When my friend wants to start reading books, I recommend him this book, although I myself haven’t read it.
The reason? This book is mentioned a lot in those “book summaries” YouTube channels.
After he finished with it, he lent it to me, and no surprise, this is a good book.
I am already familiar with some of the ideas in this book from reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
So, here it is, the 10 things I learned from Atomic Habits by James Clear.
1. Habits are powerful and life-changing in the long run, whether they’re positive or negative.
Going to the gym and drinking sugary drinks are both powerful and life-changing in the long run. The first one will keep you healthy (and even get you ripped, lean, and athletic), and the latter will do the opposite. It will make you fat, decay your teeth, and usually is a key habit to many other negative habits, such as binge eating, mindless entertainment, junk foods, and many others. It just feels right to eat pizzas while drinking sodas.
We may underestimate small habits, thinking that they wouldn’t change our lives in a significant way. But this is far from the truth. It’s usually the small habits that get overlooked and ignored.
We may avoid doing cocaine or any other hard drugs because we know they’re terribly bad for our health, but we feel just fine drinking soda or eating snacks every day, because, hey, it’s legal and it’s everywhere, therefore it’s not bad, right?
And vice versa, we might think doing only four exercises in the gym three times a week won’t do much for our muscle development because it’s not
hArDcOrE intense enough.
Fast forward 5 years later, the person eating snacks and drinking sodas every day is now a fat motherfucker with a set of decayed teeth and double chin, while the person doing only four exercises (now he does six exercises) three times a week is now ripped, lean, strong, with a good jawline.
You get the point, significant changes usually don’t come overnight. It’s the accumulation of the things we do every day.
2. Habits and identity are closely related, your habits can form your identity, and your identity can reinforce you to maintain and even upgrade your habits.
Because you lift weights routinely, now you’re known as THE gym guy. And because now you believe you’re the gym guy, you’ll never want to miss your workout, because you’re afraid you’ll lose your reputation as the gym guy.
Another example is, let’s say you are an avid gamer. You play video games all day long and being obsessed with the games you play. You play the games intensely, perfectly, and completely. Now your friends know you as THE gamer. This makes you think that you’re an actual hardcore gamer. Whenever you hang out with your friends, you want to be the guy that they come to if they want to know something gaming-related. You started playing more games, reading more gaming news, and watching videos about gaming.
You do X, and then you believe you’re an X-er, so you do more Xs.
3. To create a new habit, make it obvious (Cue), make it attractive (Craving), make it easy (Response), and make it satisfying (Reward). To break an old one, do the opposite.
This is the gist of the book.
The four steps system is going to help you to create new habits and breaking old ones.
Let’s say you want to build a new habit of going to the gym 3 times a week.
First, make it obvious. This could be done by putting your training apparel and shoes in a place where you can see them clearly in your environment. It could be on your sofa, your bed, or your working desk. Don’t keep them in your closet because you’ll less likely to see the cue.
Second, make it attractive. Hang out with people who put a value on fitness. They’ll praise you for working out. Also, vice versa, if you hang around people who don’t give a shit about their health and tend to make fun of people who lift weights, you will less likely to go to the gym because you might afraid of their judgment. This is true, especially in Asian culture, where men tend to make fun of other men who go to the gym by saying they’re gay or bodybuilding is a waste of time because girls will eventually flock to the rich men, not the good-looking men.
Third, make it easy. The most common mistake beginners make in the gym is they lift too heavy and do too many exercises. Just because you can bench 50 kg in the beginning doesn’t mean you should. More often than not, doing intense workouts at the beginning of your exercise journey will make you burned out, mentally and physically, and not wanting to continue. Do the bench press with an empty barbell bar, curl using the smallest dumbbells, and use the lightest weight on machines. In the beginning, the goal is not to build muscle, but to build the habit. Only after you successfully build the habit of going to the gym, it’s advisable to progressively and slowly increase the weights and intensity.
Fourth, make it satisfying. In this case, after you’re done with your workout for the day, you can do other fun activities after that. Maybe you love to watch some series on Netflix, or maybe you love to eat healthy yogurt with live cultures, or maybe you love cooking stuff. Either way, make sure the reward you gave yourself will not interfere with your goals. Eating a whole pizza after your workout session seems like a weird idea if you’re trying to reduce your fat.
4. Be specific on how/when/where you’re going to do your new habit.
Don’t say, “I want to do some workout in the gym.”
Why? Because it’s vague. What kind of workout? Which gym? What days? What time?
See, when something is vague, we tend not to do anything about it. How can you do something if you don’t even know what you’re going to do?
Make it clear. Be specific. Say it clearly in your mind, “I will do the beginner program I found on BodyBuilding.com at Gold’s Gym on Tuesday exactly at 14:00.”
