Atomic Habits

How to build good habits and break bad habits? Did you ever ask yourself this question, you probably have. In Atomic Habits, James Clear draws on insights from cognitive and behavioral sciences to provide a powerful step-by-step plan that can help you to create better habits in any area of life.

This is one of the best books on habit forming I have read so far. It’s easy to read and contains simple steps to get you started!

Who Should Read It? 👤

We’re all “made of” habits therefore this book is inherently about our behaviors and what all of us do every day. You’ll really enjoy this book if:

  • You care about achieving your goals,
  • You want to deliberately change your habits,
  • You want to discover how habits are formed,
  • You want to know how you can build systems that will support your goals.

Bullet summary

  • Real change comes from the compound effects of hundreds of small decisions or habits that over time accumulate to produce remarkable results. If you improve by 1% a day, you don’t just become 365% (or 3.7x) better in 1 year. Because of the compounding effect, you actually become 37x better.
  • To achieve our goals we need to first build systems made of single processes and habits that will take us to our goals.
  • Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement – it’s the good and bad things that we do each and every day that compound over time to create real change.

Full summary

What Are Habits?

A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. The habit loop:

Every habit can be broken down into four simple steps:

  1. A cue – that indicates a possible change in state;
  2. A craving – a desire to reach or avoid that new state;
  3. A response – that increases the odds of satisfying the craving; and
  4. A reward – which satisfies the craving (and reinforces the cue).

Building good habitsBreaking bad habits
1. Make it obvious1. Make it invisible
2. Make it attractive2. Make it unattractive
3. Make it easy3. Make it hard
3. Make it easy4. Make it unsatisfying

What do I want?

To change the right habits, focus on identity (who) and processes (how), not outcomes (what):

  • Outcomes are what you get (What: “I want to read books”).
  • Processes are what you do (How: “I’ll read every day”).
  • Identity is what you believe about yourself (Who: “I am a reader”).

Every moment, every choice drives a powerful feedback loop where:

  • Your habits shape your identity; and
  • Your identity shapes your habits.

New identities require new evidence. To change yours, first ask:

  • What kind of outcomes do I want?” then
  • What kind of person do I want/need to become?” then
  • What quick wins/habits can I work on to reinforce those beliefs?

Then get to work and correct your trajectory every day by asking:

  • “Am I becoming the type of person I want to become?”; and
  • “What would the kind of person I want to become do in this situation?”

Changing the habit loop – explained

The Cue

Building a good habit: habits are automatic because our brains pick up cues and predict certain rewards without conscious thought. To start a new habit, make your cues more obvious. There are a lot of tips in the book, some of them:

  • Create a scorecard to build awareness (check off every day)
  • Develop an intention statement with specific time/location cues
  • Stacking your habits (after breakfast I always drink a glass of water and after that do 20 pushups, etc.)
  • Design your environment to shape your behavior (visual triggers)

Breaking a bad habit: once a habit is formed, it’s hard to forget. Hence, the best way to break a bad habit is to remove temptation by reducing your exposure to the cues that trigger those bad habits. For example, if your phone is distracting you from work, put it in a different room.

Craving

Building a good habit: We take action only when we expect it to produce a reward. The more useful or rewarding the action, the more we’ll repeat it, until it becomes a habit that we do automatically or subconsciously. In short, the key to building a good habit is to create the belief that an action is worth repeating by associating these habits with attractive rewards and positive feelings. Some tips:

  • Use temptation bundling, this works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need do. For example: watching Netflix (the thing wanted to do) with riding his stationary bike (the thing needed to do).
  • One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
  • Change the language and frame of habits to make them positive. Ex. I “get” to exercise today, instead of I “have” to exercise today.

Breaking a bad habit: if you want to break a bad habit, play up the negatives and bad feelings to make the habit unattractive.

Response

Building a good habit: To more you practice something, the better you become at it and the easier it seems. The best way to build a habit is to practice it, and the best way to start practicing is to make it easy. Examples:

  • Design your tasks and environment to reduce friction
  • Use the “2-minute rule” to develop habits that lead to bigger ones

Breaking a bad habit: To break habits, make them difficult, e.g. unplug the TV and remove the batteries from the remote control so it’s hard to watch TV.

Reward

Building a good habit: Basically, actions that deliver instant rewards will be repeated; those that deliver instant punishments will be avoided. Examples:

  • Instant rewards (ex: whenever you pass on a purchase, move that amount of money to a savings account for a future purchase)
  • Habit tracker
  • Whenever you miss a habit, don’t panic, just: never miss twice.

Breaking a bad habit: to break bad habits, make them instantly unsatisfying or painful.