The power of the Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits by James Clear was recommended to me by so many people, and was so highly praised, that I was afraid my elevated expectations will leave me disappointed when I finally read it. This couldn’t be further from the truth! The book just resonated with me (and with lots of other people judging by the positive reviews in Amazon, Goodreads, etc). Style is clear and straight to the point. Action-packed read where I wanted to highlight half of the book as “important” to review later. Atomic Habits should definitely make your reading list for the coming months.

1. Why think about habits?

Our habits play a crucial role for the quality of our lives. We often approach changes with the wrong strategy – an abrupt massive change, as opposed to numerous tiny incremental improvements. This book is all about the latter, also called “atomic habits”. Think of them as having compounding effect – might seem insignificant until a breaking-point is reached. From there everything gets easier and positive results snowball. It’s all about the long game.

A habit is a routine or behaviour that is performed regularly and in many cases – automatically.

Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years“.

The quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits“.

It is easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.

Success is the product of daily habits, not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.

2. Goals vs Processes

It’s about the journey, not the destination. We hear it mostly from spiritual point of view, but it applies the same in terms of efficiency. Focusing solely on goals brings the attention to the wide gap between the current- and the end-state. That’s not the optimal mindset for improvements. Instead focus on the systems and processes that will ultimate bring you the results. Make a tiny step each day and the compounding effect will play it’s part.

Forget about goals, focus on systems instead.

Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.

It’s your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Goals determine the direction. Systems make sure you move towards it. The real goal is to shape your beliefs and identity to your liking. Self-awareness is important – analyse yourself to find your starting point. You can and will change, but it requires a bit of time.

Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who your are.

The real reason you fail to stick with habits is that your self-image gets in the way.

3. How to build a habit?

Below is the simple, yet powerful truth how habits work. Use it to your advantage to build better ones and remove bad ones.

Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop that involves four stages: cue, craving, response, reward.

The simple rules of building better habits:
(1) make it obvious
(2) make it attractive
(3) make it easy
(4) make it satisfying

4. Starting a new habit / breaking an existing one. Make it obvious.

First take stock of your existing habits. Evaluate each one, decide what (if any) changes you want to introduce. Awareness is important, as you can’t change what you don’t see.

Carl Jung said ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate’.

You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them.

Start very small. Make it obvious by removing the “choice” and “internal battle” completely. Decide what you want and be as specific as possible about when/how you will do it (or stop doing it). Even better use “habit stacking” – doing a new habit just before/after an existing one. Focus on repetitions, not perfection. Focus on systems, not goals. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, until it’s part of your identity.

Habit formation is the process by which a behaviour becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.

If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.

When you start a new habit it should take less than two minutes to do.

People who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through.

One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and stack your new behaviour on top. This is called habit stacking.

Standardise before you optimise. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.

5. Use your environment to make it attractive and easy

Your environment and surroundings play a huge role in your habits. They drive the “default” behaviour and are especially important when things get tough. Shape them so they help you, not work against you. Make good habits attractive and easy to do – place healthy snacks in each room; prep your running outfit the night before; place a book on your pillow each morning; etc. Add friction to repeating bad habits – don’t keep sweets at home; remove the batteries from the remote; delete social media apps from your phone; etc. Small changes in your environment give you the best “returns” for your efforts.

If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue for it a big part of your environment.

Perseverance, grit and willpower are essential to success, but the way to improve these qualities is not by wishing you were a more disciplined person, but by creating a more disciplined environment.

Instead of summoning a new dose of willpower whenever you want to do the right thing, your energy would be better spent optimising your environment.

Social environment is as important as the physical one. Shape yours to help you move forward. We tend to imitate the people around us, so be mindful who you surround yourself with. The sense of “belonging” is a powerful motivator, so use it to your advantage – aim for a group that already has the positive qualities you are after.

We tend to imitate the habits of three social groups:
– the close (family and friends)
– the mass (the tribe)
– the powerful (those with status and prestige)

One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where (1) your desired behaviour is the norm and (2) you already have something in common with the group.

6. Make it satisfying

Re-frame habits so they sound easier. Focus on the long-term benefits. Build anticipation and excitement about the positive changes. If needed, use temptation bundling – associating a thing you want with a thing you need to do. Find a buddy/group with the same goals as you. You can help each other move forward and amplify the social gratification of your accomplishments.

Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it.

It is the anticipation of a reward – not the fulfilment of it – that gets us to take action.

Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do.

Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe. It transforms a personal quest into a shared one.

7. Closing thoughts

Habits are a long-term strategy to building the life you want. Understanding how they work and what influences them gives you the control you need to shape them to your liking. Doing the “right” thing doesn’t always come natural, but there are a number of “tricks” to make it easier.

What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.

The costs of your good habits are in the present. The cost of your bad habits are in the future.

With a big enough Why you can overcome any How.

The power of Atomic Habits – tiny changes, remarkable results.

Happy reading!

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