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Atomic Habits by James Clear – Book Review

In 2018, James Clear published Atomic Habits, and readers quickly found their daily routines transforming. Clear’s book is one among many works promising to transform your life, but I found it unique in the fact that it really does! In just 319 pages, Clear takes you through anecdotes about Olympians and healthcare heroes, backing them up with the science of our human psychology.

The worldwide bestseller has already been praised by big names such as Mark Manson and Arianna Huffington but, if you’re still not convinced, I’ve also been dying to share my thoughts. Here’s everything you need to know about Atomic Habits — I’m confident you’ll find it to provide some automatic help.

The Big Ideas

Forming and breaking habits may seem like an overdone topic. We’ve all heard that it takes 21 days to form a habit and that we need to “just say no.” Atomic Habits turns these clichés on their head, especially that first one. In fact, Clear himself showed with science that true habits take over two months to lock-in.

This can seem a little intimidating, but Clear offers comfort through the concept of marginal gains. As you move through the chapters and lessons of Atomic Habits, it becomes increasingly clear that big change can be achieved through small actions. Don’t buy it? Take a look at this math that has been blowing readers’ minds:

If you get just 1% better every day, within one year you’ll be nearly 38 times better off than you started. (1.01^365 = 37.78)

On the other hand, if you allow yourself to get 1% worse each day, you’ll be operating at 3% of your original capacity within just one year. (0.99^365 = 0.03)

If the numbers are right (and numbers don’t lie!), it would appear that we don’t need to revolutionize how we make, track, and accomplish our goals in order to change habits. On the contrary, Clear asserts that the issue does not lie with our goals at all.

You Don’t Need New Goals, You Need New Systems

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

It’s easy to revisit your goals over and over again, making sure that they follow the tried-and-true SMART method. We’ve interrogated ourselves — is it specific? Measurable?

Clear acknowledges that goals have merit. After all, how can you plan your route when you don’t know where you’re going? But we spend a lot more time pursuing a goal than we do achieving it. In the end, your system for reaching your end goal will have a much larger impact on your success and identity.

“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.”

The Roots of Your Current Habits

What does all of this have to do with habits? We can view a repeated action (whether it’s a good one we’d like to start, or a bad one we need to stop) as our goal. The factors and external triggers that lead to that outcome make up our system. If we can tweak the system to reinforce our desired outcome, habits can more easily be broken or made.

In general, Clear says the systems behind habits can be broken into four steps:

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward

Then, he customizes each step according to your mission, be it creating a good habit or destroying a bad one.

The Four Steps Applied to Your Habits

Whether you’re fostering a new habit or dethroning an old one, the Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward track still applies. The main difference lies in what adjective you place in front of each word.

For new habits, you need to focus on positivity. A positive cue will lead to an eager craving. You’ll experience an enthusiastic response and reap a healthy, satisfying reward. In action, this could be as simple as changing your alarm to a happier tune. This cue, telling you to get up, could change to a craving when you begin to hear your favorite playlist. As the songs get you pumped up for the day, you’ll see a response of alertness and excitement. For your reward? Getting to work on time will be easier than ever.

If you’re aiming to break a bad habit, you already have a system in place, whether you know it or not. You can examine your habits and identify the cue, or trigger, that leads to the unhealthy ritual. Step by step, you can deconstruct the path you take toward your negative outcome. Once you find your weak points, you can help eliminate temptation: Make the cue harder to encounter or less appealing. Would we reach for the chocolate as often if it was in the back of the cabinet, in a ratty paper bag?

Improved Outcomes Bring Improved Identities

We all have our vices, and it may be unrealistic to expect yourself to eliminate all poor habits. Still, Clear highlights the fact that taking control of your impulses will do more than just help with weight loss or New Year’s resolutions — it can change your identity. Atomic Habits says that there are three layers of behavior change:

  • Changing outcomes
  • Changing processes
  • Changing identity

As you succeed in forming and dismantling habits, your view of yourself will change. Before you know it, you look in the mirror and see someone who is in control and capable of achieving hard things.

Essential Reading for Everyone — From Nail-Biters to Executives

I recommend this book to everyone, regardless of whether or not you’ve been trying to kick a habit. This book was an excellent follow-up to my studies of the Kaizen Approach, and I’d love for you to continue learning alongside me.

As a CEO, these new perspectives on goals and outcomes are something I’ll be thinking about in my day-to-day life. At nvision, we always acknowledge that businesses are about so much more than your bottom line. If you’d like to keep learning and reshaping your processes for digital marketing, don’t hesitate to contact me today.

Until then — happy reading!

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