Atomic Habits by James Clear
Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results
First published: 2018
What is the book about?
In Atomic habits James Clear takes us on a journey passing all the current knowledge we have about habits. It is written in a very simple and accessible way and really drives home his message. A message very valuable in a world where habits (and especially bad ones) are taking over big time. Which very well may explain the more than 8 million copies sold.
In this book James Clear takes us on a journey from how powerful habits are in shaping our personal world, how the 4 laws of changing habits work and how you can adapt your life to better facilitate change and ends with a large inspirational part really pressing us to start changing those habits we want to change.
What are the main takeaways when it comes to communicating with the primal being?
Habits are part of the primal being: When it comes to habits it is important to realize they are one of the things in our daily life that our primal being is doing to keep us safe(r). Seeing most habits have hardly any conscious effort involved it is exactly the parts of the primal being we love to talk about. However the choice to change a habit is usually a conscious one. We also need to realize that it is always hard to convince your primal being to “change their mind” about ways it uses to keep you safe(r).
The 4 laws: These laws in our worldview all translate to one simple thing: make use of your primal being’s resistances to make change happen. All 4 laws work by making the targeted habit more or less attractive on a subconscious level. This allows us to make use of our conscious choice when we are strongest to prevent bad habits from taking over.
Habits are not just the action itself, they set the stage for your choices afterwards: Checking your phone is not in itself a bad habit, however having your phone opened for a quick check can invite you into hours of mindless scrolling. Every habit sets a stage for new choices. It can start a hard to control domino effect impacting minutes, hours and sometimes even days after.
Environment matters more than most of us think: Your surrounding influences the limited choices you can make. It’s hard to overeat in a gym, or workout in a restaurant. The people you are with shape that surrounding when settings are more neutral. Just as a small habit can start a domino effect, so can your surroundings shape your choices for a long time afterwards. Most people don’t start smoking without someone else giving them their first cigarette.
Habits prove your personality: By doing what you do each day you can see for yourself who you are. Habits are a subconscious way of showing yourself every day who you are. This can work against us if we do dumb shit, but has great power if you can show yourself day after day that you are becoming who you want to be.
Showing up is more important than results: With all of the above it is a logical consequence that showing up matters. You tell yourself who you are, you change your environment by being where you want to be and you shape the choices you can make afterwards. This is using the domino effect in your favor, which matters way more than getting a direct result.
Wrong measurements breed wrong habits: Focusing on the wrong goal will invite you to start using shortcuts to exactly that goal. Wanting to get to a healthy weight can’t be some magic number on a scale. Because that number can be reached in very unhealthy ways, missing half of your goal. Be clear about your intentions in goal setting to make the right change.
Don’t work against your nature: Everyone is different and has different needs. But more importantly: we have different strengths and weaknesses. We all have things we like and dislike because of this. With no sense for rhythm myself, dance never appealed to me as a fun way of exercising. Choosing an easier, more likable path for yourself to a realistic goal is never “giving up” or “failing”. Work with what you like, what your body and mind are built for and enjoy the path to your best self.
1% better or worse every day matters: Baby steps matter, it’s all about baby steps. Using the domino effect things can escalate quickly. Only 1% improvement each day can make you 37 times better over a year, where getting worse 1% each day will make you almost 100% worse in a year. Consider how little we need to do today to be 1% better than yesterday.
Should you read it?
If you are looking for an easy way to understand more about what you can do to change habits, definitely. However it is important to note this is a very simplified book and misses a lot of nuance and depth when it comes to how habits are shaped in the brain and body, But maybe more importantly it misses a lot of guidance about how to apply the knowledge in day to day life. Many applications are described in a very general way, which invite you to try and shape the tips to suit your day to day life. With the limited knowledge you gain in just this book this may prove a challenge slightly too big for many.
All in all it is an amazing book as a start into habits and changing for the better. And we do advise you to read the book at least once. In our opinion you should however be ready to follow up with more books afterwards for the best results. But then again, what is the harm in reading more?