Atomic Habits - James Clear
Once in a while, along comes a book, so well written, so practical that it rightly gets referred to as a self-help classic. Atomic Habits is one such book and in the 12 months or so since I've read it, I keep coming back to it.
James Clear's own backstory of recovery following a near death accident, is a triumph of the power of small changes to make a big impact.
The idea of an atomic habit is straightforward. It is the act of taking the smallest possible steps in pursuit of the person you wish to become. And then recognising that the accumulation of all of those tiny steps drives extraordinary results through deliberate practice.
"You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems".
The reason why the book has become such a hit is because it is so applicable to daily life. For example, here is how I was able to deconstruct the most basic of tasks. I am a little forgetful. I often don't put my keys in the same place. Hence I will be seen scrambling around looking for them at the last moment. Wasting minutes and in more extreme scenarios even hours.
Reading James Clear's 4 stage process of breaking a habit down. I was able to overcome this by identifying a
Cue - The moment I close and lock the door after entering the house
Craving - Not wanting the pain of having to look for them
Response - The act of placing the keys in the same place every time
Reward - The satisfaction of not having to go around hunting for them ever other morning, not to mention the time saving.
The book also looks at the role of others when creating habits that stick. For example, he talks about the power of being kept accountable. I like this idea a lot and it led me to create my 30 Day Experiment Programme to create better habits.
He delves into the company we keep. New habits seem achievable when you see others doing them every day he writes. And that got me thinking about how habit formation is more than sheer willpower. Getting closer to others who inspire you is also a driver. And it's a factor that is often overlooked.
For all of its apparent simplicity, the book is also quite profound. I particularly enjoyed the part where he describes outcomes vs identity.
Outcomes vs Identity
Many of us will be familiar with Dan Pink's work on intrinsic motivation, and if you are not. I urge you to watch this excellent animation from 2015. James Clear takes this a step further and talks about motivation in the words we use that describe the identify of the person we wish to become. Refusing a cigarette by saying "I'm trying to quit" is a very different thing to refusing one because "I don't smoke". One is about identity, the other is an in-the-moment snapshot of where you are.
Atomic Habits stops short of being prescriptive. There is a line in the book that goes something like:
"You don’t actually want the habit itself. What you really want is the outcome the habit delivers"
That for me was key. Results are what we want, habits are the mechanism that get you there, and developing an understanding of why habits are powerful and how they work is where this book excels.
If like me you are attracted to frameworks for best practice at work or at home, then this book will hold massive appeal. There is no consistent formula for every habit. However, recognising how habits work, allows you to bring discipline into almost every facet of your life. As such I would describe this book as literally life changing.