Reading books will change your life

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If you hope to instill any change in your life this year, let me recommend a reading habit.

Books are amazing things. They’re a portal into a different way of seeing the world. Often the most important things holding us back from doing or being something we want to do or be are our own thought ruts. The way things and situations occur to us is foundational to the way we will interact with them. An example: the gym occurs to me as an intimidating place and every time I set foot inside I feel uncomfortable, so the chance that I’ll consistently go to the gym is close to zero. The gym isn’t inherently intimidating or not intimidating, it’s obvious that many people there are quite comfortable (here’s to you guy flexing in the mirror). But how can you build a habit of going to the gym? You’ve got a serious mental racket running in the back of your mind. Well, the answer is to change how the gym situation occurs to you, or to put it more normally, think about the gym differently.

This is where books come in, books can change the way we think. Books offer a different perspective, a new point of view. They force us to think critically and differently than we would by default. They let us interact with new ideas and thoughts that have been all the way thought through (or least most of the way thought through). They’re great for learning, sure, but more importantly, they open up our minds. A book might not make the gym suddenly seem less intimidating, but it could begin dislodging some of your bad thought ruts, it could start shifting how you occur to yourself. Start a reading habit this year. Start small and don’t stop. It might just change your life.

Why Do New Year Resolutions Never Work?

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It’s January, the time of year when we aspire to be or accomplish something new. You don’t have to wait for January to decide to improve yourself, but it’s as good a time as any, and definitely the most popular time. We’re two weeks in now, the gyms are packed, we’re paying closer attention to our budgets, our pantries are full of healthier foods, you know how it goes. These are all good things, but unfortunately, studies show that about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by mid-February. Maybe your resolution is already floundering.

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says people don’t rise to the level of their goals, they fall to the level of their systems. I think he’s exactly right. We’re good at setting goals and making resolutions, but we’re bad at making lasting changes. And it’s not because we don’t want it enough or because we make disingenuous resolutions, it’s because humans operate by default and we fail to address our default habits. Goals don’t change behavior regardless of how SMART they are or whether or not they qualify as BHAG. We need new systems, new defaults, and new habits, maybe not another resolution.

So how do we change our systems? James Clear talks about becoming 1% better each day by doing something small. It could be one pushup per day if you want to build a workout habit. It could be one call per day if you want to build a networking habit. You mold your identity by consistently doing the things the type of person you aspire to be does. Each time you do something, no matter how small, your new identity is reinforced. If I’m an athletic person, I workout. Weight loss and muscle gains simply follow. If I’m a successful salesperson, I network. Income is simply a result. My default habits would never change by simply thinking about my weight loss goal or even by putting down my income goals on paper (I, like most of us, have tried). Change requires action, no matter how small. A helpful quote I’ve come across (attributed to several different authors including Millar Fuller and Jerry Sternin) summarizes this idea nicely: “It’s easier to act your way into a new way thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” Alan Deutschman, in his book Change or Die, says, “It’s obvious that what we believe and what we feel influences how we act. That’s common sense. But the equation works in the other direction as well: How we act influences what we believe and what we feel. That’s one of the most counterintuitive yet powerful principles of modern psychology (p78).” He adds, “You have to do things a new way before you can think in a new way (p79).”

It’s interesting to think about the purpose of all of this. We set goals at the beginning of each year because we want to accomplish things, for sure. But I think the more significant reason we spend all of this time on goals is that we aspire to be better persons. The most basic thing we’re after is a change in our identity. I won’t stray into the mire of philosophical implications here, but I think that’s a clarifying thought. The accomplishment we’re after is a change in identity, not another New Year’s resolution. Our identity changes when our default behaviors and habits change. Act different in order to think different. Start small, start simple, do something laughably easy, and then don’t ever stop.

You Should Get an Apple Watch

If you haven’t undergone the Apple Watch experience, and it is an experience, let me tell you how it works:

At its most basic level, the Apple Watch is a fitness device. Sure, it includes all the extra bells and whistles, probably the best bells and whistles, that a modern smartwatch has to offer, like text and email and phone call notifications (so fun to ignore calls from my Apple Watch). You can check the weather which is handy. It’s got a timer app which I use a lot more than I thought I would. The calendar widgets add some convenience. Those things are all cool, but they’re the outer layers of the onion. Keep peeling back and you’ll find a physical activity monster at the core. Apple calls it the Activity app which sounds fun, because who doesn’t like activities? Well, these activities aren’t the fun kind. The Activity app tracks three things: active calories burned, exercise minutes, and number of hours you stood (you don’t have to stand for 12 hours, you just have to stand for one minute per hour, for 12 hours). It also sets daily goals for each of these categories, of which you can only customize calories burned. The exercise goal is set to 30 minutes per day, and the standing goal is for 12 hours (again, you only have to stand for one minute per hour). It communicates your goal progress through one little three-ringed circle. Oh, the agony one little digital circle can cause. As you burn calories and exercise and stand, those three rings slowly fill with color. Your job is to make sure all three are filled up, or closed, by the end of each day.

For the first few days, this is exciting. It’s really fun to watch those little rings close, and it’s way more satisfying than it should be to see the whole circle filled. You can go back to see your history in month blocks, plus Apple offers neat little badge things for miscellaneous accomplishments and challenges. No, not real badges, you can only see them in the Activities app, but still. If closing the rings wasn’t motivating enough the badges will surely get you moving.

After the honeymoon period is over, reality will set in. I’m a competitive person, lots of us humans are, and when one or more of those circles aren’t closed I feel like I’ve lost, which is obviously unacceptable. So every day, my number one priority has become closing those rings; if everything else I do fails, at least I have this. Within the first month or so I began to realize just what I had signed up for. This Apple Watch experience isn’t just about ignoring phone calls from my wrist, it’s actually about taking over my life. In order to earn (achieve? accomplish?) one of the available badges, you literally need to close every ring, every day, for an entire month! If that’s not a takeover, I’m not sure what is.

The Apple Watch promotes a type of maniacal addiction to exercise. I’ve developed habits I wouldn’t have dreamed of five years ago in order to facilitate the obsessive-compulsive urges this device inspires within me. My body hurts, my mind is exhausted, but those digital rings on my wrist are closed and it’s all worth the relentless pursuit. Side note, I’m in surprisingly good shape.

You should get one!