The car on the way to school is a great place to impart wisdom to the young. That’s how my 11-year-old became this morning’s victim of my current enthusiasm for all things habit-formation. Obviously, this is just what a kid wants to be listening to in his last ten minutes before the daily state-sponsored (in Ireland also church-sponsored) oppressive indoctrination begins.
“Alright mate, drop me to St. Machtna’s at the bottom of the pass. Thanks mate” as he slid into the car.
“I’m not an Uber”, I said.
“Ooh, I’m impressed you know what an Uber is”. I gave him a look which said I know plenty thanks very much. This launched a conversation about Uber, when it started and why it has been banned in many cities, even those where the existing taxi services are allegedly ‘shite’ (my 11-year old has a lot of cross-town meetings he has to get to).
I’ve been reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits. I liked it so much that I’ve also listened to it on Audible and watched a 2-hour interview with him on Rich Roll’s YouTube channel. Even though my retention of information is atrocious, no matter how useful or interesting, his principles are simple and so I’m feeling pretty clued in.
Sometimes I like to keep the young lad up to date on my adventures in Personal Development-land. He appreciates it.
“So”, I started, “I’ve been reading this book about habits, because, you know, these are the things which get us achieving our goals. Daily habits and rituals, you know like getting up early, not looking at the smartphone in bed, daily exercise and other generic stuff that we all want to do.
“But actually, what he says is rather than goals, it’s about identity, actually becoming the person you want to be. So, say if you want to write a book, you might set the goal of writing a book, or a chapter a day or whatever.
“But what the author says is we need to think more along the lines of becoming a writer. What does a writer do? A writer writes. Accordingly, you would focus on developing the habit of writing, starting small and building up. These habits in service of the desired identity are like votes, he says, for the person we want to be.
“It’s a bit like the old ‘fake it till you make it’ thing.
“Of course it applies to anything. If you want to be liked, I threw a meaningful glance, instead of setting the rather vague goal of being liked, you could say I want to be a person who is liked. What does a person who is liked do on a daily basis…and there’s your habit, and your vote”
At this point, stifling a yawn he interjects.
“Mom, I just wanted to talk about Uber…
“See!” I enthused, slapping his thigh. He startled like a baby deer on a country lane. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about! That’s a very good example right there! A person who wants to be liked would not hijack the conversation and drag it back to their own interests. A liked person would find a way to be interested in the thoughts of others. Or if not, would make a genuine attempt to listen and find the use in it.”
“But you’re the one who did that to me! I wanted to talk about Uber”
“But we could share this conversation containing awesome life advice”, I persisted. “And then we could get back to talking about the faceless corporation that has nothing whatsoever to do with our lives, at another time, no?” I threw in the no with an upward inflection to give the impression this was a democracy.
“Eh, no”, said the boy with mock horror.
“Anyway, in a nutshell, James Clear said that if we have a goal we should try embody the person who achieves that goal through our habits, and that gives us a better chance of success, and of the results sticking.
“Okay I’m done”. I said as I turned the corner into school. “About Uber…?” With an affectionate glare, something which I think he invented, my beautiful, long-suffering child exited the car. I never said I was a particularly good mother.