Atomic Habits has been making hadlines for some time now. I noted in my review that the reading experience is fluid and the lessons are interesting and gives hope to those who have succumbed to the idea that they cannot overcome their bad habits. Here are the most important lessons from the book:
- Small changes = Immense results: After listening to a motivational speaker or at the start of the new year, we are wll excited to make radical changes to our life but according to James Clear, that is setting yourself up for failure. Instead he wants us to focus on making small chnages to our routine. While these small acts don’t seem to produce any immediate result which can be discouraging, but given enough time, these compound into huge results. Becoming 1% better everyday means being 37 times better at the end of the year. Becoming 1% worse every day means hitting zero.
- Focus on systems and not goals: Yes, goals are important but when we focus too much on them, we stop having fun. We don’t enjoy the process and stake our entire happiness on achieving the goal. If we get what we wanted we are happy otherwise we consider ourselves a failure, forgetting that if we worked for something we must have become better than what we were before. By linking our happiness with our habits or systems we can make our life more fulfilling.
- Habits and your personal identity are closely related: As Aristotle said,”We are what we repeatedly do”, our personalities are being driven by habits. If I exercise, I would start thinking of myself as someone who exercises. If I read books, I’ll call myself a reader. Whatever we do reinforces what we think ourselves of being capable. Notice this work carefully. Whatever you want to do but are not doing, it might be because you think you are not capable of doing it or you are not someone who does that. If you have not spoken on a public forum before, you don’t have evidence for your ability/capability to speak in public. This is what prevents you from trying.
So how do you change? You think of what you want to become (values) and then think of the acts associated with that identity. If you want to become a public speaker, think of what public speakers do. They pratice their speeches. They analyze their body language. They do voice exercises. You need to start. Write a small speech and practise n front of the mirror. Once you’ll start doing these things, even though you’ll be terrible at the beginning (everyone is!), you’ll start improving and given enough time, you’ll become really good at it.
- The First Law: Make it Obvious: To first change something, you must be aware of it. If you want to change something, you need to classify it as something that is not helpful to you in the long run. By listing down everything you do on a piece of paper (called Habits Scorecard), you can identify what you are doing everyday. This helps you take the first important step towards habit change.
Then use an implementation intention which is basically you writing a sentence of the following format: I will [ACT] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]. How is this useful? If you write: I will exercise at 6:00 pm in the gym, when the cloock will strike 6, you’ll automatically feel the urge to complete the task because you made a commitment with yourself.
- Pay attention to the cues: Actions are initiated in response to a cue. Change your cues to change your habits. For example, if you want to eat healthy food, place it somewhere where you’ll often look at it. Similarly don’t stock junk food.
- GOOD HABIT+BAD HABIT: The reason we are attracted to bad habits is because they provide pleasure or fun. By bundling something which you like to do with what you need to do, you raise the possibility of success several times.
- Company matters: Your behaviors are determined by the people you surround yourself with. A great way of changing habits is to become part of a group where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
- Quantity matters: When it comes to building habits, the important thing is repetition. Repeat something enough times and it becomes automatic.
- Make it Easy: Think about what you want to do and what things are preventing you from doing them. Then try to make the task easier by removing those which are removable. The more easier the task becomes, the more likely you are to do it.
- Automate: Use technology and make things like paying bills and saving for retirement automatic. This saves you from fines and makes life easier.