Hello dear readers, Happy 2023! May all your troubles and worries be left behind in 2022 and enjoy a refreshing start in 2023. (I know it is a bit late of a new year greeting…) Should today’s post not fail to interest you – we are going to talk about the “new year resolution” – but from a very tiny angle – an “Atomic” New Year Resolution.
By the end of each year, many of us would set up “New Year Resolutions” for the next year to come. Some popular resolutions include going to gym and losing weight, cooking more often, staying focused and patient, and going to bed early, you name it.
Despite being ambitious, these goals barely made it till February (Congrats to you if it lasts for more than 3 months). There are just simply too many distractions and challenges that we easily slack off our goals and start a binge on snacks, takeout food, sitting on couch, and watching Netflix.
In today’s post, I want to start my new year resolution in a slightly different way – an “atomic” way. I got this idea from my favorite book from last year, Atomic Habits, by James Clear. The word “atomic” has twofold meanings, referring to habits that are small, tiny, and easy to accomplish, but when accumulated, that can lead to long-term and tremendous outcomes – like an atomic bomb.
Jame Clear’s book – Atomic Habits – had a great influence on me in 2022
The power of “atomic” gains
Just like making new year resolutions, we often like to make plans, grand and overarching, that provide luring big pictures. However, these plans are too ambitious or too abstract – they are not easy to carry out. So that on the way to fulfill them, we either find ourselves too tired and stressed out in the first few days and beg to take some breaks, or too lost and confused and not sure how to get to the end.
Instead, the author argued in the book that we should establish tiny, concrete, and actionable habits that are easy to facilitate in our day-to-day life and try to stick to them as long as possible. A famous quote analogous to this would be – if we can keep up with 1% improvement each day, by the end of the year, we would have 37 times our achievement. Similar daily 1% shrinkage would only end up with 0.03 of where we started.
Therefore, the most important takeaway from the book would be – the secret to making big changes and successful achievements in our life, is to make tiny improvements and stick to them every day.
A demonstration of “tiny” compound improvements that lead to huge differences in long term
Tiny changes happened in 2022
The book “Atomic Habits” had a great influence on me in last year, not only when I was reading it, but also I found its powerful magic through my own practices – establishing my own morning routine.
There were so many distractions in my morning routine after getting up and I decided to change it. Although I have been a morning person, getting up around 7 am, my morning time after waking up has been wasted browsing WeChat messages and moments, Twitter and Instagram, etc. This process could take shorter than 15 min or longer than 1 hour. Then I finally got out of bed and made breakfast and went to daily work, usually in a rush.
Since I could already get up early with little difficulty, what I focused on was making better use of the morning time I had, before actually starting the day. The first thing I did was to put away my phone the night before far away from my bed. So the next morning, when my alarm rang, I would be forced to get out of bed and turned it off. Then I would immediately put it aside and went to make coffee and use the washroom. During this time, I began to refresh my mind, going through things I would need to do and prepare today. These usually included the daily meeting schedule, writing tasks, seminars, etc. After this short and refreshing moment, my mind can be completely awake and ready for the day.
My next experience would be – to have a clear-minded and efficient morning, actually, I have to prepare the night before. Needless to say, it is important to keep a regular sleep schedule to wake up early and not feel tired. I would also prepare a small article for my morning reading the night before, not a very long but short article of about 3-4 pages that I can finish in 1 hour. Nature and Science have these short letters that are interesting to read and short. So the night before, I would select the paper for the next morning by scanning through the abstract to determine if I am interested in the topic.
After the coffee and washroom, I headed back to my desk and start reading – the material I prepared the night before. For about 45 min reading, I could take notes and write a short summary – usually in three sentences: (1) what did the author do? (2) what did they find out? (3) what did I learn from this? I kept this reading and writing morning routine in a google doc and it would really add up to my library list when I need to write the introduction or the discussion session.
This mindful reading and writing morning routine forms a daily ritual for me to begin a new day. Sometimes, when I got sleepy at night and was about to go to bed, I started to expect what I would be reading and learning the next morning and felt really fulfilled. After this morning ritual, I felt satisfied and eager to get to start working! An interesting way to stay motivated and interested, but not stressed out by research life Hahaha!
A 2023 resolution through writing
So my new year resolution in 2023 would be to keep on writing. I started a blog in May 2022 and began writing every other week. I usually write about my research progress and ideas, working motivations, running stories, and movie and book reviews. Till now, I have written about 14 articles, almost 2 per month, and I would really hope to keep up with the flow. It gave me a great sense of satisfaction when I looked back by the end of Dec 2022, that I actually made some progresses.
Regardless of topics, what I find in writing is to record thoughts and ideas every day and have a big trunk of time (about 2-3 hours in a week, usually on Saturday afternoon) to sit down, think seriously, and start to articulate my thoughts into writing. These are the bright side of writing.
I wish to keep up writing – this is my new year resolution in 2023
But the difficult side would be, sometimes I would struggle when I don’t know what to write about and this can take up a long time. This can be especially hard if I had a busy week packed with other commitments.
This is the moment when “atomic habits” would shine – I wish to have a session in my blog that is totally dedicated to reviewing articles that I have read from my morning routine. The purpose is to (1) read about the scientific advances in many frontiers, not necessarily limited to my own field of research; (2) practice thinking and writing skills; (3) prepare materials for writing reviews.
Again, this sounds like an ambitious goal, but what I should focus on is essentially the day-to-day morning routine and weekly writing time. When I only work on these tiny tasks, I feel less stressed and overwhelmed. Then time would prove my blog worth the effort.
In the end, I also want to note that I started the blog partially because I was trying to advocate myself, my research, and my writing, especially important in the job market. So some of my early posts were more about professional development and less about my thoughts and lifestyle. Now that I feel like I can be more dedicated to writing my own stories, regardless of readers or subscribers (now I have about 50 subscribers, thanks to my friends and family). So my blog becomes a self-improvement training – some sort of mind yoga – that’s another motivation to keep up writing.