“Atomic Habits” Are A Great Start. Now It’s Time To Meme “Holonic Habits.”
James Clear awakened the world to the power of individual habits. Let’s awaken the world to the power of habits that can only be performed together.
“Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
Over 10 million copies sold.
Explaining an extremely simple but powerful idea:
Atomic Habits are small, incremental changes that, when practiced consistently, can lead to significant improvements over time in the quality of your life and your ability to accomplish your goals.
I’m all in on this idea.
You can tell whatever story you want about who you are (e.g. ”I’m a hard-working, health-conscious Christian who cares about his community.”), but your story is nonsense if it doesn’t actually reflect the actions you take on a repeated basis.
In other words, your habits are the building blocks of your true identity, not your story of self that isn’t tethered to reality.
If you want to authentically call yourself a hard-working, health-conscious Christian who cares about his community, your habits better reflect that story.
Re: "hard-working", are you diligently working on your craft and mission every day, limiting distractions from social media, etc.?
Re: "health-conscious," are you getting enough sleep every night and consistently keeping toxins out of your body, such as alcohol, seed oils, processed foods, etc.?
Re: "Christian," do you consistently maintain a strong relationship with God—whether through a combination of church attendance, prayer, and repeated acts of virtue?
Re: "cares about his community," are you an active member of service organizations in your area? Do you help your neighbors when they are in need?
It is SO powerful to realize how much habits make up your identity. They say just about EVERYTHING about you.
The thing is, repeated actions are not just the building blocks of identity for individual people like you and me, they are the building blocks of identity for all the "units" of human civilization, like a couple, a family, a startup company, an internet community, a city, a state, a nation, and everything in between.
I call these variously sized units of human civilization "holons."
Holons are a concept introduced by Arthur Koestler in his book "The Ghost in the Machine," which refers to entities that are simultaneously whole in themselves and parts of larger wholes. In the context of human civilizations, holons can refer to individuals, families, communities, organizations, societies, and other human systems, all of which are interconnected and interdependent.
While we associate atomic habits with individuals, it’s important to define a word for the “habits” that are carried out by human systems that are larger than the individual.
For this reason, I propose the term…
I define holonic habits as recurring actions performed collectively by members of a holon that...
Support the vitality of the holon itself
Support the vitality of smaller holons that are part of the holon
Support the vitality of larger holons of which it is a part
Think of holonic habits as the habits that reinforce the integrity and boundaries of the holon—the habits that remind sub-holons that they are part of the larger holon.
To learn more about holons, I encourage you to read my friend Kevin Owocki’s post about why he’s a “Holon Maxi.” Kevin is a leader in “regen web3.”
What are some examples of holonic habits?
Let’s look into three examples of holons and what kinds of habits contribute to their vitality:
Example #1: A Local Alcoholics Anonymous Group
For example, an Alcoholics Anonymous group in your area might feel like a rewarding experience for almost all of its members because of its holonic habits.
Coming together to meet, say, once a week, is itself a holonic habit. And within that holonic habit of meeting once a week are habits like reading a preamble, saying the Serenity Prayer, reading the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, sharing personal stories, and saying a closing prayer.
These holonic habits support the vitality of the AA group in several ways.
First, they help establish a sense of structure and consistency that can provide group members with a sense of stability and comfort. Second, the rituals provide a shared experience and a sense of community among group members. Third, rituals reinforce the values and principles of the program, such as honesty, humility, and the importance of fellowship.
Overall, these rituals help to create a positive and supportive environment for recovery, which is critical to the success and vitality of an AA group.
Returning to my definition of "holonic habit," it's clear that the weekly meeting supports the vitality of the holon itself (the AA group), smaller holons (the individual members), and larger holons (the city, state, and nation in which the group is geographically located-because more stable, vital individuals are better able to contribute to society).
Example #2: A Neighborhood
Now let's look at a larger holon: a neighborhood.
A neighborhood does not feel neighborly; it does not feel like it has soul without the right holonic habits.
