Practice makes perfect when it comes to your habits.
All Ted Williams wanted out of life was to walk down the street and have folks say, “There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.” That might sound arrogant to some, but Williams backed up the talk with his actions. The “Splendid Splinter” had a .344 career batting average, good for sixth all-time. He finished his career with 521 home runs and 2,654 hits. What makes those numbers even more remarkable is he missed five seasons flying combat missions in both World War II and Korea.
Hitting .400 in the majors is so unheard of that no one’s done it in over 80 years since Williams did in 1941. He was so sure of his ability that rather than sitting out the last day of the season with a .39955 batting average that would have been rounded up to .400, he played both games of the Red Sox doubleheader, going 6-for-8 to finish hitting .406 for the season.
Having a .400 batting average in high school baseball is not quite as impressive as in the major leagues, but it’s still really good. Hitting .500 is a great season. Hitting .600 means your dad was the scorekeeper.
During my junior year of high school, I wanted to hit .400 more than anything. I got off to a hot start and was batting over .400 halfway through the season. Everything was clicking. Then, I went into a 3 for 26 slump. I couldn’t hit water if I fell out of a boat. My batting average fell way below my goal. I was not a happy camper. I felt like I let down my team and myself.
The following offseason, I made it a habit to work on my hitting every day. Whether it was off the tee in the garage in the winter, outside off live pitching, or taking dry swings in the mirror, I hit a baseball or swung a bat pretty much every day.
When my senior season started, I got two hits in my first game and didn’t stop hitting the entire season. I hit singles, doubles, and home runs. I even had three triples which, if you’ve seen me run, you know was an accomplishment. After the dust settled, I had the highest batting average on the team, well over .400 and only .001 off the school record. That small act of working on my hitting daily paid a huge dividend.
I was turned on to Atomic Habits by a friend and mentor. Atoms are tiny. They are the smallest unit of matter that forms a chemical element. Atomic Habits, then, are small 1% improvements in behavior that compound over time into full-blow behavior change and positive habits. In other words, little changes make a big difference.
I started listening to the audiobook, and I was instantly hooked. Atomic Habits is a blend of real-world stories and scientific studies about behavior change. James Clear talks about how focusing on small details can help with things like weight loss, mindfulness, building better relationships, and accomplishing more in our chosen profession.
A habit is a behavior that is repeated enough times to become automatic. According to Clear, if you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you; the problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves not because you don’t want to change but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
The book gets into the Four Stages of Habit Building which can be divided into four steps: cue, craving, response, and reward. The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue.
Based on the science of habit-forming, Clear offers helpful tips like How to Create a Good Habit: Make it obvious, Make it attractive, Make it easy, and Make it satisfying.
A few examples:
- Want to eat healthier? Set a bowl of apples out on the counter instead of in the refrigerator drawer.
- Looking to read more before you go to sleep? Put a book on your pillow after you make your bed in the morning.
- Not getting through your to-do list? Finish one extra task a day, and soon you’ll have more time to focus on the projects you want to get done.
Listening to Atomic Habits was a game-changer for me. Little did I know I was practicing Atomic Habits way back in high school with my daily hitting ritual. The same goes for wanting to become a better writer (write a weekly email), trying to get your business on track (hold a meeting that occurs every week at the same time with the same agenda), and looking to be more active (walk outside every day). For decades, all these little things I’ve been doing have paid off without me even thinking about it. There’s something to be said for repetition. Just ask Ted Williams.