Atomic Habits by James Clear

Clear, James 2019.06
Jacket design by Pete Garceau; cover shown with permission from Penguin Random House

One of the fears I have is that I will get to the end of my life to find that I never reached my potential. I beat myself up because I tell myself I could do better in certain areas, but then I quit because I’m not improving or progress seems slow. Setting goals and then being discouraged when they are not reached is very common. We set goals, we fail to accomplish them, then we think something’s wrong with us, that we aren’t good enough, that people who succeed in reaching their goals are better in some way that is just out of our grasp.

Atomic Habits, however, breaks down the ways that simple, small changes in your habits, over time can reveal remarkable results, and often it’s simply the difficulty of maintaining a small change over time, because it’s boring and doesn’t seem to be working, that really gets in the way of accomplishing our goals. Also, when we fail to make the mental shift of who we want to be to actually being that person, we are destined to fall back into the patterns that got us here in the first place. Clear’s directions can be broken down into two short, bullet-ed lists:

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

And to accomplish these small wins follow the four laws of behavior change:

  1. How can I make it obvious?
  2. How can I make it attractive?
  3. How can I make it easy?
  4. How can I make it satisfying?

Each one of these laws is broken down with multiple, practical, bite-sized steps to create a new positive habit, as well as corresponding steps to take to break a bad habit. What made this book stand out to me was:

  • Research has shown that burn-out and boredom are the main nemeses of new habits, so Clear encourages his reader take small steps, ex. Want to do fifty push-ups a day? Start with one.
  • Straight-forward, clear steps such as “Habit stacking”, in which you stack a new habit with one you do naturally already. For me this has been “After my daughter goes to bed I will write for 20 minutes” (notice I said 20 minutes, not an hour, which would impede more on my personal life and make it undesirable. See Law of Behavior change #2)
  • This book really helped me understand that when I’ve failed to reach a goal, it’s not that the goal was impossible to reach, but that I didn’t set the proper systems for accomplishing it.

This diagram of “The Plateau of Latent Potential from page 22 felt like the real-life explanation of every healthy habit I’ve ever formed. Just when I think “I’ve been doing this for months and nothing’s happening!” Suddenly there are results, Everything takes time, even when we want instant results.Clear, James 2019.06 diagram

James Clear has been talking about habit building for years on his site, based on lessons he learned from having to re-build himself after a devastating baseball accident. This book is filled with tons of versatile insights that would be valuable to anyone looking for change or growth. There were so many different avenues for building habits I believe anyone could cobble together an individual plan that works for them. I read this as an audio-book, read by the author, and really enjoyed it, but there is a lot of helpful information in the physical book so I would recommend taking a look at that as well if you are truly serious about remarkable change.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Published: October 16, 2018

I read this as: an audio-book from Overdrive and a hardback purchased from publisher

If you like this you may enjoy:

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

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