One of the most important kinds of holonic habits for a neighborhood is the act of hosting neighborhood gatherings and celebrations, such as block parties, festivals, or parades, that foster a sense of unity and belonging among residents.
How often does your neighborhood hold these events?
Historical examples of neighborhoods that have done this well include:
Harlem, New York City, in the early 20th century, where residents gathered at jazz clubs and community events, such as the annual Harlem Renaissance Festival, to celebrate the neighborhood's African American heritage and culture.
Little Italy in Boston, Massachusetts, where residents maintained strong ties to their Italian roots through shared traditions such as the annual Feast of St. Anthony, which includes parades, street fairs, and food vendors.
The French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, where residents have preserved the neighborhood's historic architecture, such as the iconic wrought-iron balconies, and celebrate the city's unique blend of French, Spanish, and African-American cultures through festivals such as Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest.
There's a clear correlation between a neighborhood's holonic habits and how vital and soulful it feels.
Going back to my definition of "holonic habit," it's clear that neighborhood gatherings support the vitality of the holon itself (the neighborhood), smaller holons (the individual residents, families, etc.), and larger holons (the city, state, and nation in which the neighborhood is geographically located-because why would you want to invest in a geographic area if it didn't have soulful, vital neighborhoods?)
Example #3: A Nation-State
Now let's zoom out a LOT and look at a much larger holon: a nation-state.
The vitality of a nation-state depends on many things, including what holonic habits are regularly practiced on a national level.
One example of a type of national holonic habit is the celebration of national holidays and cultural events, such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving, or Diwali, that bring together people from diverse backgrounds to share a common experience.
These events, which are widely recognized, appreciated, and celebrated by large percentages of citizens, contribute to the vitality and growth of a nation by fostering a sense of shared identity, unity, and common purpose among its citizens.
Another example of a type of national holonic habit is the mandatory military service practiced in countries such as Israel and South Korea.
As former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres once said:
"Mandatory military service builds character, discipline, and a sense of duty and responsibility to the nation. It also strengthens the bond between citizens and their country, and fosters a sense of national unity."
While there may be much to criticize about how Israel engages on the international stage, it's hard to deny the value that mandatory military service has had in creating a shared sense of identity and service in protecting Israel.
While I'm glad the U.S. has national holidays like Thanksgiving, I can't help but wonder if we need some kind of mandatory service-even if it's more civil service than military service-to revitalize the increasingly divided nation.
Conclusion: A Human System’s Vitality Has Everything To Do With The Holonic Habits It Practices
In summary, holonic habits are recurring actions performed by members of a holon that support the vitality of the holon, smaller holons within it, and larger holons of which it is a part.
These habits are the building blocks of identity for individuals and all units of human civilization, from families to nation-states.
By understanding the importance of holonic habits, we can create a future in which there are many more people realizing their potential to flourish and positively impact the world, and many more groups (e.g., communities, cities, states, nations) better supporting the well-being of their members/citizens and the world at large.
By being intentional about what we do repeatedly, we can build the future of our dreams.
America 2.0, here we come.
One thing that's been in my mind is the question of whether habits are the building block of identity. Made me think of founded vs unfounded identity. It absolutely is for founded where as there are a lot of people with aspirational or unfounded identity. For people who are committing to being intentional with their attention or their actions, habits as the building block make sense. But there are so many people who don't focus on the reality of their action.
I'm thinking of people who identify deeply by national identity or by sports team affiliation. They rarely actually support the thing directly, if anything their actions are targeting peripheral activity (passively consuming their identity via TV or the news).
This also feels related to bentoism from Yancey stickler, how to shift from 'now me' to 'future us'. I think the frame of holonic habits is a really interesting one to operationalize that shift. Trying to ground people more in the identity that you are the result of your actions, be more mindful, and link your identity to a collective (in turn coming back to intention and expanding the scope from selfish to collective)
Thanks for sharing/writing!
Thanks for sharing and writing!