You probably know by now how much I love Atomic Habits book by James Clear.
The book is one of the best habits books in the market right now. I remember when I first heard about Atomic Habits from a YouTube video about productivity and goal setting.
I decided to get the book and I was surprised by the quality of content stacked in those 256 pages. Not only I built a 31-day reading streak for the first time in my life and wrote 20 high-quality articles on Medium and Ringoals. But also this book inspired me to build a habit tracker app called Systemize.
So whether you have read Atomic Habits or not, this article is for you. I will drive you through 20 life-changing lessons I learned from reading and applying the strategies mentioned in this amazing book.
Lesson #1 – Get 1% Better Every Day
This is one of the most important lessons I learned from Atomic Habits.
People often try to take bigger steps than they usually do. In most cases, this leads to failure. James Clear shows that improving yourself by 1% every day will have a bigger impact on your personality and your habits than taking big steps once a month.
For example, if you want to build a habit of reading books, don’t try to read 100 pages in one sit. You will get bored and you will say, “oh, reading is not for me”.
Instead, what James Clear suggests is to make it as easy as possible in the beginning. For example, start with reading just 2 pages every day. Small improvements will lead to big results in the long run.
Clear begins the book explaining this point 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. The coach didn’t try to change everything at once. Instead, his goal was to only improve his team by 1% every day.
And surprisingly enough, this technique had led the team to win the Tour de France for the first time in 110 years!
Lesson #2 – Your Habits Are A Mirror Of Your Identity
If you decided to only learn one thing from Atomic Habits, it should be this lesson.
Your habits are not a goal with a finish line. Your habits are a mirror of your identity. Don’t make your habit to read 30 books per year or write 10 articles in 10 months. Your habits should be to “become a reader” or “become a writer”, or “become a runner”.
Identity-based habits are more effective than outcome-based habits.
Identity-based habits will make you happy today, while outcome-based habits will delay happiness until you achieve your goal of having six-packs abs or making $1 million in cash.
Don’t be happy next year, be happy now.
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.
In other words, a simple identity shift from “I want to” to “I am” makes all the difference in the world.
This doesn’t mean you need to eliminate the outcome at all. Instead, it won’t be the central focus of your habits any more.
James proposes 3 layers of behavior change; (1) outcomes, (2) process, and (3) identity.
In order to have six-pack abs (outcome), you need to work out consistently and eat well (process), to become a man who has six-pack abs (identity).
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear explains this model in his book like this: “The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but who you want to become.”
He believes you first establish the identity, and then the process and outcomes will follow much easier.
Lesson #3 – The Habit Loop
At the core of this book is The 4-Step Habit Loop:
All our habits need to have these 4 elements to stick.
What’s the cue, the trigger, response, and reward? Here’s what it means:
The cue that begins the habit is John waking up. Every day he wakes up and thinks of checking his phone almost automatically.
Then he feels a craving to see if his friends have contacted him.
Then he responds by picking up the phone and typing some messages.
Finally, his reward is the feeling of social connection or belonging. That slight increase in mood ensures John will continue repeating this habit every morning.
This is the habit loop for checking social media every day.
Depending on whether you’re building a good habit or you want to get rid of a bad habit, the habit loop needs to look like this:
How To Create Good Habits:
- Cue – Make it obvious
- Craving – Make it attractive
- Response – Make it easy
- Reward – Make it satisfying
For example, if you want to build a habit of reading books, here’s how your habit look will look like:
Cue: Put the book on the pillow every morning
Craving: Play video games after I read 2 pages of this book
Response: Read at least 2 pages
Reward: Playing video games
How To Get Rid of Bad Habits:
- Cue – Make it invisible
- Craving – Make it unatractive
- Response – Make it difficult
- Reward – Make it unsatisfying
For example, here’s how to quit smoking:
Cue: Avoid sitting or going out with friends who smoke
Craving: Reframe your mindset. Highlight the benefits of avoiding your bad habit
Response: Go out with healthy friends
Reward: Feeling healthy
The best thing about the habit loop is it can be applied to any habit you want. So think about your habits and let me know in the comments how are you willing to do it.
Lesson #4 – Be Happy Now Not Later
Stop waiting for things to happen in order to be happy. Do what you can to be happy now.– Karen Salmansohn
Most people will give up on anything that makes them less happy. If you start a business to make money but you face a lot of struggles, you will quit.
