Jul 22, 2019

Book Review: Atomic Habits by James Clear

This book has been on my wishlist for quite some time. I finally got hold of a copy thanks to a nice Kindle deal (currently it is even better - Rs.149. Grab it before it goes away).

What a fascinating read it was! The author has broken down in detail the habit formation process with so many interesting case studies. He defines a habit as "a routine or behavior that is performed regularly—and, in many cases, automatically."

In the first chapter, he sets the context on the importance and role of daily habits in our life.

The quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits. Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.

The section on why one should focus on systems/processes (that translate to habits) rather than end-goals was thought-provoking.

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. 
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

The other aspect that I found so relatable is the role of identity that helps us to be consistent with our habits. For eg, I tell myself that I'm a health-conscious person who doesn't eat packaged foods. Not "I want to avoid packaged foods". You see the difference there? 

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m
the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.

True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason
you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity.
When your behavior and your identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behavior change. You are
simply acting like the type of person you already believe yourself to be.

The author then goes onto share a 4 law behavior change framework that will help us build better habits (or break bad habits) along with interesting strategies to accomplish the same.
  • Make it obvious => Implementation intention, habit stacking, setting up your environment
  • Make it attractive => Temptation bundling, the role of the tribe
  • Make it easy => Law of least effort, commitment device
  • Make it satisfying => immediate rewards, accountability partner

Towards the end, he talks about identifying the right set of habits and pursuing them for meaningful reasons. There were many aha moments for me, particularly in the last chapter. I was highlighting so many phrases and passages. A couple of my most favorite lines below:

The work that hurts you less than it hurts others is the work you were made to do.

When you observe a cue, but do not desire to change your state, you are content with the current situation.
Happiness is not about the achievement of pleasure (which is joy or satisfaction), but about the lack of desire.

Though one can find similarities with the cue-craving-response-reward flow from Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, this book expands on the flow a little more in-depth. There is also a bit of similarity with BJ Fogg's Tiny Habits concepts. Nevertheless, the ideas explained are cohesive and easy to follow.

It is a voluminous book. Though easy to read, it does require enough focus and attention to grasp the concepts. Invest your time in this book if you find habit formation an interesting topic to explore.

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