Atomic Habits by James Clear book summary

Actionable Book Summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear

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The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Our habits shape our identity. Atomic Habits by James Clear offers a step-by-step plan for building better habits for a lifetime. The backbone of the manual is composed of a four-step model which includes: cue, craving, response, and reward. The book is full of practical advice, stories from famous leaders and worldly recognized athletes. A must-have for everyone looking for a way to change his life and direct it towards greatness.

The Core Idea:

“Change your habits and you’ll change your life,” says the author of the book, James Clear. The person running the website where he’s sharing articles and useful tips for adopting positive habits and cleansing the destructive behavior sabotaging our every move. The reason he is so obsessed with habits it’s obvious: humans are creatures of habits. If you teach your body and mind to do good things, consistently over time, good things will happen to you. If you’re willing to do the work, this book will teach you the essentials of habit change which will help you live a better life.

5 Key Lessons from Atomic Habits:

Lesson #1: Marginal Gains Strategy

A philosophy mentioned in the book states the following: “If you make tiny improvements in everything you do, you’ll inevitably improve your results.” This concept is called “the aggregation of marginal gains.”

The concept was announced first by Dave Brailsford – the performance director of the Britsh Cycling team in 2003. Brailsford said that “the whole principle comes from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1 percent, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.”

As simple as it might sound, the marginal gains strategy is extremely powerful.

This can be implemented in everything you do. In your business, life, even in your relationship.

If you slightly improve the efforts you put in all the different task that accompany а larger outcome, the overall result will be significantly better over time.

Consider for a moment the efforts you put in the gym. If you improve, slightly, your workouts, your diet plan, you drink less alcohol, eat less sugar, after a couple of months you’ll surely feel and look better. Initially, the tiny changes will feel insignificant, but after being repeated, over and over again, they’ll lead to great results.

Basically, by doing small improvements that sometimes are not even noticeable, you repeat them daily, you’ll gain. Sadly, not a lot of people are up for the challenge. Small improvements mean no obvious results, at least initially. Unfortunately, we, people, are kind of addicted to immediate gratification and waiting too long for results feels discouraging.

My suggestion: deconstruct your tasks, goals, or what you want to improve in small tasks and make small improvements. If you’re able to endure the lack of initial obvious results you’ll gain a lot over time.

Lesson #2: How Habits Work

A single habit can be disassembled into the following four steps: cue, craving, response, reward.

  • Cue: This is a visual signal (or it can be something else) that triggers your brain to initiate a certain behavior. The cue usually predicts a certain reward. For instance, when you enter a bakery the smell will be the cue. The reward here will be eating nice food.
  • Craving: The second step is craving. This is the motivational force behind every habit. It’s usually a feeling that comes after a certain act. For instance, after smelling freshly baked bread you’ll crave for it. You won’t crave for the act of eating, you’ll desire the outcome of that act – satisfying your taste receptors and feeling well-fed.
  • Response: The response state is the actual act. The habit itself. If the level of motivation is high, you’ll act. If we continue with the example from above, we’ll have to say that if we’re hungry, or the smell is really nice, we won’t resist the temptation. We’ll buy a burger or a bagel and eat it. Your response to the cue is the actual habit.
  • Reward: The response stage delivers a certain reward. It’s the final destination. If the cue is a smell, the craving is for a good taste in our mouth, the act is eating, then the feeling after, or while, we eat food is the reward.

That’s the whole process in short.

If the reward feels good, our brain will record this four-step process and execute it every time you smell something that feels good.

If you’re following along, you’ll understand that the fewer cues you encounter, and here I’m talking about mostly cues that have a negative outcome over your life, the fewer the negative outcomes.

Lesson #3: Focus On Who You Want To Become Rather Than What You Want To Achieve

Most people approach changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. They put more efforts and thoughts on the outcome, not on their actions. The right approach, instead, should be focusing on who you wish to become, not what you want as a prize at the end.

The above might sound strange but let me elaborate with an example:

  • Outcome-based habits look like this: If you want to become a best-selling author you start dreaming about being famous and all other things that accompany an author. You focus on the end-goal and you don’t put a lot of efforts on the important task, writing.
  • Identity-based habits look like this: You want to become a writer? You want other people to associate your persona with someone who writes? Then, what you should do? You should write, obviously. So, you get a pen and a paper and you start executing this ancient form of art regularly. You don’t put a lot of pressure on the goal – best-selling author. You focus on the habit of writing and the results coming afterward will be just a bonus.
“With outcome-based habits, the focus is on what you want to achieve. With identity-based habits, the focus is on who you wish to become.” James Clear

A lot of times people trying to quit smoking cigarettes will tell you that they are “trying to quit.” In their minds, they’re still smokers which is basically preventing them from quitting this nasty habit. On the other hand, someone who is really trying to quit will tell you: “I’m not a smoker.”

