Book Review: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Wow! That is my one-word summary of this book.  I am so motivated right now and I have so many ideas that I want to try after reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.  Suzanne talked about this book this summer in one of her Thursday nutrition talks and I put it on my reading list then, but the beginning of the year just seemed like the perfect time to really get into a book about habits. 

Let’s start with defining habits. Clear defines a habit as “a behavior that has been repeated enough times to be automatic.”  He further defines an atomic habit as “a little habit that is part of a larger system”.  He begins the book talking about small changes and how even a 1% improvement can compound over time and become a big achievement.  The problem is that when people decide they want to make changes they want those changes to be big and immediate and we don’t take the time to figure out how to make small, lasting habits that can lead to big changes over time. There are four steps that he outlines throughout the rest of the book that will help you create good habits and break bad habits but before you get to those you must identify the type of change you want.  Clear states there are three types of change, outcome change, process change and identity change. When most of try to start or stop a habit we are in the outcome or process stage but to make real change in our life we need to get to the identity change stage.  This is where we focus not on what we want to change, but on who we want to become. 

The rest of the book is a guide on how to create good habits and break bad habits. Clear outlines his Four Laws of Behavior Change as a “simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy and (4) make it satisfying.” There are multiple tips and steps within each rule. With any book like this, the ideas that “speak” to you or that you decide to try are going to be different for everyone, but I thought I’d go ahead and try to give you a snapshot of which tips I am now trying to incorporate into my daily habits.

I started with the identity change. Who do I want to become? I want to be a healthy person. I also figured I needed a daily reminder of who I want to be so there is now a post -it -note on my computer that simply says, “I am a healthy person.” From there I started thinking about what habits I have been wanting to incorporate into my daily routines that go along with my idea of a healthy person and I decided on four to begin with.

The first one is using my Headspace app. I have had a subscription for a couple years now and I mainly use it at night to help me sleep but decided it was time to branch out.  The hardest part is finding a consistent time to meditate. In the 1st Law, Clear talks about habit stacking, which is choosing a current habit and then performing the new habit right after the current one. One thing I do every morning is have a cup of coffee. Post-it-note two, “After I pour my coffee, I will listen to my Headspace App”. 

The 2nd Law is to “make it attractive”. After finishing the 100 Workout Challenge this year, I decided I really wanted to keep that momentum going and to complete 100 workouts in the first half of 2021. Something I have not done in the past.  One of the steps in the 2nd Law is to “join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior” Done! Thank you to my Forward Fitness family for this. 

“Make it easy” is the 3rd Law. My favorite idea here is the “Two-minute rule” Start off by making your habit something you can do in 2 minutes and build from there.  The next habit I wanted to do was to start flossing every day. I brush my teeth every day but flossing just seems like a hassle, so I floss regularly twice a year right before I go to the dentist. I timed myself today.  It       took 1 minute and 30 seconds to floss. The third post-it-note that is now right next to my toothbrush, “After I brush, I will floss”. 

The 4th Law is “make it satisfying”. My big Christmas present this year was an Elliptical. It’s in the basement, not very obvious or easy. One thing that I like about the 100 Workout Challenge is simply marking each workout off on the card that we get.  It’s just fun to see it fill up. James Clear has an atomic habits website with some habit building tools and one is a habit tracker. I was writing down when I used the elliptical in my daily planner, but I printed a Habit Tracker sheet last night and filled it out for all of these habits and again oddly satisfying to see the x’s in the boxes.  

I will need to continue to find other ways to make all these activities become true habits, but I have a start on them now and I’m excited to continue to use ideas from this book with these and other habits that I want to create and some I need to break. How perfect is it that there is a Habits Challenge getting ready to start at Forward Fitness?

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking to make even small habit changes in their lives. I found this book easy to read and for me it was definitely motivating. Clear uses stories to illustrate his points and each chapter ends with a short summary of key points. I’m happy to lend my copy to any of our Forward Fitness members that might be interested in reading it.  But fair warning I read with a highlighter in one hand.   

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