Atomic Change 滴水穿石
If our identity is created by the sum of our habits, then every action we take is a vote for who we are. In a world where I can’t vote for proper representation in my government, the thought that my every action helps shape who we are as community is oddly comforting.
It’s a blustery Easter Saturday. The skies are grey and soggy, the wind is whistling through the trees in the garden. Very appropriate for a day in the Christian narrative, the darkest hour before the dawn.
For the past two nights my sleep has been fitful; mostly because of a wandering wild boar which sets off the intruder alert (bark bark!) in Ein; and a restless Gum-gum, who continues to have epileptic fits and paces around the room for hours afterwards. And so when dawn came this morning, I had to drag my butt on to the yoga mat to do my sun salutations.
Recently I’ve been reading “Atomic Habits” by James Clear , which I highly recommend to anyone who wishes to establish good habits in anything. Among other things, he suggests that establishing a new habit is a vote for a new identity; and as such, it’s not so much about an action as it is about why you are doing this.
For example, if you refuse a cigarette from a friend by saying, “I’m trying to quit”; you are essentially reinforcing the narrative of you attempting to deny yourself of something. Whereas if you say, “I don’t smoke” you are reinforcing an identity as a non-smoker.
In addition to this, “who we are” is an accumulation of “what we do.” Thus, every action we take, however minuscule, is a vote for who we are. So by showing up to do my sun salutations, I am essentially committing to being someone who stays connected and in communication with my body. And I can assert that these tiny, atomic sized actions (even 10 mins a day!) really do accumulate. I was shocked to find that some core muscle exercises I remember having great trouble doing in my twenties come quite easily. Wait a minute… that can’t be right .. I was dancing like three hours a day then ! Maybe it’s all the sitting in meditation ? Hmm… what happened ?
Yesterday I read a post from my friend Luigi, my former flatmate from Paris. He was snidely commenting on “Season 2” of the upcoming French election with Macron vs Penn being essentially the same plot as Season 1 five years ago. And I responded quite bleakly, “at least you have a choice.” In our upcoming “elections” for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong (which we plebeians have no vote for anyway) has only one candidate . For the candidates that we can vote for, they have to basically pass a “patriot” test. The more critical of the previous politicians are now in exile or in jail. So for a former colony that experienced a brief taste of democracy, representational governance has really backslided.
In this sense, the premise of Atomic Habits does give me great comfort. Leadership and governments do have incredible power (c.f Ukraine or pandemic policies), but beyond the broad strokes, how we choose to live and breathe and the narrative in which we chose to participate in is still in our hands. If every action I take is a vote for who I am and I am part of this community; then every action I take is a vote for who we are as a community. A small droplet in the ocean made of small droplets.
Right-o. On to my next habit, meditation.
Read the books if you have a chance. Or watch this pretty great video. Stacking is a great technique - I highly recommend. Every morning now I feel as if I’m hitting quadruple home-runs.
 Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: an easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones ; tiny changes, remarkable results. New York: Avery.