James Clear on habits as casting votes

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity.

Each habit not only gets results but also teaches you something far more important: to trust yourself. You start to believe that you can actually accomplish these things. When the votes mount up and the evidence begins to change, the story you tell yourself begins to change as well.

Of course, it works the opposite way, too. Every time you choose to perform a bad habit, it’s a vote for that identity. The good news is that you don’t need to be perfect. In any election, there are going to be votes for both sides. You don’t need a unanimous vote to win an election; you just need a majority. It does’t matter if you cast a few votes for bad behavior or an unproductive habit. The goal is simply to win the majority of the time.

James ClearAtomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results

I’ve found the idea of ‘casting votes’ helpful in decision making. Some reasons for taking an action:

  • We know that in and of itself it will lead to a desirable outcome right now (quite easy)
  • We know that it will have a long-term pay off (harder)
  • We don’t really know if this particular action will pay off, but it’s part of a wider pattern that will be fruitful in the long run (requires thought and attention)

James Clear is writing about how identity – or character – shapes our actions, and how we can use even small actions to shape character.

Sometimes we do things (good and bad) because “this is who I am.”

But we also have the option of doing things “because this is who I’d like to be,” or “because I would like the world to be the sort of place where people did this,” – even if the decision in question might not be convenient or even lead to be best immediate outcome.

Slowly – small decision by small decision, act by act – we shape ourselves and our culture. How will you use your vote?

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