EPISODE 351
James Clear
How to Grow Good Ideas and Position Yourself for Success

Mark speaks with James Clear about his writing process, creating successful content, and how he grew his audience of over 1 million.

James Clear
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Show Notes

Today, Commander Divine speaks with James Clear, the best-selling author of Atomic Habits (which has sold over 5 million copies). James discusses his process for writing and content creation, the joys and pitfalls of notoriety, how to position yourself for success, and a behind-the-scenes look of how he’s built his audience of over 1 million subscribers.

Key Takeaways:

  • When you’re struggling creatively, don’t write more – read more. Writing is like driving a car; reading is like filling your car up with gas. You need both to get anywhere on your journey.
  • Be careful who you follow. When you choose who to follow online, you’re choosing your future thoughts – choose wisely.
  • Consistency is the most important practice for better writing. James prefers to not be dependent on a single circumstance to be able to write. As long as you’re doing the work, you don’t have to get hung up on having a specific routine.
  • Ask yourself: How can you give people the highest value in the easiest way possible? When you apply this philosophy to every area of your business, it’s hard not to get better results.
  • A lot of success comes from good positioning. Take advantage of external forces that work in your favor, create work that keeps working for you after it’s done, and choose work that has a limited downside and an unlimited upside. You don’t need things to go perfectly all the time when you have a lot of really strong forces working in your favor.

Mark Divine 0:00
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James Clear 1:34
The point of having a car is not just to sit at the gas station all day and fill it up with gas endlessly. So you shouldn’t just be sitting around consuming constantly. But you also aren’t going to get very far. If you just try to keep driving. Eventually you’re going to run out of gas. And so you need this balance and pretty much every idea that you have is downstream from what you consume.

Mark Divine 1:59
Welcome to the Mark Divine Show. I’m your host, Mark Divine. In this show, I discover I dive in and discuss what makes the world’s most interesting, inspirational, compassionate and resilient leaders so courageous. We talk in depth to people from all walks of life, martial arts grandmasters lead authors, meditation, monks, CEOs, special operators, military leaders, philosophers, survivors, you name it, we’ll bring them on and learn from them. Each episode we’ll turn our guests experience into actionable insight that you can learn from and use and lead a life filled with courage and compassion. I’m excited to be talking today to my friend James clear, author of atomic habits, which has sold over 5 million copies is possibly the best selling book of all of 2021. That’s incredible. We’re gonna talk about habits and continuous improvement. And transformation. James gives us also a behind the scenes look at how he successfully built his audience, and delivers compelling content time and time again, James has a super successful newsletter called the three to one, which has over a million subscribers. So this is a great one. James is just got a unique way of thinking. So I’m really excited to have you back on podcast. James, thanks for taking your time coming out of your cave, where you’re doing some deep work yourself. And it’s good to see you. Yeah, absolutely.

James Clear 3:17
Thanks for having me. It’s great to talk again.

Mark Divine 3:20
People need to learn habits and how to habituate effectively. So I want to get into that and kind of like to discover what you’ve learned since publishing atomic habits. Two things I noticed, which I think are incredible ideas. But so simple was just the referral component of your newsletter. You were doing like long form articles. And I remember when we last spoke, you talked about how much time it was taking you to write one to two of those articles. And to get them published, you know, to your standards every week. Do you think that that attributed to you building the list you built? Or did it really take off when you went to three to one Thursdays, which is a much more of a? I’m sure it takes you a lot of time to come up with your content and the quotes, but it’s, it’s a much more digestible email format.

James Clear 4:05
Right? Yeah. Let me give you a little bit of the kind of history of the email list and like how it worked. And then I think some of the answers will come out through that. So I’ve been writing for a while. I’ve been running my business for over 10 years. But specifically, this newsletter is about eight years that I’ve been doing it. And the first period of time was the first like three or four years, I wrote a new article every Monday and Thursday. And as you mentioned, that took a lot of effort. Each of those articles, the fastest I think I ever got one done was like eight hours. And most of the time it took about 20 hours or so 15 to 20 hours. So it was basically a full time job to write those two pieces a week.

Mark Divine 4:43
Can I pause there? So I’m assuming that a lot of that work contributed or was repurposed for atomic habits. Yeah,

James Clear 4:50
you know, I thought it was gonna be more I thought it was going to be like 50/50 You know, that maybe half the book would be stuff that I had written previously. What ended up happening is many The ideas formed a kernel of something that was in the book or was like the starting material for a chapter. But I ended up having to rewrite so much and rework it so much that I think how it ended up was about 90% of the material was new, and 10% of the material, you know, had been part of those articles. But the big advantage I had was that even if the chapter ended up being very different, in terms of needing to rewrite it, the idea, the core idea was always there. That’s this is one of the huge benefits of having an email list and audience, not only do you have an audience to launch a book, or a podcast, or some product, too, it’s also live testing, you know, like, I got to try, say, over those first couple years, I wrote, you know, 200 plus articles. And I knew by the time I signed the book deal, Oh, these are my top, like 20 ideas, you know, these are the ones that go really well. And so those ideas, were definitely going to be

Mark Divine 5:53
a thing that based upon open rates, or comments, or,

James Clear 5:57
yeah, you know, I don’t I can’t do this now. Because we, the audience is too large. But back then, when I was getting started, I would respond to each email individually. And so some of it is just taste and feel, as a creator, you’re getting all this feedback whenever you put out an article, and you can just you can tell which ones people are really excited about or more you get more responses to. And then some of it is data driven, you know, you can just look at how many Google Analytics how many people are reading this, you know, how many shares it again on Facebook or Twitter, you know, things like that, long, long time ago used to have comments on the site. So I you know, for the first year or two, I’d look at how many comments articles got. So you have different forms of data. And some of its math, some of it is, you know, art in together in combination, you have a pretty good sense for what goes well,

