Top tips to learn from Atomic Habits by James Clear
Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, shaping our minds as we shape our bodies. In the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, the author lays out a system for building new habits that will stick with you over time. The following are my key takeaways from this book:
Are you interested in building better habits and becoming more productive? If so, read on! I've read many books on this topic but found James Clear's Atomic Habits to be one of the most practical and actionable. In this post, I'll share my top takeaways from this book and explain how you can apply them to your life today.
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the status of your systems.
This is a big lesson for me, and it has taken me many years to learn. I used to set goals and take action only when I felt like it. But this never worked because my schedule was not consistently optimized for growth.
To achieve your goals, you need a system to help you get there. You cannot rely on motivation or inspiration alone. You'll either get stuck in the planning cycle but never work on your project or spend all your time on the wrong thing altogether.
The most practical way to change your habits is to focus on change rather than results.
The most practical way to change your habits is to focus on the process, not the result. It's tempting to believe that you can achieve a specific outcome through sheer force of will and determination.
However, this approach often leads us wrong.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear states, "The best way to make long-term changes in our behavior is by focusing on process rather than results." Instead of thinking about what you want or how much weight you want to lose in six weeks (the destination), think about what it takes for you each day (the journey).
For example: If I have dinner tonight with my friend Michael at his apartment from 5 pm until 7 pm, I can walk home instead of taking an Uber. This will help me lose weight because walking burns more calories than sitting down!
Motivation is overrated; the environment often matters more.
- Motivation is overrated. Environment often matters more.
- Motivation is not sustainable. Environment is.
- Motivation is not reliable or consistent over time, but the environment can be — if you create it that way.
- You don't have to rely on motivation to get things done.
It's easier than you think to set up your environment for success so that your habits become automatic and natural, even when you're tired, stressed, or tempted by distractions!
How you do something is how you accomplish everything.
In other words, if you want to be successful in any area of your life, you must have a consistent approach to operating. This means discipline and sticking to the plan when there are obstacles or setbacks along the way. This principle applies even at the most basic level. Imagine something has become a hard-core habit in your life (like brushing your teeth every night). In that case, it will be easier for you to form other patterns that require discipline and consistency (like going to bed on time).
The best example of this concept comes from my own life: I used to wake up late every morning because I had no routine or schedule for getting ready for work. As a result, I would always feel rushed during my morning routine because there was never enough time. After reading Atomic Habits by James Clear and listening to his audiobook several times, one thing has remained true: Discipline matters more than motivation! This quote is exceptionally accurate regarding health-related goals such as eating healthy foods regularly instead of junk food all day long, five days per week.
Use the Two-Minute Rule to build new habits.
Have you ever tried to do something, like meditate or go for a jog, but found that it was just too hard to stick with?
You're not alone.
When we look at the statistics around habit-building, they show that most people don't stick with their new habits for longer than two weeks. So many people fail at creating and maintaining habits because they try to do too much at once. To get a better understanding of how you can use the Two-Minute Rule to build better habits, let's take a look at an example of the rule in action:
Say that today is Monday, and your goal is to run three miles every day this week (or any other week). Suppose this seems like a big task for you right now. In that case, it probably feels overwhelming—then it might be time to try out the two-minute rule instead of attacking your habit from all angles. James explains in his book: "If we want something badly enough," he writes, "we'll find ways around obstacles."
When you fall off track, get back on immediately. Don't wait until tomorrow or Monday, or New Year's Day.
It's easy to get off track.
New habits are difficult to form and even more challenging to maintain. We all want to be better than we are right now, but the fact is that we're human and prone to mistakes, failures, and setbacks.
When you fall off track, get back on immediately. Don't wait until tomorrow, Monday, or New Year's Day—get back today!
You might not feel like it (and that's okay), but staying in your trench won't make things accessible or better in the long run. You may have a plan for when you'll start again, but it doesn't matter what was supposed to happen next. What matters is forging through whatever confusion or inertia might be holding you back so that you can stay consistent with your habits over time.
Building good habits can be easy if you work methodically and discipline yourself to follow through.
A habit is something you do without thinking. It's a behavior you perform on autopilot, something that can become so ingrained into your life that it feels like second nature. Habits are essential for success because they make our lives easier and more efficient.
They also facilitate the learning process by allowing us to focus more time on other things while still achieving the same results. But many people struggle with building good habits because they lack discipline and motivation.
And this is where Atomic Habits come in.
Atomic Habits teaches us how to create new habits, break bad ones, overcome obstacles, manage stress levels, and much more. In short: it explains what our brains are doing every day. It provides practical advice on how we can improve our lives by taking advantage of these cognitive processes (or not).
Make it obvious
James Clear suggests that you make your plans evident to yourself and others. He recommends using a calendar or reminder app and visual cues like sticky notes to keep track of your habit-building progress.
If you have trouble keeping up with a habit tracker, try using a habit tracker app. These apps make tracking your habits easy by allowing users to set up daily reminders and reminders at specific times (like when they're driving).
