Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Clear, James 2019.06
Jacket design by Pete Garceau; cover shown with permission from Penguin Random House

One of the fears I have is that I will get to the end of my life to find that I never reached my potential. I beat myself up because I tell myself I could do better in certain areas, but then I quit because I’m not improving or progress seems slow. Setting goals and then being discouraged when they are not reached is very common. We set goals, we fail to accomplish them, then we think something’s wrong with us, that we aren’t good enough, that people who succeed in reaching their goals are better in some way that is just out of our grasp.

Atomic Habits, however, breaks down the ways that simple, small changes in your habits, over time can reveal remarkable results, and often it’s simply the difficulty of maintaining a small change over time, because it’s boring and doesn’t seem to be working, that really gets in the way of accomplishing our goals. Also, when we fail to make the mental shift of who we want to be to actually being that person, we are destined to fall back into the patterns that got us here in the first place. Clear’s directions can be broken down into two short, bullet-ed lists:

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

And to accomplish these small wins follow the four laws of behavior change:

  1. How can I make it obvious?
  2. How can I make it attractive?
  3. How can I make it easy?
  4. How can I make it satisfying?

Each one of these laws is broken down with multiple, practical, bite-sized steps to create a new positive habit, as well as corresponding steps to take to break a bad habit. What made this book stand out to me was:

  • Research has shown that burn-out and boredom are the main nemeses of new habits, so Clear encourages his reader take small steps, ex. Want to do fifty push-ups a day? Start with one.
  • Straight-forward, clear steps such as “Habit stacking”, in which you stack a new habit with one you do naturally already. For me this has been “After my daughter goes to bed I will write for 20 minutes” (notice I said 20 minutes, not an hour, which would impede more on my personal life and make it undesirable. See Law of Behavior change #2)
  • This book really helped me understand that when I’ve failed to reach a goal, it’s not that the goal was impossible to reach, but that I didn’t set the proper systems for accomplishing it.

This diagram of “The Plateau of Latent Potential from page 22 felt like the real-life explanation of every healthy habit I’ve ever formed. Just when I think “I’ve been doing this for months and nothing’s happening!” Suddenly there are results, Everything takes time, even when we want instant results.Clear, James 2019.06 diagram

James Clear has been talking about habit building for years on his site Atomichabits.com, based on lessons he learned from having to re-build himself after a devastating baseball accident. This book is filled with tons of versatile insights that would be valuable to anyone looking for change or growth. There were so many different avenues for building habits I believe anyone could cobble together an individual plan that works for them. I read this as an audio-book, read by the author, and really enjoyed it, but there is a lot of helpful information in the physical book so I would recommend taking a look at that as well if you are truly serious about remarkable change.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Published: October 16, 2018

I read this as: an audio-book from Overdrive and a hardback purchased from publisher

If you like this you may enjoy:

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Four books that helped me grow in 2018

Four books that helped me grow in 2018

the book of joyThe Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

This is an absolutely beautiful book by two of the greatest spiritual leaders of our time, and, so charming: they are close, loving friends! The book is a conversation that took place over several days between the two on how Christianity and Buddhism handle the stress and strain of daily living. Many of the principles of the two beliefs are essentially the same, and it helped me to realign religion with the spiritual tenants that I hold to be personally to be true for me. Also, these men, who have endured and seen more than many could imagine, have retained a strong sense of faith and joy, it is impossible to not be inspired by them:

“Discovering more joy does not, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” -Desmond Tutu

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

As I wrote in my post on Bird by Bird, I haven’t always been an Anne Lamott fan, however this book converted me. I believe that Grace is the core of spirituality, that we are forgiven and loved regardless of who we are or what we have done, and that we owe that same forgiveness to each other, is the bedrock of everything else. So when I spotted this title available on my Libby App, I decided to give Lamott’s writing another try, which I can only say was a moment of pure serendipity. Her chapters detail some of the hardest moments of her life: the death of her best friend, her strained relationship with her parents, extreme highs and lows of her spiritual journey, and above all, seeing the humor in it all. Anne Lamott writes with nothing to hide, and this book made me want to be braver, more resilient, and more at peace with the beautiful and heartbreaking experience that it is to be human.

 

Duckworth, Angela 05.2018
Cover image shown with permission by Scribner from Simon & Schuster

Grit by Angela Duckworth

I read (and wrote) about this book last spring and found it really encouraging as it gave examples on the values of hard work over natural talent. Duckworth’s argument is that not only is hard, consistent work vastly more important than being talented, but also that the experience of overcoming hardship is one of the greatest determinants of potential success. It also reminded me that if I really want something, I need to work at it, and making mistakes along the way is part of the process of becoming great.

“Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another. Angela Duckworth

 

Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright

Mindfulness is an essential principle of Buddhist philosophy, and this book is an excellent discourse on the science and psychology of mindfulness and how it helps the human mind fight issues such as depression, anger and greed. Robert Wright is not a Buddhist and the book doesn’t focus on the more spiritual tenants of Buddhism such as Nirvana or reincarnation, but really on the values of meditation practice and examining ones thoughts, emotions and actions without judgement. This book encouraged me to focus more on my meditation practice, which has helped me to maintain better control over my emotions, the words I choose, and how I react in stressful moments. It’s always a work in progress, but I believe I have grown, maybe just a little, through meditation and mindfulness. At the very least it’s been an extremely refreshing and empowering journey.

