My favorite non-fiction read of 2019 was Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. If you haven’t read it yet, go get it today in whatever your favorite mode of reading may be, and read it! I chose Kindle which is mine, and scarfed it up!
Let’s start with 3 ideas that are included in the first several chapters:
#1 Habits have compounding effects.
What you do on a regular basis has either positive or negative effects, and like interest in a savings account, the effects are compounded over time meaning that the they increase in power.
The implications are obvious: All actions, and even non-action, which is an action of sorts, will exert an influence and move you either forward or backward while also increasing in strength. So being aware of your habits, along with their effects, is important and necessary if you want to be control of your life.
#2 Focus on systems instead of goals.
The best way to build a habit and get results is to make a 1% improvement every day.
This idea is in juxtaposition to our usual outcome-driven focus on making big leaps. Someone who makes a 1% improvement daily rather than taking an occasional leap forward will see much greater results over time. And, those results compound as the improvements are made consistently and repetitively.
The upshot of this practice is that we should be focusing more on our process by setting up systems we can follow daily as opposed to setting our sites primarily on goals. The goals will be reached if and only if the systems to get there are in place.
Focus on systems that include scheduled activity and produce small improvements with consistency.
#3 Make good habits a part of your identity.
The third idea I found to be most helpful is that new habits are formed and have staying power when they become a part of your identity.
This may seem like a subtle point, but it’s really quite powerful. A habit that’s reflective of who you are is one that’s been incorporated into your self-image and has a permanent place there.
A behavior you try on is just that: an action that can be tried and dropped. If I write here and there in an attempt to create a new blog, I might eventually get it done, but not likely. But, if I see myself as a writer, and I write daily (even if only 2 paragraphs), I’ll get it done because I’ve internalized “writer” as part of my identity, and added it to my daily systematic behavior.
James Clear distills this idea into two steps:
- “Decide the type of person you want to be.”
- “Prove it to yourself with small wins.”
The next section of the book discusses “4 Laws” to better habits. They are:
- Make It Obvious
- Make it Attractive
- Make it Easy
- Make it Satisfying
Each section is complete with both explanation and theory of what and why the law is applicable and helpful, and then followed up with actual techniques, ideas, and behaviors to adopt to apply the law. Some main ideas offered are:
- Increase awareness of your habits by using a “Habit Scorecard” to list and rate them in terms of their usefulness.
- Take advantage of the two most common cues to start a new habit which are time and location.
- “Habit stack” which means adding habits on top of each other so that one habit is a cue to start the next.
- Pay attention to the environment in which habits are performed and remove obstacles that tend to make it difficult to implement them easily.
- Don’t count primarily on self-control to change bad habits, but rather stay away from tempting situations and contexts where cues are strong to act on them.
- Be mindful of the company you keep when developing or maintaining good habits.
- Link an action you need to do with one you want to do.
- Focus on the benefits of avoiding a bad habit by associating it with its most negative and unattractive effects.
- Do something you enjoy right before performing a difficult habit.
- Habits are instilled through taking action, not planning. Practice is key.
- Focus on repetition and consistency. Walking a mile a day every day is more effective than walking 5 miles once a week.
- Use the Law of Least Effort by making desired habits easy to perform.
- When you begin a new habit, follow the 2-minute rule which means your initial action should take less than two minutes to do. Do one Yoga posture every day for a week. Then add on another the following week. Continue to build with regularity and consistency.
- Focus on immediate rewards. The reward can be small, but it must be satisfying.
- Use an accountability partner to help you stay on course.
- If you fall off one day, get right back on and continue. Never miss twice.
- Make use of your natural talents and interests.
I would highly recommend reading Atomic Habits and underlining as you go. That way you can reread your highlights and instill the ideas in your head so have better access to them. There are also exercises and suggestions throughout the book to help you make good use of the content.