Atomic Habits

By Jim Clear

I thought the book Atomic Habits by James Clear would be good to read over the holidays.  I like to make New Year resolutions so I thought if I could learn some new approaches as to how to make these resolutions stick, that would be helpful.

Let me begin by stating that this is a really quick read.  I read it in one afternoon.  I credit the author with describing the concepts simply and succinctly.  I appreciate the fact that he avoided repeating the same information over and over.

The premise of Atomic Habits is that small changes compound over time, significantly improving our lives in the long term.  Clear stresses that we should not focus on goals, rather we should focus on the systems we need to put in place to achieve the desired outcome.  Clear also encourages readers to focus on changing our own identities – to focus on who we want to become.  For example, if you are in the process of quitting smoking and someone offers you a cigarette, you should not say, “No thanks, I am trying to quit.”  Rather, you should say, “No thanks, I am not a smoker”.  The latter statement changes your identity from someone who is trying to quit to someone who is not a smoker.  At my Weight Watchers meetings we call this “self-talk” and it’s an important part of any behavior change.

Clear’s framework includes 4 steps: Cue, Craving, Response, Reward.  The Cue triggers your brain to create a behavior.  The Craving is the motivation you have behind the habit or what you desire to change.  Response is the habit you perform, and the Reward is the end goal of the habit.  Clear states that if our behavior is insufficient in ANY WAY in these four stages, we won’t be able to create a habit.  Understanding this, I highlighted a lot in this book and reread the areas I highlighted hoping to retain as much as possible. 

To ensure that a habit change is successful, Clear gives us Four Laws of Behavior Change and, just as important in my mind, he gives us Four INVERSE laws of Behavior change.  I’ll share the law and the inverse law with examples, so you gain an understanding of what the author means.

  • Law #1 is Make it obvious – and the inverse is make it INVISIBLE.  As an example, put the fresh fruit on the counter and hide the cookies in the back of the pantry
  • Law #2 is Make it attractive and the inverse is make it UNATTRACTIVE.  Put a book next to your bed if you want to read a little at night and put your cell phone in another room.
  • Law #3 is Make it easy and the inverse is make it DIFFICULT.  Changing your environment such as putting your workout clothes on the bed means when you get home you are more likely to change into them and go for a run.  If you want to stop playing a game on your phone, you delete the app.
  • Law #4 is Make it satisfying and the inverse is make it UNSATISFYING.  This rule is a bit more nuanced.  Habits need some semblance of reward to keep you motivated and this is where the author tells us to focus, on small progressive steps.  If you want to stop eating out so much, have a jar where you put money each time you eat at home and label the jar with an activity you want to do in the future such as taking a trip.  Conversely – you could put money in a jar every time you eat you and then give that money away to a charity.  While it is hard to say this is unsatisfying, the point is…do something that “punishes” when your behaviors are not in synch with who you want to be.

I also learned from this book that creating a new habit is not so much about time, rather it is about frequency.  Clear states that we should never miss more than one which really resonates.  Don’t miss more than one gym workout at a time.  Don’t schedule a meeting over your time reserved for writing more than once.  If you do, then you will continue the bad habit.

Clear offers us a lot of good tips in this book and while it is definitely worth the read for these tips, what is even more powerful is learning about James Clear’s personal story.  Once you learn about what he overcame, you realize that he is sharing from deep personal experience and for me, learning from the experiences of others is the best form of motivation.

So start your year off right with Atomic Habits, by James Clear.