Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Dedicated to my three kids, Nicolas, Alexis and Melissa, for inspiring their father; thank you! I've been blessed to reach the stage where they now support my growth and efforts to create new habits.
Every little thing you do has a massive effect on your life if you keep doing it for a long time. In Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, habit expert James Clear breaks down and explores what makes our habits “stick.” He gives a framework for how habits are formed, then offers concrete strategies for building our good habits and breaking our bad ones.
Here are the dozen biggest lessons I learned from the book:
Each day, make tiny improvements, such as making your chair more comfortable, adding a few seconds of time efficiency to your process, or making a minor performance tweak. If you can get just one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better.
Hone your identity. First ask yourself, “What type of person gets the results I want?” Once you identify with a certain type of person, whenever you need to make a decision, ask yourself, “What would that person do?”
Stack your habits. Find a habit that is already well-established in your life (such as brushing your teeth or getting home from work). Resolve to do your new habit every time you do your established habit. The formula looks like this: “After I [ESTABLISHED HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
Change your environment. Habits are easier to change in a new environment. Adopt the mantra, “One space, one use.” That is, set up a dedicated space to perform each new habit. It can be an entirely different location like a coffee shop, or simply a corner of your desk dedicated to your new habit.
Create a motivation ritual before performing your new habit. Your motivation ritual should be something enjoyable. Perhaps it is listening to your favorite song before you start your habit. Or getting situated in a specific comfortable chair. Or brewing a cup of coffee. Eventually, you will begin to associate the ritual with the action. Then in the future, all you have to do to feel like doing the habit is perform the motivation ritual.
Use the Two-Minute Rule to make your new habit easy and convenient to start. Create a two-minute version of your habit. For example, if you want to go jogging every morning, reframe the habit as, “Every morning as soon as I come downstairs, I will put on my running shoes.” You can consider the habit completed after you put on your running shoes. After your running shoes are on, you might even go out for a run!
Make bad habits difficult or impossible. Make it as inconvenient as possible to follow through with bad habits. For example, if your bad habit is watching television, you might unplug it after every use. If your bad habit is eating potato chips, you might make your home a potato chip-free zone.
Make your habits satisfying. One way to make your habits satisfying is to create a visual indicator of progress. You can create a visual indicator of progress by tracking your habits somehow. Your method of tracking can vary. You can move a paper clip from one jar to another. Or you can cross out the day on the calendar. Or you can simply record it in a journal. It doesn’t matter how you track it, only that tracking it creates a sense of progress and satisfaction. The formula looks like this: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [TRACK MY HABIT].”
Hold yourself accountable. If you want the highest chances for success in creating a new habit, you have to make the consequences of failure severe. One way to do that is to form a habit contract with someone else. A habit contract is an agreement with someone else in which you state your commitment to a particular habit and the punishment that will occur if you don’t follow through. Often, just having someone else know about your success or failure will be enough to motivate you to success.
Use your strengths. Genes don’t determine your destiny, but they can give you advantages and disadvantages. Find your advantages and exploit them 80 percent of the time. Use the remaining 20 percent of your time exploring new strategies. If you’re not world-class at any one thing, then you can niche down by finding two things you’re better than most people at and combining them. You can often become world-class at the unique intersection of the skills you’re good at.
Find your Goldilocks Zone. We are most motivated when doing things that are not too easy, but not too hard. We need to find that Goldilocks Zone right on the edge of our current abilities. Once we establish a habit, we need to keep pushing with little improvements and new challenges to stay motivated.
Establish a system for reflection and review. Every few weeks or months, you should sit down and review your successes and failures. Quantify all of your habits. What worked? What didn’t? Plan your future do you can do more of what worked and fix what didn’t.
If you found any of these takeaways helpful, I’m sure you would enjoy the book. In June of 2019 my son helped me create a Health Contract and held me accountable. Ten months later, 30 pounds lighter and in the best health I’ve enjoyed in 20 years, explains why I’m such a fan. Such a good read for dealing with our current crisis: Atomic Habits