These books were all so special to me, what are some books that have really impacted your life recently?

Have a Fancy Friday and a wonderful weekend!

 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

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Cover image provided with permission by Random House

I think this might be the most perfect book I have read on the subject of writing, it actually might be the most perfect book I have read, period. I have fallen in love with Anne Lamott’s writing style recently: crisp, funny, sad, and honest, she has come to me at a point in my life when I have fallen and gotten back up enough times to realize there is humor and grace in our darkest moments. In understanding this have I found freedom in sharing and saying “Hey! Yes, life can be terrible, but it also can be beautiful and you have to take the messy parts to experience the miraculous joy that is there too.”

I haven’t always been here, a few years ago while pregnant with my daughter, a friend recommended Lamott’s “Operating Instructions”, a book she wrote on raising her son as a single mother. It’s dark, she swears a lot, she’s a recovering alcoholic, and it made me feel uncomfortable. I wanted to project myself as a beautiful, clean, perfect mother, and I did not approve of swearing in front of my child(!). I returned the book after a few chapters, I didn’t think I was anything like this woman, I was completely confident in my worldview, I did not need to hear about her spiritual journey and bouts of depression. I was judgemental pretty out of touch, honestly.

A few years later of wonderful highs, along with some real lows and moments of grace, Lamott feels like a friend, sometimes she feels like me, and her depiction of the writing process is very real and very human. I love that she cares about her readers, she does not try to instill some kind of magical idea that one will become successful beyond all expectations if they just try hard enough: we are not all going to be Kristin Hannah. She writes so eloquently about the ups, but mostly downs of the writing process: the jealousy of watching others succeed, the stress of waiting for your writing to be reviewed, the pain of a bad review, and that getting published is not all it’s cracked up to be. Writing is important because of what is learned through the process, not because of its potential for success or notoriety. Here is my most favorite quote from the book (and I had many favorite quotes):

“I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it, and I don’t think you have time to waste on someone who does not respond to you with kindness and respect. You don’t want to spend your time around people who make you hold your breath. You can’t fill up when you’re holding your breath. And writing is about filling up, filling up, when you are empty, letting images and ideas and smells run down like water…”

While this book is mainly on writing, Lamott experiences writing as part of life, so it also has a lot of great insights on the human experience and spirituality as well (Lamott is a Christian- a very liberal Christian). I would recommend this book to writers (and a writer is one who writes, not just someone who gets paid to do some), those looking for spiritual insights, and anyone who has fallen on their face enough to know it’s the getting up part that really matters.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Published: September 1, 1995

I read this as: a library book

If you enjoy this book you may like:

Calypso by David Sedaris

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Duckworth, Angela 05.2018
Cover image shown with permission by Scribner from Simon & Schuster

This book was recommended to me by a fellow librarian friend while we were working at a conference a few months ago. While I had heard about the book, I’ve often found self-help books to be hit-or-miss and am reluctant to read them. With her recommendation I decided to try it out.

This book starts out discussing the tendency in American culture to prioritize talent and “genius”. We believe in the value of hard work, but when someone is labeled as special, the narrative that they will be successful automatically starts playing. However, what about people (like myself), who haven’t been labeled a “genius”? Are we destined to a life of second-rate happiness? And what about those early prodigies that end up fizzling-out after all of their talent is overtaken by the pressures of success or the first encounter with disappointment?

Duckworth’s research demonstrates that innate talent isn’t the main driver of success, in fact in some cases it is quite the opposite. Often those to whom understanding and brilliance comes easily are not prepared for the moments of failure that inevitably come. At the same time, people who develop the habit of working hard in spite of repeated disappointment discover the value of Grit, and are more likely to finesse skills that take 1,000s of hours to master. Additionally, Duckworth underscores the importance of following your passion, as it is the innate love of something that will inspire you to get up and work at it, rather than chasing a dream that never was your first love.

I found this book really inspiring, and it did speak to me as the mantra of never giving up is an important theme in my own life. Of course, there are unfortunate aspects of our society such as nepotism, institutional racism and sexism, that will continue to block even the most hard-working of us from landing deserved successes, and this has been one of the criticism of the book. However, I want to point out that barriers like those may not spell the end for someone who has Grit, and I think that was Duckworth’s point. That it is people who can find the strength to keep going in spite of the odds that are more likely to ultimately find success, and that, I think that is something we can all believe in.

