Remarkable results come from small beginnings.
But often results aren’t given a chance. People make a few small changes, fail to see a tangible result, and decide to stop.
You think, “I’ve been running every day for a month, so why can’t I see any change in my body?” Once this kind of thinking takes over, it’s easy to let good habits fall by the wayside. But in order to make a meaningful difference, habits need to persist long enough to break through this plateau—what James Clear calls the Plateau of Latent Potential.
Clear knows what he is talking about. He recovered from a life-threatening injury through the application of habits. The concepts he tested became the content of his 2018 best seller, Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results. Six million readers can’t be wrong, right?
He suggests that habits are like the atoms of our lives. Each one is a fundamental unit that contributes to your overall improvement. An atomic habit refers to a tiny change, a marginal gain, a 1 percent improvement. Getting 1 percent better every day counts for a lot in the long‑run.
If you find yourself struggling to build a good habit or break a bad one, it is not because you have lost your ability to improve. It is often because you have not yet crossed the Plateau of Latent Potential. Complaining about not achieving success despite working hard is like complaining about an ice cube not melting when you heated it from twenty‑five to thirty‑one degrees. Your work was not wasted; it is just being stored. All the action happens at thirty‑two degrees.
When you finally break through the Plateau of Latent Potential, people will call it an overnight success. The outside world only sees the most dramatic event rather than all that preceded it. But you know that it’s the work you did long ago—when it seemed that you weren’t making any progress—that makes the jump today possible.
Goals and Systems
Prevailing wisdom claims that the best way to achieve what we want in life is to set specific, actionable goals. Clear advises to forget about goals and focus on systems.
Goals: the results you want to achieve.
Systems: the processes that lead to those results.
He suggests that if you ignored your goals and focused only on your system, you would still succeed. For example, if you were a football coach and you ignored your goal to win a championship and focused only on what your team does at practice each day, you would get championship results.
“If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system.”
“Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.”
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
Focusing on the overall system, rather than a single goal, is one of the core themes of the book.
Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about progress and success, and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits.
Read a chapter of Atomic Habits here.
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