Atomic Habits is a powerful book that deconstructs the way humans create habits and later systematizes a personal framework for building new, better ones.
The author does a great job of laying down the psychological principles behind habit formation (which he calls the “compound interest of self-improvement) and identifying the true implications of having a good system of powerful unconscious habits.
Clear first uncovers a four-step model for human behavior (cue – raving – response and reward) and then develops a personal philosophy on the matter using the Four Laws of Behavior Change that condition our behavior.
After all, our behavior is not really about what we do… it is about who we really are.
The book is subdivided into 20 chapters that mostly revolve around Clear’s Four Laws of Behavior Change, which is a simple set of rules that we all can use to build better habits.
While the Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change states that “what is immediately rewarded is repeated and what is immediately punished is avoided”, the Four Laws build on the form and state that, in order to create good habits, you need to:
(1) make them obvious
(2) make them attractive
(3) make them easy
(4) make them satisfying.
The first three laws of behavior change increase the odds that a behavior will be performed. The fourth law increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated next time.
Conversely, breaking bad habits entails:
(1) making them invisible
Simple, yet not easy.
At the beginning of the book, Clear discusses the importance of Identity in habit formation, since we humans inevitably end up becoming what we consistently do (Aristotle said it first). Given that most of our thinking is done subconsciously, the author that good habit-forming strategies need to be engraved in our brain at a very deep level, in order to become automatic. Eventually, though, there’s a risk of underperforming if we only rely on the subconscious. Strategies like “Point-and-Calling” or “The Habits Scorecard” can help you become aware of deeply-rooted behaviors in order to correct or improve them.
In subsequent chapters, Clear discusses the importance of context and environment in providing the correct set of cues that should trigger positive habits. He explores the importance of social belonging dynamics when forming our identities. Priming the environment -eliminating the clutter and friction that holds us back (which can be things and/or people)- is paramount to successfully transform our lives. Habits are individual but need to be perfected and nurtured through positive external conditioning.
Towards the middle of the book, Clear touches upon the importance of automation – using strategies like Habit Stacking, or new available technologies – to create a long-lasting change. The more friction we can remove to pick up new habits, the better. After all, Clear’s main credo states that “getting 1% better every day counts a lot in the long-run”, and thus his philosophical system is designed to eliminate that friction and free up mental space for the important matters through well-designed habits. Using technology to automate your habits is the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behavior.
Finally, Clear discusses his personal strategies he uses to improve consistently.
Simple yet brilliant principles to ensure optimal life performance: the two-minute rule, the usage of habit-trackers to increase motivation, the importance of not failing twice, etc… nothing especially earth-shattering (especially if you have been reading his emails for a long time, as I have), but pretty useful nonetheless.
Great book. Well written, easy to follow and extremely useful.