Mark Divine 6:43
how do you generate ideas? Well, now

James Clear 6:45
I have more ideas than I have time, you know, for a little while. So I had this funny thing happened, which is I started writing, yes, putting these articles out each week the audience is growing. And at one point I hit after about two years, I got to 100,000 subscribers. And I had this moment when I got there where I thought, oh, shoot, you know, a lot of people are paying attention now. Now it needs to be really good, right. And so I put all this pressure on myself to spend more time writing, because I figured, well, if I spend more time on it, then it’ll be better. And this kind of strange, ironic thing happened, which is that it actually got worse. And that was, it was like a painful lesson I had to learn. But actually, if the writing isn’t good enough, if I feel like I don’t have enough new ideas, if I feel like I’m struggling to come up with something creative, I actually don’t need to spend more time writing when I need to spend more time reading. And now the way that I think about it is writing is like driving a car. Reading is like filling your car up with gas, you need both, if you want to go on a journey, right? Like the point of having a car is not just to sit at the gas station all day and fill it up with gas endlessly. So you shouldn’t just be sitting around consuming constantly. But you also aren’t going to get very far, if you just try to keep driving, eventually, you’re going to run out of gas. And so you need this balance. And pretty much every idea that you have is downstream from what you consume. So I think very carefully about, you know, what am I choosing to read? And then I also think really careful about who do I follow on social media? Because you know, the truth is, I get a lot of ideas from Twitter at this point. And it’s because I’ve spent so much time curating the feed of people that I follow, when you choose who to follow on Twitter, or Instagram or wherever, in a sense, you’re choosing your future thoughts. Because these are the people that are creating the information stream, or the the flow of ideas that you’re going to interact with, you know, multiple times a day if you’re logging in there a lot. So coming up with good ideas is mostly reading more and crafting good information flows.

Mark Divine 8:42
What’s your rhythm, like, as a writer, like daily kind of rhythm?

James Clear 8:47
Well, I’m trying to find new rhythm now. But I’ve gone through different phases, I think I’ve come to this realization, people like hearing about writer’s routines, I remember reading an article about I think it was my Angelou who she would rent out a hotel and go to the hotel room just to write her book, and she would work there all day, and then she’d leave and go back to her house. But now that I’m on the other side, I’ve been doing it long enough for years. I’m like, okay, obviously, she wasn’t doing that early in her career, right, she probably didn’t have the money or the success to like pay for a hotel room she wasn’t gonna use. So maybe she did that during a portion of her career. But that’s not the only way she wrote. And I tried to be that way as a writer as well. Like, I don’t want to be dependent on a single circumstance for me to be able to write like, the truth is I wrote parts of atomic habits from my parents couch in their living room, from hotel rooms when I was traveling from my office, you know, at my house, like I wrote in many different places. So I want to be flexible and resilient as a writer and not needed to be a certain way in order to write. But having said that, my general pattern is I tend to do most of my writing either early in the morning or late at night. It’s either the first thing that I do when I wake up I get a glass of water and then I go you know take a shower and I Right, or it’s after everybody’s gone to bed, and the day is kind of dialed down, and I have a couple hours for you where I’m not getting interrupted. Those are usually the two pockets where most of it happens.

Mark Divine 10:10
That’s interesting. Now, I kind of share that I tried many different ways of writing. And so now I stopped trying to find a way to just allow it to happen, right? I’ve done the whole retreat thing. I’ve done the trying, you know, just right every morning for an hour. Oh, yeah, I’ve

James Clear 10:25
done the writing retreat to I did that a couple of months ago, I went to a cabin in the woods for three days, you know, work on the next leg. But as long as you’re doing the work, I don’t think I have to worry about too much. The problem is when too many days go by, and you haven’t been writing consistently, then you’re like, Okay, now we need a more, you know, serious concerted effort here.

Mark Divine 10:43
I think it’s also interesting, just like the different mindset between writing new content and editing. So a good part of the book process is actually editing and rewriting, as you know, probably much more time than writing new content. I don’t know about the atomic habits, but when I wrote staring down the wolf, I mean, I wrote the book. And then when I rewrote it, I mean, I think like 90% of the words changed. I mean, it’s like I wrote a whole new book.

James Clear 11:12
Yeah, the first draft of atomic habits was 720 pages. And then the finished version is about 250. So yeah, there was an enormous amount of rewriting and revision and editing. And the funny thing is, I didn’t really eliminate that much. There were maybe one or two chapters that got pulled out of the book, and just were not included in any form. But for the most part, it was condensing, it was saying the same stuff that I said in those 720 pages. But instead of repeating myself, or saying in an ineffective way, or in a long winded way, it was, you know, saying in one sentence, what I had been saying in one paragraph, right. And it was just that for basically the entire book. And that got us down to, you know, 300 pages or so

Mark Divine 11:54
honestly, I think that’s why the book has landed so well. And I really appreciated that about that book. It’s like, every sentence, you know, was content rich. Sometimes I pick up a book and like, then you can read a whole paragraph, and they haven’t gotten to the point yet. Like, okay, yeah,

James Clear 12:11
how can I address that drives me nuts? I appreciate you saying that. You know, I yeah, I spent a lot of time on that. There are a lot of books, nonfiction, books, business books, whatever that are 200 pages, but should be 20. And I didn’t want to fall into that trap. So the only way I knew how to do it was to write 700 and make it 200. You know, and then you can be sure that, you know, you’re actually saying something.

Mark Divine 12:32
But there you go read a painful recipe for success

James Clear 12:35
folks. Very, yes.

