4 powerful truths about habits you need to know today

BRAND MINDS
6 min readMar 9, 2023
image credit: YuriArcursPeopleimages

It’s a beautiful summer day in Hamilton, Ohio. At one of the county’s high schools, the tenth-grade students are out on the field playing baseball. The air vibrates with excitement and intense energy. Suddenly, a blonde, 5 feet tall fifteen-year-old gets hit in the face with a baseball bat by one of his classmates: the bat had accidentally slipped from his hands and hit the boy right between his eyes.

The accident was horrific: the blow crushed the bones in his nose causing instant swelling in his brain. He gave wrong answers when asked by the school nurse what year they were in and what President was in office. It took him ten seconds to remember his mother’s name. After that, he lost consciousness and was rushed to the emergency room.

At the hospital, the doctors established that he had multiple skull fractures, a swollen nose and shattered eye sockets. Shortly after he arrived there, his body collapsed: he stopped breathing and was hooked to a ventilation machine. The seizures started. The hospital wasn’t equipped to manage his particular situation so he was flown to a bigger hospital where he was placed into an induced coma and underwent emergency surgery to reconstruct his skull.

The surgery was successful, but the recovery was long and difficult. He had been dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player since he was 4 years old and that dream seemed impossible to achieve now. Still, he was determined to get his life back.

Six years after the accident, he became the best male player at his university and was selected for ESPN’s Academic All-America Team, a unique recognition enjoyed by only 33 athletes in the country.

By the time he graduated, he had records in eight different sports categories. He received the Presidential Medal, the highest honour in academia.

Years later he wrote a book which went on to become a bestseller with over 10 million copies sold worldwide.

His name is James Clear. His bestselling book is ‘Atomic Habits’.

James is a world-famous expert on habit formation. His newsletter has recently reached 2 million subscribers.

He credits his amazing achievements following the accident to the power of good habits and putting together a system of goals.

The turning point came two years after his lif-altering injury when he got into university. He barely made it to the baseball team. He wasn’t going to play anytime soon so he decided to get his life straight. That’s when he discovered the amazing power of tiny habits. Instead of staying up late at night, playing video games, like his colleagues, he went to bed early every night.

His self-confidence began to increase and his academic results improved also: he had straight As the entire first year in college. Soon he began adopting other small habits with amazing results like not doing any homework after midnight. If he hadn’t learned it by midnight, he was just going to go to bed. All these small rules and practices were not much, but they gave him the feeling that he was in control of his life.

His habits of resting, studying & weightlifting led to him being named, six years after the accident nearly left him for dead, Denison’s 2008 Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year with records in 8 different sports categories while majoring in biomechanics.

James never realized his dream of playing in a professional baseball team. What he did was accomplish something more important than that: he fulfilled his potential.

James Clear: 4 essential truths about habits you need to know today

#1: Behaviours that are immediately rewarded get repeated; behaviours that are immediately punished get avoided.

That’s why no one likes going to the gym (at least at first): it’s sweaty, it’s painful, maybe you don’t like seeing your body in the gym’s mirrors and you could go on with ten more reasons. The immediate result after the workout? Your body punishes you with muscle aches. Eat a slice of your favourite cake and your brain rewards you instantly by making you feel good. It’s definitely not fair.

The solution, James says, is to find some kind of immediate satisfaction. Look at the steps you need to take to achieve your goal from a different point of view to find what exactly you like about them, no matter how small. Focus on how it makes you feel and not on the result you want.

#2: The effects of your habits multiply over time.

“If you have good habits, time is your ally. If you have bad habits, time is your enemy. It’s really about mastering those little one percent choices. One percent better or one percent worse each day doesn’t feel like much in the moment, but it ends up being significant in the long run.”

James Clear

Eating healthy for one day is not going to show any results the next day. But eating healthy for six months will. The same is true for bad habits. Smoking five cigarettes for one day is not going to damage your lungs but doing it for six years definitely will. What you need is to show up every day. It’s like brushing your teeth: you need to do it every day.

#3: Setting your goal is only 10% of the work; the process or the system getting you to your goal is 90%.

James says very eloquently that we don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems. Everyone wants to look and be fit but why do some succeed while others don’t? James answers this question as follows: Because setting the goal is not the thing that makes the difference. Yes, setting goals provide clarity and a sense of direction, but it’s really the system that determines whether or not you make progress on that goal. Focus on the system and the process rather than on any individual outcome.

“We think outcomes are what matter most and we need big ambitious goals, but almost always the goal isn’t the thing that needs to change. The process behind it is what needs to change.”

James Clear

#4: Scale it down so it’s super easy.

Let’s say your goal is to run the marathon within a year. If you are a coach potato, running a marathon is a pretty big goal. First of all, you must become aware that there’s a big gap between you relaxing on the couch and you running the marathon. These two individuals are different on at least three levels: mindset, lifestyle and motivation. There are many changes that need to happen before you start running even for five minutes.

Before you try wrestling a dragon, exercise wrestling a lizard. Scale it down so it’s super easy. Set yourself up for success with the two-minute rule.

Whatever your goal is, what can you do in 2 minutes?

Read one page, do breathing exercises, stretch, and learn five new words.

Figure out what it is for your goal and go do it.

Join BRAND MINDS and see James Clear live on stage!

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BRAND MINDS

BRAND MINDS 2023: Tim Ferriss, Nassim Taleb, James Clear, Neil Patel, Renée Mauborgne, Duncan Wardle, Lynda Gratton. More on https://brandminds.com