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It’s Discipline Time
Welcome back to 2022. God I love that tingly, gut-level anticipation of coming back after a break, full of ideas and keen to smash into it.
In January people bring back lists of new daily habits and routines they’re going to try out, because they read Atomic Habits. Regular exercise, healthy food, being more organised. Small, painless change every day builds up into unstoppable momentum.
Atomic Habits is a good book. And despite my sceptic vibe I love disciplined habits. I prefer not to write about mine because it’s a boring topic, well-covered by a million LinkedIn hustle-posts.
But there’s a gap in the good-habits mindset that can compromise your whole future happiness.
A nuclear focus on habits builds skills that are just basic housekeeping in the quest for success.
You come back to 2022 with a new system for box-ticking your daily tasks, which feels super-satisfying. You start each day knocking over a bunch of admin items. You get 28% more boxes ticked than last year. POW!
Guess what: you’ve taken your first steps on the path from middle-management to … upper middle management. An efficient doer of things. For other people who are rich, interesting or both.
If you have the wrong definition of success, based on what others tell you, all your new habits just help you paddle faster toward Niagara Falls.
Habits are a distraction from the elephant
The small-habit focus lets you feel good while ignoring the room-elephant. The big thing you want to do, but it’s so daunting that you don’t.
It’s probably been churning around in your mind in some form for years. For some it’s a vivid grand ambition. For others it might just be a nagging feeling that things are not OK and something needs to change.
For me, with a fair number of miles on the clock, everything that makes me happy today stems from the big, scary calls. Not from the time I decided to eat salad four times a week*.
I sat on some of those calls for years like a dithering coward.
Atomic habits are all about feeling nice and safe with each step, because we’re all lazy and hate change.
Sorry, if you want to get somewhere really interesting and enjoyable, there’s no little-steps way in. It’s a yes or no when you have to jump off the high-diving board into the cold water.
To pick one example, you can’t edge your way toward having a kid with atomic steps, because you don’t feel emotionally or financially ready. You either jump or you don’t. And if you do it will be worth it.
Small, positive habits are a great way to postpone action on the big thing.
“My job is shit, but by God I am going to get fit and get a great new hairstyle. Then I’ll be happy and in control of my life.”
There is not plenty of time
When you ponder the big calls, it’s easy to go into permanent research mode. Deep Google rabbit holes, and asking everyone else what they think. In the hope that one day you will gather enough information to make it safe.
After all, you reason, there’s plenty of time.
There is not plenty of time. Once you get started, your grand plans always take longer than you expected.
You will need to jump, and why not this year?
Change careers. Start the business. Hire the extra staff to do your job. Have the kid. Bail on the toxic relationship. Come out as the real you. Quit work for a year and take the family camping around the country. Stand for parliament. Take up – if you must – podcasting or crypto trading.
Do. The. Thing.
If you don’t know what the thing is, but you know something’s amiss, see a psychologist. I’m constantly amazed by people who will spend thousands on servicing their car but won’t invest a cent to find out what makes them happy.
The long-term effect of safe choices
A life of non-threatening choices, even though they’re all positive, will lead you to the least-satisfying places.
You will turn into your boring uncle Philip, the one who started caring about retirement savings in his 20s. He and Aunt Janine live in a pleasant home full of Harvey Norman furniture.
Philip’s atomic focus now is on the ceaseless battle against onion weed in the lawn. And on minimising mealtime variance. Remember when you thought: just kill me if I end up like that?
Act now or that’s your fate.
Let’s be realistic. Taking the big jump is hard, and it might not work out. But at least you’ll know.
If you don’t, you’ll carry that lifelong burning regret. In your mind, it would have been a ringing success. But now you’re forever haunted by that cool parallel life you didn’t lead.
So this week, take an hour or two away from that shiny new 2022 task-planner and ask yourself the big question: what am I trying to distract myself from here?
And what are you going to do about it?
Listen to those voices in your head.
* This doesn’t mean you don’t need to eat the salad, sorry that’s part of the deal. Without the habits, you won’t have the resilience to deal with the battles you’ll face after you make your decision.
“If you’re still on a break and looking for a great read – would highly recommend this brilliant book by Ian Whitworth. Real talk and proper take aways from a business owner, during Covid, managing a team plus managing yourself. The truths and knowledge as someone who has run a successful business put this in a different league of business books. Read this twice over the break and loved it!!”
Thanks for the double read and review Aaron!
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