Habits. We all have them, these small practices that are woven into the fabric of our day-to-day lives. In fact, researchers estimate that 40 to 50 percent of our daily actions are done out of habit! Some of these habits have been intentionally cultivated over time. Others are mindless rituals that have inadvertently made their way into our daily routines. Though small and often effortless, our habits are not inconsequential. In his bestselling book Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, James Clear writes, “habits are like the atoms of our lives. Each one is a fundamental unit that contributes to your overall improvement. . . . This is the meaning of the phrase atomic habits—a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do, but the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.”
Forming habits has always come somewhat easily to me, and over the years I have reaped the benefits: productivity, security, and a sense of agency over my time and my life. Unfortunately, my habit-forming nature has also led me down the path of harmful addictions that have held me in their viselike grasps for far too long. Because of my own love/hate relationship with habits, I’m fascinated by the science of habit formation and have read several books on the subject. When Atomic Habits began popping up all over the internet late last year, I was eager to read more.
Clear begins the book with a discussion of habits, and why they are so crucial. He explains that “habits are the compound interest of self-improvement” with effects that compound as you repeat them. Over time, good habits will point us to success while bad habits lead us to failure. In cultivating (or eliminating) habits, most individuals focus on long-term goals (the results we want to achieve). Clear emphasizes the importance of focusing on systems instead—the processes that lead to optimal results. Goals can set us in the right direction, but systems are important for making progress.
Another approach to forming habits is focusing on our identity. The more we repeat a behavior, the more we enforce the identity associated with it. In fact, the word identity can literally be translated as “repeated beingness.” Clear points out that when we take pride in a particular part of our identity, we will remain motivated to maintain the habits associated with it. For instance, if I identify as a reader, I will be motivated to read every day. If I identify as a writer, I will be motivated to put out blog posts several time per week. On the flip side, Clear emphasizes that “behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last.” If being a healthy eater is part of my core identity, I will be highly motivated to eliminate a habit of nightly chocolate binges. So, to effectively change our habits, we must focus on the identity we want to adopt and the corresponding habits will fall into place.
After a brief but enlightening discussion of habits and their importance, Clear devotes a majority of the book to the Four Laws of habit formation. Those familiar with Charles Duhigg’s work will recognize the four steps involved in building a habit: we encounter a Cue, which triggers a Craving, which motivates Response, which provides a Reward. Clear’s Four Laws align with with these four steps of the habit loop.
Within the sections exploring the Four Laws, Clear uses stories, statistics, and personal examples to demonstrate why these Laws are effective and how we can implement them for successful habit change. Clear’s approach is enticing and actionable. While his principles are straightforward and familiar, Clear manages to present this information in ways that feel fresh and entirely accessible. Through his explanations, I was able to identify why I’ve had success with my own habit formation and where I’ve gone wrong in my attempts at breaking certain habits.
Clear ends the book with chapters dedicated to “Advanced Tactics,” in which he explores the connection between habits and personality; provides suggestions for maintaining good habits once they are in place; and discusses the downside to creating good habits. This was my favorite portion of the book, as it addressed aspects to habit formation that are frequently overlooked.
I came away from Atomic Habits with a deeper understanding of the why and how of habits and a better appreciation for the role they play in our lives. I’ve begun implementing some of Clear’s suggestions to great success, and have already recommended the book to a number of friends who are looking to make changes in their lives. Highly recommend to lovers of self-help books, or anyone interested in the subjects of psychology, neuroscience, and life hacks.
My Rating: 5 Stars!
If you are looking for more titles related to this subject, here are some of my favorites:
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, by Stephen R. Covey ~ The most impactful self-help book I’ve ever read. Though less about habit formation, and more about simply becoming a better person, this is an excellent starting point for anyone looking to make some life changes. There’s a reason this book is a classic!
Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life, by Gretchen Rubin ~ Told in Rubin’s comforting, relatable style, this book is filled with concrete strategies and keen insights into what makes people tick. This book is Gretchen Rubin at her best!
The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too), by Gretchen Rubin ~ This book builds on the personality framework introduced in Better Than Before, and explains why certain approaches to habit formation work better for different personality types.
SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully, by Jane McGonigal: This unique book shows how a “gameful” mindset can help us become stronger, happier, and healthier. Perfect for those looking for a fun approach to habit change.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg ~ I found this book less accessible than the others, but it provides a good foundation for understanding the science of habits.
Have you read Atomic Habits or any other books on habit change? Have these principles been effective in helping you make changes in your own life? What’s your favorite book or strategy related to habit change? I’d love to hear about it!