knows my name. One of the longest waits this year was for James Clear’s Atomic Habits. I must have heard about this in a podcast in the spring and put it on my waitlist and I’ve watched it slowly move up the list.

It’s great! It’s so great that I actually purchased a copy. I will be the first to admit that this book will not be for everyone. I am that kind of person who geeks out over productivity books, but it’s an easy read, and even if you don’t normally read business and productivity books, this might be one to consider. I’ve decided to write a couple of blog posts on the book, distilling some of the key takeaways.

Clear’s tone is very low-key and non-judgemental. He assumes that you want to change your behavior in some way and he offers steps on how to do that - both breaking bad habits and creating good habits.

One of the first things that Clear writes about is the 1% rule - essentially, improving over time - making micro improvements and increases. Establishing good habits is not about being big and bold, but about doing something every day, even if you just do it for five minutes. Even if you only write 100 words or do 1 pushup or read 10 pages of a book, it adds up.  He calls these tiny gains and the obverse is also true - tiny losses. If you eat a cookie every day or skip a day of writing or yoga or meditation, it can quickly lead to skipping several days a week and the dismantling of your good habits. I am good at keeping streaks of habits going, but when I break my streak due to travel or being sick or another type of break in my routine, I struggle to recover. He has great ideas on how to design systems of habits that help with recovering from a break. I’ll get into that in my next post.

For now, think about a habit that you are trying to develop. For many of us, it’s writing. Do it every day, even if it just means opening up your current working document and typing just one sentence or editing just one paragraph. Maybe you don’t have an hour on a given day. You definitely have five minutes. Even if you are using voice to text on your phone into a Google doc and you are basically talking your writing for the day, just give the daily habit a try, and let us know how it goes.

Mary Churchill  is Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Community Engagement at Boston University's Wheelock College of Education and Human Development  (est. 2018). She is the co-author of The Good Closure: Authentic Leadership in a Time of Crisis (under contract, Johns Hopkins University Press) which details the merger of Wheelock College and Boston University.



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