James Clear is one of the top personal development bloggers next to Mark Manson. So, I wasn’t surprised when his first book Atomic Habits blew up after Mark’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck blew up. They both deserve their success.
The best part is that these books have sold so well that they’re being recommended and introduced to new people who aren’t familiar with the self development world.
Anyhow, here are my book notes and my review. You can use this as a short cheat sheet anytime you forget something.
Atomic Habits Book Summary
- Systems are more important than setting goals to make results.
- A goal will take care of itself with a good system.
- A goal always puts off happiness to the future while a system doesn’t.
- Making tiny improvements everyday compound into something huge over a lifetime.
- Habits are the compound interest of self improvement.
- All habits, including bad habits, exist because they are benefiting you on some level.
- A subtle shift from setting a goal of achieving something to becoming the identity makes all the difference
- Become a runner rather than run a marathon
- Become someone proud of their nails stops chewing their nails
- You act like the type of person you want to be
- Think of yourself as someone who gets up early rather than set a goal to get up early
- As your career or life changes, the identities you can justifiably identify with might change. You can still select identities that you want to become by repositioning the way you phrase it. For example, maybe you are no longer an athlete because you retired. But you can say you are someone who demands that he exercises every day because it is part of his life style.
- Identities and habits can work against you too
- Thinking you are bad at math or not good at social situations makes you resist certain actions
- Based on studies, you’re more likely to accomplish your goals and create habits if you prepare a plan for where, when, and how you will do something
- Habit stacking is adding on a habit after something you always do on a recurring basis, chaining a habit onto another habit acting as a trigger
- Make it obvious and specific with time and location for it to work
- If you’re not specific enough, the trigger will be unclear.
- You can sandwich a good habit between rewarding habits as an incentive, called temptation bundling. For example, after you get out your phone, do ten burpees, then check Facebook
- You can chain a habit to a pleasant habit you do already too.
- You can condition yourself to have certain feelings or a state of mind By associating a routine with a behavior that creates those feelings and take out the behavior after many times, like thumping your chest and then playing pump up music to get energized and eventually getting energized by just pumping your chest.
- Lets say you are in a good mood each time you pet a puppy or have a bath. You can chain that with three deep breaths beforehand. Once chained, you can bring out your three breaths each time you are feeling bad and want to feel better.
- Research shows that people do things that are more convenient and obvious to them. They buy things more often at eye level and at the end of aisles. They use less energy when the energy meter in their house is more visible and easy to track. They drink more water and less soda when there is more accessible vending machines everywhere.
- Place your triggers or objects for your habit in obvious places rather than hidden places.
- Put apples in the middle of the table rather than in the cabinet.
- Place water bottles in common locations if you want to drink more water.
- Place a guitar in the middle of the living room if you want to play more.
- Place a book on your desk rather than tucked in a corner if you want to read more.
- The four step process to forming a habit are trigger, craving, action, and reward.
- To break a bad habit, you do the inverse of these four.
- Make it hard for you to have a trigger and craving. Change your environment so the trigger or craving is invisible. Once a habit is wired into the brain, the craving will always be there and when triggered. So set up your environment so you don’t see the trigger anymore.
- Alter cravings by changing the mindset of “I have to” for tasks to “I get to.” You get to wake up early rather than you have to. A guy in a wheelchair that James met said he is grateful for his wheelchair, not bound by it, because it allows him the freedom to move rather than get stuck in his bed.
- For good habits, make the trigger obvious. Don’t rely on willpower to resist temptation. Successful people set up systems so they don’t have to use will power.
- To break a bad habit, Make the action unenjoyable and the results unrewarding.
- We imitate the behaviors of the close by, the many, and the powerful to fit in
- To imitate the close, join a culture where the people already have the identity of who you want to be and a culture that you already have something in common with. It’s already normal for them. (Inserting my own example here: CrossFit if you want to be around people who are more fit.)
- Research shows that if one partner in a relationship gains or loses weight, the other partner also ends up gaining or losing weight.
- We imitate the habits of successful, high status, and prestigious people because we want that for ourselves. We want the approval and respect of others and the resources that come with standing out in a positive way.
- Getting more motivation is like forcing a faster rate of water through a bent water hose. You can do it, but it will cause a lot of tension. It is much easier to reduce points of friction, such as through bending the water hose to make the hole bigger so more water can flow through. Find and fix inefficiencies that distract you from getting your work done.