The second dude really believes that he is no longer a smoker. And people who don’t believe they are smokers simply don’t smoke.

The lesson here is really simple: Instead of focusing on becoming stronger or healthier, simply do things that resonate with people who are strong or healthier. For instance, strong, muscular people exercise daily. Basically, your grand goal should be to make the desired habit part of your identity.

Lesson #4: The Surrounding Environment Is More Important Than You Think

Your surrounding environment is the invisible force that shapes your behavior and life. Despite the fact that we’re unique, certain trends in your actions arise under specific environmental conditions.

When you go to the store, how many times you end up buying things that you don’t really need? Or such that you see for the first time? Be honest. A lot, right?

In 1952, the economist Hawkins Stern describes a phenomenon called Suggestion Impulse Buying. This “is triggered when a shopper sees a product for the first time and visualizes a need for it.”

How this affect your life?

Well, in a lot of ways. If your fridge is full of sweets, bagels, chips, junk food in general, you’ll constantly eat these sugary delights. The more obvious and easy to obtain something is, the more you’ll buy it and use it. This is the reason big brands are paying a lot of money to big stores so they can reserve the eye-level placement of their top products. The more visible a product is, the higher the sales. That’s a fundamental principle of product marketing.

So, put some thought when decorating your apartment. Fill your fridge with healthy meals and place your workout clothes somewhere visible if you want to exercise more.

Lesson #5: Say When You’re Going To Do It

The most powerful technique that will help you build better habits in the future and also allow you to achieve your forthcoming goals is to set deadlines.

Write things down. Setting deadlines increases the odds for people to stick with their habits, and goals in general.

Think about it. If you only wish for something good or new to happen, without actually acting, you’ll never do it. If you don’t set deadlines that will cause you heavy breathing and make you feel uncomfortable, you’ll never make the difference you want for yourself. You’ll simply be one of those guys/girls who only talks a lot and doesn’t do much.

In contrast, people who make specific plans and set deadlines are more likely to push till the end.

You’ll often hear people say stuff like: “I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to get fit,” but they never say when and where these things will happen.

So, if you want to really make a change, get a pen and paper and write down where you’ll workout and when.

Love taking notes? Download the worksheet:

Actionable Notes:

  • Reframe your habits: Exercising or saving money is hard. Especially if you have a track record of someone who loves to shop. Many people associate saving money with deprivation. However, this can be associated with something different: freedom. In order to change your daily actions, you need to reprogram your brain. Understand one simple truth: Living below your current means increases your future means. The money you save this month increases your purchasing power next month. The money you put aside the following months will eventually help you live the life you really want to live.
  • The paper clip strategy: Start each day with two jars. Fill the one with paper clips. The other should be empty. As soon as you make a sales call, send an email to a potential client, write for 25 minutes, whatever you want to do, move one paper clip from the full jar to the empty jar. You can stop doing what you should be doing once all paper clips are moved from jar number 1 to jar number 2.
  • The two-minute rule: We all know we should start small, but how small exactly? For some, visiting the gym once can feel like moving a mountain. The most effective way to get moving is to use the Two-Minute Rule, which states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.” Instead of going to the gym, you can start with 5 pushups.
  • Design your environment for success: If you’re having hard times to adopt a good habit, redesign your home. Place your training gear in the living room, or somewhere else where it will be clearly visible. This visual cue will motivate you to workout. If you want to break a bad habit, hide all things that are prompting you to do “bad” stuff. Hide your phone while you work and get rid of the junk food from the fridge so you can lose weight. The more things you have lying around, the more you’ll use them. Just make sure you have useful stuff/people around. It’s that simple.
  • What type of person do you want to become? Don’t stress so much on what you’re doing, focus more on what type of person you want to become. Your end goal shouldn’t be to learn an instrument, your goal should be to become a musician.

Commentary And My Personal Takeaway

I was expecting a good book and I was not disappointed. I’m a vivid reader of the articles published by James Clear for years. And the work he did on Atomic Habits is admirable. What we all need to understand is the importance of habits and the book is a piece of content you really want in your library.

These regular practices (habits) have the power to change lives. If you’re maintaining a good caliber of habits, you’ll thrive – fell good, look good, enjoy your life. On the other hand, if you’re intolerant about your daily routines you’ll sink.

Keep in mind though, there is no finish line. Keeping good habits is a continuous process. There is never a real victory. There are only improvements and constant work. That’s the secret of achieving world-famous results. Also, the reason very few people succeed.

Notable Quotes:

At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.” James Clear

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.” James Clear

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” James Clear

Actionable Book Summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear
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