Atomic Habits by James Clear - Dummies guide to Habit Formation
Atomic Habits is surely one of the best books that I have read on personal productivity. While a lot of self-help books generally give us a lot of motivation to keep started, hardly the system that helps us to achieve what we want is not discussed. We are left to figure it ourselves. Of late, Habit Formation seems to be the main focus for anything to do with productivity and this book provides a rare insight into habit formation along with the tools that are required to follow through on your desire for change.
The central idea of the book is not treating habits as a way to reach our goal, but use it to change our identity or align with the kind of person we want to become. A good example is, focusing on a habit that helps us to reduce weight by 10 kgs would be a goal focussed habit. So the question is, what happens after we achieve that goal? Do we slack back? So instead, building habits to stay active and healthy may help to keep the habit for long and make it part of our identity. What makes the book tick is the obvious use of easy to follow suggestions and recommendations. Improving ourselves 1% every single day seems very simple and do-able suggestion. Starting it small and sustaining over longer periods helps us with the positive habit compounding.
Habit has 4 distinct aspects and they are Cue, Craving, Action and Rewards. Success for any habit formation relies on these four factors There may not be immediate results or rewards for the effort that is put in and the result may not be obvious. The example of water becoming ice is a good example. Even when the water is becoming cold, it is not fully turned into ice till it reaches 0 degrees. That does not mean there is no impact of water slowly cooling down, it is just the result takes time to show. Even with habits, the end result may not be immediately obvious, but over time, the compounding of good habits certainly helps.
One of the main reasons many of the goals or habits that start well but slowly gets abandoned is because of the lack of a proper system and process that are put in place by us.
Three layers of behavioural change
- Outcome - what you get
- Process - what you do
- Identity - what you believe
Out of all the 3 layers, identity-based behavioural change helps us in the long run to build the kind of habits that one wants to inculcate.
Four Laws of Behavioural Change :
1. Make it Obvious
- Use aHabit scorecard to track the progress
- Implementation intention - Be clear on when you want the habit to be followed. Date and Location can help to plan better.
- Habit Stacking - Build the first habit and then once the first habit seems second nature to us, build the second habit on top of it. Once you complete the first habit, pick up the second habit as well is an example of Habit Stacking.
- Environment - Ensure the environment helps to make the habit possible without any distractions
2. Make it attractive
- Anticipation of the reward makes us take any action.
- Dopamine driven feedback loops help us follow the habit diligently.
- Temptation bundling involves pairing an action you want with an action you need.
- Role of friends and family can help immensely where the desired behaviour is normal behaviour.
3. Make it easy
- Most of the time the habit that we set out to follow may be too overwhelming that we stop after some time because of the sheer effort or the energy it takes to follow through. So the recommendation is to build habits that are easy to follow through. And then increase the difficulty if required.
- Create an environment where it is easy to make the habit happen. Minimize the chances of distraction and increase the odds of making the habit happen. Reduce friction with good behaviours and increase friction with bad behaviours.
- Some examples of simple to follow habits are: Read one page before every night or 20 mins of yoga every day etc
Standardize before optimize. Habit shaping can be used to model any new habits. For example, to become an early riser, the five phases can be.
- Phase 1: Be home by 10 pm every night
- Phase 2: Have all devices turned off by 10 pm
- Phase 3: Be in bed by 10 pm
- Phase 4: Lights of by 10 pm
- Phase 5: Wake up at 6 am every day
4. Make it satisfying
When the experience of newly formed habits is satisfying, the more likely the behaviour will be repeated. Immediately rewarded are repeated while immediately punished is avoided.
Habit Tracker can be used to track progress. Also, try to not break the chain. Never miss twice.
Humans achieve peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge - it is not too easy but at the same time not too difficult. It is the Goldilocks rule . The right degree of difficulty will help us to move forward in a meaningful way.
Showing up is vital. There are times when following up on a habit may be boring, hard and we may be devoid of any energy or motivation. But you need to persist and keep moving forward. Professionals stick to the schedule while amateurs let life get in the way.
Habits + Deliberate Practice with timely reflection and review can help us gain mastery.
That is a gist of all the interesting things. The book is pretty accessible and gives us systems, processes and pointers in helping us form good habits that can help us to align with our true identity of what we want to become. Improving ourselves 1% every day is quite an attractive proposition indeed.