‘Atomic Habits’ Book of The Month February 2024

by James Clear

‘It is your habits not your goals that most shape your life!’

When I first picked up this book, I wondered why it has sold over 8 million copies, some of those reasons are shared in this book review.

Many studies indicate that over 80% of New Year’s resolutions and goals have already fallen by the wayside by the end of February. The key to this conundrum is not in the goals or outcomes, but being able to successfully implement and sustain the new habits required for any given goal to be achieved!  In terms of dealing with the practical realities of developing lasting habits, this is the best book I have come across.

For me the standout takeaway from this book is that to implement new and improved habits, you do NOT NEED LOTS OF DISCIPLINE, you just need to be clever in terms of your environment, your understanding of habits, your implementation, and your mindset!  In 17 years of coaching, I have observed hundreds of people both succeeding and failing at striving for goals and the number one reason for this is their success or failure in implementing the habits necessary for any given goal!

Let’s assume that an individual’s chosen new or improved habit is authentically linked to their highest values. With this assumption satisfied, in my experience, the number one reason their habit will either sustain or fail is the belief that it requires lots of discipline. If you have a deeper understanding of how habits are formed, you can start creating new habits or improving existing habits in a way that is much easier than you may have previously thought.

In the last few weeks, I already applied some of the practical wisdom in this book to improve my own habits. I would assess that I have become about 20% more productive in this 3-week period and it has not been difficult at all. I have just been a lot smarter in my approach.

For many years I have focused working with my clients on what I call SMART Habits, rather than the traditional SMART Goals. SMART stands for ‘Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results & Time driven!’. 17 years of coaching tells me that applying this acronym to your habits is more likely to lead someone to be successful than applying this acronym to your goals, of course doing both is ideal.

This book explains how you can take ‘SMART habits’ beyond just the acronym “SMART’ and make them truly smart by making new and improved habits FAR EASIER to implement and sustain in the long term.

Like many of the books I have reviewed over the last 12 years, this book was recently recommended by a client. I have read many books that cover the topic of habits, prior to this book the best books I had read on habits, which have both previously featured on my ‘Book of The Month review’ are “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey and “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg”. This book is without question this is the most practical book on helping you to develop greater habits.

The book is structured and written around what the author calls ‘The 4 Laws
1- Make it obvious
2- Make it attractive
3- Make it easy
4- Make it satisfying

The book’s author shares numerous ‘takeaways’ under each of these 4 Laws, here are my personal favourites:

Law 1 – Make it obvious
The biggest takeaway in this section is ‘using cues’ or as they are called in NLP ‘triggers’. A lot of the time when people specify a new habit, they fail to specifically identify the cue or the trigger that will initiate the habit, For example I had a desired habit to ‘work out’ every day, however, I was inconsistent.  When working from my office I begin to get hungry around mid-day. I have a small gym area in my office, so using my early hunger pangs as a cue, I have made a rule that I can only go and eat AFTER I have completed a minimum of a 15-minutes high intensity exercise workout, since doing this I am now working out every day.

Another takeaway under the ‘Make it obvious’ law is to plan the time and create the physical space in which you do the activity! So I will ensure that I have at least an hour of free time between noon and 2 pm to do at least a 15 minute High Intensity workout and I have a mini gym in my office.

Law 2 – Make it attractive
Making a new or improved habit attractive – This is about optimising your mindset! Often, either consciously or sub-consciously, our language when doing a new habit is “I have to, or I must x or y at this time!” This drags your whole mindset into the “I have to be disciplined to do this habit myth”. However, we can breakdown the need for discipline by over-riding the language ‘I have to do x!’ with ‘I get to do x!’. So, using my workout example I get to reframe ‘I have to workout at noon today!’ with ‘I get to work out at noon today’ or even ‘I am blessed that I am able to work out today!”  By consciously repeating ‘I get to’ you over-write the powerful sub-conscious pregaming of the mind and you look forward to doing the habit and the need to be highly motivated and disciplined falls away.