I read this as an audiobook (read by the author) and found it really easy to listen to, which is a strength in a researched-based non-fiction title. This is a great book to recommend to a student, someone early or at a turning point in their career, or a parent, as she gave lots of advice for how to instill grit in your child (hint: don’t tell them they are a genius!) This book has helped me re-focus on my own goals and create strategies on how I can achieve them, and I’ll leave you with this quote that personally resonated with me:

…there are no shortcuts to excellence. Developing real expertise, figuring out really hard problems, it all takes time―longer than most people imagine….you’ve got to apply those skills and produce goods or services that are valuable to people….Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it…it’s doing what you love, but not just falling in love―staying in love.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Published on: May 3rd, 2016

I read this as: an audiobook from Overdrive

Happiness by Heather Harpham

Happiness by Heather Harpham

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Cover image provided with permission from Henry Holt & Co.

When I reflect on this book, I think of one word: Grace. It’s a story where many things go wrong, but then there are moments of miraculous blessings. Where people are given second chances after making poor decisions, and some are given the ultimate gift of life after looking death right in the eye. Unfortunately, it’s a story where the unthinkable happens, the death of children-innocents-and it reminds me of the lyrics from Hamilton, after Alexander’s son is killed:

There are moments that the words don’t reach

There is a Grace too powerful to name

We push away what we can never understand

We push away the unimaginable

Ultimately, I consider the grace with which Harpham weaves several stories that tell how she became the mother of a very sick little girl, how she fought for her with all her might, and how through a great deal of suffering and countless moments of despair, she found happiness, in spite of everything stacked against that outcome.

This book is a memoir in which Harpham deftly describes how she became pregnant with her daughter, Gracie, how this strained her relationship with Gracie’s father, Brian; a man who although loving her deeply, was terrified of parenthood and walked away from their relationship during the pregnancy (the worst I know, but Harpham tells the story so beautifully and with such clarity that you almost see where he’s coming from. Almost.) Once Gracie is born, it’s clear that she is sick, she must undergo regular blood transfusions to keep her alive. What follows is a beautiful story of hope, love, strength, heartbreak and resiliency as this little clan goes through setbacks and surprises to make Gracie well.

What I really loved about this story is Harpham’s ability to understand other people, to forgive and connect with them in a way many of us simply are not capable of.  She’s able to see her own pain, her own unlucky hand, and still find goodness and offer kindness to others. While the book’s title is Happiness, so hopefully it doesn’t spoil anything to say it has a happy ending, she points out that going through this experience doesn’t make her immune to future sadness. I find that a very brave way to look at the world.

This is a great book for someone looking for a very moving story, who is not afraid to cry a good deal while reading it. Harpham’s writing is seriously top-notch and she is a gifted story-teller, I could not put this one down because I had to know what was happening in this little world, to this family and the people who surrounded them. If you are looking for a book about family, grit, and love, this one is for you.

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After by Heather Harpham

Published on: August 1, 2017

I read this as: a library book

 

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney    

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney    

Delaney, Brigid 2018.02My husband teases me regularly about my frequent change in diet, which I try to take in good stride because he’s mostly right. In our eight years of marriage I have been a vegan, which morphed into pescatarianism, a phase that lasted 4 years until a personal trainer told me I wasn’t eating enough protein (who can eat fish 3 meals a day?). This transitioned me back to meat-eater, then I stopped eating sugar, which lead to not eating carbs, which lead to not eating gluten, and now I maintain a sort of “paleo, gluten-lite” type diet (which I occasionally cheat on), and I try to eat a lot of probiotics, which I’ve been told will help me avoid Alzheimer’s. I also attend 4 yoga classes a week, have a Fabletics subscription, and listen to Pema Chödrön audiobooks when I’m feeling stressed out. In the club of Western woman searching for wellness, I’m a pretty active member.

Wellmania is about that search, but Delaney, a travel journalist, doesn’t settle for attempting the latest fad diet or trying Pilates at her local gym. From taking on 101-day-fast to practicing transcendental meditation, Delaney thoughtfully balances out what she gains from these experiences with the challenges of maintaining a picture-perfect version of health. She considers the consumerism driving this search: after all, isn’t it only wealthy people who are able to attend 90 minute, $20 yoga classes, travel to Thailand to learn meditation with a Buddhist monk, and eat organically?

 What I loved about this book is the author’s honesty and frame of mind, she’s doesn’t try to paint herself as a guru or the embodiment of wellness, and she doesn’t try to hide her hedonistic side, she enjoys when her experiences demonstrate that she could do both:

“This is my path – what C.S. Lewis called a ‘secret road’ that we are all walking on, but each road is different. I like to think that I’m walking in the middle of the road, between the wellness lane and the hedonism lane, trying not to get run over by cars. Maybe I am meant to pick a side. But right now, I can’t – and that’s okay.” (page 149)

Ultimately Wellmania made me think about how I practice wellness, my occasional obsession with it (and then lack thereof), and what a realistic healthy life that is good for the entire planet should look like (hint: it’s probably not the one that Lululemon is trying to sell me. No hate.) I genuinely loved this book, was surprised by it, and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in health, yoga, modern society, or enjoys irreverant life advice from an honest, funny, writer.

Wellmania by Brigid Delaney

Publication Date: March 13, 2018

I read this as: Edelweiss ARC*

*This book was published in another version that came out in 2017, I’m not sure why it is being republished or what the differences are between the two. I like this one.