James Clear 12:36
Yeah. I actually had a There’s this quote by Alain de Botton, where he says something like, of many books, the reader thinks if only the writers appetite for suffering had been a little greater than it could have been a truly exceptional write. And that sort of became my I mean, it’s a little dark. But it became my mantra when I was writing the book, I just kept telling myself that you just need to suffer a little bit more, and then it’ll be great. It’s, it’s a hard way to wake up each day and do that for like, two years. But that’s, you know, that’s what

Mark Divine 13:03
I did an interview with Steven Pressfield, I’m sure you’re familiar with. And he said something similar. Like, everyone thinks that writers just get up and they just have this idyllic lifestyle. And the words just flow right out of the paper through them. He’s like, No, it’s hard work. When you stare at that page every day, and you have to overcome that resistance, you suffer.

James Clear 13:21
It’s one of the ultimate forms of delayed gratification, because you have to research the book, write it, revise it, edit it, send it to your publisher, go back and forth on all those edits. If you’re doing a launch the right way, you end up doing all the launch work, you do a bunch of interviews, you do all the right, all the emails for your audience, social posts, all that stuff. Everything that I’ve described has all happened before you sell a single copy, you haven’t even gotten to launch day yet, right. And so that’s probably like, in my case, it was like three plus years of work before even a single day, the book has been out. But if you’re willing to do all that work, and do it the right way it do each step, well, then the result can be amazing. The crazy thing about books, I think the reason writers end up talking themselves into doing another one. It’s absolutely brutal when you’re doing all that upfront work. But then afterwards, the work is already done. And now you get to just keep reaping the rewards day in and day out. And so then, you know, you turn around two or three or six months later, and you’re like, this is kind of great. People are reading it, and they’re enjoying it. Like, I haven’t been doing any work for six months now. Like, you know, you forget how difficult it was. So then you’re like, well, maybe I should try another one. It’s very much a seasons of extremes.

Mark Divine 14:33
Do you subscribe to the belief that you shouldn’t write another book unless it can be better than the previous work? Yeah, I

James Clear 14:39
guess my answer is no. And the only reason is, I don’t think you should write a book unless you feel like you have something to say you know, a lot of people want to write a book just because they want to have a book, but it’s just too big of a project or requires too much energy and effort for I think that to be the reason I think you need to be genuinely internally motivated and interested in it. But I don’t know It’s helpful to be comparing your works. And well, it’s not gonna be as good as last one or whatever it just is. The weird thing, being a creative is, in many ways, you’re a terrible judge of your own work, like on the one hand, you need to trust your taste, and trust your instincts, and you know, work on things in the way that you think is best, or share the best ideas that you come across. And all that stuff is judgment calls, see, got to be willing to trust yourself to do that well. But then on the other hand, even though you’re trying your best each time, you don’t know which articles or which books or which projects are going to go over really well. And I’m invariably surprised by which of my even little stuff even tweets go over well, or which articles go over well. And so I think the only lesson you can take from that is you just have to be a consistent creator, if you really care about it, and try your best each time. Just keep showing up and you know, banging the rock with the hammer, just keep chipping, and eventually be breakthrough.

Mark Divine 15:56
Keep shipping. I love that. I mean, you reference the three years of head banging work or being rock work before you ever sold a single book. What’s great about that, is you’re building your platform.

James Clear 16:07
Yeah, so let me return to get your question for that, you know, yes, because I spent those first couple years writing articles. And then I signed a book deal for atomic habits. So at this point, my audience is around 200,000 subscribers or so. So I mentioned that because not insignificant, I mean, right, that strategy of writing two articles a week, that alone is a very good strategy for building an email list. So you know, do great work, show up consistently focus on the growth your own audience and providing something valuable each week, like that can get you a large audience itself. But then I signed the book deal. And I had this problem, which is I already had a full time job writing articles each week. And now I’m supposed to write a book. So you know, where’s the capacity going to come from where it’s going to give, and I ended up deciding, okay, for the next year, I’m just going to take my best articles that I’ve written over the last few years, and I’ll send those out each week. And then I switched one a week instead of two. So that bought me like a year to work on the book. And then I had like a six month period where the in the second year of writing the book where I just had to, I basically was just living and breathing atomic habits. I wake up at work on it for 12 hours a day I go to sleep, I dream about it, wake up, do it all over again. i It wasn’t like a sustainable way to work, but it was what I needed to do to get the book done. You know, there is a an alternate universe where the book is still being written. And I’m glad that it’s out now. And it’s been out for three years rather than, you know, still working on it. So it was an intense period, but was what I needed.

Mark Divine 17:37
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Did you consider dripping some of your book out onto your email list?

