How can tiny changes make remarkable results? James Clear explains that in his book, Atomic Habits. This summary will be covering: compound growth, goals and systems, changing habits, the 4 stages of habits, the 4 laws of behavior change and how to stay motivated.
What is an atomic habit?
Before diving in the strategic parts of the book, it is first important to define the recurring phrase: an atomic habit.
What is an atomic habit? An atomic habit is a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do, but also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.
In the previous paragraph I defined atomic habits. Atomic habits are a component of the system of compound growth. Habits are the compound interest of self-development. The same ways that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.
The only thing is, it usually takes time before you see real results. Delayed gratification is something a lot of people struggle with. This is why it is so easy to create bad habits like an unhealthy diet or smoking, because in the short term is it comforting. It is also why it is hard to create habits that are worthwhile, because you usually do not see results in the short-term.
The graph below shows a perfect example of how much effect improving 1% every day has in a year. As the graph shows, you will probably not see any big results the first few months. But at the end of the year the difference you have made will be huge.
Please, be aware that it is all about small, marginal gains. Day in and day out. Be patient and keep working hard, while at the same time not expecting anything in return in the short-term.
If you want to learn more about compounding , you can check out my review of the book ‘The Compound Effect’, by Darren Hardy.
Forget about goals. Focus on systems instead.
James Clear states that you should forget about goals and focus on systems instead. He learned this from the cartoonist Scott Adams. Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the process that lead to those results.
It is still good to write down your goals. But after writing them down, you should put all your energy into the system(s) surrounding your goals. Focus on the system. Because when you spend too much time on your goals and not on the systems, there are problems that will arise. Four of these problems are:
- Winners and losers have the same goals.
- Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.
- Goals restrict your happiness.
- Goals are the odds with long-term progress.
So, write your goals down and leave it at that. Then, only focus on the systems.
Most people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. They formulate goals. Which leads to the least effective outcome. James Clear made a figure which shows the three layers of behavior change.
The three layers
The first layer, on the outside, is the layer that is about changing your outcomes. Just like I said before, this is the layer where people change their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve.
The second layer is changing your process. This layer is concerned with changing your habits and systems. This can be things like implementing a new running routine or a healthier diet.
The third and deepest layer is changing your identity. This level is concerned with changing your beliefs. It is about your self-image, your perspective on things and your judgements about yourself and others.
James Clear summarizes these three layers as:
“Outcomes are what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.”
When it comes to changing habits it is best to start with the deepest layer: identity. This approach is about focusing on who you wish to become. True behavior change is identity change.
The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader.
The goal is not to box three times a week, the goal is to become a boxer.
The goal is not to study psychology, the goal is the become a psychologist.
When you are focusing on identity change the outcomes and processes will follow. Realize that your identity emerges out of your habits. Your habits are how you embody your identity. When you run each day, you embody the identity of an athletic person. When you write each day, you embody the identity of a creative person. When you plan your day out each day, you embody the identity of an organized person.
Habits are the path to changing your identity. Small, daily steps towards the identity you want to embody can have huge positive effects in the long-run. The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do.
So, decide the type of person you want to be. Then, prove it to yourself with small wins.
The 4 Stages of Habits
The creation and process of a habit can be divided into four steps: cue > craving > response > reward.
The Cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior.
The Craving is a motivational force behind every habit.
The Response is the actual habit you perform.
The Reward is the end goal of every habit.
In short: The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: they satisfy us and they teach us.
The 4 Laws of Behavior Change
James Clear created a framework for creating good habits and breaking bad habits. He calls this framework: The 4 Laws of Behavior Change. These laws have much to do with the 4 stages of habits, which you read in the paragraph above.
How to create a good habit
When the levers are in the right position, it is effortless to create a new habit. When they are in the wrong positions, it is nearly impossible.
If you want to create a good habit you can follow this framework:
The 1st law (Cue) : make it obvious.
The 2nd law (Craving): make it attractive.
The 3rd law (Response): make it easy.
The 4th law (Reward): make it satisfying.
Changing your behavior can be done through asking yourself the next questions:
1. How can I make it obvious?
2. How can I make it attractive?
3. How can I make it easy?
4. How can I make it satisfying?
How to break a bad habit
On the other hand, behavior change can also be achieved through breaking bad habits. If you want to break a bad habit you simply have to inverse the 4 laws of creating a good habit.
So, if you want to break a bad habit you can follow this framework:
1. Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): make it invisible.
2. Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): make it unattractive.
3. Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): make it difficult.
4. Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): make it unsatisfying.
How to stay motivated
To stay motivated is to manage the difficulty of things you do. James Clear does this by applying the Goldlick Rule. The Goldlick Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not to hard. Not too easy. Just right.
When creating or breaking habits, it is important to start by taking small, easy steps. Plan actions that you can execute even when the conditions are not perfect. Starting small , and experiencing the entire loop of cue>craving>response>reward, gives you the opportunity to build momentum.
Once you have established a routine of executing the small, easy steps, it is important that you start advancing. If you do not challenge yourself and only stick to the small, easy steps, you will lose motivation. You can challenge yourself by adding more actions that are a bit more difficult, yet no too difficult. By adding those kind of challenges you will keep yourself engaged with the process. This will result in you staying motivated.
Seth Godin also wrote a book that is related to The Goldilocks Rule. You can read the review of that book by clicking here.
More about habits
To learn more about habits I would advice you to buy the book yourself. James Clear wrote about way more than this summary could possibly cover. In Atomic Habits you can learn a lot more about habits, environment, habit stacking and many more strategies. You can check Atomic Habits out by clicking here.
If you are looking for inspiration when it comes to creating worthwhile habits, then please check out the article I wrote about 15 Ways to Develop Self-Discipline.