Summary and Review of Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits by James Clear

In this post, you’re going to get a summary of Atomic Habits by James Clear; one of the best self-help books. It is by far one of the best books I’ve read on habit formation, on how to create new habits, and how to break old, unhealthy ones. I think you’re going to love it. So let’s dig the Atomic Habits by James Clear review.

Atomic Habits by James Clear Review: Summary

A large portion of your daily actions is driven by your automatic habits. Habits that have been formed through repetition over the course of your entire life. And naturally, there are healthy and productive habits that serve you, and negative ones that work against you. In either case, you are what you repeatedly do. So, you owe it to yourself to deepen your understanding of habits, how they work, how they’re formed and broken, and how you can use them to create the best version of yourself. This is what Atomic Habits is all about.

Atomic habits will show you how tiny changes can lead to significant changes in your life. If you make small everyday improvements to something, you will improve 37 times over the course of a year. That is enormous. Imagine having 37 times better health, income, or relationships. Even a small portion of that will make a major difference in your life.

What does success mean?

Before we learn how to successfully form new habits, let’s look at your understanding of what success means. In the most common case, success is driven by the outcome, by the end goal. You do whatever it takes to acquire a certain amount of money, to look in a specific way, or date a specific person. And while all that might seem perfectly acceptable and normal on the surface, it carries a lot of problems once you peel all the layers off. The main problem with goal-driven behavior is that it tends to ignore the process of getting there and just concentrates on getting the final outcome.

If you focus on winning a marathon instead of developing the methods and habits that will help you become a stronger runner, you will ultimately fall behind. After all, both the winners and losers are pursuing the same objectives. The marathon is something that everyone desires to win. Those that stand a chance of winning are those who have focused on improving their running habits over time rather than merely winning a single marathon.

Concentrate on improving your financial habits instead of buying the dream car, and you most likely end up buying it much sooner. Same way, concentrate on improving your dietary habits instead of obsessing about a six-pack, and you get those chiseled abs much faster. As the author puts it, you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. So let’s talk about how habits are actually formed.

How habits are formed?

Four stages

There are generally four stages: the cue, the craving, the response, and the reward. It goes like this. You work on a problem for school or a presentation for work, and you inevitably get bored. The feeling of boredom is your cue. You feel the need to entertain yourself, which is what you’re craving. The response is you pull out your phone and check out social media or your email. The reward is that little tiny bit of distraction and entertainment you instantly receive.

Checking social media becomes associated with the feeling of boredom and frustration. You repeat this enough times and you find yourself distracting yourself with your phone every time you find boredom. Sounds familiar?

Habit loop and healthy habits

Now let’s learn about how to use the habit loop to your advantage to form some healthy habits. The four laws of behavior change are, make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying.

First step

You just start by making the cue obvious. If part of your New Year’s resolution was to go every day to the gym, but you never set a reminder on your phone or you never put it on your daily calendar, you most likely forget going more often than not. If you make that cue, that first step super obvious you stand a much higher chance of ending up at a gym. And the easiest way of making a cue obvious is a strategy called habit stacking. Attaching a new habit to an already existing one.

Let’s say, you already have the habit of coming back from work and school, so stack exercise on top of that, getting into the car or stepping onto the bus platform becomes your cue to head to the gym. Another example: You want to get into the habit of flossing, stack it up on your hopefully already established habit of brushing your teeth. Putting down the toothbrush becomes your obvious cue to reach for the floss and get cracking.

Second step

The next step is making the craving attractive. If the craving is not attractive enough, you have no motivation to engage in the wanted behavior. If going to the gym feels like a punishment, why bother? An effective tactic to use in this stage is called temptation bundling. You can only watch your favorite Netflix show while you’re at the gym, or you can only drink your favorite flavor of vitamin water only after you’ve completed the workout. So make that craving attractive.

Third step

Moving on to making the response easy. If going to the gym requires you to fight immense traffic, then you find parking, then you find a locker, then you change, then you book an elliptical machine, then you figure out the settings, and only then do you get to actually exercise, you might be fighting an uphill battle.

Making it easier on yourself by removing as much friction as possible is key to forming that new behavior. Anything that you can do to remove any of the required steps will ensure the likelihood of you sticking to that new habit. If you want to start running in the morning, for example, layout your clothes, your shoes, your keys, your water, whatever else you might need the night before. This way, in the morning you just need to roll out of bed, right into your running shoes. And by the time your brain has the time to say, “Oh my God, this is too hard, go back to bed”, it will be drowned by the sound of your sneakers hitting the pavement.

Making it easy also means not setting your goals extremely high. Instead of setting the expectation to run 20 minutes, set it up for two minutes. Instead of flossing all your teeth, set the expectation to floss only one. It sounds silly, but chances are you do way more than that once you engage in the behavior, but overcoming that initial obstacle is usually the hardest. So set the goals low enough to actually set yourself up for success.

Fourth step

And finally, make the reward satisfying. The easiest way to do this is to use reinforcements. Keep track of your successfully completed habits in a chart, in a calendar, your favorite habit tracker. Does not matter. When you visually see your accomplishment, you’ll be motivated to continue acting in the same manner. Seeing your progress reinforces your identity of being someone who’s healthy or someone who makes good financial decisions. And identity is the cherry on top of your behavior-changing cake of awesomeness. It is the final and deepest layer of habit formation.

If you believe you’re a healthy person, your habits, processes, and outcomes will absolutely follow. Your goal is not to run 60 miles but to become a runner. It is not to read a hundred pages of a book but become a reader. The goal is not to quit cigarettes, but not to be a smoker. These might seem like little subtle differences, but they will completely alter the way you think and how and which habits you form.

And now you know how to form new, healthy and sustainable habits. Make the cue obvious, make the craving rewarding, make the response easy, make the reward attractive, and you’ll be on your way in no time.

How to use knowledge for yourself?

Now let’s talk about how you can put all this knowledge to use for yourself. Well, the easiest and most practical way for me is for you to figure out your current habits, basically to keep a habit scorecard.

Habit Scorecard

Why to keep a habit scorecard? Because if you’re not aware of your habits, whether they are productive ones or unproductive ones, there’s no way to change them. And the thing about habits, they’re automatic. That’s the whole point. It’s automatic, it’s subconscious, so you can bring your awareness all the way out. So you can figure out what the habits are before you can change them, eliminate them, improve on them, whatever the case is in your situation.

So, keep a habit scorecard. As you go through your day, whether it’s work or in your personal life, I want you to keep track of two things. One, the cues, and two, the rewards. As a reminder, the cues can be something like a smell or a conversation, or a location. It’s something that triggers your brain to look for a certain type of reward. Maybe every single time you open the fridge you look for a cookie or for something unhealthy, or every single time you get bored you pull out your phone. Boredom is the cue, pulling out your phone is the reward.

Review your habit scorecard

Figure out what the cues are, figure out what the rewards are, and then review your scorecard. You’re going to see a lot of unhealthy habits. You’re going to see a lot of healthy habits. And once you see all of this, armed with this information you can make decisions. You can make decisions to improve your life based on the framework of Atomic Habits. But it all starts with the words, cues, rewards. Keep a habit scorecard. Maybe for a few days. It doesn’t take…You don’t have to do it for months upon months. Do it for a few days, review the results. You’ll be blown away. It’s going to give you a better view of yourself. I know it sounds a little bit weird, but do it, trust me on it, do it. And you’re going to be blown away.

Well, this book is incredible, having a lot of information. I hope you enjoyed the review of Atomic Habits by James Clear. Visit our website for more book summaries.

Note: Must read Summary of 7 Habit of Highly Effective People

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