Founder & CTO @SMERGERS & @wealthrox
Past - Dev Infra @Google · RF @NI · CS @USC

Founder & CTO @SMERGERS & @wealthrox
Dev Infra Intern @Google NYC RF @NI-WCDMA
Computer Science @USC
hey [at]

The backstory
Couple of weeks ago, we were discussing random things at work, and we landed on the topic of discipline. One of my colleagues was praising me for having a very disciplined life. It felt as if he was talking about someone else. But I knew he was not wrong. He was referring to a 6- to 8-month-old version of myself. After becoming a father and undertaking a major rewrite at work, I had fallen off my ‘good habits’ wagon and was having a very tough time returning to my earlier state. While the effort from my end was reasonably good, I found it extremely difficult. I wanted to share my journey with others who might be in a similar situation.

I want to do well in these areas on a daily basis: Sleep, Meditation, Exercise, 16 hour IF, Journaling, Deep Work, Hobby, Reading. Over the past several years, I have figured out that these few things (80:20) work well for me, and I am not on the lookout for new habits or ideas to improve.

I noticed that other than 1 or 2, I was doing terrible in almost every other area. In the last few months, the one that was thriving was ‘Deep Work' — thanks to the rewrite. But what I really wanted was balance. I was hoping that I'd get that balance back once the rewrite was over. But I was wrong. Despite trying several things, I would fail from time to time.

In addition to the above problems, I started noticing that I was wasting a lot of time on the internet and also procrastinating on very simple things. I have the Focus app on my laptop, which does not let me browse social media beyond a set time period. Similarly, I have disabled Safari on my phone. But it had become very easy for me to turn these safety measures off and use them however I pleased. Restarting habits after a break can be a big challenge. That’s when I started re-reading ‘Atomic Habits’ hoping that it would help me return to normalcy.

What is atomic habits?
Atomic Habits is a best-selling self help book by James Clear. As of this writing, the book has a rating of 4.38 on Goodreads, which is really good. While the book does not have a lot of original information, it is extremely well packaged, which has led to its massive success.

Many claim that the entire book could have been condensed into a single blog post. While that is not entirely wrong. I enjoyed listening to it on Audible. It has many anecdotes that lead to several ideas. I am fine with this approach as long as it is not very repetitive and does not deviate from the main theme. Sometime back, I shared the following with a friend.

Watching a TED talk gets you high for an hour. Watching an inspiring movie gets you thinking for a day. Reading a book keeps us motivated for about a week.

Atomic Habits is a decent book in that regard. You'll come across a lot of entertaining and inspiring stories.

Does it not work? It definitely works! When I first read it, it was like discovering some secret that was preventing me from becoming the best version of myself. I followed it religiously for a good amount of time. I was impressed with the results. I recommend it to a lot of people. I even gifted it to many of my friends and acquaintances on certain occasions. Such was the belief.

Why rant if it works?
Fast forward to 2023, when I was struggling to get back on track. I decided to re-read Atomic Habits. That's when I realised it wasn't working quite as well as it had the first time. Here I am equipped with all the directions in the book, but I could not apply any of them. I just did not have the energy or the mindset to do it. I remember telling my wife sometime back that “knowing and not applying is as good as not knowing,” to which she replied - “It is worse than not knowing 😉 “

Also, this time I was finding many things in the book silly / inconvenient / difficult etc. For example:

Make it Invisible - I want to get rid of WhatsApp but I can't. It has become the de-facto medium.
Make it Unattractive - All smokers know that smoking is injurious. Is that not unattractive enough?
Temptation bundling - For some strange reason, my brain would directly get to the temptation part.
Implementation Intention - I will do yoga tomorrow morning at 6AM in my room. You can guess what happens next morning!
Habit Contract / Accountability partner - I do not want to bother my family members or friends for all my struggles.
Change your Identity - I want to get bare minimal exercise needed for myself. I don't want to become a fitness junkie. I want to write a blog post once in a while, not become a writer.
Not missing twice in a row - I felt this was too much of an ask.

After all this, I started thinking that there is something seriously wrong with us. Why is something that is good for us and we sincerely want to do so hard to do? Why is this feeling like drudgery? The common approach of most authors in the habit space is:

Me: I am not feeling like doing xyz.
Clear, Fogg, et al: Hey, please do xyz for 2 minutes.

After a heavy dinner, we swear we will never eat so much again. But we repeat it the following day. We tell ourselves we will exercise tomorrow, but that tomorrow never comes. Sometimes I wonder if this is some sort of split personality disorder? The person deciding has no relation whatsoever to the person supposed to actually do the stuff. Why does this happen?

I feel this is like putting a bandaid on a broken leg. There is something else at play. As Einstein said - You cannot solve a problem at the same level at which it was created. Without getting a control over our thoughts, we cannot control our actions.

