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Atomic Habits Book Summary

Learn to bring new positive habits to your life and rid yourself of bad habits. A system of habits can bring the remarkable results you always aimed for but never achieved before.

Atomic Habits

A book by James Clear

Habits form the way we live our lives. The problem is that we are not fully aware of our habits. We all have plenty of habits, but we rarely know which are beneficial and support our long-term goals. In Atomic Habits, James Clear shows us what a habit is, how we can establish new ones, how we get rid of detrimental ones, and how we can build a complete system of practices that support our aspirations.

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

By reading this book, you will have the necessary knowledge and all the tools you need to build a complete system of supportive habits. This framework will make you successful—whatever that means for you :).

These are the things I learned by reading the Blinks:

  • Outcomes are a lagging measure of habits
  • To reach your long-term goals, you need a system of supportive habits
  • There are clear, proven methods to create new and break detrimental habits

This post is based on the book itself and the Blinks I listened to while walking to work. I learn from Blinkist's content every day. So if you enjoy this post, you will like their content even more.

Key Ideas

Habits are the best tool to achieve what you want in life

A habit is just a memory of the steps you previously followed to solve a problem in the past.

A habit is a behavior we learned because it solved a problem for us in the past. It is something we do automatically without further analysis or thinking. Examples might be washing your face when you get up in the morning, grabbing a coffee at Starbucks on your way to work, or smoking a cigarette because you feel stressed.

Habits do have enormous power over our lives. In the book Atomic Habits, you will learn to utilize this power to your advantage. After reading the book, you will know how to remove bad habits from your life and build new habits that will let you reach your long-term aspirations.

Reach your long-term goals through small changes

The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do.

We carry out most habits on autopilot. We barely notice these small actions. We do not think about most of them. If you eat one snickers bar, it will not do any harm to your body. But if you eat two or three bars each day, it will have a detrimental effect on your health.

On the other hand, if you go for a single 20-minute run because you want to get into shape, you will still be unfit the day afterward.

So if you want to see significant changes next year, you need to start working on the small automatic behaviors in your life.

If you want to save money for your next trip, it might be a good idea to keep the four dollars your Triple-Venti-Soy-No-Foam-Latte costs and put it into a savings account. How much money would you have after one year? 960 dollars. Not too bad.

Quick question? Imagine you want to save for a weekend trip to Hawaii. What will be the better decision to make the trip a reality? Save 500 € now, or remove the habit of drinking that Triple-Venti-Soy-No-Foam-Latte on your commute to work?

4 € * 5 * 52 = 1040 €

The choice is obvious. Do not aim for the one-time significant effort, but focus on the small things you do every day.

Aim for small changes in your daily routines that support your desired goal. The small compound efforts, not the individual exertions, will bring you what you want.

Trigger, Craving, Response, and Reward

Let's get back to the question of what a habit is.

A habit is just a behavior that we do automatically and which is connected to a reward. We learned these rewarding actions from previous experiences.

The constituents of a habit are a trigger, a craving for change, a response, and a reward.

Let us look at an example to understand these elemental components.

If you commute to work and still feel tired, this feeling can be the cue. It triggers the craving to feel alert. The response, in this case, would be the urge to buy a coffee at Starbucks. When the caffeine gets into your bloodstream, you will feel aroused. The feeling of being alert is the reward.

How to get rid of bad habits

We all have certain stimuli we respond to in our lives. When the phone rings, we will stop any conversation we might be in and answer the phone. Just another bad habit.

How can you get rid of one of your bad habits?

Sometimes you just need to change your environment and remove the things that might trigger that bad habit. For example, if you have a bowl of candies on your coffee table, you will eat them because every time you are in the living room, you will see the candies which will trigger the craving to eat them. If you want to tame your sweet tooth, just remove the candies from the table and store them in a drawer, or better, don't buy them in the first place.

Or, if you want to limit your time watching TV, it is a good idea to remove the batteries from the remote control.

Take Netflix, for example. Netflix knows that you will watch more content when they start playing the next episode of your favorite series automatically. They know that you will watch more when they reduce friction.

How to form a new habit

Most often, we refuse to do something because it is a strenuous activity or just not very attractive. If you want to implement a new habit, you should try to make it as attractive as possible. An excellent technique to do just this is to link the unattractive behavior to something you enjoy. For example, if you want to build the habit of regularly exercising because you want the health benefits, but you find working out not attractive. You can link exercising, which you dislike, to listening to an audiobook, which you find enjoyable. Allow yourself only to listen to audiobooks when you exercise. James Clear calls this linking of a distasteful activity to a pleasurable behavior temptation bundling.

The easiest way to introduce a new habit into your life is to use habit stacking. Just take a habit you already cultivate. Then stack the new routine on top of it. For example, if you want to start meditating. You can take the habit of brushing your teeth before you go to bed and stack the new desired habit of meditating on top of it. Each day after you brushed your teeth, you set a meditation timer and begin to meditate. Start with meditating just for 5 minutes each day. When you feel the habit is part of your life, you can try to increase the period.

Often when we want to bring habits in our lives, we are too vague about what we want to do. For example, we say I want to live a healthier life. This wording will not support your long time goal very well. Use an implementation intention instead.

An implementation intention follows a simple formula: I will BEHAVIOR at TIME in LOCATION. For example, I will meditate every morning at 7:15 am in the living room.

Two tricks to build a new habit

Bringing new habits into our lives is hard for all of us. So to do this successfully, you need to make it as easy as possible. There are two tricks you can use when forming a new behavior.

