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Will the Book Atomic Habits Change Your Life?

I was just as surprised as the next person when Atomic Habits by James Clear entered my life in such a big way this year.

When it comes to building new good habits (or ridding myself of bad habits) through New Years Resolutions, I am pretty typical. Like so many others before me, I tend to fall off sometime around late January.

So if history were to repeat itself, I would be due for another “resolution failure” any day now.

But for the first time in literally years, I feel no fear or questioning about whether the good habits I started in the new year will continue.

I know with certainty that they will. I know that these good habits are here to stay.

And if life conspires to make me need to be flexible for a while, I have no doubt about whether I could easily pick up again afterward. 

If you are struggling to make a profound change in your life through practical strategies to better habits (or by getting rid of bad ones that have plagued you for a while), you really need to read this book.

Atomic Habits is a Game Changer

Atomic Habits Book Cover

Atomic Habits

Author:

All this certainty and calm is large part due to this truly fantastically researched and written book, Atomic Habits.

I’m no stranger to self-improvement books. Especially ones that deal with behavioral psychology (I can’t get enough of them!)

So when I received a very clever marketing email from the author, James Clear, I figured what did I have to lose? I thought I was already well versed on the subject of habits, but let’s give James a try and see what he’s got. 

Apparently, quite a lot.

There are a couple of key concepts that he introduces in a way that, whether it was the timing or the writing, really resonated. And they did it a deep enough way they silenced the monkey on my shoulder who normally lets me know that a slip up is just around the corner, so watch out.

And I must say, that monkey-less peace is bliss. 

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If you are struggling to make a profound change in your life through better habits (or by getting rid of bad ones that have plagued you for a while), you really do need to read this book.

You will get so much out of reading it in its entirety, but for those of you who can’t wait until then to get started implementing the concepts, here are some of the key takeaways that had the biggest impact on me.

Key Concepts from Atomic Habits

You will get so much out of reading Atomic Habits in its entirety, but for those of you who can’t wait to get started implementing the concepts, here are some of the key takeaways that had the biggest impact on me. 

Tie Your Habits to Your (Desired) Identity

“The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

This was my “a ha” moment early on in the book.

It feels obvious, (and a lot of this will feel downright glaring once it’s laid out for you).

Somehow though the way in which he explains the need to begin speaking to yourself as if you are already the kind of person who follows these habits made so much sense to me.

I was not a person struggling to get back into shape. I was an Athlete who was in training.

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That one mental shift made it simple for me to wake up at 6am every morning (because Athletes do the work), and do some form of exercise every day except on planned rest days (because Athletes are careful to take care of their bodies).

This identity reframing rippled out into so many positive tiny changes, from drinking a liter of water every day, to incorporating a ton more vegetables, to daily meditation. 

“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s 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… After all, when your behavior and your identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behavior change. You are simply acting like the type of person you already believe yourself to be.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Tie Your Habit to Something You Already Do

“Habits like “read more” or “eat better” are worthy causes, but these goals do not provide instruction on how and when to act. Be specific and clear: After I close the door. After I brush my teeth. After I sit down at the table. The specificity is important. The more tightly bound your new habit is to a specific cue, the better the odds are that you will notice when the time comes to act.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

This was another big (obvious) takeaway. By finding little moments throughout the day where I already can’t avoid doing something (sitting down at my desk, driving to the store, etc), I was able to add little cues that compounded by the end of the day.

Take a sip of water here, do 10 push-ups there, do 1 min of breathing now. Easy, right?

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It feels like tiny changes, but having so many examples each day of “I am the kind of person who does [X]”, makes it so much easier to continue to do these positive habits.

And the more I do them, the less worried I am that I will stop doing them (or that missing once will wreck my progress). 

Don’t Set Goals, Set Systems

“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Up until now, I admit when it came to habit formation I mostly focused on the goal I was setting.

I want to lose X amount of weight, make X amount of money, etc. I had lots of things where I focused on the ending I wanted. What I didn’t do was only pay attention to the system I was building to make those results possible.

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For wanting to lose weight (that goal I think a lot of people have aspired to at least once in their lives) I did of course think about the exercise needed, the diet improvements, and all of that. But if I’m being honest, the main focus was that number on the scale. I had the wrong system in place.

