James Clear (@JamesClear) believes that you do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems. He is the creator of the Habits Academy and author of Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones.

What We Discuss with James Clear:

  • How a near-death experience began James’ exploration in leveraging tiny habits for giant outcomes.
  • The difference between systems and goals and which one you should commit yourself to if you want results.
  • What bamboo, cancer, and a winning Olympic coach can teach us about little changes that amount to a lot.
  • Why the way you behave depends on the type of person you believe yourself to be — and what you can do to modify this belief for the better.
  • What it takes to break bad habits while creating good ones without falling into the “fake it ‘til you make it” delusion.
  • And much more…
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Most of us have big goals we’d like to accomplish — anything from getting in better physical shape to quitting a lifelong vice to learning a new language. So we make grand plans, go full force in our intended direction, and falter when we don’t notice results within a few weeks of trying our best.

Massive head trauma forced Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones author and Habits Academy creator James Clear to relearn the very basic building blocks of functioning as himself. But he couldn’t make the change overnight — he had to start with small habits and build momentum that, over time, resulted in big changes. In this episode, he takes us along for the ride and shares processes and practicals we can use to incrementally change our own lives for the better. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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As we learned from recent guests Jane McGonigal and Jim Kwik, finding a way to navigate the aftermath of a concussion can change your life. After suffering his own traumatic head injury, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones author and Habits Academy creator James Clear concurs.

“I was hit in the face with a baseball bat between my sophomore and junior year of high school,” says James. “It ended up being incredibly serious. The first 10 minutes or so, I was conscious enough to be walking around and answer some questions, but I answered all of the questions wrong!”

Q: What year is it? A: 1998. [It was 2002.] Q: Who’s the president? A: Bill Clinton. [It was George W. Bush.]

It wasn’t long before James had trouble breathing and swallowing on his own, and he suffered three seizures in eight hours. A coma was induced for his first overnight at the hospital, and when he was brought out of it the next morning, he realized he had no sense of smell. To add insult to injury, James’ eye was forced out of place when he blew his nose thanks to the new and numerous cracks in his eye socket.

“It was a brutal injury and it took me eight or nine months to recover,” says James. “Eventually, my eye did go back into place; it took about a month. But that process was — I don’t know if I’d want to say it was a blessing in any way, but it did teach me some lessons. It forced me to start small, because I didn’t really have a choice. I was so injured that I couldn’t have this radical transformation and be back up and running the next day. I had to just focus on building small habits and making little improvements; that was the first place that I practiced that in my own life.”

James considers the tiny, atomic habits illustrated in his book — the ones that helped him regain himself after this lengthy convalescence — to be “the compound interest of self-improvement.” Like a freight train leaving the railway yard, the progress made by just one small habit is nearly imperceptible at first — but as momentum is gained, it becomes unstoppable.

“It’s very easy to dismiss a single choice on any given day — positive or negative,” says James. “It’s easy to be like, ‘Oh, I had a burger and fries for lunch versus a salad.’ It doesn’t really matter on any given day; your body looks the same in the mirror. The scale is the same. You don’t really see how those one percent changes make a difference for you or against you. But you compound that over two or five or 10 years and the consequences of those repeated decisions become very apparent.”

The Habit Loop from James Clear's Atomic Habits

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how internal and external stimuli affect our habits, the cravings and predictions that precede and influence certain behaviors, how an Olympic coach improved his team’s performance in one percent increments all the way to winning multiple gold medals, what bamboo and cancer can teach us about little changes that amount to a lot, the difference between systems and goals and which one you should commit yourself to if you want lasting results, how understanding the habit loop and the four laws of behavior change can help us make or break habits that stick, and much more.


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