5 Top Takeaways from Atomic Habits
Atomic Habits by James Clear is simply the most practical and transformative guide to building habits. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so. I have recommended as well as gifted this book to many people so far! I have been so captivated by this practical guide that I have all 3 versions of this book! In early 2019, I first bought an audiobook on audible, then I bought a copy on kindle. That wasn’t enough, since I wanted to underline so many things and make my own notes, so ended up getting a physical copy as well which I keep revisiting and taking notes.
I am sharing my key takeaways from this master craft, things that fundamentally guided me to build habits.
1 => Systems over goals
Many of us are obsessed with achieving the goal e.g. scoring well in exams, reducing weight in 6 months, getting that dream job etc. James makes a clear distinction between goals and systems to achieve them.
If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goal, then goal can’t be what differentiates the winner from loser!
Goals are the results you want to achieve but the system is about the process that leads to those results. You are left with the same outcome every time if you don’t change the system behind it. Goals create an “either-or” effect; either you achieve the goal and you are successful OR you are a disappointment! The purpose of setting a goal is to win a game. The purpose of building a system is to continue playing a game! One of the key things that stuck with me is,
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
2 => Habits build your identity
Habits are simple and reliable solutions to problems recurring in our environment, they are mental shortcuts learnt from experience. Your habits are how you embody your identity. The process or system of building the habits is actually a process of becoming yourself!
Every action you take is a vote for the person you wish to become!
No single action will transform your belief, but as votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. Instead of saying I want to run regularly, build your identity as a runner. As Naval Ravikant says,
To write a book, you must first become a book!
3 => Environment over motivation and self-control
Behaviour is the function of the person in their environment. We are changed by the world around us and every habit is context-dependent. Our most powerful sensory ability, the vision plays an important role in building that context around us. The human body has ~11 million sensory receptors and ~10 million of them are dedicated to vision. So it is important to design the space around you in such a way that it increases your exposure to positive cues and reduces the exposure to negative ones.
E.g. one space one use i.e. have a separate space for study, work, exercise, watch television and stick to it etc. so that your brain does not mix things together. If you want to stop browsing at night and not sacrifice sleep time, keep your phone away from the bedroom. Over time, the brain begins to associate bed with sleeping only and not crave meaningless browsing.
Another way is to reinforce things again and again. E.g. If you want to eat more healthy food, keep those apples in sight and easy reach than a pack of chips.
If you want behaviours that are stable and predictable, focus more on designing an environment than motivation or self-control.
Make the cues of good habit obvious and cues of bad habits invisible.
4 => The key is repetition and not perfection
We are so focused on figuring out the best approach to do something that we never get around to taking action. This fact is particularly true in my case where I usually spend a lot of time trying to figure out the best possible way even before starting something.
So if you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition and not perfection. All habits follow a trajectory: effortful practice to automatic behaviour i.e. ability to perform a behaviour without thinking about each step, which occurs when the non-conscious mind takes over. You have to standardize your behaviour before you can optimize it. You can’t improve something that does not exist. Therefore the point is to master the habit of showing up! So the key takeaway is a 2-minute rule which states that –
When you want to start a new habit, it should take less than 2 minutes to do !
It helps to break down big goals in simple 2-minute steps to get into the habit of showing up.
“Read before bed each night” becomes “read one page”
“Run 3 miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes”
Train your mind to do these simple 2-minute things same time every day, day after day, to ritualize the beginning of the process and rest will follow. One key insight that James talks about is — Don’t break the chain, never miss twice! Even 1% improvement every day compounds the result by 37 times in one year!
5 => Shared Identity
Human beings are herd animals, we want to fit in, bond with others to earn the respect and approval from the community. We tend to imitate the habits of 3 social groups: 1) Close friends and family 2) The tribe or community 3) The powerful people around with status and prestige
A Shared identity begins to reinforce your personal identity!
Our behaviours are more attractive when they help us fit in. Therefore, it is important to join a culture where your desired behaviour is normal behaviour. New habits are achievable when you see others doing them.
Most days, we would rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves!
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The above key takeaways don’t do complete justice to the wealth of knowledge this amazing book contains. James Clear breaks down the science of good habit building into 4 simple rules based on the cue-craving-response-reward system of the human brain. His writing is fluid and examples are aplenty but succinct.
So if you haven’t read it yet, start by showing up, pick up the book and read at least one page a day. You surely won’t be able to stop at that!
(Note — Content summarized from Atomic Habits as it is in most cases. Entire credit to James Clear!)