I read a pretty good book recently, Atomic Habits by James Clear. One of the techniques explored in the book was how to get more accomplished by integrating new routines into your existing routines. For example, if you want to exercise more, instead of trying to create a new routine of going to the gym, just integrate doing a series of calisthenics before each meal. I’m all about finding ways to improve so this article will provide a book review of Atomic Habits.
The Power of Routines
My entire life has been about helping people implement and transition through changes in both their personal and professional lives. One of the scariest things about change is how it disrupts our routines. We like routines. It gives us a sense of stability and certainty. Much like knowing the sun is going to come up, we want to know coffee is going to be available before we go to work, or the family is going to be home in the evening.
Routines provide comfort and a sense of security.
But they also prevent us from being adaptable.
When Routines Are Disrupted
I remember early in my career (the 90s), as I was learning more about adaptability to change, I started watching people closely in an attempt to discern what made them so resistant to new technologies, methodologies, and processes in the workplace. Being from the Midwest, I worked with people who had amazing work ethics. And while the ability to produce is impressive, the Midwest is not exactly known for being a progressive part of our nation.
I noticed how upset people became when their routines were disrupted. While I knew the world was about to change (widespread computer use was just becoming a thing), the workforce was resisting the smallest adaptations (ex: a new dress code). When I explored this phenomenon in my personal life, it was even worse. And it seemed the older people got, the more unwilling they were to change. They liked their routines and nobody was going to disrupt them!
Because I had chosen a career around change management, I made a conscious effort to ensure I remained adaptable. I took different routes on my daily commute to work, traveled to different destinations for vacations, put myself in uncomfortable situations on a routine basis, and intentionally changed my routines as soon as I realized I had one. I saw routines as the nemesis of adaptability. To remain flexible to the changes in life, I knew I had to integrate purposeful disruption. Both at home and work my goal was to create a state of constant controlled chaos so I could be adaptable to whatever life sent my way. And it served me well – both personally and professionally.
The secret of CHANGE is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.
The Genius of Leveraging Current Routines
I see the value in having habits. Habits provide markers in our life – known events we can count on. And that makes us feel grounded and secure. Some habits, like exercise routines, are really great to have. And in some ways, a lack of habits can result in inconsistent behaviors. Take exercise, for example, if you don’t have a routine around exercise, the lack of consistency can be detrimental. But I also know the more habits and routines you have, the less adaptable you are. Since we live in a time of constant change, it seems we would want to focus more on adaptability than routines.
The genius behind the approach provided in this book is the reality that it’s easy for people to add to existing routines than to learn to be more adaptable to change. It’s much easier, for example to add 30 sit-ups while my morning coffee is brewing than it is to just proclaim I’m now going to find sometime during the day to get my sit-ups in. Think of it like brushing and flossing. If your habit is to brush your teeth each night before bed, it’s much easier to add flossing to the routine. I mean, you are already cleaning your teeth, it’s just one more step. Atomic Habits discusses the science behind this as well as provides a multitude of ways you can incorporate new habits into your life.
As with all things in life, it’s important to have a balance. Too many routines result in a stagnant life devoid of anything exciting and interesting unless, of course, one of your routines is to do something new every week. And a complete lack of routines results in complete chaos and uncertainty which most of us don’t handle very well.
Overall, I felt the book was worth the read and I actually integrated a couple of the suggestions into my life.