“Atomic Habits” is a book about changing habits written by James Clear. This book has sold over 7 million copies worldwide and is considered one of the best books to read if you are struggling to make a new habit or leave an old one.

Here, I give you key insights from this book.

Atomic Habit is the smallest habit that can change your behaviour and identity. 

This tiny habit may bring only 1% change in you.

But, if you keep improving just 1% every day, you will achieve 37% betterment in one year.

In the same way, if you get 1% worse every day you will reach ‘0’ in one year.

Small Changes + Consistency = Great Results

Takeaway #1.Plateau of Latent Potential and Valley of Disappointment

It is difficult to stay consistent with big changes – especially when they are sudden – while it is much easier to make small changes and stay consistent with them.

Whatever the changes you make, they take time to show visible results.

This time gap until you see visible results is called the “Plateau Of Latent Potential” by James Clear.

For example, when you place an ice cube at room temperature, it doesn’t melt right away. 

When you raise the temperature from 26 to 31 nothing happens.

But, when it changes from 31 to 32, you can see the ice melting.

This does not mean that nothing happened until 31 degrees.

We see breakthrough moments at a certain moment in time.

Any new work will remain in the “Valley Of Disappointment” until this breakthrough moment arrives. 

Once your work reaches the breakthrough moment, it seems like an overnight success.

Everyone expects the change to be linear i.e., we expect to see the results of our work, almost immediately. 

But, in reality, it takes a long time to see the visible results of our work.

While in this ‘Valley of Disappointment’, it is not uncommon to get demotivated and lose interest in work.

What we can do to conquer such ideas and achieve the desired results?

#2. Systems vs Goals: Layers of Behaviour Change

Goals are the results we want to achieve while systems are the processes that help us achieve those results.

James Clear suggests focusing on the systems that are needed to reach the goals and not on the goals.

The picture shown here is called ‘Layers of Behaviour Change’

The first layer shown here is outcome-based. It deals with our goals. These include winning a gold medal, losing weight etc.,

The second layer is process-based. It deals with our habits. This includes getting into the habit of going to the gym or meditating. 

The third layer is identity-based. It deals with our beliefs. It includes our beliefs and opinions about the world and ourselves.

We try to bring change from the outside to the inside i.e. we try to change our beliefs by changing our habits. But, the change must start from within. 

Let the change begin with what you think about yourself and the surrounding ones.

There are two smokers trying to quit smoking. One of their friends offered them a smoke. 

One of them says, “No, I want to quit smoking.”

The second person says, “No, I’m not a smoker.”

While the first person is still ‘trying to change’, the second person changed the way he looks at himself.

A person who changes an identity-based approach sees themselves as the person they want to be.

Changing a habit in an identity-based approach changes the way you look at yourself and the way you design your life around that habit. 

The habits you make to achieve a particular goal stop when you reach the goal. There is no motivation or reason to move forward with that habit after you reach your goal.

This is the main reason, people cannot keep doing what they do.

If your goal is to lose weight, your journey to a healthy life stops as soon as you reach the desired weight. But, if you want to exercise because healthy people exercise, your fitness journey will keep going. And you do not have to worry about your weight ever again.

#3. Changing Habits: The Four Laws of Behaviour Change.

James Clear suggests a four-step method to change habits.

First, you need to decide how you want to change your identity and why you want to make a new habit or get rid of any old habit.

Then, make a list of everything you do daily.

Depending on your lifestyle and the goals you want to achieve, mark your habits as good, bad or neutral.

Any habit is formed in 4 stages.

1. Cue

2. Craving

3. Response

4. Reward.

The cue triggers your brain to do something.

Craving is the motivational force that motivates you to work.

Response. This is a real habit. The idea or action you take to satisfy the craving.

Reward delivers satisfaction to craving.

Example: When we go into a dark room, we turn on the light immediately. Even in that fraction of a moment, all these four stages occur.

Cue: Going to a dark room

Craving: Wanting to see

Response: Switch on the light

Reward: Satisfy the craving by being able to see.

Switching on the light is associated with being in a dark room.

Bringing about change in these 4 stages is called “The 4 Laws of Behaviour change”.

1st Law of Behaviour Change (CUE):

Make it Obvious / Make it Invisible

Adjust your surroundings to suit your habits.

Keep your workout clothes next to your bed if you want to do a workout early in the morning. If you want to eat more fruits, keep the fruits visible on the table rather than on the last shelf of your fridge.

To get rid of bad habits, keep them away from you.

 If you watch TV a lot, remove it from the bedroom. Avoid reading reviews on the latest gadgets if you are spending more gadgets.

2nd Law of Behavior Change (Craving): 

Make it Attractive / Make it Unattractive.

Make your habits attractive. 

James Clear suggests a method to make your habits attractive i.e., “Temptation Bundling”.  

Temptation Bundling means setting a rule that you have to do what needs to be done between what you already do and what you like to do. 

Suppose you want to browse the news. But there is a presentation that you need to prepare. Then you can plan like this. “After having lunch, I will make the presentation and then browse the news.” The excitement of going to do what you love makes your afternoon plan much more exciting.

Every surface-level craving has an underlying motive. 

For example, the real reason behind wanting to browse Facebook is to connect and bond with other people. When this underlying motive is identified, you can avoid unnecessary habits by a change in your mindset.

3rd Law of Behavior Change (Response): 

Make it Easy / Make it difficult:

“Make it easy to start and the rest will follow,” says James. 

He suggests 2 minute rule to start any task easily. Start with a simple 2-minute task to do a huge task. 

If you want to write a book, start with writing a sentence. Writing a sentence is a simple task, isn’t it? So you get started easily. Once started, the writer cannot stop with one sentence.

If you want to get rid of any bad habit, make it difficult to do. 

If you want to get rid of the habit of watching too much TV, unplug it and put it in the cupboard until your next use. This makes the whole TV viewing experience a Herculean task.

4th Law of Behaviour Change (Reward): 

Make it satisfying / Make it Unsatisfying

What is immediately rewarded is repeated and what is immediately punished is avoided.

It is human nature, to repeat behaviours that are immediately rewarded and to avoid behaviours that are immediately punished. 

Habit tracking is one such rewarding experience. It creates a sense of satisfaction and self-appreciation. Habit tracking is when you list out all the habits you want to follow and when you successfully finish a habit routine you tick the check boxes against that habit. This, ticking the check box physically, creates a sense of self-appreciation.

You can also choose to have an accountability partner. An accountability partner could be a friend or family member, who makes sure you do not skip your habit routines. 

You can set up an accountability partner even to get rid of any habit.

If you follow these four steps, you can change any habit very easily.

Let us quickly review the above points..

  • You can achieve 37% betterment in a single year by improving just 1% of everything you do.
  • Your success will be long-term if you focus on systems rather than your goals.
  • 4 Laws of behaviour change:
  1. Cue – :Adjust your surroundings to suit your habits.
  2. Craving – Make your habits attractive using techniques like temptation bundling.
  3. Response – Make any task easy using the 2 Min Rule.
  4. Reward – Make every habit a rewarding experience with techniques like Habit Tracking.

About the Author :

James Clear is a writer, and speaker focused on habits, decision making, and continuous improvement.

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