James Clear 18:54
Yeah, we actually did do that. But not in a big way. So for the launch ID, I had two excerpts from the book that we shared as part of that launch material. But that was pretty straightforward. Before that, there was some stuff that I like I said, it started out as an article. And then I turned I moved it into the book and had to rework it in a lot of ways. And so a couple different times, we shared the updated version of that article that I had written for the book. And so it was just kind of like a new spin on the thing that I had already written. So it was utilized in a couple ways. But it wasn’t done heavily like it was done less than a handful of times. But that bought me, you know, bought me a little bit of time to keep focusing on the book. So anyway, so I had the the first period of a couple of years, I was writing articles twice a week. Then I had the next period where I was working on the book and we were kind of like recycling previous content and you know, doing it that way and dialing it back. It was once a week instead of twice a week. What happened your email list during that year, it by the time the book came out, it was about 400,000 people so it’s so it had grown over those couple years, but the growth rate was slower than what’s happened before. And so So then the book launch, and the launch of atomic habits helped the email list grow. But the other thing that helped was I switched the format to three to one, which is what you mentioned, this comes out each Thursday, there are three short ideas for me, sort of like tweet sized. There’s two quotes from other people. And then there’s one question to think about or ponder throughout the week. So three to one. And that format, I think, partially because it’s easy to explain, like I just did right here. And partially because it’s very easy to digest, each one only takes two or three minutes to read the email, it seems to be a very shareable format. And so since the book has been out, the email list has just exploded, it’s gone from, you know, 400,000 people to 1.31 point 4 million. And I think there’s multiple factors there, you know, partially, it’s that it’s easy to share. Partially, it’s the success of atomic habits, the book has sold over 6 million copies worldwide now. And so that’s a lot of new eyeballs, and, you know, new people that I’m reaching, you know, if you think about it that way, I’ve reached more people with the book than are on the newsletter. So you could just see it as like a subset of, you know, the overall audience is interested enough to say, hey, I’ll join the newsletter as well. Yeah. And so that’s kind of the the current phase is that we’re in this more digestible format. And, you know, I do spend a lot of time and effort making sure three to one is great each week, but it’s not the same type of lift as writing two articles that take 20 hours each. And so it frees up more time for me to be able to write a second book, or to work on a podcast or whatever, right,

Mark Divine 21:30
of the ways that you allow or help people share it. Have you kind of studied what’s most effective, or one of the best practices?

James Clear 21:38
Yes. So I think about this in a couple different buckets, I think the first bucket that you need to get figured out is we could probably roughly just call it design. And more specifically, it’s probably like web design. Now, this doesn’t mean you need some huge website. But it does mean that probably the homepage on your website, and I think you need to have like a specific newsletter page. So for me, it’s just James clear, calm slash newsletter, or probably the third one that I would add in is like your articles page, what is the typical article posts look like their blog posts look like on your site, if you get those three pages optimized, so And by that, I mean, you have some way to sign up for the email. So like, on the homepage, I think the basically the first thing you should see is like an email form that says, you know, here’s what you’re going to get this is why it’s valuable. And these are, you know, here’s three bullet points, telling you why this is useful and going to be helpful for you. Same thing on the newsletter page for the newsletter page, that’s basically all there is, it’s just a place to sign up for the newsletter. And then for the articles, you know, you obviously need to prioritize the content. But then what do people do when they get to the end of the article, is there a call to action there, or what about in the sidebar, things like that, if you can get those three pages optimized, then you kind of have a good, you don’t have a leaky bucket, basically, the rule of thumb that I like to keep in mind is 2%. So if 2% of your traffic is converting to the email list, or more, then your design is probably in a decent place. And you need to focus on getting more traffic and getting in front of more eyeballs. If less than 2% is converting, then the bucket might be a little bit leaky. And you should probably focus on improving the design the conversion or the copy or you know something to improve the form. When I was getting less traffic on the website, let’s say under 100,000 visitors a month, that number could be higher, like I would maybe three or four or 5% or something. But as the site started to grow, and the number got higher and higher, we still shoot for 3% Each month, we don’t always hit it usually it’s like 2.6 or 2.8, or something like that, that’s just kind of my rough rule of thumb for is the design doing the work that it should be. So that’s the first thing to get settled. Once you have that now you have an effective way for people to sign up. And so it’s about producing great content. This is like the most obvious and unsexy answer, which is like you have to make something great if you make it something exceptional, people want to sign up to get more of it. If you think it’s just about Marketing tactics and putting a form in the right place, then you know, you’re playing the wrong game. But assuming that that’s like a fairly obvious bar that you’re willing to accept, then there are a variety of strategic things you can do. And I think the number one thing is just making sure that your various platforms, whatever they are, I don’t think you need to be everywhere. But you may have a podcast and Instagram and your website. Well, all three of those things should point back to each other. And someday, you know, so like in my case, on Instagram, we will share post with a quote from atomic habits, or a post from one of the ideas from three to one this week. Well, if we’re sharing an idea from the newsletter, then the caption of that post is going to point people back to the newsletter so that they can sign up. Or if we share something in a story on Instagram from the newsletter, well then there should be a link that points people back to that newsletter signup page. So we do all of that. You know, Instagram is one of the top five ways that people sign up for the newsletter now, which actually surprised me because I didn’t think social was going to be that meaningful of a source. But the main ways that people get on the newsletter are Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and for getting the fifth one. But anyway, it’s social and search are kind of the two primary ways that people find it. So having specific calls to action to a well designed page, and backing all of that up with really exceptional work, like, that’s probably the 8020 of it all. That’s the stuff that drives the majority of the outcomes.

Mark Divine 25:29
So when you know, when the email comes out, and your quotes, you have a little link that says, you know, share this on Twitter, right? So if someone shares it on Twitter, then then that means someone else finds it, how would that next person, they’re just getting the content? There’s no way for them to link back to your email, right? Yeah, yeah.

