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Atomic Habits summary

Atomic Habits is the book to read if you want to break the behaviours which bring you down and adopt good ones.

The name of the book gives you a clue about its philosophy. It looks at how you can break down habits into smaller parts making it easier for you to adopt them.

The author, James Clear, implemented several of these atomic habits into his own life and saw a marked improvement. The premise is simple; by aiming to improve your habits a little bit every day, this change will snowball over time producing big results.

One of the biggest misconceptions about change is that it’s a sudden process. this is almost always wrong. Instead, change occurs over a length of time, with small improvements adding up until they pay off down the line.

This Atomic Habits summary will look at how you can take the lessons from this book and use them in your own life so you can break your own bad habits and develop good ones.

Atomic Habits summary

  • 1-sentence summary: Atomic Habits looks at how you can implement good habits into your life by changing your core behaviour.
  • Author: James Clear
  • Year published: 2018
  • Pages: 306
  • Rating: 8/10

Takeaway 1 – Focus on getting better by 1% every day

In the early 2000s, the British Cycling team was an also-ran. Aside from a few medals here and there, they weren’t much of a force to be reckoned with.

This changed when Dave Brailsford was appointed as Performance Director. His job was to improve the outcomes of the British Cycling team in major competitions.

To do this, Brailsford took an approach known as the ‘aggregation of marginal gains. This practice looked at how they could make small improvements that would add up over time.

Some of these included thorough washing of hands to reduce the chance of illnesses, changing the position of a rider’s seat and even rubbing alcohol on the tires for better grip.

This may have seemed ludicrous at the start, but these changes paid off in spectacular fashion. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, they won 60 per cent of the medals on offer. Four years later at the Olympics in London, they set nine Olympic records and seven world records.

This coincided with Bradley Wiggins becoming the first British rider to win the Tour de France in 2012. His teammate Chris Froome won the following year and in 2015, 2016 and 2017, while Geraint Thomas won in 2018. That represented five wins in seven years when no British rider had ever won the race beforehand.

This was a dramatic turnaround and while not all of it was down to marginal gains, they did play a role. By improving incrementally, those changes added up in the long run.

The same logic can apply to your life. By making small changes instead of grandiose ones, you’re making it easier for them to succeed. You can get better 1% per day, 10% is asking too much. But if you lower the bar to a level where it’s impossible not to jump over it, you’ll succeed in the long run.

Takeaway 2 – Habits are based on a four-step system

Developing habits is easy, but developing good ones is hard. It’s easy to slip into bad habits. Think of scrolling through your phone before bed or drinking a classic of coca-cola with your dinner.

These acts may have been impulsive at first, but over time they become ingrained becoming a reflex. This occurs due to a four-step process, one which you can use to your own benefit to develop good habits.

Without realising it, our environment plays a huge role in how we form our habits. If your phone is next to your bed at night, it’s more likely you’ll use it before bed than if it was in another room.

This is why it’s important to set your house in order before you begin creating new habits. You can use the process as laid out below:

  • Cue – A cue triggers your brain to initiate your behaviour. It’s a piece of information that predicts a reward.
  • Craving – the motivational force behind every habit. Whether it’s desiring washboard abs or a delicious bar of chocolate.
  • Response – This is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action.
  • Reward – Rewards are the end goal of every habit, which satisfies your craving.

It’s not a foolproof method, but if you follow these steps you have a better chance of creating lasting beneficial habits than not.

Takeaway 3 – To instil new habits they need to be simple

One of the key tenets of Atomic Habits is breaking down the steps to creating new habits. The clue is in the title of the book, atomic.

To create good habits, you have to be with yourself rather than against yourself. By making it easier to develop good habits, you make it more likely they will stick.

Take the example of flossing. My Dentist recommended I should start flossing a few years ago to improve my oral health. I noted his instructions and bought some dental floss.

But I kept forgetting to use it. Some days I’d remember, other days I wouldn’t. After reading this book, I realised what I was doing wrong. My floss wasn’t in my eyesight when I was brushing my teeth.

By putting my floss close to my toothbrush it became easier to remember floss because I had a visual cue. this simple change made it more likely I’d floss my teeth.

This process can be followed as such:

  • Make it obvious – The cue to develop the habit should be clear, such as placing floss next to your toothbrush.
  • Make it attractive – Flossing helps to instil good oral health and reduce my odds of needing dental treatment.
  • Make it easy – All I have to do is reach for the floss next to my toothbrush. Easy.
  • Make it satisfying – Flossing isn’t exactly satisfying, but if it means my oral health is improved that’s good enough.

This process can be applied to any habit you’re looking to develop. Flossing is a good example because it’s a habit we should do but likely don’t. By making such a simple change the odds of it becoming automatic greatly improve.

Favourite Quotes from Atomic Habits

  • “The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.”
  • “When you solve problems at the results level, you only solve them temporarily. In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.”
  • “The more deeply a thought or action is tied to your identity, the more difficult it is to change it. It can feel comfortable to believe what your culture believes (group identity) or to do what upholds your self-image (personal identity), even if it’s wrong. The biggest barrier to positive change at any level – individual, team, society – is identity conflict.”
  • “All behaviour is driven by the desire to solve a problem. Sometimes the problem is that you notice something good and you want to obtain it. sometimes the problem is that you are experiencing pain and you want to relieve it. Either way, the purpose of every habit is to solve the problems you face.”
  • In short: genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity. As physician Gabor Mate notes, ‘Genes can predispose, but they don’t predetermine.’ The areas where you are genetically predisposed to success are the areas where habits are more likely to be satisfying. The key is to direct your effort toward areas that both excite you and match your natural skills, to align your ambition with your ability.”

Atomic Habits review

This Atomic Habits summary has looked at how you can develop good habits in your life. I was sceptical about the book before reading it, but I was impressed by what I found.

The processes James Clear explains are intuitive and they’re easy to follow. He does a great job of breaking down how to create habits and by extension, how to avoid creating bad ones.

The book is similar to Deep Work, but a much better guide to its topic. It’s no surprise it’s sold over 1 million copies because the advice is so easy to follow.

It’s the ideal book to get to grips with implementing good habits. If you’ve read Mastery by Robert Greene, you’ll appreciate how important it is to instil good habits. the figures in his book would not have achieved what they did without them.

The book might come across as a little too preachy and your typical self-help jargon at times, but this doesn’t detract from its usefulness.

I doubt there’s a better book out there on habits. It’s an ideal book to read if you want your New Year’s resolutions to stick for example.

Who should read Atomic Habits?

Anyone who’s looking to develop better habits will benefit a lot from this book. I doubt there’s a better one out there for implementing better habits in your life.

If you’re a self-help junkie, student or anyone who wants to become a better version of yourself, Atomic Habits is an excellent book to set you on the right path.