Book Summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear
Updated: Dec 22, 2021
Author: James Clear
We always wanna try something new.
We always try to improvise ourselves.
We always try to upgrade ourselves.
We always dream big.
Just so our dreams are big, so does our beginnings. We begin and start doing it for a few days. The moment we don’t see the results coming together, we begin to build doubt around what we had set out to achieve. In no time, we stop heading towards what we had dreamt off.
Doesn’t it sound familiar to you. That is you, that is me, that is most of us.
I wanted to become Mr. Madurai (the place where I hailed from) when I was 16 years old. I wanted to build myself with the inspirations of Stallone and Schwarzenegger and win a body building title. I joined a gym and started the journey. The first day started off with complete power and grit and it slowly faded and faded and vanished before a month’s time.
I’d work out everyday and see myself in the mirror. A day passed, a week passed, no changes. Two weeks passed and again no changes. And finally I had quit.
I always wanted to read. I began to read sincerely with a mindset that I’ll read 30 min everyday. The first day is always a success. The second day, I forced myself to stick to it and read for 30 min. The third day the force becomes a little reluctant. The attempt to read book consistently just vanishes in the fourth day. The very thought that I couldn’t complete the book in 2 or 3 days didn’t thrill myself. I failed. The fact I failed to remind myself is that the purpose of reading a book is to set out a journey towards accumulating knowledge, and it is not a competition I had set to achieve.
In both the instances, I had the intention right but still failed. What could have gone wrong in my attempts?
If you have also been a victim of this. Then this book is for you.
This book is a practical guide for building good habits and breaking bad ones.
It talks about the science behind how our brain perceives habits. It talks about the environmental and social factors behind building habits. It presents a complete guide about how you can set out to achieve what you had intended to achieve.
Attach Habits to your Identity
Attaching your habit to your identify is the first step in building a habit or breaking one.
I wanna become a respectable businessman, so reading helps me get there.
I wanna become a good father and be a role-model for my son, so smoking in front of my son is not gonna help me get there.
Four Rules of Behaviour Change
Our habit building is based around these four words. It suits for both building good habits and breaking bad ones too.
Cue, Crave, Respond, Reward
The right Cue triggers your brain to Crave, The Craving urges you to Respond. The Response takes you to the Reward. Your brain enjoys this journey and the cycle continues.
You ride a bike in a busy road, you see a Shawarma Centre to your left (Cue), suddenly you feel the appetite and you wanna have it (Crave), you pull over immediate at the shop and buy a Shawarma (Respond), you satisfy yourself with a good Shawarma (Reward). May be it is Shawarma for me, may be it is something else for you.
Come on, Since I like Shawarma, this journey from Cue to Reward worked out super easy.
But how do I set out to achieve a good habit or break a bad one which isn’t easy like consuming a Shawarma.
There are rules in carrying it out.
Cue - Make it obvious
The first rule to setting a Cue for building a Good Habit is to “Make it Obvious”
Before you start building new habits, you must be well aware of the habits you already have.
Adding place and time to your habit. We always say that I wanna start doing something, but forget it. Adding a place and time to it prepares our mind towards achieving it.
I am going to write for 30 min in the bedroom when I get back from office.
I will read for 30 min in my bed before I go to sleep
Adding a time and place to your mind, pushes you and remind you constantly to achieve what you had intended to.
Remember those New year resolutions? That is one of this.
You already have a habit. Try to attach your new habit to your existing one.
Once I get back from work, I will refresh myself and immediately start writing for 30 min in the living area.
You already have a habit of refreshing yourself once you get back to work. Now you are attaching a new habit of writing along with an existing one. Now your brain reminds you that you need to write for 30 min as soon as you refresh after reaching home.
Stacking a new habit to your current habit.
Your environment plays a crucial role in making your new habits a successful one. Fix a place for particular habit. Tell yourself that, I will read for 30 min only in my bed. I will write in my desk or in my living room after refreshing myself. Now don’t try to mix the reading place for writing and vice versa. The place is another Cue and you cannot mix it. Bad Habits
We gotta reverse the Cue rule for breaking Bad habits. “Make it less obvious”. If you do not wanna fiddle with your smartphone for the time meant for your kids, put the smartphone out of your reach in a different room.
If you think you are so good in Self Control. You may have to rethink it.
Self control is short term. Avoiding is better than resisting.
Bringing change to the context or environment is long term.
Crave - Make it attractive
Why did I Crave for that Shawarma? Coz, the smell attracted me and I know its taste will too.
We gotta make the Craving attractive.
Dopamine plays a main role here.
Dopamine gets generated not only when you achieve something, but also when you see what you are about to achieve. In fact, it is more when you Crave than when you achieve the Reward.
Bundling your new habit with your most tempted existing habit.
In Habit Stacking, the new habit is followed by the existing habit.
Here, the existing habit is followed by the new habit.
Lets’ assume you have that urge to scroll through your phone as soon as you wake up.
I will meditate for 5 min before I touch my mobile phone.
