In his book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear accessibly compiles lots of scientific research on habits into a practical and applicable format for the reader. This is not a book on what habits are bad or good. He leaves that up to you to determine. This is a book on how to start good habits and how to end bad habits. It is full of a wide variety of examples from smoking, reading, mediating, exercising, writing, biting nails, drinking more water, managing social media, sleep, and more. Here are my three biggest lessons.
1% Really Matters
This is the lesson from the book that I have come back to nearly every day since reading it. 1% really matters over time. Clear begins the book with a very compelling story of a cycling coach who helped the British cycling team make lots of very small improvements which added up to big results.
If I make a very small 1% improvement in my health, my time management, or my relationships and keep that improvement over the next year or 365 days, that 1% improvement can really pay off. This can take off exponentially if I make a 1% improvement today, and then make another additional 1% improvement tomorrow, and repeat making these small improvements over the next year. Little decisions and choices made over and over again, really add up. This little nugget has helped motivate me to make inconvenient or slightly undesirable but better choices over and over since reading the book.
Layers of Change
This is a simplified version of two approaches I learned a while ago and often apply with my coaching clients. First of all, too often we focus on outcomes, when our focus should be on process. We can’t control winning the game or getting the job, but we can have agency over our effort, hard work, preparation, communication, and more. When we focus on the outcome we often can feel out of control, but focusing on the process keeps us in our agency.
Second, making a whole series of changes at once can be overwhelming and hard to track, adhere to, and leave us giving up quickly. However, a shift in our identity can often subsume a wide variety of changes all at once. For example you can aspire to eat better, sleep better, exercise more often, and much more OR you can adopt the identity of “I am an athlete.” This identity shift can have you living into a whole series of changes as one shift. Identity shifts can be challenging to make but once made they do tend to really stick.
Clear offers 4 Laws for behavioral change and good habits. These can also be inverted to be useful in stopping bad habits. His book goes into much greater detail and his website offers lots of great and simple blogs to explore these in actionable ways.
- Make it obvious.
- Make it attractive.
- Make it easy.
- Make it satisfying.