If we want to grow in grace, we need to identify a grace and make a plan for how we will grow it.

For example, if my main spiritual goal is to develop and strengthen the grace of patience, I will:

  • Listen to sermons on patience
  • Read books and articles on patience
  • Memorize verses about patience
  • Meditate on God’s patience
  • Talk to patient people and learn from them
  • Think about how to exercise patience in various challenging situations
  • Ask my wife how I can improve.

All that is good and necessary. But most of all, I need to simply start practicing patience in everyday life. As James Clear says in Atomic Habits:

“If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it…You just need to get your reps in” (142).

Photography Experiment

A college photography experiment illustrates Clear’s point. Students were divided into a quantity group and a quality group. The quantity group would be judged on the amount of work they produced. The quality group would be judged on the excellence of their work. The former group would be graded by the number of photos they submitted (100 photos for an A, 90 for a B, and so on). The latter group would need to produce only one photo; but to get an A, it had to be a perfect image.

Which group produced the best photos?

Surprisingly it was the quantity group, the group that was actually out taking photos, while the quantity group spent most of the time studying and planning for the perfect picture.

In Motion v Taking Action

Clear says the difference is between being in motion and taking action. “When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. These are all good things, but they don’t produce a result” (141).

“Action on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome. If I outline twenty ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually sit down and write an article, that’s action.” (141)

The quantity group improved their skills through practice, whereas the quality group simply theorized about perfect photos.

Clear’s conclusion is that “simply putting in your reps is one of the most critical steps you can take to encoding a new habit.” That’s because “Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.”

The most important question, then, is not, “How long does it take to build a new habit?” but “How many does it take to form a new habit?” That is, how many repetitions are required to make a habit automatic? (146).

In sum, whether you want better photos or better patience, the most effective form of learning is practice not planning.

See more Atomic Habits posts here.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones