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Recommended reading | Atomic Habits by James Clear

Recommended reading | Atomic Habits by James Clear

My last blog post was about how to develop good habits (if you haven’t seen it, you can check it out HERE).  Life becomes so much easier when you make it a habit of doing the things that need to be done!

A book that really helped me to take practical steps towards building good habits, as well as stopping bad habits, was Atomic Habits by James Clear.  I have always known the power of small, incremental changes – the compound effect – and this book reminded me of this.  By starting with seemingly minor actions or behaviours, these minor actions soon turn into deep rooted habits, hopefully good ones!  James Clear personally experienced the power of ‘atomic habits’ – tiny changes that compounded into remarkable results – through his personal journey from sustaining an awful injury at college and his journey to full recovery and beyond, going on to achieve amazing things.

One thing I particularly love about this book is how the author talks about not only the external stimuli that tend to affect our behaviour (and hence habits) but also our internal states – our thoughts, feelings, emotions and how these affect our behaviours and habits.  If you know me, you know that I’m all about the inside out approach.  If we want to truly flourish, we have to first master the internal game for it to reflect externally.

He starts by explaining ‘The Fundamentals’ and then goes into his habits framework, ‘The 4 Laws of Behaviour Change’ which align with his four-step model of habits – cue, craving, response and reward.

The Fundamentals

Here the first fundamental discussed is the impact of ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’ – a philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything we do – is explained, using the example of how this approach was applied by a new performance director of the British cycling team (Dave Brailsford) to help the team improve their somewhat dismal cycling performance.  By finding literally hundreds of teeny, weeny improvements to make – things like teaching the team to wash their hands properly to prevent catching a cold – the compound effect of all these teeny, tiny improvements eventually ended up having a remarkable effect.  The British cycling team went from not winning the Tour de France in 110 years and only winning an Olympic gold medal once since 1908 to winning 178 world championships, 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and winning 5 Tour de France events in the space of TEN years.  Woah!  For me – gobsmacking. I was all ears (well, eyes) after this!

I also love how James believes in systems versus goals. I am all for systems to make life easier!  As he explains, goals are about the results you want to achieve while systems are about the processes that lead to those results.

The second ‘fundamental’ is how our habits shape our identity.  James tells us that the most effective way to change our habits is to focus not on what we want to achieve (our desired results), but on who we wish to become.  Again, music to my ears, I am totally aligned with this way of thinking, I 100% believe that to make any change in our lives, we need to first BE the type of person who can make that change happen.  Focus on being, as opposed to having the outcome!  The outcome will naturally follow!

The 4 Laws of Behavioural Change

Most people want to know “How can I create a good habit?” or “How can I break a bad habit?”  James Clear’s habits framework, which he explains throughout the book, is a simple set of rules to help you create good habits or break bad habits.  I personally LOVE using this framework because, as always, I find it so much easier to create systems to use in my daily life so I can use most of my energy and brain power on other things!  Using this framework really simplifies things for me when I’m trying to create good habits or get rid of bad habits.  I simply go to this set of rules and run through how I can apply them to whatever it is I am trying to achieve, whether that’s developing a good habit or stopping a bad habit.

The 4 Laws of Behavioural Change are as follows and below each law is the recommended strategy James recommends to use for that particular Law.

HOW TO CREATE GOOD HABITS

1 |  Make it obvious by

– Setting implementation intentions “(I will [behaviour] at [time] in [location]”
– Using habit stacking “(I will [desired new habit] after [current habit]”
– Designing your environment (make the cues of good habits obvious and visible)

2 |  Make it attractive by

– Using temptation bundling (pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do)
– Joining a culture where your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour
– Creating a motivation ritual (do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit)

3 |  Make it easy by

– Reducing friction (decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits)
– Priming your environment (prep your environment to make future actions easier)
– Mastering the decisive moment (optimise the small choices that deliver outsized impact)
– Using the Two-Minute Rule (downscale your habits until they can be done in 2 minutes or less)
– Automating your habits (invest in tech and one-time purchases that lock in future behaviour)

4 |  Make it satisfying by

– Using reinforcement (give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit)
– Making “doing nothing” enjoyable (when avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits)
– Using a habit tracker (keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain”)
– Never missing twice (when you forget to do a habit, make sure you get back on track immediately)

HOW TO BREAK BAD HABITS (this is the inversion of the above)

1 |  Make it invisible by

– Reducing exposure (remove the cues of your bad habits from your environment)

2 |  Make it unattractive by

– Reframing your mindset (highlight the benefits of avoiding your bad habits)