This time around, I ONLY focused on the system I was building to improve physical fitness through food choices, sleep, exercise, and mental health.

And what do you know, trusting the process is getting me better, more remarkable results than focusing on a goal ever did. 

“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

By shifting away from goal-centered thinking, it’s relieved so much stress I didn’t even realize I was carrying.

By only thinking about my systems and whether or not I am doing them every day, I technically can (and do) call each day a win.

Because the only thing I now care about is, did I follow my system to the best of my abilities today?

If the answer is yes, I can trust that any results I am hoping for long-term will follow on their own (without my needing to obsess over them).

Photo by Prophsee Journals on Unsplash

This mental shift, again, feels so obvious when written out in black and white.

But its effects are profound and have me excited for the first time in a long time that my goals will simply… take care of themselves. 

Discipline: It’s Not About Willpower 

“When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

I have always said my father has the strongest willpower I know. Whatever he puts his mind to, he can go with, cold turkey.

Changing up his lifestyle, quitting smoking, giving up gluten… All he has to do is decide what he wants and he just does it, no questions asked.

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“Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one. You may be able to resist temptation once or twice, but it’s unlikely you can muster the willpower to override your desires every time. Instead of summoning a new dose of willpower whenever you want to do the right thing, your energy would be better spent optimizing your environment.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

I think I fall somewhere along the spectrum of your average person who has ok willpower some of the time, but really struggle when I get stressed or tempted too often. 

As it turns out, my willpower wasn’t the issue!

It’s about designing your environment in a way that supports your processes (and doesn’t work against them).

If you are trying to work out more, putting your Peloton next to your desk or bed is going to have you getting on it a lot more than when it is in the back corner of your freezing basement.

There have only been small instances of getting to use this since starting myself, but as a concept, it completely hit home. 

Don’t Worry About Perfection, Just Show Up

“But the point is not to do one thing. The point is to master the habit of showing up. The truth is, a habit must be established before it can be improved. If you can’t learn the basic skill of showing up, then you have little hope of mastering the finer details. Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis. You have to standardize before you can optimize.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

I really took this idea to heart when picking my habits to focus on. Since I am trying to improve my physical strength and health, I wanted to exercise every day.

But instead of giving myself a goal of an hour a day, like I might have done in the past, I now get to check off the habit if I did 15 minutes of any form of physical activity that day.

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By making the bar low, it’s a much easier entry point on the days I don’t really feel like working out. Knowing I only have to do 15 minutes makes it simple enough to just get on with it, and almost always once I’ve started I want to keep going.

In a way, it’s using Newton’s first law to our advantage: a body in motion stays in motion.

Fall in Love with Boredom and Just Keep Going

“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes expected. And as our habits become ordinary, we start derailing our progress to seek novelty… At some point, everyone faces the same challenge on the journey of self-improvement: you have to fall in love with boredom.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

I admit this rule has already recently come up.

I can see where it’s going to be vital, now that some of that “new process” shininess is wearing off.

Already I can hear that little voice saying “ ugh, push up again?! Let’s look up a weight lifting workout that will REALLY challenge you.”

Because the little things I am doing are becoming ordinary, they no longer feel special or give that same dopamine hit of confirming your new, chosen identity.

But as James Clear points out, that’s exactly when you need to double down on letting the boredom of your habits sink it.

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Because while the goal is not mindlessness, it’s also not something we should be thinking about too much as we do these habits day in day out.

So far I am trusting the process and avoiding the lure of the new and exciting, but I’m glad he explicitly talks about this in Atomic Habits or I may not have known to be on my guard for it. 

Atomic Habits Helps Build Behaviors at the “Atomic” Level

Whether you are someone who generally gets into self-improvement or not, there are so many fundamental concepts to how you can live your life more in line with your desires here that if you only read one non-fiction book this year, this should be it.

It’s one of those books that every read will have you noticing or resonating with a different passage or idea as you identify yourself in his words.

I already know it’s something I will be coming back to the well for again and again. I hope you get as much out of it as I did!


Looking to make reading a more regular thing? Why not start a book club! Check out my article on How to Form a Book Club for tips on creating the ideal club for your lifestyle.


Did you read Atomic Habits? What did you think? Leave a comment below, as I would love to hear your thoughts about what you did (or didn’t) like about it.