Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear (Book Summary)

Jul 14, 2022
Atomic Habits by James Clear Book Summary

Atomic Habits has quickly become the holy grail for optimizing habits. It’s a great practical guide and the author, James Clear, is skilled at simplifying complex concepts.

My Top Takeaways

  •  Create identity-based habits: Know the desired identity you’re trying to build
  •  The Two-Minute Rule: scale your habit down to a two-minute version to reinforce your identity and build confidence and momentum. Standardization before optimization
  •  Create a plan (implementation intention) for when, where, and who you will insert a small habit into your daily routine
  •  Make environment design changes that make cues more obvious and actions more convenient
  •  To create a good habit: make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying
  •  To break a bad habit: make it invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying
  •  The Plateau of Latent Potential is the gap between our effort and our results. Results take consistent action and patience.
  •  Push past this plateau and combat fading motivation with strategies like temptation bundling and commitment devices
    •  Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do
    •  A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that locks in your future actions
  •  The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change”: What is rewarded gets repeated. What is punished is avoided. Create a reward that makes habits satisfying to reinforce behavior until the identity itself becomes the reinforcer. The more a habit becomes part of your life, the less you need outside encouragement to follow through. Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.
  •  Boost motivation by visualizing your progress using a habit tracker. Aim to “never break the chain.”
  •  Never miss twice: if you miss one day, get back into it as quickly as possible. As soon as one streak ends, get started on the next one.
  •  Sustain motivation and long-term maintenance by joining a community with people who have the habits you want to have yourself and where your desired behavior is the normal behavior
  •  The Goldilocks Rule: Habits remain motivating and exciting with the right amount of manageable difficulty. If habits become boring, scale up the challenge to keep things interesting

Identity-Based Habits: Choose a habit that will cast votes for your desired identity

“You have the power to change your beliefs about yourself. Your identity is not set in stone. You have a choice in every moment. You can choose the identity you want to reinforce today with habits you choose today… Building better habits isn’t about littering your day with life hacks… It’s not about achieving external measures of success like earning more money, losing weight, or reducing stress. Habits can help you achieve all of these things, but fundamentally they are not about having something. They are about becoming someone.

Ultimately, your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you wish to be. They are the channel through which you develop your deepest beliefs about yourself. Quite literally, you become your habits.” 

  •  Build “identity-based habits” and start by focusing on who we wish to become, not what we want to achieve
    •  “I’m the type of person who wants this.” VS “I’m the type of person who is this.”
  •  Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become
  •  The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity.
  •  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.
  •  The ultimate driver for our habits is, “Who do you want to become?”

Example: I am the type of person who reflects, creates meaningful insight, and produces impactful work with ease. The habit I'll be focusing on is daily journaling and planning.


The Two-Minute Rule: scale your habit down to a two-minute version to reinforce your identity

  •  We often make the mistake of starting too big because we are excited. We bite off more than we can chew.
  •  To be successful, it’s key to choose a habit that is as easy as possible to perform
  •  When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do
  •  Make your habit as easy as possible to start
  •  We are building a gateway habit
  •  A habit must be established before it can be improved
  •  Standardization before optimization
  •  This strategy reinforces the identity you want to build

Example: Every day I will simply write one sentence in my journal.


Build new habits in your life: design the ideal time and location to insert your habit

  •  Insert a new habit into your life with an “implementation intention”: a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act
  •  I will [behavior] at [time] in [location]
  •  Be specific
  •  Consider when you are most likely to be successful, not when you’re likely to be occupied with something else
  •  The more tightly bound your new habit is to a specific time and place, the better the odds are that you will master the habit

Example: I will write one sentence every morning at 8am at my desk in my journal, before any external inputs (checking email, etc).


Design your environment for success to make habits automatic: making cues more obvious and actions more convenient

  •  Make the cues that trigger and prompt your habits as obvious and as visible as possible
  •  Use environment design to support and reinforce your habit
  •  Use visual reminders: leave post-it note reminders out, set our your habit the night before, use reminders on your phone
  •  Your willpower will not beat your environment
  •  Reducing friction: increase the convenience, make good habits the path of least resistance
  •  Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of your life
  •  Rather than overcoming friction, reduce it
  •  Use technology and automation (meal delivery, screen time limits, etc.)
  •  Priming your environment to make future habits easy= creating an environment that favors the habit you’re trying to build

Example: I will leave my journal and a pen out on my desk the night before. I will leave a sticky note on my laptop to remind me.


The 4 Laws of Behavior Change

“If a behavior is insufficient in any of the four stages, it will not become a habit. Eliminate the cue and your habit will never start. Reduce the craving and you won’t experience enough motivation to act. Make the behavior difficult and you won’t be able to do it. And if the reward fails to satisfy your desire, then you’ll have no reason to do it again in the future. Without the first three steps, a behavior will not occur. Without all four, a behavior will not be repeated.

In summary, the cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. Together, these four steps form a neurological feedback loop—cue, craving, response, reward; cue, craving, response, reward—that ultimately allows you to create automatic habits. This cycle is known as the habit loop.”


 The Plateau of Latent Potential

  •  This is the gap between our effort and our results. Habits take patience. It will take time before results are experienced and your desired identity is actualized.
  •  “If you find yourself struggling to build a good habit or break a bad one, it is not because you have lost your ability to improve. It is often because you have not yet crossed the Plateau of Latent Potential. Complaining about not achieving success despite working hard is like complaining about an ice cube not melting when you heated it from twenty-five to thirty-one degrees. Your work was not wasted; it is just being stored. All the action happens at thirty-two degrees. When you finally break through the Plateau of Latent Potential, people will call it an overnight success. …”

Strategies to combat fading motivation

  •  Habits have a compound growth curve, meaning the greatest returns are delayed
  •  Strategy 1: temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do (watch your favorite show while folding laundry, get a pedicure while processing overdue work emails)
  •  Strategy 2: commitment device- a choice you make in the present that locks in your future actions (sign up for workout classes that have a strict cancellation policy, host a monthly hangout at your house you’re forced to tidy up each month)
  •  Temptation bundling and commitment devices are two helpful strategies that may enable you to get over the hump and build a habit that lasts.

