Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits
Photo by Lala Azizli / Unsplash

Genre: Non-fiction Self-Help

Atomic Habits by James Clear is by far one of the most impactful books I have ever read. And I have actually applied a lot of things I have learned from this book in my life pretty successfully so far. This book has so much wisdom to offer, but here are some of my key takeaways:

Habits have a compounding effect on your life.

You may not see it right away, but over time you will notice the multiplied effects of habits. Small changes are what you need to make to see bigger changes in your life eventually. But you have to stick with your habits long enough to cross that critical threshold to see the change. Breakthroughs happen when you have done enough work in the first place that unleash a major change. Starting today, if you can get 1% better every day, you will get better by 37 times in one year time. That’s the power of compounding and if you are into personal growth and development, get started with those small habits you have been putting off for a long time or have stopped pursuing because you did not see their effects right at the moment.

Imagine that you have an ice cube sitting on the table in front of you. The room is cold, and you can see your breath. It is currently twenty-five degrees. Ever so slowly, the room begins to heat up.
Twenty-six degrees
The ice cube is still sitting on the table in front of you.
Twenty- nine degrees.
Still, nothing has happened.
Then, thirty-two degrees. The ice begins to melt. A one-degree shift, seemingly no different from the temperature increases before it, has unlocked a huge change.
Similarly, habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance.

This example has been a game-changer for me. I have stopped doing a lot of things in the past because I did not see the results right away. Since I read this book, I always keep this example of ice melting at the back of my mind, and this helps me keep going. I remind myself that maybe I have not crossed the critical threshold yet, there is more to be done and I need to keep doing it. For example, I have stopped exercising in the past because I did not see the expected results in a few weeks. Now, that I have this perspective, I have been consistent with my exercise habits since the beginning of 2023.

Work on the systems and not on goals.

When you work for a certain outcome, you may not continue with your habit after you achieve that outcome. But instead, if you focus on the process and system, you are most likely to continue on a sustainable habit-building route. For example, if your goal is to organize a messy room, once you do it, it’s done. And it will probably get messy in a few days again. But if you establish a system in a way that everything is put away all the time, you may not have to invest as much energy in organizing the room every now and then. It will most likely stay put most of the time with a good system in place.

Why work in systems and not on goals?

Winners and losers have the same goals.
Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.
Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.
Achieving a goal only changes your life for a moment. That’s a counterintuitive thing about improvement.

The most effective way to change your habits is not to focus on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.

Your behaviors are usually the reflection of your identity. So, behavior change is likely to occur when you associate a habit with your identity. Imagine the kind of person you want to be and just work in alignment with your identity. For example, if you believe that you are a healthy person and identify yourself as one, then what would you do? You would eat healthily, go for a walk or a run, or go to the gym or whatever it is that works for you to stay aligned with your “healthy” identity vs if you start out with, I want to lose X amount of weight. You may exercise or eat healthy to a point where you lose X amount of weight and you may stop. But if you associate your behaviors with your identity, you will most likely continue with those behaviors in the long run.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.

Downscale your goals.

Whenever you are starting to develop a habit, don’t get overly ambitious at the beginning. The aim is to get started first. So, don’t get into the trap of doing it perfectly. Standardize before you optimize meaning just focus on establishing a habit first before you want to polish it. The author writes about 2 minutes rule i.e. when you are starting out something new, make it so easy that it can be done in under 2 minutes. The concept is to make it so easy that you keep doing it until you get into the rhythm and you will automatically want to optimize it eventually. When I wanted to get in the habit of working out back in December 2022, I literally used to do maybe like 20 crunches right before I sat down to work at home and what started with 20 crunches has now turned into my morning workout routine of 20-30 mins yoga and 30 minutes Zumba since the beginning of January!

The habit loop is formed of cue, craving, response, and reward.

Cue is the trigger to the brain for any behavior, craving is the desire for the behavior, response is the actual behavior or habit that occurs and reward is the satisfaction you get after performing a behavior. For example, your phone pings with a notification (cue), you want to see what it is (craving), you pick up the phone and check the notification (response), the notification was an Instagram message from your friend and you read it (reward). So, picking up the phone is associated with your phone pinging notifications.

Once you understand the habit loop, you can apply the four laws of behavior change to make good habits and break bad habits. Let's look at the four laws of behavior change and apply these to forming a habit of journaling:

The 1st Law (Cue)- Make it obvious.  If you want to make a habit of journaling, keep the journal in your eyesight so that you are reminded of it constantly.

The 2nd Law (Craving)- Make it attractive. To make the behavior more attractive, maybe get a journal that is visually appealing and has a positive message on its cover.

The 3rd Law (Response)- Make it easy. The main idea of this law is to reduce any potential friction for the behavior to occur. Sometimes a simple thing like not finding a pen right away could be friction for journaling. So, keep a pen together with the journal. When you are just getting started, start with a few sentences. Do not take the pressure of filling the pages.

The 4th Law (Reward)- Make it satisfying.  According to the fourth law, give yourself a reward after performing the behavior. Take a small break or do something that you enjoy after writing in the journal.

Similarly, to break bad habits- make the cue invisible, make the reward unattractive, make it difficult to perform the behavior, and make the reward unsatisfying.

If you are on the path of self-improvement and want to cultivate good habits or get rid of bad habits, Atomic Habits could be a good read for you. This book has helped me change a lot of my behaviors and I would personally recommend this book.

If you have already read this book, don’t forget to share what you liked the most about this book with me and The Growth Mindset community!

Happy Reading! :)

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