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3 Things I Learned From Reading Atomic Habits

Practical self-help books are great and Atomic Habits is one of them

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Self-help books have a bad reputation. There is a stigma attached to self-help books because they can feel like fluffy mumble-jumble crap full of toxic positivity.

However, there are some self-book books that are very educational and practical. These sorts of self-help books are eye-opening and life-changing. This is what Atomic Habits by James Clear was for me.

Prior to reading this book, I didn’t realize a lot of who we are and what we do depend on our daily habits. These habits are usually subconscious.

We grab our phones as soon as we wake up without thinking. This is a subconscious habit. As I was reading this book I realized why I was buying 5 chocolate bars at every convenience store near my workplace only to complain about not losing weight after. I understood why I was spending so much time on Instagram only to regret it later on.

I knew of all the bad habits I wanted to get rid of but reading Atomic Habits had me understanding the whys, the reasoning behind my bad habits.

In this article, I summarize 3 main things I took from the book. Please note this is not a summary of the book.

What are habits and habit formation?

According to James Clear, habit formation “is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition,” and “new habits are formed based on how many repetitions are made to make that habit eventually automatic.”

The more frequent a behavior is the more it becomes embedded in our mind and because the brain is constantly trying to preserve energy we are only motivated to do what is easy.

This is why we would much rather scroll through Instagram or watch endless Youtube videos than read a book because that requires more mental power.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

Here are 3 Things I Learned From Atomic Habits:

[#1] Fear will have you moving in motion but not taking any action.

This is me. My boyfriend used to tell me all I do is plan — plan — plan — but I never actually do anything. James Clear describes this planning phase as ‘moving in motion’.

He states planning is important but we can’t be stuck there as I was. I never executed because I was scared of failing. I was too stressed about all the big goals I wanted to achieve that I would calm my nerves down by “planning” but never actually did anything. I would write “meditate for 10 minutes” on my daily to-do list but never meditated.

James Clear states moving in motion is useful and necessary but it is the action that produces results. We know this right? Then why do we get stuck in motion and not progress into action?

We do it because the motion has us feeling like we’re making progress without risking failure. Taking action may lead to failure so we prevent it by just planning (moving in motion).

Worrying about failure of not being able to achieve the final end goal will stress you out more. So stop worrying about the end product/failure and just take action. As the famous Nike slogan goes, just do it.

[#2] The small choices we make now will compound to making the biggest difference in the future even if we don’t see changes immediately.

I have some days where I go to the gym and get nothing done. I’ll get to the gym, do a few workouts halfheartedly, spend a good chunk of my time on my phone and then call it a day. Of course, I leave the gym feeling dissatisfied and terrible.

Photo by Hayley Catherine on Unsplash

James Clear states that just getting to the gym and spending even 5 minutes there is a good thing because we are trying to change our identity.

In this scenario, we are trying to go from “not a gym-goer” to a “gym goer/healthy person.”

This means that regardless of how my workout was it is important to just make it to the gym so that it becomes a habit for me and eventually becomes a part of my identity.

I have experienced this during my university years. I would get to the gym even through terrible blizzard snowstorm weather in Canada without thinking twice about it.

Back then people would ask me how I found the “motivation” to go to the gym daily. I was baffled by that question because to me it wasn’t “finding the motivation”. It was part of who I am.

Now I have lost this habit of mine but reading this in Atomic Habits I realized “oh yes I have experienced this and I can work on getting it back,” which is what I’m doing now. I don’t beat myself up for bad workouts at the gym and instead am proud that I went in the first place.

As they say, “a little goes a long way,” small habitual changes will cause you to make small progress which will eventually compound to greater results.

So if there is anything you want to do in life such a write a book, lose weight, eat healthier, sleep more, wake up earlier and so on just try to start with small changes toward that goal first.

For instance, if you want to write a book you can write one sentence for that book first. That is still taking action. Exercise for 5 minutes to lose weight, eat one vegetable to eat healthier, sleep 10 minutes more to sleep more, wake up 10 minutes earlier to get up earlier, and so on.

[#3] Don’t cling tightly to an identity you’ve created for yourself. Refuse to define yourself and if you do then make sure it’s with a new identity of who you want to be.

Already act as if you are the person you want to be. New behavioral changes must be part of your new identity. You have to believe you are this new person with better habits to become that person.

James Clear states, “The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader. The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician.”

Change who you are by changing what you. Will a healthy person have that chocolate bar? Once you have decided then prove to yourself you are this person with small wins (positive habitual changes) such as not buying that chocolate bar.

“It is one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.” — James Clear


Remember don’t be too hard on yourself. Every day we must work on ourselves and try to be better than who we were yesterday.

We will always be a work in progress so it is more important to focus on the baby steps and small changes in bettering ourselves rather than the end goal.

Most importantly, the frequency (the number of times) we take positive action toward the life changes we want to achieve will result in the grand change.

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash



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