My Biggest Takeaways from Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits was definitely my favourite read in the month of January 2021.
I have been cultivating my reading habit for this year, and I walked away from the book with great perspectives on habit forming. I’m proud to say at the end of January, I read 6 books! I think in part, I have Atomic Habits to thank.

Brief Introduction:

If you don’t already know, Atomic Habits is a book on how habits (regardless of how small – hence the name Atomic habits) shape the outcome of our lives and how we can go about building and sustaining good habits (and inversely breaking bad ones). The book provides a structured way on how we can tackle the process of doing so.

What made me buy this book was this amazing podcast (albeit a little old) between James Clear and Matt D’avella. The way in which James Clear expressed his thoughts with such clarity really piqued my interest. After all, most ideas are not novel, but there are a million different ways of looking at the same thing. So I think the greatest offering of this book is Perspective.


So, here are my biggest takeaways for Atomic Habits by James Clear.

1. Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.

You are what you repeatedly do. Most of the times when we want a change in our lives, we tend to fixate on the goals – I want to weigh 50kg, I want to be a millionaire, I want a promotion etc. Instead, I weigh 50kg because I repeatedly work out, I become a millionaire because I repeatedly save most of my income, I got a promotion because I repeatedly proved my worth at work.

The primary purpose of a goal is to set a direction, but it’s systems that are used to make progress and to continuously replicate success. Simply said, the goal is your destination, the system is the vehicle.

2. Start a habit because of motivation, Stick with a habit because its an identity

Your habits are how you embody your identity. When you repeatedly save, you embody the identity of a financially responsible person. When you repeatedly workout, you embody the identity of a fit person. So when we try to change a habit, it’s important to reframe the identity that goes along with it.

If you continuously identify yourself as a lazy person trying to get fit, you will soon revert to your old ways. Whatever your current identity is, you believe it because you have proof of it. However, as you repeat these actions, they serve to affirm your new found identity as it shifts – creating feedback loops. Your habits shape your identity, your identity shapes your habits.

3. Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behaviour

Truth is many of the actions we take each day are shaped not by a purposeful drive/choice but the most obvious option within our physical environment. Each habit is kicked off with a cue – a trigger for our next following action. Eg. it’s easy to forget to eat your vitamins when it’s tucked out of sight.

The influence of the environment goes beyond just the impact of the object placements on our actions, but our relationship to it. Eg. When you work on your bed, it’s hard to stay productive because a place is also where you rest. That’s why environment design is so crucial – dividing spaces for its intended purpose and surrounding yourself with productive cues. You don’t have to be a victim of your environment, you can be an architect of it.

4. Leverage on the innate desire to be accepted to make habits attractive

To increase the odds of a behaviour recurring – make it attractive. And as humans, we desire to fit in. Any habit that makes us fit in are deemed desirable. Knowingly or unknowingly, we imitate the habits of:

a) The Close – family and friends – we spend so much time with them, we end up soaking up their qualities.
b) The Many – the community at large – we often look to the group to guide our behaviour when we are unsure how to act (eg. reviews, evidence).
c) The Powerful – the influencers – they have what we want – respect, approval, admiration, status and we imitate those who we envy.

Anytime you find yourself developing certain habits, look around at the people you are hanging out with and the influencers that you follow. If it doesn’t align with the behaviour you want to develop, it’s time for a change.

5. What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.

Each habit produces multiple outcomes across time. With bad habits, the immediate outcome feels good, the long term outcome is bad. With good habits, it’s the opposite; the immediate outcome is unenjoyable but we reap the benefits later on. To cultivate good habits, we have to bring satisfaction into the immediate equation.

The book suggest we make our progress – visible and therefore satisfying. Eg. every time you decide not to splurge on a new outfit, transfer the same amount to another account. Enjoy the satisfaction of watching that account grow – and it will serve as a clear evidence of your progress and reinforce your behaviour.

That wraps up my biggest takeaways. The book offers so much more than the above and many concrete suggestions on how to form better habits. Would highly recommend it!

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Hope you found this useful 🙂


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