Book Summary Atomic Habits

We often think that we need to take massive actions to bring about great changes in our life, and when we do, habitchange is the most obvious tool we can imagine. BUT, when it comes to changing our habits, We often overemphasize the importance of big moves but fail to recognize small and incremental changes we make on a day to day basis is what eventually paves path for radical changes. We don’t have to reinvent something grand nor do we have to be extraordinary to achieve our goals.

Hey guys, welcome back, In this video, we will summarize this book into 6 key ideas from The book Atomic Habits by James clear. The book is all about how we can break bad habits and build new ones effortlessly. Once we understand the simple concept behind this book, we can apply the idea to all aspects of our lives from eating healthy, learning new skills, exercising or anything you can imagine.. The book is also insightful on why we struggle to carry on with our new habits and how we can get rid of these obstacles to changing our habits. 

Tiny Changes: Remarkable Results:

The As the theme of the book suggests, remarkable results don’t require massive steps and sacrifices. For example starting to go for a walk at least 15 minutes a day will not seem to have any visible impact in short run but repeated consistently, you will end up a healthier and leaner person if you are consistent with this habit for a year. Similarly, eating pizza once in a while barely has any impact on you ,but repeat that as your favorite snack for over a month, you will see how small changes lead to massive results.

The 1% Rule:

James talks about the power of compounding. Lets say you start to invest in stock market with few hundred dollars, for months, this does not seem to be of any major value, but  imagine you are putting  few 100 dollars every few months since your childhood, topping up your portfolio with few more on your birthdays, few years later, the portfolio would to a significant figure.

James puts a calculation that if we improve 1% each day for the next 365 days, we will end up being 37 times better within a year. Initially, the new habits don’t seem to meet our expectations and James calls this a plateau of latent potential, it’s like a seed that is sprouting inside the soil and it needs time to be visible above the ground. But if we focus on the system and be consistent with it, the habits change is quicker and easier than we think. It’s like when we go to the gym, we start to get into sleeveless and start to look into biceps in the mirror, that’s the speed we expect results from the new habits and most of us fail here as we don’t seem to make any progress at all and we feel exhausted and let the previous habits trap us from back door. We can compare this to an escape velocity, until we have mastered the new habits, any reluctance to continue it will result in the reinforcing of old ones and this loop continues.

I can share my own experience of starting to meditate every morning. Initially, I expected that I would be in a radically profound state soon after practicing it. For months, I kept meditating but nothing was visible. But in the process, this helped me to shift my identity as a person who meditates on a daily basis just after waking up. And this has helped me to balance my emotions and thinking and it’s now as normal as brushing. I have no expectation, no goal but I meditate everyday and I can see the benefits in terms of increased focus, lesser stress and so on. But it took roughly 3 years for me to embed this practice as a daily ritual. I almost left the practice altogether for weeks but fortunately resumed. So habit change is not instant, it takes time and sufficient repetitions.

Ditch Goal Setting:

Focus on Systems: Goals have value but they can trap us and frustrateif we don’t have proper system to get to our goals. If you have a goal of waking up at 5,your focus should be on how you structure your whole day, when you will have your lastcup of coffee, when you will have your dinner, what time you stop mobile screen andwhole other things that ultimately make sure you get a restful sleep that lead to yourwake up goal. Setting an alarm seems fairly easy as compared to avoiding coffee at theevening, but this is a surefire way to frustration as you have no system in place tonurture your new habit.James also puts emphasis that losers and winners have the same goal, but the systemthey have in place determines whether one will reach his goal or not.Also, the problem with goal setting is there is implied that I will be happy when I attainthe goal.Soonce we are there, we run for next milestone to drive our happiness. Thekey idea is to make a system and keep playing the game rather than winning a game andlooking for what to win next.I can relate this idea to starting to go for a walk in the morning, everytime I had a goal oflosing some kg of weight, I would feel I have nothing else to do once I hit my weightgoal, but since I approached thisfrom systems viewpoint, I now have a system to go fora walk every morning which is not tied up to any goal, best is I keep on adding extrasteps every day and sometimes I don’t. This way I literally don’t have to look for myultimate goal, it comes as a biproduct.

