Without any doubt, we humans, are creatures of habit. We are made or broken by our habits. So reading a book about the science of habits is a great step forward in understanding how you are built and how you can take action to build a better life for yourself
I have to say that no other book I’ve ever read changed my life as much as Atomic Habits.
Who among us did not fall into the trap of the self improvement. There is so much written, audio and video material on self improvement that consuming even a fraction of it will not leave you much time to … self improve.
But this book is different.
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While it is well worth reading cover-to-cover as it is full of useful and actionable information about habits, from how and why we form them to how to break them and make them, here are my top takeaways that hopefully will motivate you to read this book.
But first, what is an atomic habit?
What is an Atomic Habit
An atomic habit is a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do but is also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.
Motion versus action trap
“When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome.” — James Clear
This is the trap that we all fall into, with every single to do list, every single new year resolution and every single “I’ll start on this tomorrow”. It’s easy to “feel” that you are making progress but you may end up not making any progress at all if you focus on the motion, rather than the action.
Sometimes we do need motion to plan ahead. But it’s easy to use motion as an illusion of , “feeling like we’re making progress without ever running the risk of failure.”
Instant reward versus delayed reward
In the modern society instant gratification is the norm. However when building healthy habits, many of the choices you make today will not benefit you immediately.
This is a so called “delayed-return environment” because you can work for years before your actions deliver the intended reward. This makes healthy habit forming very difficult.
“What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided. We naturally place a higher value on the present and discount the future.
Rewards from a bad habit, like for example eating fast food, are immediate while the consequences may take decades to manifest.
And the opposite is true for good habits, like saving and investing. In the short term, you might not be able to buy the new iPhone you want or eat at that fancy restaurant, but over decades that amount of saving and investing may very well make you rich or ensure a comfortable retirement.
The success in life is to understand and design your life around the simple fact that most of the decisions you make on a daily basis will not immediately benefit you but you’ll get the reward in the long run.
Of course, the piece of cake you ate at that office birthday party won’t make you fat. The workout you did yesterday morning won’t make you fit. The $50 you transferred to your retirement account won’t make you wealthy. A poor night of sleep won’t wreck your health.
However, when repeated over a long period of time, these decisions have serious consequences (good or bad)
Identity before goals
The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.
If you want to create real change, focus first on who you want to become instead of things like what you want to do and how you want to accomplish it.
It’s one thing to say I’m trying to run every morning and another thing to say I’m a runner. A runner is a person who runs. If you identify yourself with that person, you’ll learn more about they types of things that a runner would do.
There are many examples in the book how this “change of identity” is essential in building a new foundation for healthy habits
So, are you trying to build a business or are you an entrepreneur?
Are you trying to do some coding or are you a developer?
Do you want to write a book or are you a writer?
Instead of wanting to write a book, figure out how to be the kind of person who writes books. What kind of qualities and habits do you think a writer has?
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”
Atomic habits are compounding
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous”— James Clear
Little things add up to big things. Tiny actions, multiplied by millions can produce massive results. Small drops of water will fill a bucket in time.
This is the core concept of the “atomic habits”. Small habits are so powerful (atomic power) when they compound, when you add their effect.
Focus on the system not on the goals
If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers. — James Clear
We all want to be successful, we all want to be fit, we all want to be healthy. We all have the same goals. So how come some of us succeed and some don’t?
Having goals is not enough. If it was, we’d all be successful. Whether we succeed or fail depends on the system we develop to help us make progress
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your system.”
If your goal is to write a book, the system to achieve that is to write a number of pages every day. If your goal is to loose weight, the system is to make better eating habits and exercise habits. If your goal is to save money for a big purchase, the system is to set money aside automatically from each paycheck.
The Four Laws of Behavior Change
The book does into the science and psychology behind habit formation in much more detail. The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits.
- make it obvious
- make it attractive
- make it easy
- make it satisfying.
I strongly recommend to read more into the details of these rules in the book.
I encourage you to get this book and read it. I think it’s a book that can in fact change your life. It is also something that you can always refer to for healthy reminders and, in my case, something I shared with my children. This is a book I definitely want them to read and understand as early as possible in their life.
Additional Recommended Reading
If you are interested more in the science of habits, I recommend these other books that might be interesting for you.
Unwinding Anxiety by Judson Brewer
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey
Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise