September 5, 2019. By Lori Patterson:

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Building good habits and breaking bad habits…it sounds easy in theory but it’s surprisingly hard in practice for most of us. In this book, the author explains how a tiny change can make a big difference when trying to adjust behavior, how habits can compound, much like interest, and how to succeed with change by building daily habits; an atomic habit means a tiny change can be mighty!

The author, James Clear, defines a habit as a “routine or behavior performed regularly”.  While many habits may not be noticeable, they have significant impact, especially when combined with like behaviors. For example, a bad habit may be watching too much television and while doing so, you eat a lot of ice cream. Perhaps you associate sitting on the sofa watching TV with eating ice cream, even if you are not actually hungry. You can see how these combined behaviors can become associated and compound. In Atomic Habits, James Clear explains how we can break bad behaviors by making them unattractive and by stopping them at the source, or the ‘cue’, by reducing the exposure to the cue.

Clear also offers ways to succeed in building good habits. He feels that success is the product of daily habits and not necessarily a one-time decision to change your life and then implement a short-term strategy. He provides a great example of this…a Stonecutter hammering away with small strikes with seemingly no result and then one day when he strikes, the entire rock will break. As a runner, I can see this very clearly. If I take the time to gradually build a foundation of endurance and speed, I will eventually run longer distances, faster, with less pain. If I begin long distances too quickly, I am likely to feel more pain, not reach my intended pace, and maybe even become injured causing me to begin all over again. Both examples place a focus on systems, not the specific goal, and this is Clear’s point…single and tiny decisions build results. Progress of course is not always this linear and some habits can take years to build. Although it’s difficult when the results are not immediate and the slower pace of transforming makes it easy to revert to an old routine, it’s helpful to remember another of Clear’s examples – habits are like a flower. You begin with roots, then sprouts, then eventually you get a bloom; it can take patience and care. In yet another example the message remains the same: build good habits and results will follow.

Clear explains that a habit is an automatic process that is built over time. It will take time to adjust habits, good or bad, and he offers the idea of habit stacking to help make these changes. Habit stacking refers to pairing a new habit with an existing habit. For this to be successful, it must be specific, convenient and sensible. He offers the example of completing sit-ups each day. His plan for building this habit is to do the sit-ups each day before lunch (specific, convenient and sensible). He wouldn’t plan to do the sit-ups around a habit that occurs once or twice a week instead he would need to choose a behavior that occurs daily for the stacking to be successful. Further, he believes that creating a disciplined environment is the secret to reaching your goals versus trying to become a more disciplined person in general. Again, a strong system creates desired outcomes. We see this example succeed in our own industry as we build teams of professionals for our clients to help them reach their goals without requiring a drastic change to their existing habits.

We know that behaviors followed by satisfying consequences are more likely to be repeated and vice versa. We also know it’s easy slide back into bad habits. Building or breaking a habit includes making the cue more obvious for building the good habit and more difficult for breaking a bad habit. If you want to become a better runner, surround yourself with like-minded people and join a running club. If you are looking to reduce your screen time, Clear’s example here is to place your phone or tablet in another room and make it less accessible.

I’ve provided many of Clear’s helpful examples directly from the book, and will leave you with his set of concise guidelines for achieving habit forming or breaking techniques:

The Four Laws of Creating a Good Habit:

  1. Make It Obvious
  2. Make It Attractive
  3. Make It Easy 
  4. Make It Satisfying.

The Four Laws of Breaking a Bad Habit:

  1. Make It Invisible
  2. Make It Unattractive
  3. Make It Difficult
  4. Make It Unsatisfying

You will see the latter list is simply the opposite of the former, again proving that quite simply it is much easier to change what you do rather than who you are in order to reach your goals.

We wish you much success if you are looking to adjust your habits as well!