Build micro-habits to reach your desired identity
Writer and speaker James Clear on how to adjust your behavior to create your ideal life
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.“
Tim Ferriss and James Clear, author of the bestseller Atomic Habits, talk about strategies to become the person you want to be—specifically, by building small habits that compound into big wins in the long run. Although Tim and James also cover marketing and audience building, my visual recap focuses on their discussion about habits.
Find the complete episode (2 hours, 15 minutes) on YouTube.
Annual reviews are an important tool for reflection and course correction. James has been writing and publishing annual reviews online since 2013, but also advocates for shorter review cycles—like his weekly business reviews on Fridays. To guide his year-end reviews, he uses around 20 big-picture questions and shares a few with Tim (see visual).
What is the work that keeps working for us once it’s done? James uses this guiding question (not in the visual, sorry!) to understand what high-ROI activities he should focus on. What does he mean by “work that keeps working for us”?
Example 1: James favors doing podcast appearances over live radio interviews because of their longevity. After a radio segment airs, it’s gone—but anyone could be listening to one of his podcast interviews right now.
Example 2: James once wrote an article that was later cited in the New York Times. A CBS producer saw the piece and invited him onto CBS This Morning for his first-ever TV appearance.
Your ideas are downstream from the content you consume. What you read, watch, and listen to matters. And with so much content competing for our attention, James stresses the importance of identifying which sources of info are better than others.
Your everyday habits reinforce your identity. Consider: What kind of lifestyle am I trying to create for myself? How do I want to spend my days? Your behaviors shape the narrative of your life. For content creators—don’t let the algorithm dictate your identity.
Successful marketing requires being thoughtful. James started planning his book launch 15 months ahead of time. This involved creating a list of niche audiences to appeal to (CrossFitters! vegans! bullet journalers!) and writing at least 300 personalized cold emails to secure podcast guest appearances. He wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to read Atomic Habits and share it with others.
Three ingredients to make something remarkable: timelessness, universality, and your genuine interest. When you see something remarkable, deconstruct it. Pay attention to any common patterns. James studied the table of contents of multiple bestsellers to get ideas for how to structure Atomic Habits.
Email is a powerful channel for developing an audience. Both Tim and James value their email lists immensely—in fact, James credits his for getting a book deal in the first place. James also points out how writing email content can help refine your ideas and better understand what resonates with your audience.
James and Tim don’t use the word “intentionality” but this strikes me as the episode’s core theme. I love this, especially as someone often juggling multiple interests, projects, and ideas. James’ guiding questions are a good reminder to zoom out and look at the big picture—while also connecting that picture to our day-to-day routines. This year, I’m trying to do exactly that by focusing on a small number of projects and spending my time more deliberately than before.
If you made it this far, thank you for being here! This is the first issue of Sketch Pad, a project that’s part sketchbook and part newsletter. I’m thrilled that people enjoy my visual recaps and am truly so grateful for the encouragement I’ve received thus far. The best way to support Sketch Pad is by sharing this post with someone who might enjoy it. And if you’d like to, send me your podcast recommendations here!