3 |  Make it difficult by

– increasing friction (increase the number of steps between you and your bad habits)
– using a commitment device (restrict your future choices to the ones that benefit you)

4 |  Make it unsatisfying by

– getting an accountability partner (ask someone to watch your behaviour)
– creating a habit contract (make the costs of your bad habits public and painful)

 

Hopefully the 4 Laws and their associated strategies above are self-explanatory but I highly recommend reading Atomic Habits which explains each Law and strategy in great detail, also providing loads of examples.  I use many of these strategies myself with one of my favourites being ‘habit stacking’ – I simply think of a habit I currently do and then ‘bolt on’ my new desired habit onto that, for example, ‘I will drink a large glass of water after I wake up.’  Or, ‘I will take my supplements as soon as I finish eating my dinner.’  I find this strategy works really well and saves me having to try and carry out the habit on its own at some other time!

So if you’re wondering how to create a new habit, then try using these 4 Laws. Simply ask yourself:

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?

And if you’re trying to figure out how to break a bad habit, ask yourself the inverted version of the same questions:

1. How can I make it invisible?
2. How can I make it unattractive?
3. How can I make it difficult?
4. How can I make it unsatisfying?

Like James Clear says in his book, “your habits are shaped by the systems in your life”.

Use this framework to create easy systems in your every day life because all these little habits you practice every day, over time, will amount to a big result – and you want it to be a good result!

 

P.S. You can download my FREE HABITS TRACKER below to write down the habits you want to develop and track them over a month (just print out a copy each month) – you will see patterns and trends start to emerge and know immediately where you are doing well and where you need to improve (by implementing James’ Laws and strategies!)

How to develop good habits (+ FREE Habits Tracker)

How to develop good habits (+ FREE Habits Tracker)

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.” ~ Aristotle

Many of us look for the ‘secret sauce’ to success but the secret sauce is really what we do every day.  The little, seemingly unimportant activities that soon add up over time.

The Bloom philosophy is all about the Long Game!  Flourishing doesn’t happen overnight, it’s very much a journey. But I love to find ways of making that journey as easy and painless as possible and I believe that cultivating positive daily habits is a sure-fire way to make your journey to success a lot easier!

What exactly are habits?

They’re the things we do on autopilot every day, without really having to think about them.  Waking up and checking your phone first thing in the morning? That’s a habit.  Getting up and making your bed (or not!)?  Habit.  Brushing your teeth?  Another habit.  Probably even the way you brush your teeth is a habit – starting on one particular side of your mouth perhaps, the manner in which you actually brush your teeth, we do this without really consciously thinking.

And so it goes throughout the day, most of our actions are a series of habits.  The route you to take to work / school or wherever you go.  What you eat for lunch.  How you spend your time.  The things you do out of habit every day saves your brain from having to think hard about every little thing you do, it’s far easier to automate many of the routine things you do instead, like tying your shoelaces or starting your car.

Become aware of your daily habits

So what habits fill your typical day?  Chances are you’re not even fully aware of them yourself and that’s because you don’t give much thought to these things when you’re doing them!  To become consciously aware of what habits fill your day, it’s a great idea to make a note throughout your day of exactly what you’re doing from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep.  Because we do most of these things without thinking, consciously taking the time to track your habits can be a real eye opener!  You might find that you spend an hour or two aimlessly scrolling through social media Every Single Morning.  That’s 7-14 hours hours a week.  30-60 hours a month.  See how seemingly small habits soon stack up?  Or maybe you find that every mid-morning you make yourself a cup of tea and reach for the biscuit packet by default.  And devour half of the contents!  Or flop on the sofa every evening and spend five hours binge-watching Netflix.  Take notes of your daily habits for at least a week, ideally two and you’ll soon see interesting trends emerging!  And this is also where you realise that all the seemingly insignificant things you do every day, compounded over a long period of time, can end up harvesting BIG results.  Your aim, of course, is to harvest GOOD results which will stem from GOOD habits!

Once you become aware of your daily habits, it’s time to take control and decide what habits you want to develop going forward instead of being at the mercy of the habits you’ve already programmed into your brain.  Hopefully you do already have some good habits going and that’s great, you want to continue building on those!  Now it’s time think of other positive habits that will help you get to where you want to be.

 Use a habits tracker

I love a good old checklist to keep me laser focused on what I need to do and for this reason I created my very own Habits Tracker, which is now part of my Born to Flourish® planner-journal as a tool for my planner-journal users to make use of.  It’s a simple one pager, covering a one month period, where I can think about and then write down the habits I want to practice daily that month and then check them off each day that I actually practice the habit.

