An experiment in re-programming, guided by the habit-master James Clear

Several years ago I decided I was ready to be the best version of myself. I was hitting snooze five times every morning, working out very sporadically, and accruing stacks of unopened mail just like everyone else who thinks that eventually they’ll get their life together but who knows when. I heard somewhere that a new habit takes 28 days to form, so I made a master plan called "Karlee 2.0” and committed to 28 days of a detailed rundown of my new daily life. It looked something like waking up to my first alarm at 6:30am, reading every day, being proactive, resisting the YouTube vortex, running after work, and the list went on exhaustively.

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The first few days I felt amazing. I was energized by the changes and felt like a new woman. But as you might imagine, I lasted about two weeks before I’d hit snooze again or go to sleep late or forfeit reading for TV. All it took was a few off days and the whole thing derailed. I didn’t give up, though. I amended the plan to make it more realistic and embarked on Karlee 2.1.

It went on like this for a few years, with constant learning and stretches of change. Months would pass and I’d start again with new ideas for 3.0 and 3.5 and so on. There were habits that always came back no matter how great I felt to shake them for a while, and there were new routines that never solidified, as passionate as I was about the goals that I set. Overall, I’ve made some notable gains. For example, I’ve been a very consistent runner for a few years now and I’ve become more organized. But when it comes to daily structure, it varies wildly between going according to plan and veering totally off-track for weeks at a time. Still, I love the process of re-inventing my workflow. I love it, and I suck at following through for very long.

So maybe the issue isn’t lack of a good plan. Maybe it’s the way I approach change. Planning and will power have been my tools of choice all this time. But what would an expert on the subject say?

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I have begun to read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, who is a highly respected voice in the world of productivity and life change. Two chapters in and I realized that I couldn’t just read it. If I want to heed his advice then today is the day. So the book is my study guide for the next few weeks as I approach habit formation (and deconstruction) in a new light and make it into fun homework.

In chapter one James Clear talks about a traumatic brain injury he had as a teenager and how he had to rely on small habits to recover and then to become a highly successful student and athlete. He totally crushed it. Fascinated by the science of habits, he’s done tons of research and presented it within an integrated model of cognitive behavioral sciences. Here we go, brain! Let’s see what we can do.

Karlee PattonComment