Atomic Habits (James Clear) – Book Summary, Notes & Highlights

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Will Durant

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. The choices we make in seemingly mundane moments usually go unnoticed, and frequently go unchallenged. Why do we eat more than we want to or less than we should? Why do we spend too much money on things that don’t matter? Why do we procrastinate? How is it that some people manage to reach their goals, while others give up after only a small setback? The answers to these questions aren’t always easy to discover—but they are vitally important.

Why you should read this book?

Atomic Habits is a transformative book that will inspire you to push the reset button on your life. It shows you how to create new, better habits in replace of old ones and reveals the possibilities that exist when you upgrade your habits.

The book will help you develop the skills, habits, and thinking that will lead to success. You’ll learn how to reshape yourself by upgrading the fundamentals of your life and to eliminate that which doesn’t serve you and focus on what does. With new habits paving the way, there are no limits to what you can accomplish.

Are you someone?

  • Who cares about your future goals and wants to see them achieved.
  • You consciously want to create new habits in your life
  • You want to understand how you can break the old, not-so-good habits.
  • And finally, someone who wants to identify his/her goals and build a support structure so that you can achieve them.

Summary

  • A decision is a choice between alternatives. But we often make far more decisions than is necessary. We count on our automatic behaviors to save us from doing the hard work, although most of us cannot count on being persuaded by arguments or self-assurance. One of the most effective ways to change your life is to focus on creating habits instead of using saving as an excuse to avoid hard work. Saving has many benefits, but it does not make good policy or investment decisions.
  • Successful people avoid routines. Successful people build habits made of single processes. Once you have these processes in place, small things will seem easier and more pleasant when you do them regularly. As your habits become more frequent and basic, they can be done with any tool or device you choose. You can wake up with the attitude that today I have the opportunity to start anew!

How this book has transformed my life

  • It helped me build healthy habits like taking 10,000 steps a day and taking care of my body. Yes, I know that’s not a lot. But habits have hard limits and you can’t build your body until you hit those steps. The experience taught me a lot about how to set small tasks and deadlines for myself so that I hit the 10K milestone each day. And then when that little obstacle got in my way, it forced me to take another look at how my life works and how much I value my health.
  • The old brain is always powerful, but it’s a poor guide to the true path. The true way is rooted in inner conflict. We must identify our inner critic and tune out the noise that comes from that place. The solution lies in going inward-turning inward on everything that distracts you from finding inner peace. Then you can relax and take action, guided by the intelligence that rules your body and mind, instead of being controlled by it.
  • The tools we use to achieve our goals are less important than the techniques we use to achieve them. If you want to be successful at something – anything – you need enough motivation to keep going no matter what. I call this the “systems” approach to motivation. Rather than thinking about what you want and how to get it, consider thinking about what systems you already have (and what steps you need to take to get them). This is the “goal” approach. As long as you’re actively using one or more methods to achieve your (systems), goals can be achieved and destiny can be rewritten in a bold tone.
  • You can see your actions and your habits very clearly in the mirror. You see the things you do consistently for months at a time and begin to notice them instilling in you an “I-ness” that sets you apart from everyone else. Then you can turn around and do those things against yourself and notice how much better they make you feel! That is exactly how my success system works. When I am successful, it’s because of habits I have cultivated over time that have helped me achieve success in whatever area I focus my energy on.
  • We all have habits, both good and bad. Habits are a compounding factor. Our habits create the conditions in our lives that enable us to reach our full potential. To reach your potential, you must change one small thing at a time. You must choose one thing a day to improve and carry that along with you for the rest of the week.

Broader summary + Key takeaways

A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time. –Mark Twain

What are Habits? And why they are important?

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. A habit is a series of actions that the brain repeats over and over again. We repeat certain movements over and over again because it strengthens and improves them. We repeat conversations over and over again because it deepens our understanding. Habits are the scaffolding that supports the growth and development of all other skills. You can break free from bad habits if you understand how they work and can stop letting them take over your life. You have to identify which habits are eating away at your motivation, causing you to give up on your goal, or break free of the self-control that’s keeping you limited in what you’re able to do.

People change for a reason. Sometimes it’s because they’re motivated by a reward. Other times it’s because they’re motivated by a perceived loss – they feel they have a right to a better life and will fight until the end to see it achieved.

Regardless of the reason, here are 4 laws of behavior change that we can use to create good habits and break the bad ones:

A single habit is made of a cue, craving, response, and reward.

These components are formed according to the 4 laws of behavior change: cue = behavior, response = behavior that influences the result intended (or rather desired) by the doer, reward = behavior that influences the state of mind conducive to subsequent action (and sometimes conscious awareness), and habit = a pattern of behavior that is stable over time and does not require conscious re-drafting by the acting individual.