Using this habits tracker serves two main purposes – firstly, I print and stick the habits tracker up on my office (or bedroom) wall where I will see it every day; this reminds me what I need to be doing, what I need to be spending my time on and that I need to check this off by the end of each day as having been done!  Secondly, as I check off my habits each day, the patterns and trends that start to emerge make it crystal clear to me where I’m doing well and where I’m slacking and need to improve.  That way I know which areas to focus on more the following month.

You can download my Habits Tracker for FREE using the link below – it’s a huge help to keep you focused on the activities you should be spending your time on!  I print and use this every month and would be rather lost without it 😊

 

So how do you decide what habits to write down and track?

Your habits vs the bigger picture / your goals

I personally like to link my habits to the goals I am trying to achieve, so looking at your longer-term goals – the bigger picture – is a great place to start.

What are your goals, what are you trying to achieve?  Once you know what your bigger goals are, you can then decide what daily habits will help you take steps towards those goals. 

So, for example, if one of your goals is to get into the best shape of your life in the next 12 months, what daily habits would you need to practice to achieve that goal?  Maybe habits relating to your diet, sleep and exercise?  Under ‘diet’, you could decide to form a habit of drinking 2 litres of water every day.  Under ‘exercise’ you could decide to form a habit of doing at least 30 minutes of intense exercise every day – or go to the gym at least 3 times a week.  Under ‘sleep’ you could make it a habit to be in bed by 10pm every night.  That’s already 3 daily habits you have linked to your longer-term goal of getting into the best shape of your life.  You could, of course, add more habits that will support that goal!

Perhaps another goal of yours is to start a side hustle to make extra money.  What sort of habits could you develop and track every day linked to this side hustle goal?  Wake up an hour earlier to get in an extra hour of building up your side hustle?  Listening to at least 3 good podcasts a week to learn new skills?

I’m sure you get the idea now! 

By thinking of your key goals, writing down in your habits tracker the habits that will take you in the direction of those goals, and then tracking those habits each month, you will find yourself in a much better position to achieve your goals!  Or – perhaps you have a shorter-term goal that still needs your daily habits tracked.  Perhaps you’re training for a run that’s a month or two away and you want a rock-solid routine to help you get into the best possible shape for race day – you can use the habits tracker to write down all the daily habits you need to practice every day until race day.

Recommended reading to help you develop good habits

I absolutely believe that our daily habits are one of the key factors to achieving success, to reaching our goals and dreams.  I highly recommend that you read James Clear’s book Atomic Habits – this book is an absolute must-read if you want to learn how to develop positive habits AND stop the pesky negative habits!  As you work through your habits tracker and you find that you’re really struggling with some habits, this book will give you the tools you need to nail those habits.  And once you nail your habits, you will find it soo much easier to reach your goals and dreams. 

I plan to do a book review soon on ‘Atomic Habits’ so watch this space!

And … don’t forget to download your FREE Habits Tracker above!

Recommended reading | The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Recommended reading | The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is definitely one of my favourite books of all time and has a special place in my heart.  I love to go back and read this (or listen to it) every couple of years.

I listened to the audiobook before I read the actual book and I was at one of my lowest points in my life when I did.  I had been working like a maniac at work non-stop for about two years and it had now taken its toll on me.  I had surpassed the constant fatigue and migraines stage and after feeling really dizzy and literally collapsing one day, I ended up in bed with labyrinthitis, a condition that affects the inner ear and balance organs which made it feel like the world was spinning around me.  I couldn’t even stand up straight, let alone walk or go anywhere, so I was stuck in bed until the world and my body felt normal again.  It was not a fun time at all.

I was determined not to feel sorry for myself, I knew this would only make me feel worse and delay my healing.  I wanted to make the best use of the time I had on my hands and take my mind off my sorry state and so rummaged for the audiobooks I had in my library.  Pretty much all of my books were personal development related and were just too much for my brain to take in at that point.  I needed something that wouldn’t require my already fuzzy, spinning brain to think too hard!  The only ‘light read’ (or ‘listen’ in this case) I had available was The Alchemist.  I had heard it was a great book but had never got round to listening to it.  Now was a good time to.  And so I lay there and pressed ‘play’.  It was exactly what I needed to hear.

What’s it about?

In a nutshell it’s about following your destiny, pursuing your dreams, finding and living out your purpose – your ‘personal legend’ as the author called it.  And it’s all told through a fable, or parable if you like, by a boy who decides to leave his simple but comfortable and routine life as he knows it, to follow his destiny, to discover his ‘personal legend’.