Examples:

Temptation bundling: I only get to drink my morning matcha after I’ve written in my journal

Commitment device: Making a deal with my friend- if I miss more than one day of journaling in a row, I have to pay her $20


How to create a reward that make habits satisfying

  •  Strategies for closing the feedback loop on your habits in a positive and enjoyable way
  •  The more immediately satisfying a habit is, the more likely it will be repeated in the future
  •  The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change”: What is rewarded gets repeated. What is punished is avoided.
  •  When we’re discussing immediate rewards we’re discussing the ending of a behavior. The ending of any experience is vital because we tend to remember it more than other phases. You want the ending of your habit to be satisfying – watching your favorite TV show after going for a challenging run, taking a bubble bath after deep cleaning the kitchen, going to your favorite coffee shop after waking up without hitting snooze. You want a reward for a job well done.
  •  Create an external reinforcer that aligns with your desired identity (rewarding exercise with a massage or bath instead of ice cream). Eventually, as intrinsic rewards kick in, you’ll become less concerned with chasing the secondary reward. The identity itself becomes the reinforcer. You do it because it’s who you are and it feels good to be you. The more a habit becomes part of your life, the less you need outside encouragement to follow through.
  •  Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.

Example:

Identity: I am the type of person who reflects, creates meaningful insight, and produces impactful work with ease. 

Habit: The habit I'll be focusing on is daily journaling and planning.

Reward: If I journal for 5/7 days for an entire month, I get to buy a fancy new journal. 


  Visualize your progress and stay the course with a habit tracker

  •  The most effective form of motivation is progress
  •  A habit tracker is a simple way to visualize the progress of doing a habit- use a calendar or notebook
  •  Never break the chain: a mantra to motivate
  •  Visual signals of progress can be powerful on a bad day, a habit tracker is visual proof of your hard work
  •  Never miss twice: if you miss one day, get back into it as quickly as possible. as soon as one streak ends, get started on the next one
    •  The breaking of a habit doesn’t matter if the reclaiming of it is fast
    •  Helps you overcome the all-or-nothing cycle

Example:

  •  Goal: Journal for 5/7 days for an entire month
  •  Track: using Heroic Optimize app or check off on calendar

The role of family and friends in shaping habits: the social environment

  •  We all belong to tribes (religions, businesses, schools neighborhoods, gyms, etc.) 
  •  Tribes give us a sense of belonging, to belong in a tribe we must soak up and repeat the habits of that tribe
  •  Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself
  •  Join a group where you desired behavior is the normal behavior
  •  New habits seem achievable when you see others doing them every day
  •  Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe
  •  It transforms a personal quest into a shared one
  •  Your identity becomes linked to those around you
  •  The shared identity begins to reinforce your personal identity, which is why its important to remain part of the group after achieving a goal to maintain a habit

Example: I will find an accountability buddy who also wants to start a journaling habit. We will check in with each other weekly (commitment device), and motivate each other to take action


Habit graduation: moving from two minutes to mastery

  •  When habits start to become boring, this is a signal to graduate your habit to the next level
  •  You scale up when what was previously challenging is now the new normal
  •  Do not from one habit to the next and not focusing on one thing long enough to get results
  •  Once you get bored, you stuck with the same habit, and find a new detail to master and get interested in
  •  Stick with the same habit, but scale up the intensity or volume
  •  The Goldilocks Rule: humans experience peak levels of motivation when working on tasks of just manageable difficulty. Not too hard, not too easy, just right. This is precisely the region where habits remain motivating and exciting. Working on challenges of just manageable difficulty is a good way to keep things interesting.

Example: When daily journaling of one sentence becomes part of my identity, I will start writing a paragraph, and eventually include an evening journal too.


Again, here are my top takeaways from this amazing book!

  •  Create identity-based habits: Know the desired identity you’re trying to build
  •  The Two-Minute Rule: scale your habit down to a two-minute version to reinforce your identity and build confidence and momentum. Standardization before optimization
  •  Create a plan (implementation intention) for when, where, and who you will insert a small habit into your daily routine
  •  Make environment design changes that make cues more obvious and actions more convenient
  •  To create a good habit: make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying
  •  To break a bad habit: make it invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying
  •  The Plateau of Latent Potential is the gap between our effort and our results. Results take consistent action and patience.
  •  Push past this plateau and combat fading motivation with strategies like temptation bundling and commitment devices
    •  Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do
    •  A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that locks in your future actions
  •  The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change”: What is rewarded gets repeated. What is punished is avoided. Create a reward that makes habits satisfying to reinforce behavior until the identity itself becomes the reinforcer. The more a habit becomes part of your life, the less you need outside encouragement to follow through. Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.
  •  Boost motivation by visualizing your progress using a habit tracker. Aim to “never break the chain.”
  •  Never miss twice: if you miss one day, get back into it as quickly as possible. As soon as one streak ends, get started on the next one.
  •  Sustain motivation and long-term maintenance by joining a community with people who have the habits you want to have yourself and where your desired behavior is the normal behavior
  •  The Goldilocks Rule: Habits remain motivating and exciting with the right amount of manageable difficulty. If habits become boring, scale up the challenge to keep things interesting

If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about optimizing well-being, check out some of my other posts!

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