Make it attractive
The next step is to make the habit attractive. The more attractive a pattern is, the more likely it will be repeated. As a result, you want to make your new action as easy and enjoyable as possible. This can be achieved by making sure your new habit has the following qualities:
- It's easy – if it requires too much effort or energy, people won't do it consistently enough.
- It feels good – if you enjoy doing something or get some reward (e.g., money), you will be incentivized to continue that activity regularly.
Make it easy
- Make it easy to start.
- Make it easy to stick to.
- Make it easy to continue.
- Make it easy to measure.
- Make it easy to track.
- Make it easy to change, stop or manage at any time if needed (we'll talk more about this later).
Make it satisfying
One of the most effective ways to make the habit more satisfying is rewarding yourself after completing each step. The great thing about this method is that you're not just rewarding yourself with something external, like money or a new toy.
You're also rewarding yourself internally with positive emotions. Studies show that people who do this are more likely to stick with their goals because they feel good about themselves. They know they will get another positive reward if they continue to work toward their goals. Prizes can range anywhere from going for a walk after exercising, or eating healthy food after eating fast food, to receiving an A on an assignment or finishing a project at work early! Make sure it's relevant and reasonable (not too expensive).
There are a lot of things that cost nothing. However, I recommend ensuring that whatever your reward costs less than INR 500 per month (or whatever is reasonable for your budget). Otherwise, it might become too tempting as something else prioritizes achieving your goal. This is a potential problem when trying to develop habits and become more efficient in general!
Use habit stacking to automate your habits
Habit stacking is the practice of creating a series of simple daily actions, or habits, that lead to something bigger than themselves. For example, let's say you want to start doing yoga every day. Going to a yoga class alone isn't enough; it's hard for some people to get there consistently without other habits, such as eating breakfast or exercising at home first thing in the morning.
So instead of thinking, "I'm going to go to yoga class," think, "I'm going to eat breakfast and then exercise." This small change could make a massive difference in your life if you're also trying out new things.
Use habit tracking to measure your progress and stay motivated
You can use a habit tracker to measure your progress and stay motivated.
One example is Lift, an app that lets you track habits for free.
You'll be able to see how many days in a row you've completed the habit; over time, this will help you realize that it gets easier. This is important because once people see that something has become easier or more automatic, they're more likely to continue doing it!
Join or create a culture where your behavior is the norm
The more you surround yourself with people doing the same thing, the more likely you will succeed. It's easier to do something if you have a community of people around you who are doing it. The more people around us act in a certain way, the less we feel like we're weird for working that way too. We often don't realize how powerful this principle can be because we consider it "peer pressure." But peer pressure doesn't just apply when someone is pressuring us. It also shows up when we see our friends or colleagues acting in specific ways and want to emulate them.
Create an implementation intention for your habits
When you're deciding what your next goal is, it's essential to create an implementation intention. This is a plan for how you intend to achieve your goal. You can think of this as the "how will I do that?" part of your larger goal, and it serves as a blueprint for success. Here are the steps:
- Define what you want to achieve
- Define the steps needed to achieve it
- Define when you perform those actions or behaviors (the time component)
- Define how often or regularly these actions should be performed (the frequency component)
- Why do I want this? Why does this matter so much? The purpose component helps align our intentions with our values and why we're doing what we're doing in the first place.
Use temptation bundling to motivate yourself by combining something you need to do with something you have to do
One of the most valuable tactics in this book is the concept of temptation bundling. Temptation building is a way to combine two things that you need or want to do to increase your chances of success. For example, suppose you want to go for a run but don't feel like it because it's cold outside. In that case, you could bundle up with an audiobook and hope listening while exercising will make it easier.
Or if you're trying to reduce your sugar intake but love chocolate chip cookies (who doesn't?). You could buy a bag of minions and eat one after every meal instead of having something sweet before bed at night. Temptation bundling can be used for things other than work-life balance.
It can also be applied when trying new hobbies or activities by pairing them with something else enjoyable as an additional motivator. For example, suppose I'm planning on learning piano. But I am unsure how much time practicing will take away from my other activities (and thus how much money I'll have leftovers). In that case, I might decide I'll get an extra hour on Netflix whenever I practice the piano daily. Hence, fewer episodes are left behind on my favorites list when bingeing later on in life!
Little things can have a significant impact.
The next time you're tempted to make a significant change, consider making it smaller. You might be surprised by how much impact even the most minor changes can have on your life.
- Small changes increase over time and make a big difference in the long run.
- You'll build momentum to keep moving forward with your goals (or habits) by making small daily changes.
- Starting small is more straightforward than starting big because it's more manageable.
I hope you will enjoy reading this book as much as I wanted to write about it. It's been amazing to see how many people have found value in these simple techniques and applied them successfully to their own lives. The bottom line is that you can't make changes unless willing to work. Habits are powerful because they are automatic, but this doesn't mean they happen independently—you have to build them with intentionality and follow-through. Committing to doing something small daily will become part of your routine without much effort.