Identity Shift

Changing our self Image: Maxwell Maltz in his psychological classic“Psycho Cybernetics”explained the importance of self image. We all operate from theself image we hold for ourselves at our subconsious level.Lasting changes are possiblethrough radical shift in our image of who we are. So if you have a goal of exercising daily, your self image should be of a person who is healthy, lean and who is committed toone’s health. I will eplore in depth on the self image psychologyin a separate episodebut for now, as James puts it, the result based approach to habits change is not longlasting.

I can relate this idea with my own experience of starting to remove sugar from my diet mainly from tea and coffee. I struggled, craved, stopped, and started again for years when my approach was result oriented. But I realized the moment I stated to see myself as person who is committed to personal development, started reading books on the subject, leaving sugar was effortless as this was contrary to my belief of being a physically and mentally healthy person constantly striving to get better every day. Actively searching for self help books, meditating and exercising daily and craving for sweets were too conflicting ideas and the former overpowered the later. I did not have to struggle at all, it was a swift change.

The Habit Loop

James explains the idea to understand how habits are formed. He calls this the habit loop. It’s cue, craving, response, reward. For example, a smell from bakery shop could be your cue, you feeling tempted for that bite of a cake is your craving, in response, you go to the shop and grab a piece, and the reward is feeling sweetness. When we repeat this over and over again, you establish a junkfood habit. Recall, all of your habits are formed more or less the same way.

Stages of Habit Formation - The 4 laws of Behavior Change:

So having known the ideas behind how and why habits matter, let’s get into how we can get rid of the bad habits and build good ones in a manner least resistant and sustainable. James explains this with 4 laws of behaviour change. When we say law, it sounds fancy and a bit of jargon but this is simpler than it sound.

1. Make it obvious

The first law is to make a cue obvious.Habits are easier to nurture with a simple change in environment. James gives examples of supermarket checkout locations where the chocolates and chips are deliberately placed so that anyone would add a few pieces which they would not have bought otherwise. So if you are struggling to eat healthy, keep your fruit basket right next to your dinner table instead on putting them inside the fridge. The simple act of making small change in the environment and location will have a huge impact on a needed behaviour to get repeated. On the other hand, if you wish to stop alcohol or unhealthy soda drinks, make sure you keep them somewhere you have to search for , that is to say, make it less obvious.

2. Make it attractive

The second law of behaviour change we tend to repeat a behaviour that is attractive to us. This sounds simple as everyone loves to do what they like. But an attractive cue will drive the neurochemicals like dopamine that keeps us repeating the desired habit. I have found that listening to audiobooks on my phone while jogging made jogging ten times attractive for me. All of the books I have listened to are during my jogging. So now when I finish a book, I keep looking for my next listen, I do this not only for reading but also for my jogging. Making it attractive made sure that I continued with my desired habit.

3. Make it easy

When a new desired habit is easy to carry out, the chances are we will end up adopting them. James gives an example of his wife’s way of never missing any occasion to send a card. As he explains she puts the cards presorted by occasions, so that she will easily pick the card at the appropriate date.

Making it easy means reducing friction, we can use this rule not only to establish desired habits, but also to get rid of unwanted habits. For example if you wish to remove your social media addiction , make sure you make the browsing difficult, log out the app once you have used it, disable face logins that will make it less easier for you to have instant access.

4. Make it satisfying

The last law of behaviour change is our brain is wired to repeat a behaviour that gives us instant satisfaction over delayed results. We know smoking causes cancer in long run, but we continue this behaviour to get the sudden and immediate reward that nicotine gives us instantly.

James explains this point with a success story of a healthcare professional in Pakistan. He noticed that the lack of hand washing habits was the sole cause of diahrrhoea in remote village of Karachi. ALthough people knew handwashing was important, it was just not being practiced. The researcher introduced a soap that smelled so good that people started to follow the handwashing habit often just to feel the nice smell that they got after washing. This immediate satisfaction made the handwashing habit continue.

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Personal development including productivity, mindset and psychology have been my key interests in the recent years and I am on constant exploration. Apart from this, I am deeply interested in meditation and its potential for our transformation from deep inside.

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