Media (Books, Podcasts, etc.)
I decided to take more time than the usual Book Review post for Atomic Habits specifically because of how powerful this book is and also just the amount of useful content within it. To give you an idea of the impact of this book, it was published almost two years ago and it is currently #50 on the list of all books sold on Amazon.
If you are already involved in the self-development space, there is very little chance you have not heard the name ‘James Clear’ before. James Clear has dedicated his life to researching the best ways people can reach their full potential and shares his findings on his website, JamesClear.com. You won’t only find articles on habits but also motivation, productivity, creativity, focus, health and fitness, and more.
Many business leaders and experts in all of these fields look to James Clear for quality information on these topics. I found and looked into him after hearing positive things from both Mike Matthews and Greg Nuckols and I’m glad I did. As you’ll see in this book review, James has quality advice for anyone, no matter what your aspirations are.
Atomic Habits focuses on ways you can start building good habits and getting rid of bad ones. In the introduction he explains, “the quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits"1 and calls habits “the compound interest of self-improvement."2 In other words, if you have good habits and you are constantly improving by 1%, those improvements compound and you end up in a much better place than if you have bad habits and are doing nothing to change them.
In this review, I will break down three key concepts and three of the tips I find most helpful from this book…
Concept #1: Priming Your Environment
In various areas throughout the book, Clear describes how crucial our environment is and ways our environment can either be our benefit or our detriment to our daily habits. Here is a prime example (pun intended):
“Whenever you organize a space for its intended purpose, you are priming it to make the next action easy… There are many ways to prime your environment so it’s ready for immediate use. If you want to cook a healthy breakfast, place the skillet on the stove, set the cooking spray on the counter, and lay out any plates and utensils you’ll need the night before. When you wake up, making breakfast will be easy...
You can also invert this principle and prime the environment to make bad habits difficult. If you find yourself watching too much television, for example, then unplug it after each use. Only plug it back in if you can say out loud the name of the show you want to watch. This setup creates just enough friction to prevent mindless viewing.”3
One of the things Clear does well throughout this book is provide numerous examples based on how he and his clients apply this information so that you can find which tips you should apply in your own life.
Here are some other examples Clear gives on how you can prime your environment:
Concept #2: The Goldilocks Rule
“The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.”7
This is an interesting concept and easy to understand. When you start a new habit, you are not going to execute it perfectly. The challenge at first is actually making it into a habit – something you eventually don’t have to think twice about, you just do it. Therefore, Clear states you should make new habits as easy as possible so that you stick with them. Then once they've stuck, challenge yourself by making minor changes. Eventually, you will turn from an amateur to a professional. He states that by the time you turn professional, you will undoubtedly get bored by how easy the process becomes…
“But stepping up when it’s annoying or painful or draining to do so, that’s what makes the difference between a professional and an amateur. 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.”8
When choosing habits, Clear helps you find what habits suit your personality best as well as what you are best at naturally. He states that at the beginning of a new habit, you should explore as many possibilities as you can. Even when you are a professional, he suggests that you should still be exploring 10-20% of the time when you are not doing what you are currently best at during the other 80-90%.9
Concept #3: Reflection and Review
“A lack of self-awareness is poison. Reflection and review is the antidote.”10
Clear shares how he uses an Annual Review at the end of each year, tallying up how many articles he’s published, workouts he’s put in, places he’s visited, etc. and evaluating his efforts using the following questions:
You can view an example of one of his Annual Reviews here.
This report makes sure that he isn’t just planning but doing.
“When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t merely want to be planning. You want to be practicing.”11
He also does what he calls and “Integrity Report” at the start of summer. This report is to ensure that he is working towards who he wants to become by answering the following:
You can view an example of one of his Integrity Reports here.
Clear states that it is crucial to build identity-based habits because, “True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity.”12
He goes further by explaining how this mindset can make a world of difference. If you are a smoker who is trying to quit, rather than saying “No thanks. I’m trying to quit,” when offered, he suggests saying, “No thanks. I’m not a smoker,” instead. This is a minor tweak that forces you to think twice about how habits cast votes for the type of person you are or want to become.13
Tip #1: Immediate Pleasure vs. Ultimate Success
“With our bad habits, the immediate outcome usually feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad. With good habits, it is the reverse; the immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good… As a general rule, the more immediate pleasure you get from an action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals.”14
Tip #2: The Habit Tracker
Clear states that, “The mere act of tracking a behavior can spark the urge to change it.”15 By simply keeping track of when you complete the habits you want to build and improve on, this gives you enough satisfaction to keep going.
“I try to remind myself of a simple rule: never miss twice… Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you… This is why ‘bad’ workouts are often the most important ones. Sluggish days and bad workouts maintain the compound gains you accrued from previous good days. Simply doing something – ten squats, five sprints, a push-up, anything really – is huge. Don’t put up a zero. Don’t let losses eat into your compounding.”16
Another important thing is to make sure you are measuring the right thing:
“Measurement is only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture, not when it consumes you… If you’re not feeling motivated by the number on the scale, perhaps it’s time to focus on a different measurement – one that gives you more signals of progress.”17
Tip #3: Pointing-and-Calling
Pointing-and-Calling, as you may get from the name, is pointing at something and calling it out before proceeding. These are basic things that are likely not to be forgotten but we get complacent about.
“This process, known as Pointing-and-Calling, is a safety system designed to reduce mistakes. It seems silly, but it works incredibly well. Pointing-and-Calling reduces errors by up to 85 percent and cuts accidents by 30 percent… Pointing-and-Calling is so effective because it raises the level of awareness from a nonconscious habit to a more conscious level… when we’ve done something a thousand times before, we begin to overlook things.”18
There were several other concepts and tips in Atomic Habits that I wanted to share but the post would never get read because it would be too long. Plus, I strongly recommend getting the book for yourself if you want to reap all the benefits from James’s knowledge bombs that he drops in this book.
Here is a link to purchase the book on Amazon.
“Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.”19
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