Tiny Habits. Extraordinary Life – Interview with Author James Clear

Why settle for average when you can be so much more?

James Clear, an entrepreneur, weightlifter, and travel photographer, believes that ordinary people can do extraordinary things and be part of changing their corner of the world. He shares his thoughts, experiences, and insights on his blog, jamesclear.com -The Art of Becoming Better.

I met James last year at the World Domination Summit in Portland and was impressed with his sense of purpose and ability to immediately connect with others.

James is here to do great things and it's truly an honor to be interviewing him. Please join me in welcoming him as he shares his beliefs and his work in this interview.



1. James, thank you for taking time for this interview. How long have you been working on your website, jamesclear.com? What prompted you to start it? Have there been any surprises along the way?

The website has been live since 2013. I publish new content every Monday and Thursday, and I wanted to make sure that I could do that consistently for a few months before I let everyone know about the website.
The central question that our community attempts to answer is “how do you live a healthy life?” For my part, I focus on how to use the psychology of behavior change and habit formation to make it easier to live a healthy life.
There haven’t been any big surprises yet, but I’m sure there will be many as time rolls on.

2. In one of your blog posts you describe your baseball background. As a high school athlete you went from being a mediocre player to a star. What caused the change? How has that experience impacted how you approach business?

Baseball has played an important role in my life. Most notably, it taught me to believe in myself. Without the confidence that I gained from sports, I’m sure that I would be doing something different than I am right now.
As for what caused the change, there were many factors. I had good coaching, great teammates, and I’m sure there was a lot of luck thrown in there as well. That said, there were plenty of things that I did as well. You can read more about the changes that led to my success here.

3. What was your first entrepreneurial adventure? How did it go? What did you learn from the experience? What advice would you give someone who would like to start a business?

I built an iPhone application. Well, I didn’t build it. I paid a development firm from India $1,600 to build it. The app tanked. In total, it made about $100 -- so I lost $1,500 at the end of the day. Since it was clearly a loser, I didn’t bother updating it, so you can’t even find it in the app store anymore.
The main thing I learned is that real business success comes from a lot of hard work and is a slow grind. I started with the app because I wanted it to blow up and be an amazing success. I already knew that, but my emotions got the best of me and I still chased the idea of “making money fast.”
If you’re thinking about building a business, then don’t do it for the money. Money will always come later (after a lot of hard work) and it will always cost more to get going than you think it will. Start a business because you want to live like an entrepreneur, because you want to make the world a better place, because you want to solve a problem, or because you see a group of people you want to serve. And ideally, do it for all of those reasons.

4. James, you write about “superhumans” who are ordinary people who push themselves to act beyond what they might otherwise. Is there a “superhuman” that influenced you in this direction? Who are the people who inspire you?

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of ordinary people doing incredible things. The single mother who loses 40 pounds while raising 3 kids. The entrepreneur who builds a successful business despite the odds. And all sorts of other examples. I wanted a way to celebrate those people, so I started calling them “superhumans” because they do something beyond the typical human.
The people who have influenced me the most are the ones I’m close to -- specifically, my parents and grandparents. I owe them a lot.

5. You primarily focus on people’s physical health and its impact on the rest of life. For many people that requires a reordering of priorities. Why do you think developing a more fitness oriented approach should be the first priority? Would someone who has no interest in fitness find your work helpful?

First, I think that most people would find some value in the things I talk about. Even if you’re not interested in fitness or health, you can apply many of the lessons and ideas I share to other areas of life.
Secondly, in my opinion, your health is the greatest single tool you have for creating an impact on the world. Healthy and happy people have more of a chance to change the world than anyone else. And on a more individual level, I find that when my health is at it’s best, I’m also at my best -- physically, mentally, and socially.

6. In one of your blog posts you discuss the need to claim a new vision of one’s identity in order to be successful in changing behavior and habits. Why is this important? How does one go about changing the core understanding of who they are?

The basic idea is that when we set most goals, we try to achieve some performance based metric (i.e. “lift 50 more pounds”) or some appearance-based metric (“lose 20 pounds”). The result is that focus all of our energy on the result and not on forming the habits that could eventually lead to those goals. By starting with your identity (“this is the type of person I want to become”) you can stick to your habits to the long-term and achieve the performance or appearance-based goals along the way.
If you’re interested in more, you can read the whole post here.

