Atomic Habits by James Clear – Book Summary
Atomic Habits is an interesting book which talks about the science of Habits. It Decodes how habits are formed and it engrains certain beliefs in our minds. James Mentions People do not have a lack of motivation but wrong systems to imbibe a new habit.
Good habits most of the time do not give instant pleasure while bad habits give instant pleasure hence it is easy for bad habits to catch up rather compared to bad habits. James Clear very interestingly explains the systems that can be used for developing new habits that will stay for life.
Habits have compounding effects once we stick to them. To make them sticky one needs to have effective and easy systems in place.
Make it obvious
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement, Getting 1% percent better every day counts for a lot in the long run.
James Clear mentions that we often convenience ourselves that success needs a massive action and hence puts pressure on ourselves. The book mentions that even if we manage to get 1% better each day for a year we would end up being 37 times better.
Success is the product of our daily habits. If we want to predict where you’ll end up in life. All we need to do is follow the tiny gains or the tiny losses
Plateau of Latent potential
In order to make a meaningful difference in your lives, we need to break through this plateau. At times we struggle ourselves to build habits. It is not because you have lost the ability to improve but you have not crossed the plateau.
Consider an example of an ice cube heating at normal room temperature. When the temperature is raised from 25 degrees to 28 degrees there is no change. When the temperature from 28 degrees is increased to 30 degrees still no change. But when the temperature is increased to 32 degrees the ice starts to melt.
Similarly there the work we do is not wasted. It’s just stored. All the action happens after the plateau.
Once the breakthrough happens from the plateau people call it an overnight success. Atomic Habits mentions that goals have little to do with the results and everything to do with the systems
Systems are about the process that leads to those results. Hence to get a better focus on the systems instead of setting goals. It is when the system of continuous small improvements that they achieved a different outcome.
Behind every system of action, there is a system of beliefs. It is hard to change habits if we never change the underlying beliefs that have led to past habits. The more you repeat a behavior the more you reinforce the identity.
Your identity is right now, you only believe because you have proof of it. Every action we take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
Eg – Every time you write a page, you are a writer
Every time you start a work out you are an athlete
Choose the identity you want to reinforce today with the habit you chose today.
Science of How Habit Works
The process of Habit building takes place in four steps. They are Cue, Craving, Response, Reward.
Cue – The cue triggers our brains to initiate a particular type of behavior based on the environment or situation.
Craving – They are the motivating force behind every habit. Without some level of motivation, there is no reason to act. Craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state.
Consider Smoking cigarettes, one does not crave a cigarette but craves the feeling of relief it provides.
Response – This is the stage where you actually perform a habit. The response depends upon how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with that habit. If it needs more physical and mental effort that you are willing to put in then you won’t do it.
Reward – Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The first purpose of the reward is to satisfy your craving. It helps in remembering which actions are worth doing for the future as well. In the end, it finally ends the feedback loop.
Starting Your Atomic Habits
Calling out the habit, in this method, you will have to specifically call out a habit that you perform at a specific time.
Eg – I will meditate for one minute at 7.am in my Kitchen
Calling out helps the brain register it as an instruction and provide clarity and provides the proper set instruction. Another note if you are not clear when to start the habit you can take the starting date of the month.
The best way to build a habit is to stack the habit over an existing habit. Like Meditating for 1 min after you brew your coffee.
Create the Environment for your Atomic Habits
The environment places a large role in the failure or success of habit formation. The environment can be used as a visual cue to trigger a habit. Hence it is very important to design your environment so as to play cue for the habit
For example: If you want to practice playing guitar, Place the guitar on its stand at the center of the room. This will serve as a reminder that you need to play guitar whenever you have free time.
This can work in a negative aspect as well if you are on diet. The fridge at home contains all the unhealthy stuff like cola or chocolate, so when you are hungry and search for food in the fridge you are more likely to end having chocolates and cola that are stored in the fridge.
Hence increase the exposure to positive cues that will help you create a particular relationship with the objects in the surrounding. Your behavior becomes stable when the surrounding becomes stable.
The Self Control
This is the more discussed topic in the world of self-help. But James Clear in his Book Atomic Habits demystifies the topic. He says that disciplined people are those who structure their lives in such a way that they do not require any heroic willpower and self-control.
Bad Habits are autocatalytic meaning they feed themselves. The most reliable way to cut the bad habit is to cut off from the source.
Eg -Spending too much money on electronics, quit reading the review of the latest gadgets
Wasting to much time on watching TV then move the TV out of the bedroom
Make the cue invisible. James mentions that self-control is a short term strategy. Hence it is better to spend energy optimizing the environment.
Make it Attractive
Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. When dopamine rises the motivation to act also rises. We need to make habits attractive because it is the expectation of a rewarding experience that motivates us to act in the first place.
