Last year, I was lucky enough to be introduced to a group of women who all own their own businesses. Every week we would meet over Zoom, before Zoom became all the rage, and discuss business strategies. One of the books that over half of the women recommended frequently was Atomic Habits by James Clear. I won’t lie, it took me a few more months of listening to them discuss this book before I caved in and decided to read it. You just need to be in the right headspace for a self-help book, ya know? I finally listened to the book on Audible, and then I listened to it again. I wanted to be sure that I had really heard and understood what the author was saying. Then of course, I wanted to give you all some of my key takeaways to building good habits so that you can achieve your best life.
By the way, I highly recommend this book. Ask my friends, I’ve been talking about a lot since I read it.
Who is James Clear
Before you take advice from someone, you want to know who they are. In the beginning of Atomic Habits, James Clear introduces himself as a young baseball player during his sophomore year of high school. That year, Clear was involved in a freak baseball accident that left him with a brain injury and the realization that, if he wanted to recover, he would have to take small steps every day to do so. By his junior year he was able to play baseball again, but not at the level he had before his injury. When he did not make the varsity team, he decided that, instead of giving up, he would continue to work on his small daily steps to get better.
Clear went on to play baseball in college and he continued to work on his small daily habits that he had taught himself and that would help him become a better athlete, student and person. Instead of staying up late with his college friends, he built a healthy sleep schedule. He continued to lift weights to help his performance on the baseball field, and this also helped him stay disciplined in his health. By doing these small things, going to bed at a decent hour and maintaining a fitness routine, Clear went on to become an ESPN Academic All-American.
Eventually Clear started writing and began publishing articles on his website twice a week. He has since built an email list of over 650,000 subscribers. He even states in his book that he was a mediocre writer at best. But he achieved all of these things in his life by taking everything one step at a time, building good habits and breaking bad ones. His book, Atomic Habits, lays the framework of how habits are formed, how to build good habits and how to break bad ones.
Habits are the Cornerstone of Your Life
Whether or not you realize it, everything that you do in a given day is because of a habit that you have formed at some point in your life. From drinking your morning coffee to brushing your teeth to what time you leave the house for work, these are all habits. Do you exercise? Whether your answer is yes or no, that is a habit. It’s either a good habit if you do or a bad habit if you don’t.
All of us have built a system of good and bad habits over our lifetimes. And if you’re reading this, you are probably trying to figure out how to build more good habits and get rid of a few bad ones. Good for you. We can all use a little help being better versions of ourselves. Before you dive into the strategy of building habits, it’s a good idea to sit down and list out the good habits that you want to adopt and the bad habits that you want to get rid of so that you have a clear vision moving forward.
Keep in mind that everything that you do each day is based on a habit. Habits are the cornerstone of your life. It is up to you whether or not your life is based on good habits or bad habits.
Habits are the Compound Interest of Self-Improvement
We live in an instant gratification society. You’ve heard that a million times and I am guilty of it too. Wanting instant gratification makes you think things like: If you don’t lose 10 pounds in one week then why even bother? If I can’t make $1,000 by Tuesday then why even try? What a lot of us fail to realize is that it is the small actions that we take every day that lead to good or bad habits. All it takes is a 1% change in the things that you do that will eventually lead you to success, or failure.
You did not gain that extra weight overnight. It was a culmination of weeks and months of bad eating habits that led to your clothes no longer fitting. So how can you expect to lose it all in one fell swoop? The process of losing weight or earning money starts with small steps that compound over time.
Habits are built by a compound effect. Very small changes every day will eventually lead to the big impact that you desire. All it takes is making a 1% change, staying consistent and being patient. Who we are, who we will become and what we will achieve rely heavily on these small changes that compound into habits. Meaningful changes in your life come from the good habits that you build.
But you need to remember that progress takes time, you need to be patient.
Habit Building Techniques
I think it’s been pretty clear so far that the message in Atomic Habits is that you need to build good habits in order to succeed or reach your desired goal. But on top of that, you need to break your bad habits. Clear spends a lot of time discussing these topics using examples of real life events that are easy to understand. I won’t dive into those here, but if you’re looking for a more in depth description you should read the book!
Make it Easy to Start
The first that you need to do on your journey to building a good habit is make it easy to start. Clear’s example is this: If you want to read 30 books in one year, you need to set a time every day to read. So you decided that you are going to read every night before you go to bed, great. But you need to break it down even further. You need to reduce your habit formation into a 2 minute first step. So every night as you lay down in your bed, you will read one page. That’s the start of your habit. Obviously, you can continue to read after you finish that one page. But one page is manageable. You know that it will probably take you less than two minutes. Your brain accepts that you can do something for two minutes without any pushback. This is how you will start small in building this habit.
The idea is that you are building an entry point to your habit. The habit of reading one page every night before you go to sleep is the entry point to your goal of reading 30 books in one year because you will more than likely read more than one page each night.
Turn Your Good Habits into Routines
Next you want to turn your good habits into routines. Once you have taken the small steps to build a good habit, you need to keep going. Remember, consistency is the key. A good way to do this is to use positive reinforcement. So you’ve read one book using the one page per night method, now reward yourself with something. Like a new reading lamp or a set of sheets or whatever it is that will excite you to keep the habit going so that you can reach your goal. You could even get someone to hold you accountable so that if you don’t continue with your habit, there is a consequence.
Clear outlines more positive reinforcements in the book.
Monitor and Measure your Progress
As you are on your journey to building good habits and reaching your goals, you need to monitor and measure your progress. This will help to ensure that you are still on the right track. Plus, you can make any tweaks or adjustments that may be needed.
This also helps you to see how far you have come. A 10 minute walk every day may not seem like much, but after 30 days you have probably lost some weight and can walk further in that 10 minutes than on day 1. Monitoring your progress helps keep you motivated to keep going.
Your Identity Emerges Out of Your Habits
“You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”
Every action that you take in life is a vote for the kind of person that you want to become. This makes building good habits essential to becoming the version of yourself that you want to be. It is how you will build your identity.
Having good habits in place also helps you to trust yourself and the decisions that you make. Wait, what? By focusing on who you want to become, instead of what you want to achieve, your good habits will light the way and make your decisions easier. But it is your commitment to the process of building good habits that will determine your progress.
Let’s break that down a little more. Instead of focusing on setting goals for yourself, focus on the systems that you use every day. What does this mean? Let’s use Instagram followers as an example. If you google “how to gain more instagram followers” every reputable source will tell you that you need to be consistent, post regularly and engage with your followers. Simple. Yet, there are still thousands of people googling that same question every day, over and over. You see, they have a goal of reaching the coveted 10,000 followers (for the swipe up link) but feel like they can’t achieve it. So they keep googling hoping that they’ll find the secret formula.
Instead of focusing on the goal of 10,000 followers, they need to be focusing on the system. Posting one photo to their feed every day. Engaging with their audience. Being consistent. That is the system that will lead them to their goal of 10,000 followers. Focus on the system, not the goal.
Habits can work for you or against you.
Now that you’ve spent all of this time figuring out your system, you need to stick to it. Once you’ve created your schedule, stick to it. Do not let everyday life get in the way of the system that you are building. Your habits will either work for you or against you. Only you and your level of commitment can determine the outcome of your success.
Have you read Atomic Habits? What are your takeaways? I think I am going to listen to it again to see if I missed anything!