5 simple tips to make atomic habits stick

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Keep failing in your pursuit of fitness? Try building micro or atomic habits.

You can’t win against the Facebooks of the world when they know you better than you do. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying reading Atomic Habits by James Clear recently and it’s confirmed a lot of the hypothesis’s that I had when I started the 66 program. Our attention is under attack. And as much as some of us like to think we are super motivated and disciplined individuals, we can all find ourselves staring blankly into the little screen in our hands letting the world pass us by.

Whether you like it or not, big tech companies that know how to get your attention and keep it are here to stay and they’re only going to get bigger. And the reason why?

Because you keep letting them monopolise your attention with cat memes and funny videos. The internet has inherently shifted from a knowledge base where you can learn almost anything to who has the best viral 15 second video. It’s no wonder why universities haven’t kept up, it’s hard enough for little, nimble businesses to keep pace with the “influencers” of the world as our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Until you understand what you’re fighting against you’re probably going to be in the group of people that feel the need to post comments on completely irrelevant click bait articles that you don’t even read. Let’s take a look:

Dopamine

We love it, crave it and absolutely need it for our own mental health. Tech companies have learned how to trigger the release of dopamine with the swipe or tap of your thumb. When you get a like or comment on a post this triggers that hormone to be released and you feel that fuzzy feeling. The problem is now that the tap of swipe of a thumb is much easier than putting your running shoes on, getting outside and going for a walk.

Attention span

Go into your settings on your smart phone. Check the amount of time you spend on your screen everyday and how many times you pick your phone up with the hope of having a message or notification. Big tech is winning because they know how to periodically disrupt your concentration to bring you back to their platforms and apps. I bet some of you couldn’t even read this whole article without opening a social media account. If that was to share my article, that’s cool 😎 though….

The double edged sword

We are wired to make things as easy as possible. Now this isn’t the big tech giants fault but our own evolution. We are not designed to make so many complex decisions on any given day. So our brain naturally looks to optimise, automate or eliminate non essential tasks. Moving a process from the conscious to subconscious is a priority for the brain as it can then focus on important stuff, like what Netflix show to watch this evening…. This used to be useful to allow our brains to quickly assess and act on perceived threats but for the most part, slipping over in the shower is about as intense as our day gets these days.

When you look at these factors and the numerous others that support my hypothesis, it’s no wonder your habits never stick when they go against the grain of how we are naturally designed to function. As long as you keep giving these apps and people your attention, the longer the spiral continues and the worse your mental and physical health declines. The problem also lies with the people tell you that you need to be more disciplined and simply “try harder” to build better habits. This is probably one of the dumbest and faulty thought patterns pushed upon people that pushes people further from their goals.

I’ll let you in on a secret. The influencers and celebrities that market discipline or their amazing training regimes have conveniently left out one important piece of information.

These people were once average people like the rest of us. They decided to embark on a journey to become more disciplined or to master their craft and most likely just developed a consistent routine that elevated them above average over time and built atomic habits that helped them win. Occasionally you get an overnight success but if you look at the Mark Zuckerberg’s, Jocko Willink’s and David Goggins of the world, they chose the harder path of making little choices every day that got them closer to their mission.

Having worked in special operations myself, it’s the individuals that chose consistency that become the best operators because motivation ceases to matter. Just like in James’ book Atomic Habits, he wrote for years upon years before becoming an “overnight success”. Most people simply don’t have the consistency to do that.

Here’s how to build atomic habits over time:

  1. Start small. Like really small – James talks about two minutes, i’ve mentioned 10mins for fitness related activities. Tip: Check how many minutes between phone pick ups. That’s probably your window.
  2. Do first things first – Prioritise your day to execute the most important tasks. Imperfect action trumps a perfect plan that never gets executed.
  3. Choose no more than three things daily to execute – If you have more than three priority tasks, your goal is too big.
  4. Find the path of least resistance – Motivation will disappear after two weeks or so. Structure current positive habits and bridge your new habits straight after them. For example a current habit might be a morning coffee, bridge the new habit of exercise, meditation or whatever it may be straight after the morning ritual of a brew.
  5. Know what to do when things go wrong – I call them “if then, do this.” cues. It made me very happy when Atomic Habits mentioned them in a similar format. When life gives you lemons, like a late deadline or stressful day know what your actions on are to avoid spiralling out of control. If you lose control or momentum, have an action plan to get back on track as soon as you can.

Finally, you can’t pick all your battles at the same time and win. Choose the atomic habits and your priorities wisely. Because you’ve got cat memes to send….

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