7. Taking that concept a little further, will people making changes in how they think about themselves and in their behavior be met with resistance from friends and family? For example, someone who has a history of spending a time each week with friends at a bar might well have some pressure to continue that tradition even while changing an alcohol habit. How can someone resist that pressure until everyone has adopted the new identity?

Good question. In some cases the best answer might be to leave your friends, but I don’t think it always has to be that extreme. Most of the time, I think you can stick to your new identity simply by finding new friends rather than ditching your old ones. Find a group that supports the changes you want to make and hang out with them more often. If you like the person you are when you’re with them, then hang out with them some more. Repeat until you’ve found the right balance for your life.

8. You have taken some great photos, James. What kind of photo opportunities do you enjoy the most? Do you approach photography the same way you do writing? How does this art form contribute to your well-being?

Another great question. I don’t approach photography the same way I approach writing -- but I should. I should set a schedule for myself and make sure that I get out into the world and take photos on a consistent basis.
That said, I guess I look for two things. If it’s just a cityscape or landscape, then it’s just a composition thing. So I look for good lines, angles, shapes, etc.
If the scene has people, then I look for opportunity. The main thing is to find your composition and then be patient. Something interesting usually happens if you wait long enough.
For a health perspective, photography plays multiple roles. It allows my analytical brain to shut off, which is a nice change of pace. It gets me out and moving around, which is good exercise. And it allows me to contribute something beneficial to the world -- not for money, just because I love it.

9. There are a lot of approaches to the photography business. How do you operate this part of your work? What kind of needs do your clients have? Do you have a formula for figuring the pricing of photos?

I don’t have clients and I’ve never done paid work. I’ve had photos published in Travel & Leisure magazine, featured on the homepage of Flickr, and I have been nominated for the Travel Photographer of the Year Award … but I’ve never done it for money.

10. James you juggle writing, working out, photography, and business. What does a typical day look like for you? How do you set priorities? How do you balance immediate concerns and long term projects?

Photography is something that I usually do when I travel, so that rarely makes it into my “normal” day.
Writing is the main part of my business, so those are one in the same. And working out keeps me sane.
Typical day: Write from 8am to 1pm. Workout. Eat. Send emails, do interviews, and write from 3pm to 6pm.

11. Do you have any difficulty separating your personal life from your business? How do you protect your personal time?

Another great question. I’ve found that I’m great at shutting business off if I never get started. In other words, it’s not hard at all for me to take a whole day or a whole week off from business. If I don’t start it, I can usually leave it alone.
However, shutting off at the end of a workday is tough. Right now is a great example. I’m answering these questions at 8:51pm and I’ve been working off and on for most of the day. Once my brain gets going it’s hard to shut down.
Overall, my work on jamesclear.com is about my life and what I want to contribute to the world. It’s a business that’s centered around what I care about and who I want to help. Most of the time, I try to align my work and my personal life, rather than separate them.

12. Given the inspirational nature of your work, do you do any presentations or motivational speaking? Are there plans for any kind of gathering for the community you are building?

Yes and yes. I’ve given speeches to audiences as large as 2,000 people in the past. Not many though -- perhaps 10 or 12 overall. In the future, I’d like to do more speaking, but I like close connection even more than being on stage.
I’ll be doing all sorts of community meetups in the future. Meeting people in person is a huge goal of mine. I can’t wait to shake hands with my readers.

13. What things do you think are key to your business success? What kinds of things do you worry about? How do you approach those issues?

1. Put passion and purpose over profit. Making money matters, but if that’s your first reason for making a decision, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. Put your mission first.
2. It’s all about habits. Everybody wants the overnight success, the big splash, the huge success. In reality, the people who end up crushing it are simply better at making good daily decisions.

14. What is the most rewarding part of your work? How do you or do you try to build on that?

Connecting with people in person. There’s nothing like one-on-one impact and interaction for me.
And you’re providing a good suggestion -- I should try to build on it more.

15. What do you hope to accomplish this year? What dreams do you have for your business?

This year I just want to put myself on the map. To say to the world, “hello, I’m here for real and for good.” My only goal is to help as many people as possible through my work -- and that starts with getting the word out.
I’ve got all sorts of dreams -- redefining the way that medicine and healthcare is provided, putting power back in the hands of individuals, and building a community of people who can do far more than I ever could -- and we’ll get to them all soon enough.

Thank You James


James is an entrepreneur, weightlifter, and travel photographer. You can find him at jamesclear.com or on Twitter @james_clear

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