James Clear 25:46
So I think the way that I just described like, hey, if we share a quote from the newsletter on Instagram, the caption should point back to the newsletter, right? I think it should also work the other way, you kind of want this like tight web of all of your platforms. So the example you gave, you know, I send out the newsletter. And underneath each idea, it just says, Click here to share on Twitter. Well, if you click that, which many people do each week, then they share this quote from me. And it just says, you know, the sky is blue Jas clear whatever the quote is, and then you know, I am tagged in that. And so they have effectively just shared my Twitter profile with everybody that follows them. And some of those people will click back and come to my profile. Now, if you look at my Twitter profile, you can see it’s optimized for the newsletter, because it says something like, you know, so imagine that the use case, the scenario where a subscriber clicks on that link, and shares it on Twitter, somebody who’s never heard of me before, that is following them, clicks on it, and comes to my profile. So now they see Oh, James, clear author of you know, the best selling book atomic habits. And then I think the second line in my Twitter bio is something like, you know, over 1 million people subscribe to my three to one newsletter, you know, see the link below. And there’s a link right there to it. And they can click to it and go through what some of them are going to do. Some people won’t, some people may just browse the feed and decide, oh, you know, this looks interesting, I’ll follow this guy. And they follow me for a week or two or three, and then I am occasionally dropping links to three to one on Twitter. And so then then they see it maybe two weeks later. And now they trust me more. And so then they sign up. And there’s so many interactions like that online now that you almost like can’t remember how you even got to a place or clicked on something. But we’re trying to make it easy, right? We’re building bridges between all the different platforms that we have. And just passing that traffic back and forth. And letting all of that activity drive all sorts of beneficial and positive interactions that eventually lead to more subscribers.

Mark Divine 27:40
And this is fascinating. So if you go with a podcast, so do you think the primary content or the primary place is still going to be the newsletter? Or would it become the podcast?

James Clear 27:50
I think it should be the newsletter, I am obviously biased because the newsletters my biggest platform, and the thing that has been the engine for my, you know, the growth of my career, so I’m naturally gonna say emails, the most important platform. But I still think that’s true for a couple reasons. The first is, and podcast has this benefit as well. But it feels very personal. When you’re browsing my feed on Instagram or Twitter. Yes, you’re browsing on your phone. But you also know that it’s like a public thing. Like, nobody thinks when I tweet out, I’m tweeting it at you, right. But when I send you an email, and you open in your inbox, even though you know, you signed up for the newsletter, it kind of feels like more of a one to one communication, because all of the other emails you’re getting are directed just to you. And so there’s something a little more personal about that connection, which I think is good. But the other really flexible thing, and I think this is a benefit that email has over podcasting is that you can link to things. And pie links are hard in podcasts, you could say it verbally, but then you need somebody to go type it into the browser, or you can try to come up with solutions, but it’s a little higher friction. But with email, you can link to whatever you want. And because it’s such a flexible asset in that way, it’s the audience’s attention. It’s this way to get this kind of one to one communication, but you can direct it toward anything, you know, you can send people from email to your podcast, you can send them to your latest book on Amazon. If you have a Netflix special, you can send them to that, like it doesn’t matter what it is, you can link to whatever you want. And so for that reason, I feel like it’s a very powerful platform because it’s flexible, it’s one to one. And then the third quality that it has, which podcasting does also have is that you own it. And that is not true for Instagram, or Twitter or Facebook or whatever, you know, they if they want to change the algorithm or block your page or shut you down, they can do that. But nobody can do that with email. You know, even if you get kicked off of your email provider, you can download your email list and go upload it to a new service provider and so on secure solutions to that and it’s an asset that you can truly own that you can reach people one to one and that is flexible enough that you can link to basically anything and so Because of that, for those three reasons, I think email is the centerpiece of my business and probably should be for most businesses, but not, it depends on your business. Like I have a friend who’s a hand lettering artist, Instagram is kind of her main platform, it’s like, well, that sort of makes sense. You know, it’s like very visual, very visual work, and people buy our prints and sign up for workshops, and so on. So it depends on the business. But I think for anybody who’s doing something kind of in the same universe, as I am, email is the centerpiece. Is there

Mark Divine 30:25
any concern that people, younger generations will move off of email? And it just depends on how long you know, you the duration of the work, right? It’s like, do you expect to be doing this in 20 years? And most people still be using email and 20 years? That’s yeah, that’s a good

James Clear 30:40
question. You know, I mean, I think we could ask the same question about will people still be using Twitter in 20 years, or, you know, Instagram or something like, you know, we have no idea the services aren’t even 20 years old. Email is that old. And you know, people have been saying, oh, emails dying, or, you know, people aren’t using email or whatever, I do think it’s true that we have more things competing for our attention online than ever before. So even if everybody even the younger generation is also using email to sign up for new accounts, or to, you know, get their homework at school, or at college or whatever. Like, they all are still using it. But they also are spending some of their time on tick tock and Instagram, and Facebook, and so on, or Netflix. And those are hours that are not being directed toward the email inbox. So it is true that probably less attention is going to email. But I think people are still going to use it. The other thing is, I don’t need to predict what it’ll be like in 20 years, like, I just know that it’s working well now. And nobody knows the future, you know, so I have no idea. Maybe it won’t even be around next year. But it seems likely that it will be around next year. And it’s working well now. And if in 20 years, things have changed significantly, you’re allowed to make different choices along the way and update your thinking. And so, you know, I’ll just try to update as things go on.

Mark Divine 31:55
I think what’s cool about email, and I think what’s really germane for the world today is you can develop that, and you alluded to this, you can develop a trusting relationship and trust relationship with individuals, as long as you’re delivering exceptional work, and you’re not doing things to breach that trust, which is probably why you haven’t run advertisements, you know, write your email list.

