Book Review – Atomic Habits by James Clear


Atomic Habits by Entrepreneur James Clear is a highly practical, almost step-by-step guide to habit forming with an eye on greater goals. The book is about at how small, atomic, changes full of energy can be formed into habits that lead to great success. It is an excellent book for anyone wanting to achieve business results, but also personal. There are tools to develop good habits, as well as eliminate bad habits. The key is in the subtitle Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.

I read this book last year and though I found a bit of overlap with The Power of Habit, found it extremely useful and have put in place many of the techniques and strategies. Often the tiny changes we can and must make are not noticed in goal setting. We have our focus on the grand result, we may make a plan, but we skip the 1 percenters that add up and compound. This is encouraging as the effort required to make the tiny changes is minuscule compared to the sum of effort that might be assumed in the larger goal.

Clear beans by looking at the anatomy of a habit, how it is formed and how habits are triggered. He outlines the cue, craving, response, reward loop. Once we understand this with our own habits, we can learn how to use them to our advantage to eliminate the bad, and develop the good.

Clear sets out 4 Laws of Behaviour change, each law has an inversion to deal with bad habits. The first law is: Make it Obvious.  This means positing a cue object so that is visible in your daily routine. For example, I know I will go to my home office in the morning to check emails and social media. I have an overarching goal to reach and maintain a certain weight and be generally fitter, so I purchased a YBell and it lives in my home office, near my desk. Almost every morning I do one muscle group routine with the YBell, it takes 10 minutes and I can do other tasks between sets. For bad habits, Clear recommends inversion. 

The inversion law of behaviour change to eliminate bad habits is to Make it Invisible. Removing the objects or avoiding the environment that cues the habit with patience, persistence, and commitment is the first step to breaking a habit. An example would be to put your mobile phone in the glove box to prevent you checking messages at traffic lights.

The second law is to Make it Attractive. Here attention is given to the craving element of a habit. That dose of dopamine that we get when desiring an outcome is almost as powerful as the outcome itself. We can manage this with good habits by bundling an existing temptation to the behaviour you want to develop. Clear calls this “temptation bundling”.

The inversion of this is to make it unattractive. What negative look or feel can you tie to habit to make taking the action unattractive.

The third law is to Make it Easy. Making behaviours as easy as possible is important to increasing our ability to respond to the cue and craving ,then developing them into habits. Thankfully Clear offers techniques for this as well. One is to reduce friction. Ensure that you have all you need available to eliminate the effort required to exercise the behaviour. Similar to having the YBell in the office, it eliminates the need to travel to a gym to do weight based exercise. Another trick is the two-minute rule. Make any new activity manageable by doing it in two minutes. If you want to develop a habit of meditation, for example, start with stopping and breathing for just two minutes!

The inverse of this law is to make it difficult. Increase the friction in undertaking a bad habit. Keep the TV remotes in a kitchen cupboard, and why not but them under that book you have been meaning to read.

The fourth law is to Make it Satisfying. The example in the book is an interesting one. To increase hand washing in Pakistan and reduce illness among the child population a change was made to the soap available to families. A new soap was developed that was smooth, lathered easily, and smelled lovely. Now everyone was washing their hands because it was pleasurable! Putting this law into practice may be difficult, for example, my health habits do not show a result in weight reduction the next day. To manage this, we can attach an immediate reward to the behaviour.

The inverse of this law is to make it unsatisfying. This can be done by having an accountability partner who will give you a hard time when needed, or making a habit contract with a penalty for breaking it.

The book offers additional strategies, tools, and resources that can be accessed from the author’s website for the cost of your email address. Tools such habit contracts, habit tracking templates and strategies such as habit stacking, I can highly recommend.

Understanding that tiny changes can lead to big results is a bit of a game changer, and something that I have kicked off 2020 building into more of a system to achieve my own goals for the year. Atomic Habits is a really effective book to help you with your goals. It is instantly practicable, easy to understand, the examples are interesting, and the structure is logical. It is a confidence enforcer that might even change your life.

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