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“If nothing changes…Nothing changes.” This is one of my favorite axioms about life, yet it is also patently, even stupidly, obvious. Yet how often do we attempt or wish to change without actually doing anything different? And even more maddeningly, how often do we “do something different” only to somehow wind up where we started?
It turns out that personal change is a skill that can be learned, and it all revolves around our habits. Habits are those behaviors that we repeat over and over, so often that they become automatic. Habits exist so that we don’t have to re-learn every day such mundane activities as how to brush our teeth or brew a cup of coffee. Habits make our lives function smoothly and allow us to concentrate on other matters that are not routine. Habits are the efficient programs built by our brains to make life easier—but there is a price. While all habits make life easier in the short term, in the long term they can have unintended consequences that backfire and cause problems. For example, it may be useful to habitually relax by surfing the internet, but that habit can create more stress than it resolves by absorbing too much time and attention away from more important matters. The importance and effects of personal habits cannot be under stated.
Habits can be “good” or “bad” depending on this factor of long-term consequences. And habits can be notoriously difficult to change. Or can they?
Let me introduce you to James Clear, author of the best-selling book “Atomic Habits: An Easy And Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones.” James has this to say about habits:
“I believe that you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” By “systems” James is speaking of habits, and how they can be built in a more effective and systematic way to bring us the results we desire.
The genius of James Clear’s insight about habits is in the title of the book: “Atomic Habits”. The adjective “atomic” refers to the tiniest particles of reality—atoms. Atoms are tiny yet change one and you create an entirely different element of reality. James teaches in his book that it is by choosing small, simple, and very achievable behaviors, and by tracking those behaviors, that we create real and lasting habit change toward meaningful goals.
In my life, I have often failed to the level of my “system”, which has been to choose much too large of a change, too lofty of a goal, too big of a stretch toward my ideals. Needless to say with that system I have not been successful in creating some of the changes I seek. Since reading James Clear’s book, and applying his wisdom, I have tried a much simpler system. It is a more humble and realistic approach, and I find it more effective and practical. The habit tracking system keeps me honest and reveals where I need to do more work to Keep It Simple and “atomic”. What I am learning is “If something changes… things change!” Even me, God willing.
May God open our hearts to the loving and healing changes we seek, for ourselves and for this hurting world. Happy New Year everyone!