I will make those 3 sales calls post lunch before I watch content from my favourite youtuber.
You can also couple “Habit Stacking” with “Temptation Bundling” to link the Cue to your Craving. Something like this.
After I refresh myself after reaching home, I will write for 30 min.
After I write for 30 min, I will watch an episode of my favourite show in Netflix.
Now, I’m telling my mind that if I had to watch my Netflix show, I will have to write for 30 min.
We are not born genius. We always imitate the people around us.
We imitate the Close
We imitate the many
We imitate the power
1. Imitating the Close:
Surround yourself with people who aren’t different than you. If you wanna become a vast reader, being in a room full of Netflix bingers isn’t a good choice. Coz, sooner you are going to be a part of them. Affiliate yourself with a Book club or Meet up where you are not the odd man out.
2. Imitating the Many:
Be a part of a tribe. Ever since we were foragers, we always longed for the belongingness. We always wanna be a part of a group. It still remains the same to this day. Make yourself a part of a group that elevates your habit and builds your sense of belongingness.
3. Imitating the Power:
Approvals, respect and power generates a lot of dopamine. Affiliating your habit with the Approval and respect you could earn from it is indeed powerful.
Respond - Make it easy
We might layout excellent plans and derive strategies towards achieving what we desired for. But what’s the point in planning if its purpose is to only stay in papers. Action is what that matters.
Action is important than just motion. I've been planning to get this client is totally different from having the client onboarded.
Seeking Perfection is a myth and is definitely not a good driver for us. Instead, seeking Repetition will help you master the very habit you have set out to achieve.
The automaticity is important and not the amount of time you spend in the behaviour. Screw perfection and just focus on the habit in a way you get it done automatically.
Lesser efforts. Lean methodology. Remove unwanted clutters to make the task easy.
Instead of planning to take 100 push ups a day, how about start with 1 push up per day. Sounds easy right. When you get accustomed to the habit of taking 1 push up per day, then tweaking it to your desired numbers will become reasonable. The crucial thing is training yourself to carry out this task like a clockwork.
2 Min rule
Make the habit that can be completed in 2 min. The point is to make you show up for that habit every day. Once you have become consistent in that, it becomes a ritual. Once it has become a ritual, it gets easy to be converted into a habit.
Create checkpoints between you and your bad habit.
Automate using tech for tasks a machine can do, so that you can focus on tasks only humans can do.
Example: Pay upfront a year's subscription to motivate you to hit gym everyday.
Reward - Make it satisfying
A behaviour gets repeated when the experience is satisfying.
Human brain is evolved to prioritize Immediate rewards than Delayed rewards.
A behaviour that is immediately rewarded is repeated, the ones that are immediately punished are avoided.
Delayed rewards are often linked to Good habits, while Immediate rewards are for the bad ones.
Unlike Smoking that gives an instant kick, exercising takes time for its rewards to be visible.
You need to feel those small wins on your long journey towards Delayed rewards to keep yourself engaged and make yourself repeat the behaviour.
If the first 3 rules of Behaviour change makes sure that you do it this time, this rule of “Make it satisfying” is about making sure you do it repeatedly.
Habit Tracker is one such powerful tool. It has the power to Cue, Crave and Satisfy your journey towards building good habits or breaking bad ones.
Track your habits like “Habit Stacking”. Each tick is your reward, each progress shown in the Tracker is your reward.
Never miss a habit twice. If you miss today, try to get back to it sooner.
Getting into the perfection myth is bad for building habits. “You either do it well or you don’t do it at all”, is a very bad advice when you are set to create a good habit for yourself.
The most important thing is to show up for that habit, not to be perfect in it.
If the metric you track is not satisfying for you, change the metric that is more meaningful and keep you intact.
Accountability Partner / Habit Contract
You need someone to do this. It could be your spouse, siblings, friend, anyone. Have them as your accountability partner to ensure you carry out your habit. It comes with a price.
You lose something every time you miss out on your habit.
Like, you pay your friend a 100 USD every time you miss your gym workout.
You can't compromise on that. You can even go to an extreme to document it or do a contract so that you don't skip what's important.
Good to Great Journey
Genes determine your personality. Choose your habit based on your strengths. If you are not able to identify a field based on what your strengths are, then create a field for yourself.
Humans experience peak motivation and enter the flow state when their tasks are the edge of their current capabilities.
Enemy of success is not failure, it is boredom.
Humans always expect novelty in whatever they do.
Amateurs complain boredom, while professionals master them.
Side-effects of good habits
You become so good at a habit that you can do it automatically. One of its biggest downside is that you do not see the flaws you got, it makes you skip the errors.
Reflections and Reviews are the antidote here. Find specific periods and systems to reflect and review your progress and flaws to ensure you don't stagnate but continue to work on improvements after you have embraced automaticity.
The four rules of behaviour changes, make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, make it satisfying, it does not stop at any point. Remember, the purpose is to make yourself better by 1%. The loop just continues forever. After all, it is those tiny changes that bring those remarkable results.