If you get a new job but it’s so stressful and your boss is not respectful, you will quit. If you want to read 20 books but you find difficulties reading too much every day, you will quit.
Because you’re relying your happiness on the outcome you want to achieve. When you don’t get the desired outcome (money, respect, satisfaction), you feel less happy, and therefore you quit.
Sometimes quitting is the solution, as the example of the bad boss above. But in most cases, you can do something about it.
When it comes to building lasting habits, changing your identity to align with your new habit will not only help you stick to it, but also will make you happy every day.
If you want to become a writer and you commit to writing every day, you will feel happy even if you only wrote 1 or 2 pages.
Habits need to be easy at the beginning. Then when you get used to it, push yourself outside your comfort zone by some little steps.
But make sure not to increase your habits too often or too much. Because this will increase your chances of quitting.
Lesson #5 – Small Steps Lead To Big Changes
As they say, “A journey of 1000 miles begins with 1 step”.
Imagine if you start walking for 10 minutes every day. You won’t be in shape immediately but your body and your health will be much better after some time.
People usually look at their role models in sports or business and want to be like them in 1 week. Life doesn’t work like that, my friend.
Elon Musk didn’t become successful overnight. And he probably failed more than you tried.
Take small steps and be patient.
And remember, enjoy the journey before the destination. Be happy now, not later.
Lesson #6 – The Power of Rewards
Rewards make you satisfied.
Students forget all the studying nights and the stressful exam days the moment they receive their graduation degree.
Your reward can be anything you love or enjoy doing. It can be smaller than that, just the feeling of crossing your habit out of your to-do list can make you happy.
Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit. You can also get that feeling of satisfaction by building a habit streak and “don’t break the chain”. You can use Systemize for this.
Lesson #7 – Triggers Are The Key
The smell of cigarettes is what makes smokers smoke. The push notification sound is what makes you lose focus on your current task to check messages or emails.
Never underestimate triggers. Because they can be a double-edged sword.
Triggers can help you build good habits, but they also can make it hard for you to give up on bad habits.
As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “No behavior happens in isolation. Each action becomes a cue that triggers the next behavior.”
The trigger must be obvious.
So if you want to build a habit of reading books instead of watching TV, place the book where you can reach it faster than the TV remote.
The trigger can also be as simple as an old habit that’s already rooted in your routine. This is called Habit Stacking.
Each action triggers the next actions. It’s easier to stick to a new habit if you implement it immediately after an old habit. For instance, if you want to do journaling, and you’re used to meditating every day in the morning, so you can do your journaling immediately after meditating.
In this case, meditating is the trigger for your new journaling habit.
Lesson #8 – Consistency Is All You Need
The entire concept of improving yourself by 1% every day is based on consistency.
Sticking to a new habit is not about time, it’s about frequency. If you do something every day, your progress in 1 month will be bigger than if you do it once a week.
In order to have six-pack abs, you need to work out consistently. If you want to write a book, you need to write consistently.
It can be overwhelming sometimes, but if you combine all the techniques in this article, this habit will become rooted in your identity.
Lesson #9 – Track Your Progress
Let’s face it.
Most people give up because they think they’re not doing any progress.
So having a way to track your progress over time can be beneficial in the short and long run. You can track your progress by using the traditional habit tracking notebook or by using one of the habit tracker apps like Systemize.
Lesson #10 – Don’t Judge Your Progress Too Soon
James Clear calls this concept “Compound Interest”. The idea behind this concept is that people think their progress in building habits should be linear. However, in reality, it’s not.
Change takes time. As you can see in the image below, you need to pass a threshold before you start seeing results.
As James Clear says, “Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You need to be patient”.
Lesson #11 – Systems Are More Important Than Goals
The book Atomic Habits is based on the concept of systems.
It goes like this.
If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.– Atomic Habits
Everyone has goals, but only a small number of people will take the effort and build systems to achieve these goals.
A system is a process we must follow to make progress in any area of our lives. For example, if our goal is to be a published author, then our system may include: writing 2 hours every evening, contacting 5 publishers every week, and taking two writing courses every year at the local university.
Plus, with systems, we can find more enjoyment in doing the activity itself. That’s the best way to maintain our motivation in the long term.
Lesson #12 – Something is Better Than Nothing
Building lasting habits is not about taking big steps.
