Freakanomics and Atomic Habits

Mini-reviews of two good books

Yesterday was rough. I must have taken three naps throughout the day, the execution of which was confounded by the tea, coffee, and energy drink I consumed throughout. The last one was late in the day, I took a melatonin at ten and tried to sleep at eleven, but wound up getting up to read at midnight and again at one-thirty before finally going to sleep. I woke just after seven, in the midst of a vivid dream, and feel back to my normal, ready to conquer the day.

I finished reading Freakanomics. It’s a very interesting book, and deals with race in a very frank way. The last few chapters are about the role of parenting and schools in a person’s success in life. One of the main findings is that who you are as a parent matters more than what you do. It gave me pause for a moment, to reconsider how far I’m pushing the kids. They’ll be all right.

There’s a fascinating chapter about a particular crack gangs in Chicago and their leader, who I believe may have served as the inspiration for Stringer Bell in The Wire. We went to business school and ran it like a corporation. One of the lieutenants kept detailed notes on their day to day finances, and the story of how it got into the hands of an economist is fascinating backstory.

The book is from 2006, and while I have some concerns about it might be received today because of it’s racial themes, I still recommend it. It’s not very long, and written in an engaging style that made it a quick read.

After I finished Freakanomics, I picked up Atomic Habits, by James Clear, which the missus gave me as an early Fathers’ Day gift. I didn’t want to put it down. Clear opens with a story about how he had to recover from a life-threatening childhood injury, learning to walk again, up to how he reclaimed his identity as a baseball player and started writing a successful blog and now, a book. I’m only a couple chapters in, but I really like it. It begins with an insight about outside in versus inside out change.

Most people, myself included, focus on setting goals as a path to change. The goal drives the person’s actions, and then, hopefully, this causes a change in identity. There’s several problems with this. One is that actions that are incongruent with identity are eventually dropped. The other is that if the goal is the only thing driving the behaviors, then the new behaviors may revert once the goal is achieved. An example about a smoker stood out to me: if a smoker declines a cigarette, saying “I’m trying to quit,” then they’re focused on the goal, their identity hasn’t changed. If they say “no thanks, I don’t smoke”, they are much more likely to succeed at the goal, because their identity has already changed, to that of a former smoker.

This may sound hokey to some, but it’s congruent with my own experience quitting, and is core of some of the concepts I learned during through neurolinguistic programming. The goal here, ultimatley, is change from the inside-out, to figure out what type of person you want to be, first, and then the behaviors and goals will take care of themselves.

My approach to success has usually been goal driven. When I worked telemarketing sales some twenty years ago, my manager drilled into my head to set our goals higher than what we ultimately wanted to achieve. If we wanted to hit a 150% quota, for example, we would set a goal at 200%. This would set the pace for the sales period, and if we only hit 175% during the term, well we were probably better off than if we had just aimed for the 150% to begin with.

This type of aim for the clouds thinking has served me well the last two decades, but it usually gets a scoff from my wife when I speak them out loud. And I’ll admit, was firmly in mind when I set the Sixty Days to Six Figures and FIRE by 2024 goals. It may also seem like we’re veering into The Secret, or magic thinking, prosperity gospel. (Even now, I have an internal Ekart Tolle reading along as I type this. )

Clear recommends working backward from your goals, to reverse engineer the type of identity that would manifest those goals. As I said, I’m only a couple chapters in, but it’s already got my head spinning, and reexamining how I’m going to approach dealing with the kids. I may even have Elder read the intro out loud to me, to see if I can get her interested this.

Atomic Habits has already given me a strategy in framing our family identity. Our family is organized so we keep our house clean and free of clutter; we’re academics so we study hard and love learning; we’re athletic so we like physical activity; we’re entrepreneurs and leaders so we have strong work ethic and treat everyone with respect. I’m only a couple pages in and I think it’s going to be one of my favorites already, right up there with Dalio’s Principles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.