Three James Clear Quotes to Sustain Good Habits

Atomic Habits by James Clear is the most applicable book to coaching and teaching that I have read this year. When I read books, I’m looking for a couple quotes of wisdom to take away. These three quotes are enhanced by the surrounding background stories and prior points by Clear, but I think they also provide value standing alone.

The 1 Percent Approach

“‘The aggregation of marginal gains,’ which was the philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. Brailsford said, ‘The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.’” – Dave Brailsford

James Clear has a longer version of this quote worth reading from his website. Brailsford thought of everything that is incorporated in a process and how to change for the better.

I was reminded of what Paul Tanglis preaches at North Andover High (and as I later came to know Babson and Villanova also preach) when a player is on the ground. There is no limit to the many parts to coaching. Player development, academic accountability, scouting, practice plans, networking, film work, pre-game routines, and more. Searching for ways to improve is not hard. The trouble is trying to find the perfect plan. Be simple. Try to improve by one percent instead of seventy percent. That is what sets the Spurs or the Patriots apart. They do the very small things often and well.

Quantity Will Lead to Quality

“We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action.” – James Clear

James Clear offers a more in-depth version of the quote and a great story about perfection versus trial and error in this article. Experimentation can only happen if we create an environment that promotes mistakes. There is certainly a place for correcting turnovers and poor shot selection, but a balance must be in order if players are going to push past their current limitations.

When players are reluctant to turn and face, drive left, or jumpstop in the lane I will often pull them aside and say that I want to see the effort to try their weakness three times during the course of a scrimmage. It is a private conversation so that the other players cannot game plan to stop them. The real goal is to give players the freedom to fail. Eventually with enough repetition the skill will become a part of their game.

When a Good Routine Becomes Mundane

“The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit. This is a distinguishing feature between winners and losers. Anyone can have a bad performance, a bad workout, or a bad day at work. But when successful people fail, they rebound quickly. The breaking of a habit doesn’t matter if the reclaiming of it is fast.” – James Clear

What separates good from great or even great from elite, is enduring boredom and resisting temptation for the easy way out. We are not robots. Nor are the players. Respecting the disruption of a routine will keep you and your players sane. That said, it is a routine for a reason. Good habits need to remain habits.

James Clear further illustrates the idea that effort will vary from day to day especially within our mindsets. He advocates that we cannot allow any zeroes. Even if a player puts up one shot in a day, he or she is creating an identity of someone that practices shooting every day. One shot is better than no shots. As a coach, we could equate this to reading one article per day or watching a two-minute video. It might not be the typical amount of time that you wish to allocate, but it keeps a consistent pattern that is important to you.

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