Behavior change is made up of several habits. A cue is a stimulus that sets off the behavior change. A craving is a response to the stimulus. A response is the outcome of the craving, either success or failure. A reward is the attention and time users pay to a behavior change. Everything we do, say, feel, or perceive is based on feedback from the senses that we’ve already learned to deal with. The first four laws of behavior change work on any type of feedback, whether verbal or visual, and apply to any person because any behavior is based on an action, a thought, or an attitude.

  1. Make it obvious

I made habits easier for myself. Whenever I had a hard time remembering to eat one of my daily fruit servings, I would place them in a spot that was easy for me to see but not so obvious that I would forget. This led to two things happening. First, the fruit was more visible to me and second, it more easily entered my daily habit. Not only did this change my behavior, but it also increased my adherence to this rule as it became a habit and no longer an act of “willpower”.

2. Make it attractive

If you want to build a habit, one of the best ways is to make it pleasurable. A memorable action is much easier to do than a memorable reward. If you want to set a cookie for completing a certain portion of a workout, then you can do it. But if you only do this once per week, it won’t be nearly as powerful an incentive as if you did it every time you felt like hitting the gym. If the habit is unattractive, it will likely be difficult or impossible to do over and over again. Therefore, it’s best to come up with some ways to make the habit attractive even if it’s something hard like going to a gym or studying for long hours. I found that telling myself positive thoughts about where I was going helped me stay focused on what I was doing every day.

3. Make it easy 

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that if there was a single trait characterizing the habits of people I consider highly successful, it’s that they find the path of least resistance. You know that it’s easier to get things done if you have time to plan for it beforehand. By planning your meals, you become more organized, avoid eating outside and save time so you can spend the rest of the day doing other things.

4. Make it immediately satisfying

The little reward at the end of your habit can greatly help you get over the hump of sticking to your new system. Something as simple as enjoying a relaxing bath or nestling into your couch with a book can be very satisfying after you get through the more difficult parts of creating a new habit.

It takes time to build a habit or break a bad one and that’s why most people quit halfway

The ability to persist despite failure is no less fundamental than the ability to learn from it. We make progress in our lives when we persist through reasons which are familiar and pleasurable even when they fail. We make progress when we persist through reasons which register as losses but which ultimately prove to be gained. One way to increase the likelihood of developing this knack is to frame challenges as opportunities.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill

Adopt a systems-first approach instead of focusing on goals

The difference between a system and a goal is not whether you pursue them or not, but what they are. A goal is something that you desire, whether it is to lose weight, get married, or buy a house. A system is a systematic arrangement for attaining a goal, whether it is setting goals for habits or studying for exams. The only difference between a system and a goal is their focus: goals focus on the result you want; systems focus on how you get there.

A goal is useful for setting a direction, but it’s not enough to motivate you if your plans fail. To reach your goal, you may have to accept some losses along the way. There is power in design, but it’s not the only power. If you build the right systems, your goals will become easier to achieve and will become part of your daily routine. Systems thinking is based on two essential premises: goals are valuable but not fixed, and progress requires collaboration between people and systems. Unlike goals, systems are not designed to be reached. But systems can help you achieve your goals.

The most successful people in life are those who are constantly changing and improving their systems. Systems thinking is more than just a way of thinking—it is a way of life. When you embrace change as a natural part of your system, not an inconvenient consequence, you will find that your motivation to succeed is much greater than when you are stuck in a rut. Systems thinking allows you to enjoy the journey more than the destination. It means that no matter how big or small the change is, you are maximizing the value and success of each step. Systems thinking motivates you to take charge of your life and gives you the self-confidence to take risks.

“If you want to be happy, try thinking in terms of systems instead of pieces.” Success doesn’t happen by accident—it happens when you adapt your thinking and implement changes in your actions. Systems thinking helps you find your passion and follow it, no matter what your situation might be. In a world driven by information, systems thinking gives us the agility to navigate our way through any situation with ease.

Systems thinking can be applied to just about everything in our lives. Here are some examples: entrepreneurship, education, health care, self-help, business, and beyond. If your goal is to improve yourself or another person, the power of systems thinking can make you successful. Just as the human body is composed of numerous parts that move together smoothly and efficiently when put into proper working order, so too do our systems consist of components that function properly when put in proper working order.

To form good habits, make them a part of your identity

This is the process of taking what motivates yourself and placing it in your identity. Start small, with something you want to learn. Perhaps coding, basketball, or drawing. Perhaps with what you can do to better yourself, learning how to eat healthily or something physical like waking up earlier in the morning. Whatever it is that you want, try to make it a part of your identity. Make it a part of who you are.”

Focus on your character traits and your skills to make a better you!

“With outcome-based habits, the focus is on what you want to achieve. With identity-based habits, the focus is on who you wish to become.”