I can tell you that by the time I finished this book, told through such a beautiful tale (I felt like I was there, living it) I was determined to wave goodbye to my own pathetic existence and seek out my own personal legend!

Here are ten life lessons I learned from The Alchemist.  This little book is packed to the brim with golden nuggets and each time I read it, new things pop up for me!

1 |  Don’t get to the end of your life and regret that you didn’t follow your dreams and live the life you really wanted to live

2 |  Sometimes we need to step out of our comfortable but boring, routine lives to see what else is out there in life for us, even if we can’t see exactly where the journey we take will lead us to

3 |  There’s always a sacrifice to make when you want to reach for more in life – but it’s only temporary! The long term rewards are worth it!

4 |  Challenges, setbacks, obstacles will always come your way and test you to the max when you’re moving in the direction of your dreams – you’ve got to push through them and keep going.

5 |  The journey is just as (if not more) important than your destination – your character is being refined with each step that you take, the journey enables you to become the person you need to be when you eventually reach your desired destination

6 |  Our greatest lessons come from the simplest of things in life – don’t live on autopilot – open your eyes to what’s around you and what it’s trying to teach you or where it’s trying to lead you to

7 |  You need courage, faith, resilience and determination to keep going for your dreams

8 |  Being afraid of change has cost many a person their dreams – embrace change

9 |  Listen to your heart – it will always guide you IF you take the time to listen to it

10 |  It doesn’t matter how long it takes to reach your destiny, just keep going in the direction of your dreams – don’t stop!

 

My biggest lesson from The Alchemist?  Don’t believe ‘the world’s greatest lie’

What does the author call the world’s greatest lie?

‘That at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what happens to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.’

That’s the world’s greatest lie.  We are always in control.  We can always change our story – if we choose to.

 

Why do most of us never choose to follow our dreams?

These are the four reasons why most of us never choose to follow our dreams as described by author Paulo Coelho:

  1. We have been conditioned since childhood to believe that everything we wanted to do is impossible
  2. We are afraid to or feel guilty to hurt those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dreams
  3. Fear of the challenges and setbacks we will meet (and meet them we will)
  4. The fear of realising our dream

Isn’t it interesting how fear seems to be the one thing that holds us back from living the life of our dreams?  Not only do we fear failing to reach our dreams but we fear reaching our dreams too, so many of us actually fear success!

The overall message of this book is that there has to be more to life than our robot existence through life that most of us experience.  Living the same year 60 years in a row and calling it a life.  Being able to predict what tomorrow, next week, next year, ten, twenty years down the line will be like.  It takes courage to dare to step out of the ‘norm’ and do something that fills our heart with joy rather than just pays the bills and gets us a nice little holiday once or twice a year (the only times we look forward to and enjoy).

I read somewhere that most of us will give more thought to what we’re going to wear today than what we’re actually doing with our lives.  A rather sobering thought!

The Alchemist is the most beautiful tale that really got me thinking deeply and will get you thinking too.

What are you doing with your life?  Are you living out your purpose?  Or someone else’s?  Are you letting life just happen to you?  Or are you the master of your fate, the captain of your soul?

It’s never too late to discover your personal legend.  And I can’t recommend this book enough to set you on your way.  If it’s good enough for former US President Bill Clinton (who was spotted reading it) and the other 175 million people who have bought copies of The Alchemist, it’s definitely worth a read!

Speaking of living with purpose, check out my blog post on ‘How to discover your purpose‘ which includes a free worksheet to help you do just that!

 

Reap the benefits of gratitude (+ FREE Gratitude Sheet)

Reap the benefits of gratitude (+ FREE Gratitude Sheet)

It’s the simple things in life that often have the greatest impact.  Gratitude is something that’s so easy to overlook and take for granted as being ‘airy fairy’, especially in this modern world we live in where we have very high, and often unrealistic, expectations and very little patience.

Most people are never happy because they always want ‘more’.  More money, a bigger house, a faster car, more holidays, better clothes.  What they have is never enough.  So there’s always this feeling of discontentment with life which keeps us focused on what we don’t have rather than what we already have.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with wanting more and aiming high in life.  And Bloom is all about unleashing your full potential to do just that!  But I do also think that it’s important for us to stop to take stock of what we do actually have, which is often a lot more than we believe.  It’s the old adage about seeing your cup as half full instead of half empty.  I believe that what we focus on expands.  If you focus on lack, you’re likely to get more lack!  If you focus on your blessings, you’re welcoming more blessings into your life 😊

There’s a free Gratitude Sheet below where you can capture all the things you are grateful for and put up somewhere prominent as a reminder to yourself.  Be sure to click on the link below this blog post to start your own gratitude practice today!