James Clear 32:14
podcast is like that, too. I mean, the story is the same for like almost all these things, which is don’t waste people’s time, provide something that is like genuinely useful, and high value. And if you make something exceptional, and deliver it in a low friction way, like deliver in the way that’s easiest for people to consume, then you know, the result can be pretty good, like the Internet is a really big place. And there are a lot of people who are interested in getting material like that. And so I think ultimately, it always comes back to doing exceptional work. But there are a lot of strategic things or tactical things you can do to try to make it easier on people. Like one example is, I have always a whether I was writing articles, or three to one sent out the full content in the email body itself, I’ve never made people click through to get into the website to read. Now, I don’t like that either. And you see people do that a lot. But my thinking is, look, if somebody has signed up for the email list, they have already had to cross a lot of thresholds to get here, right, they already had to come to my website, most people will never do that. Then they had to sign a read through and sign up for the email list. Most people come to the website don’t sign up, then they have to confirm their email. And you know, like, say, Yes, I want more of this. And then now finally, they’re getting the message. And they decided to open it. You know, like not everybody who gets the email is going to open it. So now what I’m going to add another barrier between them and the content, like they’ve already gone on this long journey just to get to the opening the email, let me just make it as easy as possible and give them the value right here right now. I can tell you something, if you take that kind of idea seriously, you start to see all sorts of ways that you can apply that thinking, how can I make it easy on the reader? How can I give them exactly what they want, or exactly what they need, the highest value thing I can make in the easiest way possible. And applying that to every area of business that you can. It’s hard not to get a better result because it’s just that’s what people want, you know, they want it to be easy. They want to save time, and everybody likes valuable information. So I kind of view it on the Creator. It’s like the creators Ross responsibility to do that in the best way possible.

Mark Divine 34:15
Yeah, just platform matter. Um, do you use HubSpot or Active Campaign or you know,

James Clear 34:19
I don’t think it matters too much. Like I do think there’s like a baseline level where it matters, you know, like it needs to have the tools and features that you want to use and you know, so on with email. The thing I care about most is what’s the deliverability rate like are the emails actually getting to the person’s inbox. I care less about the like tech and software side of it. But I use ConvertKit my buddy Nathan Barry runs that company and founded it. I’m very happy with them and enjoyed use them. I have used other services in the past I started out very early on like 10 years ago I was on AWeber and then I moved to drip for a little while. And then now the been on ConvertKit for a couple years.

Mark Divine 35:02
Okay, we’re gonna take a short break here from the Mark Divine show to hear a short message from one of our partners. This episode of the Mark Divine show is brought to you by progressive. What’s one thing you’d purchased with a little extra savings a way to blanket that smart speaker, smart speaker, new self care trend that you keep hearing about? Well, progressive wants to make sure you’re getting what you want I helping you save money on car insurance drivers who saved by switching to progressive save over $700 On average, and customers can qualify for an average of six discounts when they sign up. Discounts like having multiple vehicles on your policy. Progressive offers outstanding coverage and award winning claims service day or night they have customers are 24/7 365 days a year, when you need them most. They’re at their best, a little off your rate, each month goes a long way, get a quote [email protected] and see why four to five new auto customers recommend progressive progressive casualty insurance company and affiliates. National and annual average insurance savings by new customers surveyed, who saved with progressive between June 2020 and may 2021. potential savings will vary. Discounts will vary and are not available in all states or situations. And now back to the show.

Get back to some of the concepts you’ve been playing with in writing. And then I know we got to wrap up, I just realized how long you’ve been going crazy. You’re working on another book, you don’t know when it’s gonna be done. You don’t have a title. What are some? I know that phase by the way. It’s like the valley of the shadow of death just kind of wandering through it right now.

James Clear 36:36
We’re getting there. It’s slow, but we’re getting there.

Mark Divine 36:38
What are some of the most interesting are one or two of the most interesting concepts that you’re playing with right now, where you can deliver value again,

James Clear 36:44
yeah, I’m thinking a lot about positioning, and how important it is to be well positioned for things. So one way to think about this is the difference between like, hard work and the effort that you put in internally, and benefiting from different forces externally. And so I think strategy is mostly about positioning yourself well to benefit from some of those external forces. So I’ve been thinking a lot about that, you know, and whether there are ways to position yourself well, in business and personal relationships in marriage. And you know, pick any fitness a lot of it is like positioning and making sure that you’re occupying the right space, or that you are in an area where you’re benefiting from like tailwinds is a good example. You know, so like real estate is, you know, one of the examples I’ve been drawing on in the book. So, you know, I mean, buying a property in a favorable location, it just, it covers up a lot of errors. You don’t necessarily need to get the deal perfect if you’re benefiting from this favorable tailwind, that’s external. And my way of thinking about this is that positioning is not really just about one thing, it’s actually about like many different things. And if you, you can never guarantee a result. But if you can get quite a few of these different forces working for you, then it’s more likely that you’re going to get the outcome that you want. So tailwinds is one of them. Leverage is another one, we talked about that earlier about you taking a clip from the podcast, and then also sharing it on Instagram or on Twitter or you know, somewhere else. So that leverage is kind of an example of how, how can I make this unit of work that I’ve already done, continue to work for me. And then asymmetry, there’s another one. So where you have limited downside, but unlimited upside. So let’s just use those three as an example. If you position yourself where you’re working on something that is benefiting from a tailwind, has the opportunity for leverage where your work can keep working for you after it’s done, and is asymmetric, where it has roughly an unlimited upside and unlimited downside. Well, now, like you don’t need things to go perfectly, you have a lot of really strong forces working in your favor. And so let me just give you one practical example to kind of wrap this whole thing up. Let’s imagine the difference between doing a radio show so I did a couple radio interviews when I was launching atomic habits, versus recording a podcast like this one. So the downside with radio is that as soon as I did that 15 minutes segment, and it was off the air, the words vanished, right. So there was no leverage that those 15 minutes that I put in, they’re not working for me anymore. Those those words, then at that time has evaporated. There’s no asymmetry, you’re only reaching the number of people that are listening to the show. Right, then it doesn’t go viral afterwards. It doesn’t spread around the world. Right. It’s just as soon as it’s off the air, it’s over. And tailwind. I don’t know if that one applies in this case. But then if we look at the podcast example, well there is leverage, like once we get done with this talk right now, you know, we’re recording this so somebody can listen to it next week. They can listen to it next year. You know, like there’s this real benefit this long tail where this hour is going to keep working for me in the future. It is potentially asymmetric. You see podcasts go viral. Sometimes you know Some episodes get 10,000 downloads other episodes, get a million downloads. And then tailwind. I actually do think there’s a bit of a tailwind here, which is that more and more people are listening to podcasts each year. And so the popularity of podcasting as a medium is growing. So that’s one example of what I mean by positioning like we’re, by doing this call right now, we’re kind of positioning ourselves, Well, we’re playing in a space where there are a lot of favorable forces working for us, outside of how hard we’re working on the content, or how much you know, usefulness we’re trying to share and so on, we could do this same exact conversation on the radio, and it wouldn’t be positioned to benefit from some of those forces. So a lot of success. And strategy is about good positioning. And that’s kind of one example of what that might look like and

