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Creating habits through systems

Atomic Habits by James Clear is the perfect book to read to start a new year. He presents strategies and tools, developed from years of personal experimentation and research, to create good habits and stop bad ones. A prolific blogger on this topic at, his habit of consistent writing led to his success in publishing. He presents a four-step model of habits and four laws of behavior change, based somewhat on operant conditioning. The message is that your systems are the tools that will enable you to change behaviors.

"Your habits can compound for you or against you."

Good habits are key to health and wealth. Just as compound interest accrues in a savings account, it adds up in healthy eating and movement. Bad habits work the same way, of course. Indulging yourself with sweets "because it's the holidays" will turn into a habit that is harder to break in January.

"Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it. In fact, the people who don't have their habits handled are often the ones with the least amount of freedom."

My standard advice to high school freshmen is to realize that the goal should be to have choices when they graduate. The same thing holds true for adults in midlife. The goals are to stay healthy and have enough money in retirement so they can have choices in how they live the last third of their lives. Good habits are the building blocks of the systems needed to reach these goals.

"Most of us have a distorted view of our own behavior. We think we act better than we do. Measurement offers one way to overcome our blindness to our own behavior and notice what's really going on everyday."

His fourth law of behavior change is to make good habits satisfying. By keeping track of your efforts, you can see how you're doing. As an avid habit-tracker, I've found this to be a key component of behavior change. I have an thousand-day streak going in MyFitnessPal and I try to never lie to myself. What's the point? I might make a mistake or forget to log a food, but my efforts are consistent.

Clear conducts an annual review of what went well, what didn't and lessons learned at the end of each year. He conducts an integrity review halfway through the year to evaluate his core values and standards. He also sends out a weekly email,"3 ideas, 2 quotes and 1 question," to help with motivation and consistency. You can sign up at

Get this book and grab your highlighter! We all need inspiration.

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