- You can reduce friction to make habits easier to form. For example, you can lay out clothes before working out so that you don’t have to look for them when you go work out in the mornings to form a habit of exercise.
- You can increase friction for a bad habit you want to break which will slightly make it harder for you to get started. Unplug the television after watching if you don’t want to watch as much television.
- Rather than seeking how long it takes to form a habit, you should be focused on how frequently you repeat the habit. The number of repetitions is more important to when a habit will be formed.
- Change your Environment so that it’s impossible to perform bad behavior or bad habits.
- The invention of the cash registered remove the opportunity for employees to steal money
- Delete games and distracting apps on your phone so you don’t play them
- Unsubscribe from spam email or emails that aren’t useful so you don’t read them
- Before you can start optimizing a habit and doing it for longer, you have to establish it first. If you can’t standardize it, there’s no point trying to optimize it. Therefore, create a gateway habit by only doing the habit for two minutes or less each time. You must stop after two minutes. By making the habit so tiny that it is easy to do, you start to establish the habit. When you lengthen your habit, always stop before it feels like a chore.
- Journal one sentence a day
- Exercise two minutes a day
- There’s a fourth law of behavior change: Make it satisfying
- We are genetically programmed to seek immediate gratification because for thousands of years, our ancestors benefited more from a reliable immediate gratification than a future pay off. But times have changed, and it’s often better to delay gratification for later pay off.
- Find ways of making good habits satisfying to your senses. Wrigley chewing gum turned into a massive company by introducing tasty flavors for the first time for chewing gum. Soap companies like P & G dramatically increased how often people wash their hands and reduced public hygiene problems by making soap more enjoyable with satisfying smells and fun suds that show up when you use the soap.
- Add some instant satisfaction to the end of a good habit because there usually isn’t one to incentive you to keep doing it. After you refrain from eating out, you can add the money to a bank account for a trip to Europe. You can give yourself a bubble bath as a reward for exercising.
- Use a habit tracker like moving paper clips or marbles from one jar to another to have a visual element that shows the benefits of doing what you do. A habit tracker gives you instant satisfaction because you see the progress you make and you’re motivated by your success so far. A habit tracker also acts as a visual cue to continue your habit. Tracking isn’t for everyone but many people can find it benefits their lives. It doesn’t have to be complicated or a hassle. You can automate tracking since you probably already automate a bunch of tracking, such as your credit card statements tracking what you spend money on or Fitbit tracking your steps.
- Each time you complete a habit, it’s like adding another link to a chain or another X on your calendar. Try not to “break the chain” of habits.
- If you miss a day, that’s okay because even successful people miss a day. Never miss two days in a row. Missing more than once is when things start to fall apart.
- The inverse of making a habit satisfying is having punishment to disincentivize bad habits. The punishment must be equal or greater than the strength of the bad behavior. Otherwise, it won’t work.
- Make the punishment immediate, painful, and/or public. When you have another human that depends on you, you’re less likely to break the habit because of how that person perceive you or because you don’t want to let them down. Tom is frank and entrepreneur sets a tweet every morning at 6:10 to say that anyone who reads this gets five dollars. He is incentivized to wake up before then every morning to delete the tweet.
- There will be days when you don’t want to do it because you’re tired or bored. Doing it on these days is what separates winners from average people.
- You must stay within a range where a skill isn’t too difficult or easy so you can grow without frustration or boredom.
Atomic Habits Book Review
I tore through this book. I was a little shocked how quick it was to finish the audiobook.
As a self improvement junkie, the vast majority of the content in the book wasn’t new to me. But I think it will be new to anyone who isn’t as much a fanatic as I am. I think it’s a great book, and the best part is that it’s organized in a concise, digestible, fun, light way. You’ll learn a lot without feeling too overwhelmed.
That said, I still discovered some fresh ideas and exercises that I’ll use.
The light, informative tone he used with his writing also helps keep the book entertaining and engaging.
I would recommend the book to any beginner to intermediate interested in science-backed self help (my favorite). Even some advanced people will gain a few tips. I’d give it a 4.4 out of 5.
For further reading from James, check out his blog and this article on the Habit Scorecard.
Check out James’s Habit Journal on Amazon.com. He spent months designing the system and worksheets in this journal.