Lessons Learned: Atomic Habits by James Clear
A few lessons that will help you take control of your habits
I decided to start the new year by reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. Lots of people I respect recommended it, and #NewYearNewMe, right? Right after I started the book, I had an epiphany about habits that changed how I saw the rest of what I read. I got up to make tea in the kitchen the other night. As I started for the kitchen, I felt a craving for candy. I realized for the past few weeks, I was getting candy every time I went to the kitchen. All it took to trigger the association was standing up to walk to the kitchen. We have all created routines like that; Atomic Habits helps explain what they are and what to do with them.
I put off reading this book for a long time. I previously read The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and I assumed Atomic Habits held the same information written by someone who just wanted to sell a book. I was wrong. The Power of Habit is a helpful explanation of habits. It will help you understand what habits are and why you should care about them. Atomic Habits will help you become conscious of your habits and the process for changing and taking control of them.
It All Starts With Thinking Habits
James Clear frames all habits as a vote for the type of person you want to be. My interest in habits started because I wanted to trick myself into doing all the things that I knew I should, but didn’t want to do. This is not the right way to think about habits (even though I actually was able to do this- more on that later). Creating good habits is not about little ways of reducing the resistance to doing the things you know you should. It is about casting votes for the person you want to be.
I now understand many of the thought habits I created, did not vote for the person I aspire to be. I do not say this because I believe my thinking is that valuable, but because I hope someone might find it relatable. I noticed I had a habit of seeing others’ accomplishments as a threat. I want to celebrate others’ wins, not be threatened by them. I realized I had a tendency to be angry, resentful, and jealous of people who had what I wanted. Atomic Habits made me more aware of my bad habits and hopeful these are not unchangeable elements of my personality. Rather, they are things that can be improved with awareness and effort.
Make It Fun
The book led me to a simple but important question: “how can I make this fun”? We can do a lot to make things fun if we decide to be a little creative. For instance, you can reserve exciting music or a favorite podcast for a boring task and start looking forward to doing something that you were dreading. You can pair a habit you want to start with a reward, like watching your favorite show only while eating a healthy dinner that you prepared. I disliked doing dishes by hand, but now I can’t wait because I always turn on one of my favorite podcasts in the background. Small things like that can be enough to motivate you when you feel like letting things slide.
Journaling is my favorite way I have applied this to my life. I journal with a nice fountain pen in a high-quality notebook. Writing about what didn’t go as well as I would have liked is more fun with a really nice pen. I now look forward to examining my faults each day (along with the things that went well, I’m not just beating myself up). Using a beautiful pen connects me with other people I admire who have used that same pen. I organized my life by writing better to-do lists, scheduling my days, and thinking more clearly, thanks to these pens. Find things that make new habits attractive and provide that extra incentive to stick with them.
Our Environment Becomes Our Habits
We should all spend more time designing the spaces around us to work for our good habits and against our bad ones. When I was in a habit of healthy eating, it wasn’t because I had more willpower than at any other time in my life. I just out-planned my bad habits and didn’t rely only on willpower. I made a list of the healthy foods I wanted to keep in the house. I went to the grocery store with a plan, went only for what I decided that I planned to get, and stayed the hell away from the ice cream aisle. By doing this, I hardly ever needed to use willpower to resist the urge to eat the wrong things. This concept was something I had to do when I was going out to eat (usually only on days when I gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted). When I did rely on willpower to maintain good habits, it was easier because I designed my environment to maintain the habit. I was consistently casting votes for who I wanted to be as a healthy person; as the opportunity arose to break the habit, I did not give in.
You can make many small changes to your environment to reduce friction and maintain good habits. I set all my gym clothes out the night before so in the morning, that is one less obstacle while I’m groggy and tired. I also set out my work clothes to streamline my morning further. When I do these things the night before, the rest becomes a matter of following through. James Clear explains by doing little things to change our environment, you can reduce the friction of creating and maintaining good habits. You can also increase the friction to kill off bad habits. Humans naturally look for the path of least resistance. Design your life to make bad habits inconvenient. Don’t keep junk food in the house. Set an alarm that makes it easier to wake up than to snooze. Set yourself up for success.
Something to try today
Make a habit stacking rule for yourself. For example, I created a rule that I can only check my social media notifications when I floss before bed. I know that checking social media right before bed may not be the healthiest thing ever but, it definitely works better than doing it throughout the day. Plus, it has helped me pair the dopamine I get from checking my notifications with a healthy habit of flossing. I am much more motivated to never miss a night of floss. It also provides the positive feeling of improving self-control. Out-plan bad habits and create systems that make doing what you know you should do easier instead of fighting against an environment that works against you.
Atomic Habits has the potential to rapidly change your life. We can all evaluate and redesign hundreds of our habits to become the people we want to be. Pick up the book here: