Changing My Habits

Getting Better Every Day

I buy the idea that changing my habits happens in small incremental steps every day.

James Clear who appears to be one of the experts on this uses this image to make the point.

changing habits in small incremental steps

Or as Aristotle put it, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

But, damn if it isn’t hard to change a habit even if you look at it in these small bite sized increments. Or, at least that’s what I’ve found.

I find most of my bad habits can be broken into two categories–completely thoughtless and stubbornly hard to break. That’s how it goes for me.

In the completely thoughtless category I put things like reading twitter when I should be working. I am working and then something pops up and I pop over and then it leads to another things and then I’m like–“right, I was working, but now I’m knee deep into an article on …..”

Gretchen Ruben in Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives says that fully 40% of my day is governed by habit. I’m betting most of my habits fall in this category of thoughtless.

That’s why actually tracking what you eat is so powerful. Dark chocolate almonds add up when they are grabbed as you walk past the pantry. Each time you walk past the pantry. Surely a thoughtless habit.

But if you write down everything you eat that awareness may help you to forego the handful of nuts. Just by bringing awareness.

These are the habits I’m going to tackle first. The thoughtless ones.

I’m going to start with one habit.

I’m going to read more novels. Specifically I’m going to read a novel for 30 minutes of my day.

I used to read novels all the time. When did I ever stop? Slowly they’ve been replaced by non-fiction books and too much time on the internet.

A novel brings something entirely different into my life.  The best novel allows us both to lose ourselves and expands our perspective. It explains the world and capture it’s complexity. Think, To Kill a Mockingbird or The End of the Affair.

Now I know in many ways this is a ridiculous place to start. I should be doing something harder. After all I enjoy reading novels.

But, why did I ever stop?

Because I allowed myself to drift thoughtlessly along. And, because I started to read only to get information. For utility.

The irony is that I think we learn more from a novel at times. The book  The Art of Fielding contained a character who was as effective a coach as most coaches I’ve studied. Only he wasn’t a coach. He was a teammate. The novel anticipated a book like The Captain Class, which makes the case that the leader on the field is the most important leader.

In other words, I bet I can be a better coach or a better professional by reading novels. Charlie Munger would agree.

But that takes me back to the place where it’s only about utility, where I justify my decision by making a straight line to productivity.

Maybe that’s the habit I’m really working on.

Breaking this notion that I need to read to be more productive as opposed to reading a novel simply to  be more fully human.  More compassionate, kinder, thoughtful, open and aware.

Simply because I will be a better person.

Why did I ever stop reading novels in the first place?

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