Book Summary

Atomic habits By JAMES CLEAR


If you’ve ever picked a resolution that required building a healthy or productive habit but you’ve failed it was because of this: You failed to make your new behavior obvious, easy, attractive and satisfying. These are what author James clear calls the four laws of behavior change. Failing to abide by any one of these laws means you’ll fail to adopt a new behavior.

If you tried to develop a new exercise habit but you didn’t create an obvious cue to start your exercise routine each day like seeing a reminder on your phone, then you probably forgot about working out and you just stuck with your normal daily routine and if your exercise routine felt like a difficult multi-step process like: finding gym clothes, finding shoes, drive to the gym, change, reserve an exercise machine, adjust the settings, shower, fight traffic; then it wasn’t easy enough for you to do consistently.

If going to the gym seemed like punishment and you didn’t enjoy the actual experience of working out then it wasn’t attractive enough for you to stick with it and if on a day-to-day basis. You got more satisfaction from sitting on the couch after a long day of work and watching your favorite TV show than working out. Then the act of working out wasn’t satisfying enough to pull you away from the TV.

In “Atomic habits” I found two powerful strategies that can make every new habit obvious, easy, attractive and satisfying, so that you can become a healthier, happier, more productive person. In the new year the first strategy for developing a new habit is stack and start you’ve probably used habit stacking to build new hygiene habits without realizing it. As a child you stack the habit of flushing the toilet then with the habit of washing your hands. Flushing the toilet became the cue for your hand-washing habit.

Habit stacking is using an old and reliable daily habit like using the toilet as the trigger for a new habit. Years ago, I used the reliable daily habit of brushing my teeth as a cue to start flossing. Every time I put down my toothbrush, I reached into my bag of floss ticks, picked a stick and flossed one tooth. Soon my brain learned that putting down the toothbrush meant I should reach into my bag of floss ticks. Now brushing and flossing are one unit in my mind, one whole habit stack. When you stack a new habit to an existing habit, you use the momentum of the old habit to make the new habit easier to initiate.

I think of it as riding a bike down one hill in order to build up enough speed to get up the second Hill without pedaling. If the hill of your new habit is too daunting however, the momentum you get from your old habit won’t be enough. That’s why you need to reduce your new habit to an easy starting ritual.

Twyla Tharp the world-renowned dancer and choreographer used to wake up every morning at 5:30 a.m. Put on her workout gear, step outside her Manhattan apartment and hail a cab. After getting in the cab she would tell the driver to go to the pumping iron gym on 91st Street and first Ave. Thorpe says the ritual was not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym. The ritual was the cab. The moment I told the driver where to go, I had completed the ritual.

Now why was telling the driver where to go a successful workout ritual for Thorpe? Well after she got in the cab, she found it emotionally and physically easier to continue to the gym and complete her workout than tell the cab driver to turn around and go back to her apartment. Getting a cab driver to turn around is hard because it feels embarrassing.

Instead of focusing on an entire routine of a new behavior, just focus on the starting ritual of that behavior. The starting ritual is the minimum number of steps you need to make that makes it easier to proceed with the rest of your ritual than to turn back. Almost all starting rituals can be completed in two minutes or less. If you spend two minutes to get up and put one dish away you’ll find you have enough momentum to clean all the dishes. If you spend two minutes picking a book off the shelf and reading one page before bed, you’ll find that you’ll suddenly have the energy to read a few more pages and maybe finish a chapter.

Here’s how you can use habit stacking and a start ritual to build an exercise habit. Leverage your habit of getting in the car after work and driving home as the cue for your new exercise habit. When you get in the car after work, execute the following starting ritual. When you see the gym on your way home, exit the road, park at the gym, then walk inside with your gym bag and scan your pass. If you complete this easy starting ritual, the rest of the workout ritual will take care of itself because after you scan your pass at the gym, the thought of turning around will look rather silly. At this moment you’ll be more motivated to continue what you were doing and proceed with the rest of your workout.

Habit stacking makes the queue for a new behavior obvious and it makes the requirements of new behavior easy but to make a new behavior attractive and satisfying, you need to synchronize and score. Ronan Burn, an electrical engineering student in Dublin Ireland knew that he should exercise more so he used hiss engineering skills to sync his stationary bike with his laptop.

He wrote a program on his laptop to play his favorite Netflix show on a TV in front of his stationary bike if he cycled at a certain speed. If he slowed down, the Netflix show he was watching would pause and he’d need to cycle harder to finish the episode he was watching. For burn binge watching Netflix meant burning calories. If you only allow yourself to enjoy your favourite experiences while you execute a healthy and productive new habit you’ll find the new habit is something you actually look forward to doing.

Entrepreneur Kevin Rose, only allows himself to play his favorite video game on the treadmill. Now he looks forward to going on the treadmill.  When you synchronize an experience that you crave with a new habit you naturally dread doing, the craving will counteract the resistance that you feel towards the new habit and get you to execute the new habit more consistently. That’s why syncing is a great hack for habit building but to make a habit stick you must make the habit inherently satisfying and to make a habit apparently satisfying, you must keep score.

Imagine on January 30th you look up at your wall and see 27 red check-marks on 27 of the last 30 days. Each check-mark represents a successful workout. The calendar is visual proof that you are someone that cares about their health and you should take pride in that. The count on your wall acts like a scorecard and each check-mark is a point for the type of person you are.

The Author, James clear, says “each time you write a page you are a writer, each time you practice the violin you are a musician and each time you start a workout you are an athlete.” If you take the time to score the completion of a habit in a habit tracker like a calendar on your wall or an app on your phone or a physical habit tracking notebook, you will start to see a pattern of behavior that proves to yourself that you are becoming the type of person you dreamed of becoming. The pride and satisfaction that you feel after scoring a point will be enough motivation along with syncing.

Start by stacking, performing the starting ritual then syncing and scoring a new habit like daily exercise. When you do this, the habit building will become obvious, easy, attractive and satisfying. In few months the once weird habit will seem weird not to do because it’s part of your identity. It’s who you are and what you do.


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