How do you form a habit? Or more importantly, how do you break from an established pattern and start taking on more productive, positive habits that stick, transform, and enrich. Maybe you want to work more exercise into your lifestyle? Or perhaps you want to start drinking more water. Whatever it is, the way forward is to view habits as the compound interest of self-improvement, with tiny changes yielding remarkable results. That’s the idea of Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by New York Times bestselling author James Clear, focusing on the baby steps towards real progress; on getting 1% better every day.
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years” — an incredibly perceptive quote from none other than Bill Gates, and one which easily can be tethered to the overarching message of this book, which is fundamentally a gentle and inspiring push towards long-term thinking. Start now, celebrate later. There’s no better time to understand how we can make small habits work for our big, bodacious goals, especially now that we’ve left the complexities of 2020 behind and are watching the future through a new lens.
The term ‘Atomic Habits’ refers to the idea of a regular practise or routine that is not only small and easy to do but is also the source of incredible power, forming a competent and valuable system of compound growth. We all start somewhere, and if you want to take on more good habits, you simply start now.
Just as important as it is to talk about good habits, it’s equally insightful to examine the bad. Bad habits are those that repeat themselves again and again, like a thorn that’s too stubborn to fall or comfort too hypnotising to resist. According to Clear, we can quickly sink into bad habits not because we don’t want to change, but because we have the wrong system for change.
Atomic Habits is a well-written, considered and insightful exploration of that system for change. Within it, you accomplish more by focusing on less. “Success is the product of daily habits — not once-in-a-lifetime transformations”, Clear quotes within these pages.
It should be simple to understand the machinations of small habits writ large, but the notion of long-term thinking can often be obfuscated by our daily lives and individual comfort zones. Clear distils this knowledge in a way that can easily resonate with a great number of people, gently pushing them into their easy journey towards great success.
If you can get 1% better each day over the next year, you’ll be 37 times better by the time you’re done. And this applies to all goals, whether it’s losing weight, winning a race, or starting a business. But the important part is that you don’t focus on those goals, you concentrate on the systems through which you will achieve those goals — because systems keep the habits happening, and that’s ultimately what leads to the achievement you desire.
Breaking behaviour down to its technical workings may seem like an odd way to approach complex human behaviour, but simplifying and finessing the idea of change is really the best tool you have to achieve success. When you think of behaviour change, you should apply four laws when thinking about your goal: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. Clear’s way of tackling your goals brings the focus back to these fundamental requirements.
Say you want to get into better shape at home. A way to make it obvious is through something you check every day — your phone. An app such as Apple’s Fitness+ should take a prime position on your home screen so that you have the reminder staring at you in the face every time you check your phone, or you can simply set a reminder each day to start working out a certain time. Just make sure to find a place in the home where you can go to do the workout in the same spot every day. Then you need to make it attractive — reward yourself with a 10 minute Shavasana at the end of the workout. Making it easy? The Fitness+ app allows you to follow instructions on the screen easily, so there’s no need to read or think about your workout — just mimic the movements. End by making it satisfying by using an Apple Watch to track your progress and close the workout ring, essentially gamifying exercise and making it more engaging.
Another example would be learning the piano. You can make it obvious by placing your keyboard or piano in the lounge room so that you always walk past it and commit to an “implementation intention”, which is a way to be specific about your immediate goal. “I will practise the piano every day at 1 pm after I have lunch” is much more motivating than saying “I will practise the piano more”. Make it attractive by searching for songs that you love and including them as part of your daily practise. You can make it easier by downloading the Simply Piano app, once again leaning on technology to assist you in your road to progress; the app steps you through everything you need to know to get started, and has plenty of modern songs to practise with, rather than the usual tunes that piano books provide. Finally, you can make it satisfying with the app, using it to tailor songs to your competency level at the end of each course so that you can try out your new skills, and even show it off to your friends and family.
Want to drink more water? Make it obvious by placing a water bottle and glass on the kitchen bench in plain sight each day so that it’s the first thing you see when you’re about to brew a cup of coffee in the morning. Use Clear’s notion of “habit stacking” to help develop a self-dialogue that promises you will drink a glass of water before you make your coffee. If you really can’t get into water, make it attractive by buying a Sodastream and making your own sparkling water. Make it easier for you by keeping a bottle of water on your work desk each day for easy convenience, and you can make it satisfying by using a smartphone app like Waterminder, which intuitively tracks your liquid intake to help you hit your daily goal.
As Clear says, “you should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results” when it comes to making small and measured steps towards your long-term goals. As such, devising a method and planning how you’re going to tackle the short-term without making it feel overwhelming will end up paying remarkable dividends in the future. It’s all about starting now.