James Clear is a fantastic writer with a great blog. He writes about self-development with a twist. Instead of talking about philosophy and what mantras you should tell yourself every morning, he approaches the idea of betterment through the power of habits.
Atomic Habits highlights how every successful businessman, athlete, student or leader, is successful, not due to their goal setting or willpower but due to systems that enable them to accomplish greatness. What are these systems? The thing that controls most of our days and lives: habits.
You might not notice it, but habits are the constant in our lives. Our brains developed to save energy and be as efficient as possible, this means that whatever behaviour can be automated will be automated. When was the last time you had to make an effort to put on your shoes, drive your car, have a shower, or even make a meal? What’s your automatic reaction when picking up your phone? Leaving your house? Or waking up?
Habits rule our lives and in this amazing book, Clear explains in a very compelling, scientific and understandable way how to create new habits that stick and how to modify old bad habits. Eating too much? You might have the habit of eating when you feel stressed. Sleeping badly? Maybe you tend to use screens before sleeping and eating/drinking too much sugar. Almost everything we do can be traced back to a habit at some point.
The power of building reliable systems is that you don’t have to keep thinking about them. Once you get used to doing exercise every morning before taking a shower, doing exercise no longer requires willpower. Automated systems liberate your energy and willpower to do things that matter. Need to start a diet? You will exhaust your willpower before losing weight and quitting, on the other hand, creating a system that helps you eat healthily will not require willpower, the system will do the hard work for you instead.
Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.From Atomic Habits. Find more great quotes here.
Need to save money? Set up a separate account for each section of your life: food, rent, savings, luxury expending. You can spend as much money as the “luxury” account has, once that runs out you know you know you have no more money to spend, in the meantime you’re also automatically saving money without worrying if you can buy a coffee or not.
Research has proven that we don’t think in absolute terms. When we think about how much money we have, we don’t see all of our money, we see a specific subsection. If you’re carrying only 30$ with you, that’s as much money as you’re able to spend, instead, if you have a 2000$ credit card, then you’re tempted to buy anything under that amount, since your mind has a larger bank to draw upon. Limiting resources automatically limits your desire to use them. This makes evolutionary sense since historically humans only had a very limited amount of resources in their lives.
How to create new habits and change old ones.
Habits are separated into four basic physiological steps: Cue, Craving, Response and Reward. When we have a habit of overeating the cycle goes like this: seeing food, feeling stressed or hungry is the cue, this will trigger our craving for food which will make us respond by looking for food, and we will ultimately be rewarded by feeling good as we eat.
If we want to build positive habits we need to hijack these cycle and: make the new habit Obvious, Attractive, Easy and Satisfying. Want to jog more often? Connect jogging with something that happens often, such as coming home from work, then: the cue is coming home, the craving to go out and jog, the response is putting your shoes on, the reward is feeling energized and good about yourself!
The whole cycle is Obvious (getting home), Attractive (your jogging shoes are right next to where you leave your backpack), Easy (no need to think about when to do it or how) and Satisfying (doing exercise releases feel-good hormones all over the place).
The opposite can be applied to changing bad habits: to stop a bad habit make it Invisible, Unattractive, Difficult and Unsatisfying.
Want to stop spending time on social media? Uninstall all the apps, stop interacting with people on it so is not fun anymore, change your password once a week so logging back in is Difficult, and install a time-tracking app, so at the end of the week you see how much time you spent on social media, which will make it very Unsatisfying to see your hours spent away.
Reading this book opened a new world of possibilities for me. Although I always tried to create new habits and stop bad ones, I mostly did it haphazardly and without a good framework. Atomic Habits offers the best framework I’ve ever seen to creating sustainable, reliable systems that will help you become successful, not by enforcing your limited will power but by relying on your systems to do the hard work for you.
Have the book made a difference in my life? Absolutely, perhaps more than any other book I’ve read. I’ve started changing my daily habits in order to create a better version of myself. The most important idea I read in Atomic Habits was this:
The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.
I’m the type of person who is this. That’s the most powerful idea I encountered in the book. It can be explored in-depth, but in a nutshell it means that you become who you are by your habits. What you do defines you, and if you want to be a healthy person, you must have healthy habits. Successful people have successful habits, they tend to exercise, eat well, work hard, not be lazy.
Since starting to read the book more than a month ago, I’ve exercised 6 out of 7 week days, woke up at 6:20am every single day, finished all my showers with cold water and a few other habits I’ve been able to build using the techniques and framework explained here.
If you really care about taking control of your days and becoming the version of yourself you can be proud of, I highly recommend reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.
You can also check the best book quotes and all the highlights I did while reading it here. It gives a great overview of the book’s content.