Atomic Habits by James Clear: Summary

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is a book worth reading. Atomic Habits looks at how we can improve our lives incrementally instead of relying on luck and overnight success. James Clear writes this book with a progressive outlook: We all have the ability to improve, therefore our success depends on the effectiveness of the systems and habits we create. By reading the full version you will understand the importance of approaching change with a habit based approach and will be given the tools to get you started. If you’re looking to start something new or wanting to enhance your edge, click the link and purchase the book below!

Get the book here: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Habits are the compound interest of self improvement

Small incremental changes can end in massive results. Small improvements day by day will result in a huge compounding effect. For example, if you’re having problems motivating yourself to learn a new language, start small. Day by day increase your workload by a mere 1% and by the end of the year you would have ended up doing 37 times more work than when you had started!

It’s important to remember that success is the product of continual daily habits; not once in a lifetime ‘altering’ events.

Progress is not an overnight event

Habits often appear to make no difference to begin with. This can be discouraging of course but it’s not until you cross a certain critical point, at which time you will unlock a new level of performance. This is when you start to notice the compound gains you have been making.

You may have expected to be making linear progress, where in week 2 you are twice as good as you were in week one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to work that way. You don’t often make much noticeable progress until you hit a critical point when suddenly you make a gigantic jump. It’s hard pushing through to see the gains but it’s definitely worth it!

You fall to the level of your system

You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems. If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you but with your system. Sounds reassuring and it should (to some extent) however, you must recognize that goals are the results that you want to achieve and systems are the processes that lead to the results. Don’t fret though as we’ll explain down below on how to change that.

There are multiple issues with having goals:

1.  Winners and losers have the same goals, we just only focus on the winners which becomes problematic because we attribute their success to their ambitious goals.

2. Achieving a goal is only a temporary change. Solving problems and achieving goals are important, however if you want continued success and improvement you must solve them at a systems level.

3. Goals restrict your happiness. They are helpful in giving you motivation to achieve something but they’re simplistic and binary, meaning you either achieve your goal or you don’t. By achieving your goal you will be temporarily satisfied, however not achieving your goal will make you unhappy and to feel like you have failed.

4. Instead, become content with the process of building good habits. That way even if you do fall shy of a goal you will still be content in the fact that you know you’re continuously improving.

Habits shape your identity

There are 3 layers to behavior change (Outcomes, process and identity).

1.  Outcomes: an example of changing outcomes are: losing weight, passing a class in college or earning that job promotion. This layer operates on the level of goals (as we discussed earlier).

2. Process: changing your process will be something like implementing a new routine at the gym, spending longer studying your college notes or reading a book on management material. This applies to changing your habits.

3. Identity: this is the deepest layer of behavioral change. If you believe that you are a fit and athletic person, that you can be studious and a critical thinker or that you have the confidence and capability for a promotion your behaviors and results will follow.

Think of change this way: The goal isn’t to read a book, it’s to become a reader; It isn’t to get an A in a test but to be a great student or It isn’t to run 5 KM but to become a runner.

The four laws of behavior change

The purpose of habits: they are the autopilot mode your brain goes into when completing repetitive tasks. For example, driving to work. The first time you do it, it may be confusing and stressful but after a few weeks your mind is just going through the motions.

Not having a grasp on your habits means not having freedom. It seems counterintuitive, however consider:

a) No financial habits = always being short on cash.

b) No healthy food and exercise habits = lacking energy.

Without good habits, you will always be behind the curve.

The Habit Cycle

There are 4 phases to this:

  1. Cue: this triggers your brain to initiate the behavior.
  2. Craving: the motivational force behind every habit.
  3. Respond: the actual behavior that is performed.
  4. Reward: the end goal of every habit.

The first two steps: cue and craving are the problems phase. The last two steps: respond and reward are the solution phase. Consider these examples:

– Cue: you reach a difficult problem in studying for a test.

– Craving: you’re stuck and want some relief.

– Respond: you check your facebook feed.

– Reward: you satisfy your craving and feel relieved.

Habits perse don’t have to be negative. Down below will teach you how to develop a good habit.

Creating good habits

The 1st Law (Cue): Make it obvious.

The cues that spark our habits are often so common that they become invisible to us. For example; the phone next to you while you study. Our responses to these cues are so hardwired that we must begin the process of behavior change with awareness:

1. Pointing and Calling

A simple, yet effective way of making yourself aware of a situation. It’s a common practice for railway workers to call out the lights they see while working on a track. It’s a safety procedure that keeps the workers aware of the situation at all times and is incredibly effective.

2. Implementation Intention

The Formula: I will [behaviour] at [time] in [location].

Specifically describing your actions at a specific cue will greatly increase your chances of success. For example: I will [go for a jog] at [07:00] at [my local park].