Mark Divine 40:48
love that was going through my mind, while you’re saying that as you’re talking mostly about positioning yourself kind of either in the Marketplace, or you know, for some sort of productive effort. But you can also look at those three things, you know, asymmetry, tailwinds and leverage and positioning in terms of how you think and where you position your mind. Right, you know, so if you’re going to really want a lot of leverage in the quality of your thinking, and you want to position your mind to be able to focusing on the right things that are, you know, where you can, you know, add unique value, you know, for a future audience, and you’ve got some tailwind, and you can get leverage, and so that your downtime or the quality time that you’re spending internally is positioned effectively. And then you’d go do the things externally that are positioned effectively. Now you get to a leverage effect there are,

James Clear 41:34
that’s great. It’s like positioning your attention.

Mark Divine 41:36
That’s right. Yeah. That’s awesome.

James Clear 41:38
I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the ideas. And I think there’s a lot to explore there. And many different application points, whether it be positioning your attention and thinking, you know, business applications, personal applications, I think there’s a chance for anyone, regardless of what industry you’re working in, or project you’re working on, to position yourself in a way that your hard work is multiplied, and your effort, you know, you get more out of each unit of effort. And so I get excited about ideas that are kind of universal like that, that feel like they have a lot of application points. And this is one that feels like,

Mark Divine 42:11
yeah, yeah, I have always kind of end on this. But every time I’ve written a book, at the other end of the project, when it’s done, I feel like something shifted, like, all the work all the struggle, the challenges, you know, the lack of clarity, breaking through to clarity, and getting it done and shipping it. There’s this transformation that happens. So I’m different, I see the world differently. You call that growth? So what type of growth have you experienced? And where do you see James clear, at the end of this project, as you break through to the next version of yourself? Yeah,

James Clear 42:46
that’s a interesting question, I will be interested to revisit this once it is done and see how that feels. You know, I’ve been so lucky and fortunate with the success of atomic habits and the growth of the book, and you know, kind of like growing my brand and business and yeah, it’s just been really fortunate period of my life. And I think coming out of that I care less now about being well known, or having the work, like be well known. And I’m more focused on internal motivation, I think than I was before, I think that’s probably the biggest shift. You know, if you ask yourself, there’s some of these like cutting questions that you can ask, like, what is the unfulfilled need behind your desire to work so hard? You know, it’s like, if I was going to answer that question, honestly, early on, I think it was probably mostly about like being respected or being recognized or being praised in some way, or, yeah, being approved of feeling like, you know, I was enough for that it was, you know, the effort was worth it, I feel less of that now than I did before, I think I feel more of the unfulfilled need is more on like, am I spending my time on something that excites me, or that has me like, genuinely interested, one of the weird byproducts of all this growth with atomic habits is that all of these new opportunities came my way. And you know, so whether they were speaking events, or interview requests, or there’s all this other random stuff, too, you know, TV deals, or whatever. None of that is what I actually set out to do early on, like I was setting out to write the book. And so in a weird way, success kind of eats itself. Because if you do it, well, then you get all these opportunities that you didn’t ask for. And if you’re not careful, they sound exciting, sound interesting, and new and surprising and novel. And so it’s very easy to say yes to them, and then all of a sudden, you have no time to do the thing that got you those opportunities in the first place. And so your filter for saying no has to gradually increase or my case had to rapidly increase and I was a very, like slow learner in that regard. And so you know, I’m kind of ready to not spend that much time on like a lot of that stuff, that kind of extra stuff that you’re like, I never really asked to do this in the first place. And now it’s like taking up all of my calendar and spend more of my time on the stuff that like is genuinely exciting. So I think That’s probably the biggest shift that I felt so far. But it’ll be interesting to revisit and see what the Yeah, no doubt, that’s fascinating. And

Mark Divine 45:06
what a great answer. You know, I gotta admit that I don’t think I’ve received much benefit from all that other stuff, people coming at me with all these, you know, opportunities and offers and you know, all the enormous amount of time I spent. And I’m looking back at that. And I’m like, Yeah, none of it was worthwhile. It wasn’t generated by me, that I think

James Clear 45:25
is the key phrase, if it’s initiated on your end, then obviously, you have some genuine level of interest, right? You’re

Mark Divine 45:32
flowing from your creative zone, your need to put something out in the world. And if it’s someone coming at you and you, and you get the ego hit, or, you know, you feel like, Oh, this is a great opportunity, because of what I’ll be seen on TV. Right? Really Happened me two weeks ago, someone you know, came in or a month or half ago, wanting me to be on some TV show in some role. And it was the bachelor, and they’re like, this is the biggest show on in the universe, you’re gonna you’re gonna be in front of 6 million people. And I, you know, I felt that little hit and into it. And I immediately said, This is not a hell yes. And the guy’s like, what? You don’t even want to take a look at it. I’m like, no. That’s a long time to get there. Sure.

