A couple of months back, an office colleague suggested a book called atomic habits by James Clear. It talks about a framework that can help you improve yourself every day. Suppose you want to improve your fitness, you shouldn’t simply get a gym subscription because you would just quit that in a few days. Instead, you could start with 10 pushups every morning immediately after brushing your teeth. Now that takes just 1 minute and is easy to cultivate that as a habit. Once that becomes a habit, you could add 10 situps immediately after the pushups. If you add 1 minute of additional exercise every week, you could have a 30 minute workout schedule as a habit in just 30 weeks. The beauty of doing such a thing is that, habits are hard to quit. The mind simply resists it.
So, that simply works and I would recommend the book to all. But the story I wanted to tell is about one atomic habit that is potentially life changing. Since the time of the smartphone, it has always been a fight trying to resist screen time. However, Twitter, Facebook, HBO Max, Wordle, news sites all try to induce our brain to release dopamine and make us happy. If I resist, I lose on those moments of happiness. If I succumb and spend time on the phone, I have the hangover later with a feeling that I wasted my day. I am not addicted to phones as I always was able to switch between the “resist” and “succumb” phases. But I knew this is not how it should be. Enter atomic habits. Here is what I do.
Every morning, as soon as I am awake, I pick up the phone (just like before). I open google keep notes. I create a list of tiny things that I can do during the day. I try to keep it slightly over-ambitious. This process takes me 10-15 minutes. Interestingly, this process of thinking of possibilities creates some satisfaction. Throughout out the day, every time my mind wanders off, I pick up the phone (just like before). However, I have a big widget of google keep notes on the front screen and it shows me the various tiny things I can do. I do one of those things and tick that item. The process of ticking off creates some sense of achievement. By the end of the day, I would have ticked of 5-10 items and the sense of achievement is immense.
The process of picking up the phone has not changed for me. What happens after the picking up definitely has. There are a few situations when you can’t do anything (for example when waiting for the train) and instead revert to reading news or maybe twitter. However, with some creativity, those can be replaced as well to become something useful. For example, I read news in a different language so that I can learn that language. The phone can be a wonderful tool if we just change the way we think about it.