I know me saying a book is life changing isn’t exactly groundbreaking… I said it about Girl, Wash Your Face + I’ll probably say it about Girl, Stop Apologizing. I’m here to say it again about Atomic Habits by James Clear. I’d say this book is in a league of its own, but it is obviously in a league with Rachel Hollis – but this is big praise! Atomic Habits is the second book I finished in 2019 + it is so full of practical tips, tricks, and ideas to help you really change your habits.
On his website, Clear says he doesn’t believe there is a more actionable book out there + I think he is right. This book focuses on not only creating new habits but also cutting out the bad ones. No matter what the habit is, the methods laid out in Atomic Habits will help you reach your goals. The foundation of the technique in this book is to focus on getting 1% better every day. Clear says, “All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a small decision.”
Identity and Atomic Habits
Clear defines a habit as a behavior that has been repeated enough times to be automatic. I think most of us would agree with that description. The quote above discusses how habits are really just small decisions you make that impact a larger goal. It’s not a habit of losing weight, it’s a habit of drinking water, taking the stairs, and drinking your morning smoothie that help you reach that goal. The weight loss itself isn’t the habit. That’s how we need to view habits as well. Not something that is no fun, but something that is positive. Exercise isn’t a challenge, it’s a chance to build your endurance. Saving money isn’t a sacrifice, it is enabling you to have more buying power and therefore more freedom in the future.
One of my biggest takeaways from this book is how intrinsically linked habits are to your identity. We do so many things because that is who we are. Every time you complete an action, it is a vote for who you are. Are you the kind of person who saves their money or are you the kind of person who drops $100 at Target on a whim. By choosing who you want to be, you can work to complete habits that support that identity.
For instance, I have a friend who eats very healthy. It is a strong identifier for her. Because of this, she doesn’t eat fast food… even (yes, even a salad). I never understood how she could keep to this steadfastly even when she is hungry + in a bind, but it is because of the identity-habit link. The stronger something is tied to your identity (whether your cultural group or self) the harder it is to change. This makes changing habits that go either against your social group or personal identity that much harder. It somewhat supports the “you are most like the five people you spend the most time with” theory.
The Laws of Atomic Habits
There is so much I want to say in this section, but I will leave most of it to the book because you NEED to buy Atomic Habits. Clear lays out very simple laws for forming habits. Make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. If you can meet all these criteria, you stand a good chance of forming a new habit. To break a habit, do the opposite: make it not obvious, unattractive, hard and unsatisfying. Here are my top takeaways from the chapters that discuss these laws.
- Design your environment. Habits are started by cues, we see (hear, feel, taste, whatever) something that causes the habit to begin and follow into the craving, response, and reward phases. If you can eliminate ques for bad habits (candy out in the open) + increase positive cues, running shoes by the door, it makes craving the habit easier.
- Set yourself up for success. Make everything you need to complete the habit easily accessible + visible if possible. If you can make it harder to not complete the habit than to complete it, you’re doing it right.
- Redefine your habits. Habits shouldn’t be hard. The thing they achieve may be, but not the habit. The habit is not writing a 50k word book. The habit is writing every day. Reduce the friction of this habit by having your computer easily accessible, a cozy sweater ready to wear, and the TV remote allllll the way across the room.
- Follow the 2-minute rule. Habits ideally take less than two minutes to complete – because again, the hard thing isn’t the habit. The habit isn’t working out every day. The habit is going to the gym. Create a ritual around the habit you want to complete + you’ll be much more successful at it.
- Show up for yourself. This is something Rachel Hollis also focuses on. Just show up. Even if the running time sucks or the craft you made is garbage. “If you want to start a habit, start with repetition, not perfection,” says Clear.
- Reward yourself. We are biologically programmed to choose immediately satisfying long term activities over longterm ones. Create a system that incentives your efforts. Put a dollar in a jar for every mile you run + use that money to buy a new dress. If you’re trying to save money by eating in, cook food that you actually enjoy + not just hotdogs + ramen.
- Track your habits. It’s easy to lie to yourself. By tracking your water intake, spending, and other habit building activities, you are kept accountable. This can also serve as a reward in itself because you can your progress before your eyes. I’m the kind of person who likes to check things off, so I use Done + MyFitnessPal to help me track.
- Never miss two in a row. Because repetition is key, you have to keep going. As I said, streaks are motivating, but when I fall off, I fall all the way off. Clear says, “The first mistake is never the one that ruins you, it’s the spiral of repeated ones that follows.”
Hopefully this (long) post gives you enough information that you go out + buy Atomic Habits right now! You will not regret this book. It comes with handy guides to help you make plans + reach your goals. Head on over to Instagram + tell me what goals you’re working on!