The first trick is to reduce friction. For example, if you want to eat healthier. You replace the bowl of sweets on your coffee table with a plate of fruits. Make sure you always have fresh fruit in reach will support your long term goal of eating healthier.

The second trick is to build small achievable habits. If you want to meditate regularly, start with five-minute sessions. This duration will be doable and manageable. After thirty days of meditating for five minutes each day, you can build upon your new habit. Try 15 minutes for the next 30 days and so on. Don't be too ambitious when you start something new. It might be detrimental to your goal of establishing and sticking to a new habit.

How to form satisfying habits

To form a new habit, we need to make it satisfying. Sometimes it is hard to make an activity enjoyable because most often the result we aim for is satisfying but not the journey to get there. If you start to go to the gym, you will see the beneficial health result only after a while.

Humans are programmed to focus on immediate returns. Our early ancestors and for that reason, we ourselves do not think long-term.

If you try to build a new habit which is not in itself pleasurable, try to link some kind of reward to the practice, which will give you immediate gratification.

For example, you can set up a savings account to save for a weekend in a wellness hotel. Each time you have completed the new habit, you can make a payment into the account. This preparation for your trip will give you immediate pleasure because you will see yourself in that hotel.

How to stick to a new routine

Sticking to your habits over the long run can be more complicated than building new ones in the first place. But there are simple tricks which will help you to stick to your new practice.

Use a habit tracker. There are many apps on the various app stores. If you don't want to use a smartphone, a simple calendar will do as well. Just tick of each day on the calendar with a big checkmark. Using a habit tracker is fun and rewarding in itself. Try it.

Another simple trick is to make a habit contract with one of your family members or coworkers. Commit to giving this person 100 € if you break your habit.

First Insight: Outcomes are a lagging measure of habits

You get what you repeat

There is a saying that a person is what she is repeatedly doing.

A writer is a person who regularly writes. If you want to become a writer yourself, you need the habit of writing in your life.

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits.

It is the lag that makes building a system of habits so hard. It would be much easier if we would see the result of a habit immediately.

Imagine you could see the detrimental health benefits after the first cigarette; nobody would smoke the second.

It would be so much easier to stick to an exercise routine if you could see the long-term health benefits after the first workout session.

But I know that the above is true. The only thing I need to do is to build that system of habits.

Second Insight: To reach your long-term goals you need a system of supportive habits

A systems-first mentality beats a goal-oriented mindset.

Goals are good for giving you a clear direction, but habits are the actions that will bring you your desired outcome.

Building a supportive system of habits means both creating new and getting rid of existing harmful practices.

The first step to build this system is to become aware of the habits we already have in place. Reaching this awareness is not as easy as it sounds because we do not know all the cues that trigger our behaviors.

In Atomic Habits, we get the advice to maintain a habit scorecard. It is a simple table with two columns. In the first column, you write down your daily habit, and in the second column, you rate it. Does the practice support your long-term goals? Rate it as being positive. Is the behavior detrimental to one of your goals? Give it a negative rating. If the action is not affecting any of your goals, rate it as being neutral.

Over a couple of days of keeping that scorecard, you will know which habits you should keep and which ones you need to break.

Third Insight: There are precise, proven methods to create new habits and break detrimental habits

Peak performance === getting slightly better each day.

Habits begin with a cue, or a trigger to act. Next comes a craving to change. Then comes our response. The final step in the process is the goal of every process, the reward.

For example, waking up is the cue. Still feeling tired is triggering a craving to feel alert. Our response is to go to the kitchen and prepare a fresh cup of coffee. The reward is feeling alert and prepared to take on the challenges ahead of us.

Creating a new habit is quite easy. Just follow these four steps:

  1. Make the cue visible
  2. Make the craving attractive
  3. Make the response easy
  4. Make the reward satisfying

Similar rules apply if you want to get rid of a habit:

  1. Make the cue invisible
  2. Make the craving unattractive
  3. Make the response difficult
  4. Make the reward unsatisfying

Cues prompt individual habitual behavior. You can use this knowledge to create habits by making the trigger visible. If you follow a habit already but want to get rid of it, you need to make the cue invisible. If you want to eat more fruits, put a bowl of fresh fruits on your kitchen table. Want to break your habit of eating candies? Hide the sweets in a drawer or do not buy them.

You can make the cues stronger by using implementation intentions as outlined above.

Conclusion

James Clear's book is a masterpiece.

If you want to bring significant changes to your life, this is the book you want to read. James gives you all the tools and tricks you need to build a system of habits that support your long term goals. The advice given is very actionable.

If I rated the books I read from 1 (bad) to 5 (excellent), I would rate it a 6.

Do-This-DIRECTIVES

  • Make a list of your daily habits
  • Form a system of practices that support your long-term goals
  • Identify habits that do not help to reach your goals and get rid of them
  • Make new habits attractive and enjoyable by linking them to things you enjoy
  • Start with small, achievable habits, then build upon them
  • Get slightly better each day
  • Use implementation intentions
  • Use habit stacking
  • Remove friction by changing your environment
  • Use a habit tracker
  • Use habit contracts
  • Surround yourself with people who have habits you want to have
  • To master a habit, start with repetition, not perfection
  • Stick to your schedule, do not let life get in the way

Resources

  • Read more about James Clear on his website
  • Subscribe to my newsletter and get free access to the Atomic Habits Book Summary PDF and all of my other book summary PDFs

Posted on CuteMachine in self-improvement, personal-growth, productivity and mindset.

Jo's Profile ImageWritten by Jo who lives and works in Frankfurt building digital doodah. Stalk him on Twitter.

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