Atomic Habits by James Clear is a solid book with the subtitle An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. It’s a fast read with lots of tangible steps to take and systems in it.
Clear starts with the attention-grabbing story of getting hit square in the face with a baseball bat in high school, almost losing his life. He writes about the habits he started to build while in college, with habits defined as a routine or behavior that is performed regularly—and in many cases, automatically. Small habits that accumulate can make a big difference, working on the same principle as compound interest. Also, your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits, often without huge changes until eventually leading to exponential results. Goals are the results you want to achieve, and systems the more important processes that lead to those results.
The book details how behavior change is about outcomes, processes, and identity, with the most impactful identity, being someone who does something or does things a certain way. For instance, “I’m not a smoker” rather than “I want to quit smoking.” Your habits are how you embody your identity. As you do something, you become that thing and the best way to change who you are is to change what you do. Clear notes that people should first decide the type of person they want to be, then prove it to themselves with small wins. Habits can change your beliefs about yourself and are mental shortcuts learned from experience. Clear notes that to build better habits, one should make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying:
1. Make it obvious - The first step is to simply notice what your habits are. From there you can take actions. You can make a specific plan of steps to take that are to become a habit, and the more specific, the better. Make the habits you want right in front of you to implement. For instance, if you want to eat healthy, buy fruit and put it out on the table for you to grab from.
2. Make it attractive - You can pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do. For instance, if you do ten 10 burpees, you can check your social media. A good way to build better habits is to join a group where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
3. Make it easy - Habits aren’t hard to form, they simply come from reps. You can set yourself up for success at forming habits by priming your environment so the habit easy to do. Remove the friction associated with good behaviors, increase the friction associated with bad behaviors. It’s ok to reduce your habits at first, to make them small. For instance, reading at night can begin with “read for two minutes.” Just show up, don’t worry about what happens next as in doing so repeatedly, your identity becomes that of someone who shows up.
4. Make it satisfying - It’s good to create rewards for good behavior. For instance, using toothpaste that leaves your mouth feeling good. The brushing is what’s important, but the taste is what’s satisfying. A habit tracker is a simple way to feel good about what you’re doing. A good way to think about falling short on doing something is the law of two, it’s ok to miss something once, you don’t want to miss it twice. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Towards the end, Clear notes that the goldilocks rule states that people experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right at the edge of their current abilities. The greatest threat to success is not failure, but boredom. Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated, but you have to work through boredom. It’s the ability to keep going when work isn’t exciting that makes the difference. Habits + deliberate practice = mastery.