How can I make myself better each day?

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I didn’t finish reading Atomic Habits.

I get the central concept that small improvements every day lead to big change over time. I don’t dispute it; it’s self evident.

But this concept of ‘compound interest’, whilst useful for financial instruments, misses the point that we humans are complex, dynamic and sometimes messy.

What is a small improvement? Three sets of deadlifts? Or five? One salad with extra virgin olive oil or two?

Like any self help bestseller there are shrinking circles. The circle of those who buy the book shrinks to those who read (and finish it), which shrinks to those who apply it (consistently), which shrinks again to those who benefit from it.

BUT…

Atomic Habits changed my life; and it had nothing to do with the guidance on habit stacking etc (some of which is genuinely useful).

What changed the way I go about (successfully) making meaningful change in my life was a couple of paragraphs early on in the book that describes the concept of ‘labels’. Specifically, the labels we apply to ourselves.

Learner or loser. Firm but fair. Or doormat pleaser. Optimist or defeated. Capable or not.

As the marketing guru and telling observer of human behaviour Seth Godin accurately said the person we listen to most is ourselves.

So what we say to ourselves, how we label ourselves, really really matters.

In order to change any aspect of our lives and even who we are - that version of ourselves we wish to be - requires us to very consciously choose our labels.

In his book author James Clear uses the example of labelling yourself an Athlete if you want to develop habits related to health. Athletes make good choices daily regarding exercise and nutrition. So too can you if you label yourself an Athlete and - critically - reflect hard on this every day.

Thinking this way, changing in your own mind who you are, leads to behaviour change (and yes, great habits).

I did it.

And it worked (I still use this concept every day).

Want to learn to code? Label yourself a coder. Think each day before you get out of bed how you will ‘live’ this label that specific day. Where will you fit in, and execute, those two 45 minute sessions where you will code? So you learn and ultimately become a coder.

It’s not about being an actual athlete or a coder (yet). I have neither age nor talent in my favour, so you won’t be cheering me at the olympics. But I train most days and I eat to nourish myself (which means I’m slimmer, fitter, stronger and look better than I have in ten years).

Pick your labels; athlete, coder, writer, teatotaller. Or even father (or mother), so you make those moments in the day to really connect - even briefly - with your child; moments to see the world through their eyes without your own head full of the daily push and pull of life.

Try it.

And please also tell me if I really should go back and finish the book!

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