So, what can you be grateful for?

Gratitude for the past

The past is sometimes a place we don’t want to go back to depending on what memories our past conjures up for us.  Sometimes it can be hard to feel anything but bitter and resentful.  The truth of the matter is we can’t change the past, no matter how hard we agonize over it.  We have no control over what happened in the past, but we do have control over what perception we choose to have about it right now, in the present.

What can you be grateful for in your past?  Good health?  Food on the table every day?  Love and support?  Maybe some life lessons (I think we all have a few of those!)?  Use my free Gratitude Sheet below and take a few moments to fill in the 5 things you’re most grateful for from your past.  Maybe it taught you to be the resilient, determined person you are today?  Maybe you had a wonderful childhood that you didn’t realise until now that you were so lucky to have, in comparison to many who didn’t?  Focusing on the things that you can be grateful for, even if you can only think of one or two, helps you to have a deeper sense of gratitude for the present and future.

Gratitude for the present

The past is gone and cannot be undone, while the future is waiting to be written and yet, is also not guaranteed for any of us.  All we really have is the present.  What are you grateful for in your life right now, in this present moment?  There are probably a multitude of things to be grateful for that you have always overlooked.  If you’re reading this right now, you have eyesight to be grateful for and the ability to access online information – already there are two things that many others in this world do not have right now.

I know I can make a long list of all the things I am grateful for.  Family, friends, my community, food on the table, my income, a roof over my head, a warm bed to sleep in at night, my health and wellbeing, the ability to see, smell, touch, hear, feel.  Happy moments with loved ones.  Every morning before I get out of bed, I think of 5 or more things that I am grateful for at that moment.  Thinking of these things puts my focus firmly on what I have in my life, puts a smile on my face, fills my heart with gratitude and sets me up for a great day ahead – one that will be filled with even more things to be grateful for.

Gratitude for the future

Looking to the future feeling gratitude for both your past and present is a powerful way to attract more things to be thankful for.  It’s impossible to feel grateful and be in a negative state of mind.  As Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, says ‘Gratitude is the great multiplier’ – be grateful for all you have and more will come.  I am big believer in the power of visualisation.  Visualising the future you want will bring it to fruition.  Like Napoleon Hill said ‘What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.’  Believe that great things are coming to you in the future because they are!  Whether it’s great experiences, great people or great ‘things’.  Write down on your Gratitude Sheet the 5 things you are most grateful for that are coming to your life.  That perfect partner?  Your dream job, business or home?  Peace and joy?  Whatever it might be, write it into existence and feel thankful for it in advance!  It may not be visible to you as yet, but you can be sure that in the invisible realm, it exists and is making its way to you!

Keep a Gratitude Journal …

There is great power in the written word.  Keep a gratitude journal where every day you write a short paragraph about what you’re grateful for that day.  Maybe for someone you’re seeing that day.  Maybe for something in your past that popped into your mind and made you smile.  If you keep a journal anyway, be sure to write a couple of lines every day showing gratitude for something and see how a change of perspective can literally change the course of your life.

If you use my Born to Flourish® planner-journal, you will find that gratitude features on a daily basis.  Every morning as you spend a few minutes filling in your daily journal page, there is the prompt ‘what are you grateful for today?’  That means that every morning you get to write down at least one thing you are grateful for.  A great way to start your day!

Want to find out more about the Born to Flourish® planner-journal – head here!

… or Jar!

If daily paragraph writing is not quite your thing, a fun way of harnessing the power of gratitude is to keep a Gratitude Jar (or tin or whatever you like!)!  You could write down on bits of paper all the things you’re grateful for, one on each piece of paper, and put them in your jar, and then every day, take out a piece of paper and spend a minute or two just closing your eyes and feeling the gratitude deep down in your heart for that item.  Why are you grateful for it? What difference has it made to your life, how are you a better person today because of it?  Or every day you could write one thing down and pop it into your jar, filling it up as the days go by.  Eventually you’ll be able to open your Gratitude Jar when you’re feeling a little low and fish something out to remind you about what you have to be grateful for.  You may even get to the point of needing another (or bigger!) Gratitude Jar when the one you have starts to overflow!  Imagine overflowing with gratitude!

Even Harvard Medical School have written articles such as this one on the benefits of gratitude so there is science to back this practice up too!  What’s not to love?  If you haven’t already done so, begin your gratitude practice today – grab your FREE Gratitude Sheet by clicking on the link below!