James Clear on the Art of Falling in Love With Boredom

By Belle Beth Cooper on
James Clear on the Art of Falling in Love With Boredom

If you’ve read anything about forming constructive habits, chances are it was inspired by James Clear. The self-made entrepreneur writes about behavioral psychology, habit formation, and personal improvement twice a week, every week, on JamesClear.com.

These days James’ work is so widely read, that major publications are quick to cover, syndicate, and re-share his essays mere moments after they’re first published online.

Self-described as “an entrepreneur, a weightlifter, and travel photographer in 20+ countries,” it’s surprising that, with such a varied skill set, James attributes much of his success to the art of falling in love with boredom.

He's such a proponent of the idea, that he believes the ability to work steadily on mundane tasks where others would lose focus is an essential tool for success, especially in business.

“There are going to be days where, no matter what your craft is, you’re not going to feel like doing the work,” he says. “But that’s what the very best people do. They find ways to show up. They fall in love with the boredom.”

Over time, James has leveraged the use of schedules, routines, and daily habits to remove mental barriers, affect positive behavioral change, and achieve a series of goals that make for a compelling CV.

 

If you want to do something, go fast. Go now. Get started.

Before developing an interest in psychology and human behavior, James studied biomechanics and earned an MBA. He caught the “entrepreneur bug” in grad school, and proceeded to launch a series of projects that “flopped and failed”—from commissioning a $1500 mobile app that barely made any profit, to building websites and mailing lists.

Although none of the projects led to the level of visibility he’s enjoying now, the skills James acquired through each attempt gave him the confidence and technical knowledge he needed to start JamesClear.com, a place he calls “the home of my life’s work.”

Since publishing his first essay on the site nearly four years ago, he’s become masterful at weaving research and storytelling to impart lessons that help his readers live a better life.

Over 240,000 subscribers receive James’ e-newsletter each week. Thanks to syndication, his work is read by more than 700,000 active users each month. His audience is comprised of CEOs and fellow entrepreneurs, actors, artists, elite athletes, “and many other fine folks,” all of them unified by a common interest in learning how to live a better existence.

A steadfast commitment to publishing well-researched content has, over time, elevated his profile to the point that he’s now recognized as one of the most revered thought leaders on habit formation and personal development. It’s a fine example of what can transpire when you dedicate focus to, and perhaps even romance, the mundane tasks of entrepreneurship as much as you dedicate energy to the thrilling ones.

 

Just because it’s okay to fail, doesn’t mean you ever plan for that result.

While adhering to a slow-and-steady schedule may give entrepreneurs access to similar results in any discipline, a predictable routine can also acts as a safeguard, one that protects from insecurity and failure.

Case in point: as James’ audience grew, so too did the pressure to consistently produce original, high-quality content for his readership. But with a book deal underway, regular speaking gigs, seminars to run, and frequent travel, he found that publishing two articles a week was increasingly harder to achieve.

To offset the stress, James tried switching his twice weekly schedule for the slower pace of one article per week. But rather than take the pressure off, publishing just once per week did the opposite; James felt his articles had to be at least twice as good if he was publishing a single article every week. At the time, over 200,000 subscribers were waiting to see what James would write about next. The stress to deliver became so intense that James struggled to perform.

“It was a complete disaster,” he says. “I did that for three months and I think I missed three articles over that timespan, after missing just one article in the past three years.”

So, he reverted back to his original routine, publishing Mondays and Thursdays, and he’s been candid with his readers about how the experiment in publishing less didn’t work out.

“Failure itself is not inherently bad,” he says, “but everyone forgets that it’s no fun to fail… nobody enjoys that process.”

Turns out that the “boring” predictability of his regular publishing schedule played a key role in helping James steadily improve his writing and amass an audience over time.

If Monday’s article flopped, he still had to write a new one for Thursday. The schedule stopped him from letting failures hold him back from doing the work.

“Removing my emotion from the equation and just letting myself deliver on that schedule—that was really critical for me to overcome those failures. Because there were plenty of times when I would write an article and it would just totally flop. It would be a dud.”

 

I am struggling today. If you’ve ever struggled to be consistent with something you care about, maybe my struggle will resonate with you too.

Hearing that from an entrepreneur with a prolific body of work is a welcome relief, especially given that James operates in the self-development arena—a niche that can oftentimes feel like a highly preachy space.

And it’s just one example of the way that humility underpins James’ connection to his audience.

“We are on an even playing field,” he says when speaking of his readers. “We’re equal. And I’m just trying to figure out how to live life in the best way possible, make an impact, and become a better person—just like [my readers] are.”

In recent months, James’ focus has turned to living with greater urgency. “There’s no time to waste,” he says. “It’s important to live with a sense of impatience, almost, for the things that are important to you.”

For James, that means finally writing the book he’s been planning for more than a year. It means traveling more, taking more photographs, digging deeper into stories that interest him, and helping others live a better life.

He’s not interested in living at a million miles an hour. Rather, he’s determined to not waste time waiting around. “We keep thinking we need more information, more time,” he says, “But we don’t.”

Connect with James on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and subscribe to his weekly newsletter here.

Our next feature is a conversation with Mark Manson. We discuss how he built an audience in the millions, and what happened when his writing sparked national furor in Brazil. Subscribe to be notified when it’s published.

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