#282: Atomic Habits

Sunset at Belle Isle, beach silhouettes
Belle Isle Park, Detroit, MI

I’ve been reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, and can see why it’s gotten the praise it has. It’s dictum: first figure out the person you want to be, then arrange your habits to help you become that person.

Somewhat obvious and straightforward advice, yes. But what Atomic Habits nails that so many other books like it miss is the role of identity. Your actions, especially those you perform repeatedly, are, as Clear says, votes for your different identities. Every time you sit down and write in the morning, you cast a vote for your identity as a writer. Every time you choose a healthy meal over junk food, you cast a vote for your identity as a healthy person. These votes compound over time, put you on the flywheels of actually becoming those things.

Sometimes different identities can be at odds with each other. I’m wrestling with this as we get close to finishing the house. We’re almost done priming all the walls and ceilings; there’s the temptation to start earlier and finish later, to put in extra hours every day to be moved in sooner. But for much of the last couple months, this has come at the cost of a consistent morning writing practice. If how you spend your days becomes how you spend your life, then, according to Clear’s logic, it also becomes who you are.

And I don’t want to not be a writer. Double-negative, yes, but it’s more true to where I am. I’m only just back to, this last week, writing every day, trying to start with even five, ten minutes on the manuscript. Of course, that five or ten minutes inevitably turns into a half hour or more, but it’s helped to think of it through Clear’s framework: even five minutes is a vote toward my identity as a writer, as a novelist.