Consistently doing something small is more sustainable than inconsistently doing something large. Reading 2 pages every day is better than reading 10 pages every month.
Just take it easy.
Don’t worry if you’re progressing slowly. 1 year from now you will improve more than those who don’t progress at all.
Lesson #13 – Never Miss Twice
“The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.”James Clear (Atomic Habits)
We all miss once. We may get busy or have some unexpected events that prevent us from working on our habits. But make sure to never miss twice.
And don’t overthink it. Just go back on track and keep progressing.
Lesson #14 – Design Your Environment For Success
If you want to build a habit make the cue obvious. You’re more likely to stick to a habit if your environment encourages this action.
For instance, if you want to focus on your studies, make sure your desk is clean. Put everything you need in front of you and remove any distracting elements.
If you want to build a habit of running every morning, put your shoes near the bed before you go to sleep. Be creative about your environment and design it for success.
Lesson #15 – The 2-Minute Rule
The 2-minute rule is a powerful technique to avoid procrastination. Think about using the phone, you open it to check the time or to see what’s new but end up spending a full hour scrolling through social media.
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear explains this concept very well.
Even when you know you should start small, it’s easy to start too big. When you dream about making a change, excitement inevitably takes over and you end up trying to do too much too soon. The most effective way I know to counteract this tendency is to use the Two-Minute Rule, which states, ‘When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.’
Nearly any larger life goal can be transformed into a two-minute behavior. I want to live a healthy and long life > I need to stay in shape > I need to exercise > I need to change into my workout clothes. I want to have a happy marriage > I need to be a good partner > I should do something each day to make my partner’s life easier > I should meal plan for next week.
Breaking down your habits into small chunks is very useful to avoid procrastination.
For instance, if you want to become a runner, this habit should start with a simple system like “Wear your running shoes”.
It’s one way to avoid thinking about all the effort you need to go for a run. Once you wear your running shoes, taking the next step will be a lot easier.
Lesson #16 – Use Your Current Habits As A Support
We talked about this concept early, it’s called Habit Stacking.
Using your current habits as a support to build new habits is my most effective method to stick to my habits. I use habit stacking with most of my habits.
Give it a try and let me know if it worked for you.
Lesson #17 – Be Very Specific
If you want to be serious about your new habits, you need to be specific. When and where are you willing to work on your habits?
Start your plan like this: I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Here are some examples that you can build upon:
Meditation. I will meditate for one minute at 7 a.m. in my kitchen.
Studying. I will study Spanish for twenty minutes at 6 p.m. in my bedroom.
Exercise. I will exercise for one hour at 5 p.m. in my local gym.
Marriage. I will make my partner a cup of tea at 8 a.m. in the kitchen”
Lesson #18 – Frequency is More Important Than Time
Habits form based on frequency, not time.James Clear (Atomic Habits)
Sure, time can be important sometimes. But here’s the trick: First show up a habit, then master it.
Don’t try to be a perfectionist from day 1 or even week 1. Doing something for 10 minutes 5 times a week may look like a little effort to some people.
But our goal at the beginning is not to master that habit, our goal is to stick to it. Once it’s rooted in our identity, we will improve and increase the working effort.
Skipping this first step will lead to failure, for sure.
Lesson #19 – It’s Okay To Be A Beginner
Everyone was a beginner when they first started, right?
It’s about consistency, vision, and patience.
You are not in a hurry. You prefer a holistic approach. You look at the object of study from as many angles as possible, giving your thoughts added dimensions.Robert Greene (Mastery)
This is a deep quote. Don’t everything your skills at the beginning. It’s okay if no one reads your articles, if you do it consistently, this situation will change.
It’s okay to be a beginner. It’s a part of the journey.
Lesson #20 – Don’t Do This Alone
Having a partner to work with on your habits helps you stick to them longer. You can motivate each other to go for a run together or go to the gym together.
If you don’t have a partner you can join Facebook groups or subreddits interested in habits and share your journey there. Your stories can be an inspiration to someone somewhere in the world.
That was a long article!
The takeaway from this article is to work on your habits slowly and consistently. Our goal is to improve ourselves by 1% percent every day. It doesn’t matter if our progress is slow. Progress is progress and it’s better than nothing.
I hope this article helps someone stick to their habits. If you enjoyed this article leave a comment below or maybe take a look at the other articles here in the blog.