June 5, 2023

20 insights from Atomic Habits by James Clear

With the same habits, you end up with the same results. But with better habits, anything is possible.

Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you're willing to stick with them for years. We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits.  With the same habits, you end up with the same results. But with better habits, anything is possible.

1) Aim to get 1% better everyday! We often overestimate  the big changes, those defining moments and underestimate the importance of making small improvements on a daily basis. Guess what? Massive success doesn't require massive action. While 1% improvement isn’t particularly notable, sometimes not even noticeable, getting better 1% each day for one year, means you’ll end up 37 times better. Be aware of repeating 1% errors day after day, because while small errors are easy to dismiss, over time it will lead to problems.

2) There are three layers of behavior change: outcomes, processes and identity. When you focus on outcomes you focus on the end result. It’s probably what we use most. When you focus on the processes, you focus on your habits and systems, meaning building a routine with better habits. However, when we focus on identity we focus on changing our beliefs. While all levels play a role, focusing on the identity, on who we wish to become. It’s the only way for habits to stick and for us to achieve a specific outcome.

3) The process of building a habit can be divided in four simple stages: cue, craving, response and reward. These stages form an endless cycle that is forever present, creating a habit loop. The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and ultimately becomes associated with the cue. Using the four laws of behavior change helps you create good habits and breaking bad ones:

  • Law 1 (Cue): Make it obvious.
  • Law 2 (Craving): Make it attractive.
  • Law 3 (Response): Make it easy.
  • Law 4 (Reward): Make it satisfying.

4) Behavior change starts with awareness. We underestimate how much we do on autopilot. The way that James provides us with is a “pointing and calling”. Whenever in doubt, call out the behavior and ask yourself “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be?”. Pointing out the action and the outcome it will have can help you become aware of your habits and how they stack up against your desired identity.

5) Once you have decided what habit you want to implement, get clarity on when and where you will perform it. The more specific the easier it will be to act.

           I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].

If you already have other habits as part of your existing routine, consider habit stacking in the following manner:

           After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

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.

6) We are changed by the world around us, so make sure that the best choice is the most obvious one. Design your environment in such a way that it supports your good habits and not your bad ones. Lastly, reassess your relationship with the objects in your environment, think about how you interact with the spaces around you. Does your environment support you or hinder you?

7) Self-control is a short term strategy when it comes to implementing and sticking with new/good habits. Instead of relying on your willpower, think of inversing the 1st law of behavior change and make the cue invisible.

8) It’s the anticipation of a reward - not the fulfilment of it - that gets us to take action. The wanting centres in our brains are larger than the liking centres. Meaning it’s more about wanting rewards than liking them. You can use the “wanting”, the temptation habit with a habit you want as follows:

           After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].

9) We imitate the habits of three groups in particular:

  • The close. We pick up habits from the people around us. Willingly or unwillingly. So surround yourself with people who have habits you want to have yourself.
  • The many. We want to get along with others. We want to fit in. We want to belong. To the point that we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
  • The powerful. We imitate the people we admire because we want to be like them. The powerful have power, prestige, and status which gives them approval, respect and praise, things we humans find attractive.

10) Reframe your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks. Make use of positive reframing to ensure that the cues you provide your brain with support the behavior you are looking for. Here is a simple reframe. You don’t have to do X. You get to do X.

11) There is a big difference between being in motion and taking action. Being in motion means you’re planning, strategizing and learning. Taking action is really producing an outcome. Therefore, habits are formed based on the frequency with which we execute certain behavior. The more you perform a habit, the more automatic it becomes.

12) Design your environment to make cues more obvious, an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. Reduce the friction associated with good habits, and increase the friction associated with the bad habits. Make the good habit the path of least resistance.

13) The “Two-Minute Rule” is an easy way to start a habit. When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do. Master the habit of showing up. Use rituals to allow you to slip into the habit you want to implement.

14) The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do. Consider using a commitment device, which refers to a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future (e.g. set your phone on silence, buy a good mattress, delete games from your phone, buy lots of foods and vegetables when in the store).

15) We are not looking for just any type of satisfaction. We are looking for immediate satisfaction. Therefore, the vital thing in getting a habit to stick is to feel successful - even if in a small way. That way you can stick with a habit even if it has a delayed reward (e.g. exercising, eating healthy, starting a business).

16) Use habit tracking as a way to stick with your habits. Consider things like “never break the chain” (e.g. reading every day). Even when you miss once, make sure you never miss twice. Feeling that we are making progress is one of the most satisfying feelings.

17) Find an accountability partner. Because we care about what others think of us, we put in more effort to not disappoint them. To take it a step forward, consider a habit contract where there is a penalty for not performing your habit.

18) Rely on your strengths, your natural inclinations and abilities. That’s the secret to maximizing the odds of success. What feels fun to you, but like work to others? What makes you lose track of time? Where do you get greater returns than others? What comes naturally to you? Work hard on the things that come easy.

19) The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right. Challenging, but not impossible.

20) The upside of habits is that we can do things without thinking. The downside is that we get used to doing things a certain way and we stop paying attention to little errors. That’s why it is important to reflect and review your habits to allow you to continue to improve over time using habits that serve your goals.

Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It’s a system to improve, an endless process to refine. Enjoy the journey!

Written by Andreea Pap

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