James Clear 46:12
It sounds really you can talk yourself into it sounds really cool at first. No, it’s like, it’s very exciting thing. But yeah, I think that is it generated by me. That’s a good filter.

Mark Divine 46:21
Yeah. You know, there’s a saying and what kind of leave it at this, I’d love to get your feeling about this really kind of speaks to what you just said, but it’s in kind of the comes out of the meditation world. And it is that you have to be somebody before you can be nobody. Isn’t that isn’t me, it speaks to that feeling? Because yeah, you’re right. I mean, as a creator, you want to put stuff out, it’s often you know, your egos, wanting to be somebody, right? Wanting that kind of social proof. And the validation that you are a creative and your work does matter. And you’re important. But then the more mature or you go through this transformations that we’ve been talking about, suddenly, you’re like, none of that really matters. Right? So now you have this, this drive to kind of like be nobody. It’s really about your own internal, you know, spiritual and mental and kind of alignment. Just,

James Clear 47:14
I was joking with my wife the other day saying, you know, you spend like 10 years trying to build this business, you’re like somebody, please pay attention. And then you know, this book blows up, and now you’re like, Okay, way too many of you are paying attention, like, please pay less attention to detail. Like, there’s really no need to like focus on every word that I’m saying, like, Let’s just all chill out a little bit,

Mark Divine 47:33
but and also to consider, how do you turn it off? Right. So I’m looking at that right now? What if I want to turn it off at a certain age? Sure. Like, how do you stop the freight train? If you know? Yeah, where’s the off switch?

James Clear 47:47
Yeah. Yeah, that’s an interesting question. The branding and you know, business side makes it harder, because you know, that’s going to kind of run, you know, to a certain degree, at least whether you’re trying or not. But I also just think that question in general turning on turning it off. Boy, that’s a really interesting life skill. And I think pretty crucial. I read an interesting example. This is like a very small version of that, that way of thinking, where they said, Imagine you’re on the golf course, and you’re getting ready to pick the right club to hit well, then you need to be thinking very rationally be very realistic. How far can I hit each club? Where my position on the course What the What’s the wind? Like? Like, what are the conditions saying, then you select the club and you pull it out of your bag. And at this point, now suddenly, you need to go from being very realistic to being like overconfident, you need to trust your ability to hit that shot. And to hit it well, and to believe in yourself probably to a degree that is like, a little bit unreasonable or delusional. But by believing in yourself so much, you position yourself better to make a good shot, and you take the swing and then we got a now we have to turn that off and go back to being realistic. Again. It’s kind of like oscillation back and forth between these two mindsets. And a lot of things in life are like that. The answer is not always be overconfident or always be under confident or realistic. It’s like when to be those two things balanced is not always being at 50% It’s being at 100% or 0%. And knowing when to be those things, it’s like when to not how to

Mark Divine 49:14
that’s phenomenal. I love that so you’re 100% attentive to one thing and then you’re zero and you’re 100% attentive to a different type of thing and the in between those 200% you find balance. The other thing you said that which is critical is once you take the shot, turn it off, it’s over. Yeah, well it’s gonna land where it’s gonna land and most people are obsessing about it and ruminating about it and so by the time they they’re ready for the next shot, they’re still thinking about the shot that took last time.

James Clear 49:41
Easy to say hard to do, but it’s absolutely true. It’s like this, the better you are at turning it on and turning it off. And it probably is true that the better you are at focusing on what you can control because if you’re not turned off you’re nice to focus on but stuff you have no control over anymore shots already hit. To me that feels like a life skill. This is very important. You’re talking about it kind of in a broad career context. And I’m talking about it in like a very specific, you know, minute by minute context, but I think it applies importantly in both

Mark Divine 50:11
agree. Awesome. Well, I appreciate your time and for turning that on for us today and sharing best practices or email this building and and what you’re working on. It’s fascinating. Yeah, of course. Thanks

James Clear 50:21
so much. I appreciate the opportunity. It’s

Mark Divine 50:22
great to chat. I look forward to talking again soon. Who Yeah. What an incredible guy, James, thanks so much. I love your focus. I love your discipline. I love your clarity and the ability to distill complex things into really, really simple form and your writing is tremendous. James is the real deal to great episode show notes and transcripts are on our site at Mark Divine.com video of the episode is up in the YouTube channel and Mark Divine.com/youtube You can find me at Mark Divine on Twitter and at real Mark Divine and Instagram and Facebook ads, you want to hit me up, I’m on LinkedIn as well. If you’re not enrolled, or subscribed to the divine inspiration newsletter, you might want to do that I’ve got exclusive content just for subscribers comes out once a week. And I give you what’s on my mind as well as inspirational people habits and other ideas and products that I come across that I want to share with you. So go to Mark Divine.com to sign up and subscribe. Special shout out to my amazing team, Jason Sanderson, Geoff Haskell Michele Zonic and Amy Jo Berkowitz, produced this podcast, find this incredible guests and bring it to you every week. I love getting reviews, it really helps others find the show, as well as rating. So if you haven’t rated it, or reviewed it, please consider doing so wherever you listen to this podcast, iTunes in particular, the world is chaotic and dangerous. It is up to us to be the change we want to see in the world. And we want to do that at scale. So why this podcast is my passion to share information and insights and motivation for us to uplevel our consciousness up level our positivity and abundance and inclusivity so over arching goal is to develop 100 million world centric leaders who can then change the world at scale to make it more compassionate, more positive, more inclusive. Thank you for being on the journey with me. It’s very important and it’s very appreciated.

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