So, why does this happen?
It was time I faced some uncomfortable truth:

We are addicted to something else which is simple and more enticing than one of our good habits.

It could be a visit to Twitter or Instagram. Or a quick email check in the name of “work”. Many a time, it could be negative thought patterns - we keep thinking about things that went wrong / could go wrong. While this may not seem like a big deal, regret and anxiety can cripple us.

Our brain craves stimulation - News / Netflix / Food / <insert-addiction-here>. Excessive indulgence in the above has resulted in a resistance similar to that of addictive drugs / insulin. So it is extremely difficult for us to do something less stimulating, such as sitting idle for a few minutes.

In such a state, forget building new good habits. We stop doing things that we were perfectly fine with till yesterday. It is no fun to have a feeling that there is too much to do all the time. As tasks pile up, we stop doing simple but less important tasks by saying, Doing this won’t matter when I have so much backlog and more important things pending. We eventually do only what is absolutely necessary to survive. Our quality of life nosedives, and we start feeling terrible and helpless.

Hmmm, how do I fix this?
In order to differentiate the good from the bad - we need to get our facts right, however inconvenient they may be. This can happen over a period of time either through introspection, talking to others, reading books or through personal experiences. But guess what? We know most of it already. We know that we should exercise, but we don't. We know that eating junk is bad, but we continue to do it anyway. So I won’t even mention this as a thing to fix.

For the vast majority of people, the only thing that needs to be changed is their mindset. In order to get our house in order, we need to get de-addicted to whatever we are hooked to. and that is achievable through meditation.

Meditation helps us get the energy to do what is needed in life. Once we start meditating, distractions subside, addictions become powerless, and we actually do what is important.

Will it work for me?
I don’t know. Do give it a try and see it for yourself. I am no authority on this topic. I believe meditation is for everyone, hence it must be simple. People have meditated even before internet and phone. Today, meditation is an industry - Calm is valued at $2 billion, Headspace has raised more than $200 million. And there are thousands of masterclasses on the Internet. So let’s keep it simple. I’ll share what I did and my experience.

Turn on a timer for 20 minutes. Focus on your breath. If you catch yourself thinking about something, tell yourself now is not the time time to think about it and get back to focusing on your breath

No shortcuts, no guided meditation etc.. Just sit for 20 minutes first thing in the morning. The tougher it is, more you will benefit from it. At the end of 20 minutes, irrespective of how many times you got distracted, it’s a victory. If you have the appetite, you can add another 20 minutes slot in the evening/night.

My experience: I started meditating and started noticing the following (in chronological order):

1. Repetitive thoughts dwindled, and I was feeling relaxed within a day or two. I wondered how on earth I allowed this kind of misery all this time?
2. Real priorities start surfacing - The importance you assign to different activities and even people will change. Earlier, I would continue sitting in front of my laptop beyond 7pm. Now I find it much easier to turn off the laptop at 6pm and head out for a walk. We start listening to our body more.
3. Nowhere else to be: I started noticing that my walking pace had come down and I was enjoying my walk compared to earlier. Also, I notice a lot of stuff that I would have missed earlier - for example a street musician. In general, I have reduced rushing through things. I feel like I have a good amount of time to do stuff.
4. Desiring less stimulation - Earlier, I used to enjoy walking down busy streets. Now I am finding it easy to take empty streets. Previously, I would be tired and sleepy, but I would try watching something on Netflix (I really hated deciding what to watch next). But now I find it much easier to sleep.
5. A decline in things I would procrastinate on - I used to do dishes immediately after a meal. I have done this for almost 4 - 5 years now. But I had stopped doing this for the past few months. I noticed that I subconsciously re-started this practice few days ago and I was pleasantly surprised. It was effortless.

There were times when I gave in to my bad habits. But after a while, I would feel that the earth would continue to spin if I did not give in, and that was the turning point 😊

What about my habits?
Here’s what I did about my habits: I made a global list of things I want to habitualize (which I can add to or remove from as needed). After that, I never bothered to track any of them. Meditation was the only thing I tracked. It became the North Star. Everything else didn’t matter. Many of the habits were happening without me getting involved. From time to time, additional habits would start getting added. If something mattered, I would have the energy to do it.

So far, I have not felt like skipping meditation on any day. But I am aware that day will soon arrive, and I will try my best to avoid it. The human brain is capable of convincing itself of anything. We are creatures of convenience.

By meditating, we think less about ourselves. I personally feel that acceptance, detachment, etc.. are all byproducts of meditation. Practicing any of these in isolation is extremely difficult. Try doing it for some time and testing it yourself. On the other hand, a fixed slot every day dedicated to meditation can bring an array of positive changes, including those we didn’t know existed.

If you think this article was helpful and that it might help others in your circle, share it with them. Thank you 🙏🏻