This can be used to our advantage by using temptation bundling. Temptation bundling mentions linking what you want to do with an action that you need to do.
An example of a Temptation building can be used as if you like to watch Netflix and you are looking to build in the habit of walking. This can be combined. Just before starting a show on Netflix ensure that you walk for a min or two and post which you watch series on Netflix
Finding and Fixing Bad Habits
Craving arises from the underlying motive for the following reason and its manifestation of a deeper underlying motive.
- Conserve Energy
- Obtain Food & water
- Find love and reproduce
- Connect and bond with others
- Win social Acceptance and approval
- Reduce uncertainty
- Achieve status and prestige
Habits are about the association and it decides whether we predict a habit to be worth repeating or not. Habit successfully addresses a motive and one develops a craving to do it again.
Simply changing one word can shift the way you view each event. Reframing your habit to highlight its benefits rather than their drawbacks is the best way to reprogram your mind
Reframe “ I am Nervous” to “I am excited and getting an adrenaline rush to help me concentrate.”
The key to finding and fixing the causes of bad habits is to reframe the association you have with it.
Make it Easy
The more we repeat an activity the more structure of your brain changes to become efficient at that activity. Each activity improves and tightens neural connections. This simply means that simply putting in the reps is one of the most critical steps we can take to encode a new habit.
You need to string together enough successful attempts until the behavior is firmly embedded in your mind.
Law of Least Effort
Energy is precious and the brain is wired to conserve it whenever possible. Whenever there are two options we often tend to choose the option which needs the least effort. Similarly, the effort which needs the least effort is more likely to occur
When starting a new habit then one needs to create an environment that creates the least friction for that habit. Eg The food delivery app which reduces the friction of shopping physically.
lesser friction to a habit is likely that habit will be repeated. To eliminate bad habits create friction for the habit. A bit of friction can be a game-changer in the game of Habits of good or Bad.
The Two Minute Rule to Create Atomic Habits
Researchers say that about 40-50 percent of our actions on any given day are done out of habit. Atomic Habits highlights the technique called the Two Minute Rule – Which says that starting a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.
Eg -Reading before bed each night becomes – Read one page
Make the habit as easy as possible to start. The first two minutes should be easy to follow the habit. This will help you to become consistent and will help in forming the habit. First, standardize then optimize.
We rarely think in this way, everyone is consumed by the end goal. Focus on mastering the first two minutes of habit. Don’t wait, start now.
From Good to Master
Choose the habit that suits your personality. Like if you like rock climbing then the habits and workout around will be different compared to a bodybuilder. It is important to form a habit that suits you and not that is popular.
The most common way is to trial and explores which habit suits. Atomic habits suggest some questions like
- What feels fun to me, but work for others?
- What makes me lose track of time?
- What comes to me naturally?
- What do I get greater returns from than an average person?
James clear says that at times it is better to be different than being the best because it may be easier and also more rewarding. If such a field does not exist then James says that create one and be the top in that field.
James Clear also followed the same trick and designed a major called biomechanics by selecting to study a combination of physics, chemistry, biology, and anatomy.
Stay motivated for Life
Follow the Goldilocks rule which states that a human experiences peak motivation when working on a task that is right on the edge of current abilities, not too hard or not too easy. This is also applicable when starting a new habit.
The major difference between the best and everyone is that the best in the fields can handle the boredom that comes with everyday training following the same routine. Successful people feel the same lack of motivation. They manage to push through the training despite the feeling of boredom.
A little bit of challenge in habit keeps the habit interesting.No habit stays interesting forever. To become excellent the way is to keep doing the same thing over and over.
The Downside of Creating Habit
The more you repeat a habit, it forms muscle memory, and then it gets automated. Once it gets automated we get less automatic and become easier for mistakes to slide in. Once the skill has been mastered there is usually a slight decline in the performance over time.
The way to surpass this is once a skill is mastered then is built on a new skill over it. We need to be conscious of our performance.
This book highlights the importance of habit. How it can play in either way can be good as well as bad for us. Learning about the science behind the behavior will help you to understand why you behave in a particular manner.
Atomic Habits reveals the pattern of how habits are formed and daily practicing it even if it for a small-time can have a compounding effect over time. So start slow and practice a skill every day so that it forms a habit and eventually you master it.
This is must read for the people who are looking to develop new habits or quitting a bad habit. Irrespective , I think this should be read by every individual to learn about habit and its science.
One Line Takeaway
- Start small and be consistent in your effort to develop a habit
- Environment plays a big role in forming a habit , optimizing it such that it helps habit formation.
- Once a skill is mastered , learn a new skill and keep stacking it over the existing skill to be an expert