People often confuse identity with the outcome. Identity is what you feel inside. The outcome is what happens to you. Identity can be positive (you have a strong sense of who you are), negative (you feel disconnected or empty), or neutral (you don’t care who you are). When choosing a new habit, focus on the core values that you pursue instead of outcomes.

Most people completely ignore the fact that identity change is required for success.

You fail to stick with a habit because you have a low opinion of yourself. You think that just because you achieved some goal doesn’t mean you were smart or talented enough to make that happen. You fail to stick with a habit because you emotionally associate it with some perceived failure.

There is something powerful in the human mind that causes us to persist in harmful or unsuccessful ways. It’s called reinforcement. We get stuck on behavior because it’s rewarding, convenient, or familiar. We become addicted because the ability to obtain the reward exists right there in front of us. Our brains create pathways based on these rewards and connections between them, reinforcing them when they’re present. This creates an identity that we will fight to maintain even when it conflicts with our long-term interests. If you want to grow or change, you need to release this habit or identity. To do this, first identify what part of your identity is holding you back.

Many people think they lack motivation when what they lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action.

The quality of your life depends in part on how much clarity you have about your goals and opportunities. This absence of clarity can be debilitating; it prevents us from seeing clearly what must be done and get moving in the right direction. But there’s a simple solution: Get clear about where you want to go, then work on getting there. Knowing where you want to require knowing where you’re going — starting with where you are now.

According to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, “Discipline is the ability to resist temptation. Staying motivated involves keeping your goals simple, and seeking opportunities that seem less attractive than the previous ones. For example, you might fail at one goal because it is more important than another, but instead of becoming frustrated, accept that this is how the system works and work at achieving the next goal instead.”For disciplined people, failure has far less impact on their sense of self-worth than it might for others.

Repetition, not perfection

Many habits we develop are so useful, we don’t think about turning them off. The ones you like best will remain as long as you like them. But habits come with an exception: if you practice too long or too often, they will become automatic. If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice. This is the first takeaway: you just need to get your reps in. Failure is not an option, it is a fact of life. Success is dependent on how many times you try, and it takes more than just having a good idea to get going. Surely this has been explained at length before, but for those who don’t know: the 3rd law of motion is that force operates in an accelerating direction when the force behind it is not forward traveling.

A professional stays on schedule because he or she cares about the outcome. An amateur pulls an off-course break because he or she is bored or frustrated. A professional knows how to anticipate his or her needs and fulfill them. An amateur delays action because he or she fears failure — which often leads to burnout and frustration.

Forty-seven percent of the days in a year are the days you have no idea what to do. That includes a weekend, holiday, and holiday-related days. Some days it’s hard to get going because you’re too tired, or too busy doing other things. When this happens, the best thing to do is just show up — even if it’s in the form of a humble “just showing up”.When you show up without a plan, there’s a 50 percent chance you’ll fail: start 10 minutes late or mess up your presentation. But if you show up determined and determined, with the right attitude, eventually things will work out.

The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition. This is just as true with habit change as it is with sports and business. Habits are easier to perform and more satisfying to stick with when they align with your natural inclinations and abilities. The competition puts something at stake to motivate you to improve – either on your terms or against someone better equipped to meet your challenges. The key is identifying a domain of strength in a field where you are historically at a competitive disadvantage. There is no shame in leaning heavily on your natural gifts and abilities when trying to build a career or business. On the other hand, when faced with a choice between pursuing an ambitious goal that doesn’t align with your natural talents and enjoying the comforts of routine – take the former path.

Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way. Professionals know what is important to them and work toward it with purpose; amateurs get pulled off course by the urgencies of life.

It takes two kinds of courage to create a habit. The first kind comes from inside. You have to be willing to do the work, any work, even when the reward seems small. The second kind comes from without. You have to be willing to let other people help you create habits, even when it isn’t clear they’ll help you succeed in the long run. Most people have both kinds of courage. Some people are born with it, some develop it as they age. The most important thing to know about habits is that they work when you make them. They work even when you don’t set out to make them work. There’s a reason why engineers don’t quit their jobs even when they hate their jobs. It’s not because they have to, nor is it because they fear failure. It’s simply virtue: staying put when faced with new challenges. The trouble is that many of us have neither courage nor virtue. We have only what we call ” a will.”

There has been a lot of balance in my life lately. In the past month, I’ve taken the initiative to get in shape—a habit that has been lacking lately. Not only has this helped me stay motivated and accountable, but it’s also made living more pleasurable. Fitness will help me maintain focus, energy, improve physical health, and more. When I was younger and not so confident about my abilities, exercise was something I dreaded doing. But as I got older and began to realize that taking care of myself was important—in ways that paled in comparison to the benefits that exercise brought me—I began to embrace the activity. There have been a lot of days I’ve felt like relaxing, but I’ve never regretted showing up and working on something important to me.

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