5. Environment matters. When creating a new habit, optimize your environment to help you do it. And when breaking an old habit, a new environment works better because it removes all the cues.
Let’s say you’re trying to increase your daily water intake. In this case, put your glass or bottle right next to where you spend most of your time. When you take small breaks, drink a glass of water. It will be easier for you to drink more water when it’s effortless for you to do so.
And let’s say you’re trying to reduce or eliminate your gaming sessions on your PS3. In this case, pack the PS3 back into its box and hide it along with the games in your closet. Basically, make it invisible. Now, if you want to play it, you’ll have to unbox it again, and that requires an effort.
Human tends to do what is easy and effortless, no matter the long term consequences.
6. To make something attractive, pair it with something you love or have already been doing regularly.
Again, I’m going to use working out at the gym as an example, since it’s one of the most popular new year resolutions and habits people want to do.
Maybe you love window shopping in malls, then it’s a great idea to only let yourself do window shopping only after you do your workouts at the gym LOCATED in the mall.
Or maybe you want to do your workouts right before you work in your office. Well then, find a gym that’s located NEAR your office.
7. Your social circle matters. If you’re trying to be a successful fit person where everybody around you praises cheap entertainment and instant gratification, you’re in a bad position.
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.— Jim Rohn
Well, although it’s not that simple (it’s more complex than just five people), you get the point.
If your social circle loves to smoke cigarettes, play video games every day, watch porn regularly, binge-watch the latest series and animes, and not having an interest in any kind of fun physical activities, you’ll likely do (and not do) the same thing.
Find a new circle that’s more aligned to your values in life, or maybe you can create a new circle yourself.
But that doesn’t mean you can leave the old circle just like that. You can still hang out with them but reduce the intensity. Your life is more important than the approval of your friends.
8. Find out what’s causing your bad habits in the first place. It can help you in finding a solution.
For me, the reason I was addicted to playing open-world games is that I want to explore the world, but I can’t (or maybe I won’t).
Exploring the world, and when I said the world I meant the real world we’re currently living in, is expensive.
You need money to travel and do cool stuff. But in video games, everything is easy. Load the disc, and a few minutes later you’re flying a plane and parachuting from the sky in GTA V. An hour later, you’re doing parkour on famous buildings and landmarks on Assassin’s Creed games. Video games make it easy for people to get immersed in a virtual world and pretends that they’re someone important and badass.
In this case, I want to explore, so I explore, although in a man-made virtual world. Using this crucial information I can plan a strategy to overcome this.
I started exploring the real world little by little. Yes, it’s not that fun compared to skydiving from an exploding fighter jet or assassinating guards silently from a high spot, but it’s real.
The feeling of actually walking, breathing the air, touching the ocean, and talking with other people face to face can’t be beaten by sitting in front of a screen, pressing buttons, and pretending you’re the savior of the world.
9. Start small, start slow, start easy. Increase the intensity only after you created the habit. Once it gets easy, increase the difficulty. Never get bored.
When I write this entry, I have a 410-days streak on Duolingo, a language learning app. Now I average 200+ XP/day across 6 different languages for the last few weeks.
I didn’t start like this. The first time I play Duolingo I knew that I should start small, start slow, and start easy.
I start with only learning Spanish, 15 XP day. I stayed like that for a few months until I get used to playing Duolingo every day. And once I get bored, then I slowly increase the intensity, either by adding a new language to my daily session or increasing the XP I earn each day.
And for comparison, most of my friends (who were invited by me to play Duolingo) didn’t make it to past 100 days. Some of them start furiously, like more than 100 XP/day (and only lasts about a week). The rest maybe were never interested enough in doing it.
One friend of mine still keeps her streak until today. Now she’s at a 208-days streak. She listened to my advice to take it slowly.
10. Make your habit satisfying by creating a system that rewards your action, but make sure the rewards don’t clash with the objective. And tracking habits is not just beneficial, but it also tells you your progress and acts as a mini reward.
When we’re rewarded after we did something, we’re more likely to do it again.
Get paid after doing some chores? Well, let’s do it again.
Get tons of likes after posting your dog pictures? Do it again.
Get a new item after doing some grinding sessions? Let’s not sleep and play more.
In our case of creating a gym workout habit, maybe you can start rewarding yourself with something small but you enjoy. I’ve mentioned a few examples previously, like window shopping, eating yogurt, or cooking.
I myself personally love to cross the checklist I made to track my progress. Every time I successfully did something on that checklist, I crossed it off, and something in my brain kicks and tells me that it’s happiness.
Using that, I will be more likely to do it again just so I can feel that small ‘high’ whenever I cross something off the checklist.
So there you go, the things I learned from Atomic Habits by James Clear.
This book is more practical than The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, but both books are important to understand habit formation and breakdown.
Read this book (slowly) if you want to learn how to build new habits and break old ones.