3. Habit coupling/Habit Pairing/Habit Stacking

Associate one habit which you consistently perform with a new one you’re trying to perform.

For example: if you brush your teeth every morning but don’t keep up to date with the news, try coupling the two by turning on the radio while you brush your teeth. You’ll be much more likely to achieve your habits by coupling them.

Habit stacking formula: After [current habit], I will [new habit]

The cue should be highly specific and immediately actionable

For example: When I [begin eating dinner] I will [always start with the vegetables first].

The 2nd Law (Craving): make it attractive.

You must make your new habit attractive. If it isn’t you’ll have no inclination in doing it. By making it attractive, you’ll build up anticipation and that is what leads us to take action.

Temptation Bundling:

You will be more likely to find a behavior attractive if you get to do one of your favourite things at the same time.

For example:  you love the TV show “The Office”, and one of your habits is to start doing yoga. Start doing these two activities simultaneously. You’ll start to crave your habit because you know it bundles watching your favorite TV show.

Equation for Temptation Bundling:

1. After [current habit], I will [the habit I need]

2. After [the habit I need], I will [the habit I want]

For example:  After I [pull out my phone] I will [do ten burpees (need)]. After [I do ten burpees], I will [check Instagram (want)].

Careful who you are friends with, as we will imitate their habits. After all we are the average of your 5 closest friends. Join the culture where your desired behavior = your normal behavior.

A ‘Neurohacks’ mindset determines how pleasurable or painful the experience is, not the actual experience itself:

For example:

1. Swap the word “have” with “get”, instead of saying “I [have] to exercise”, say it “I [get] to exercise”

2. In the case of “public speaking”: Reinterpreting your physiologic response from fear to excitement = “yeah, my heart is racing, but not because I’m scared to speak, but because I’m so excited to speak”.

The 3rd Law (Response): Make it easy.

Habits are formed based on frequency, not time. It’s not a question of how many weeks for a habit to stick, but instead the frequency and number of repetitions that make the difference.

  1. Reduce the friction of good habits and increase the friction of bad habits:

For example: reduce your friction on the exercise by joining a gym that is on the way home from school + pack your gym stuff the night before. It’s amazing how little friction is required to talk you out of doing something.

  1. Habits are like decision trees:

If you are able to start off the day with good choices that reinforce good habits, you are much more likely to end up having a good day. Making a good first choice at the start of the day will lead to better choices throughout the day. So start by making your bed!

These decisive moments are what determine the quality of your day, not your willpower.

Make sure to check out US Admiral William H. McRaven. He has an excellent speech on how you should prioritise making your bed every morning. The message resonates with good habit making.

4. The 4th Law (Reward): make it satisfying.

In simple terms: what is rewarded is repeated; what is punished is avoided. Unfortunately the payoff for many of the habits we want to ingrain into our lifestyle aren’t immediately visible. The pay off only in the long-term. This is where discipline has to come in.

Time Inconsistency: We value the present more than the future. Reward that is certain right now is typically worth more to us than one that is possible in the future, but this bias to instant gratification often leads to shortsightedness and missing the “big picture”. Below will help you mitigate this:

1. Add a bit of immediate pleasure to the Good Habits that will pay off in the long run.

2. Add a bit of pain to the Bad Habits that will not pay off in the long run.

Immediate reinforcement is helpful in dealing with habits of avoidance, which are behaviors you definitely want to stop doing. Stop avoiding; start rewarding!

Incentives start the habit. Identity sustains the habit:

  1. Measure progress and make progress satisfying through the use of habit trackers. These will keep you motivated.
  2. Keep your focus on your process, not on your results.

Don’t forget these tips on using a habit tracker so it doesn’t feel like more work for you. Once you’ve set up the habit tracker it’ll say you time ten fold:

1. Automate the measurements whenever possible. Using a smart scale that syncs with your mobile.

2. Manual tracking should only be done on your most important habits that require more nuisance.

3. Record the measurement after the habit occurs.

Breaking bad habits

Simply reverse the above four laws…

1. The 1st Law (Cue): make it invisible.

2. The 2nd Law (Craving): make it unattractive.

3. The 3rd Law (Response): make it difficult.

4. The 4th Law (Reward): make it unsatisfying.

Things to consider

 It is inevitable that you will miss days and that you will not be perfect. That’s fine, we’re only human.

Whenever you skip a day: remind yourself of one simple rule: Never Miss Twice. Missing the odd habit such as a workout happens due to many things, work commitments, family etc. However you cannot let yourself miss two in a row as you’ll spiral into bad habits again.

Remember: Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit!

Hope these insights are useful – make sure to check out the book below!

Get the book here: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Published by Tim Bennett

An avid reader who likes to read anything which could challenge my beliefs. I like to write summaries over on The Herston Project so make sure to check them out :).

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