Law 3 – Make it easy
‘For 1 minute or 3 minutes I will x’, instead of ‘For 30 minutes I will do x’

Again, using my work out example, if someone does not often work out and wants to start, if they go straight from zero to half an hour of working out a day, it can be too difficult and too overwhelming to adjust. Also, if you are not already a regular workout person there is more mental resistance to deal with to do 30 minutes, than to do 3 minutes. Starting off small and gradually increasing over time really works well.

The story of Bob (Making it easy)
About 8 years ago a client of mine called Bob, who described himself as ‘an out of shape business leader’, realised that he really needed to address his lack of physical fitness. Bob’s issue was that every time he set weight loss and fitness goals and he committed to join a gym or start going jogging, he always failed within a few weeks. Instead, I got him to commit to just roll out of bed and do at least 10 press ups every single morning! Bob agreed and within a month he had worked his way up to 40 press ups and 60 squats, then he added a short power walk around the block which became a short jog and then a longer jog, then he got a bike. 6 months on he was cycling to the local swimming pool and swimming a sport he had been good at when he was a young boy. Incredibly 14 months after committing to his first 10 press ups he was doing his first ever mini-Triathlon for charity. Another 6 months on he completed a full triathlon which is a 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike ride and a 10km run in just over 4 hours!

Over 18 months Bob lost over 30 pounds in weight, a goal he had fantasied about for years but never really believed would happen. His focus on the habit of exercising instead of the goal made it happen. Bob also completed a full triathlon, a goal he had never even conceived of prior to his commitment to do a minimum of 10 press ups every morning.

Bob became hard-wired to exercise every day, it became an automatic daily habit, just like brushing his teeth.

My commitment to exercise daily is that I do a minimum of 10 minutes HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) every day. It is rare for me to do less than 20 minutes and often I will do some other activities such as Karate or cycling in addition, but by having a low bar of 10 minutes is much easier to commit to both in terms of having busy days and in terms of psychology.

Use commitment devices (including other people)
The author mentions a friend of his who wanted to make sure he went to bed on time and was not distracted by surfing the internet. He put his internet connection on a timer, so it switched off when it was time for him to get ready for bed.
Accountability is another highly effective way to develop a new or improved habit. When you share what you are doing with someone else and they ‘hold you accountable’.
This is the reason one of my clients who struggled for years consistently working out, hired a PT instructor to knock on his door at 6 am every weekday morning to do a full workout with him. This forces him to be up and ready to work out by 6am. Other people I know have ‘work out buddies’ and they hold each other to account.

Law 4 – Make it satisfying
There are many examples of how we can make a habit more satisfying, the more mundane the habit, usually, the more creative we need to be to make a habit satisfying.
Using rewards is a key approach to making a behaviour satisfying. Again, using my ‘work out example’, after getting some minor hunger pangs around mid-day (my cue), I begin to visualise myself starting the work out I have in mind at the planned time and I imagine 2 key rewards. My first reward will be how good it feels when I have just finished a work out and I am drinking some refreshing water, my second reward for finishing my work out is making myself some tasty nutritious food to eat.

Habit Stacking
This item deserves a special mention, it falls under law 3 ‘Making it Easier’.
Habit Stacking is where you take an existing habit and connect it to your new desired habit / behaviour.
Example … I was inconsistent with my desired habit of ‘visualising my day’ at the beginning of the day. Every morning I grind some fresh coffee and make myself a cup of coffee, this takes around 3 to 4 minutes. About 3 weeks ago I stacked my desired habit onto this existing habit, which also acts as a cue or trigger.  I now start visualising my day whilst I am making my coffee. This has made it extremely easy to do this habit every single day since I started this approach.

I truly believe that developing empowering new habits is the foundation for any significant and sustained progress in life, if you are of the same sentiment, you probably want to get a copy of this book. The audiobook read by the author is also excellent.

Leave a Comment