I will admit- I was very reluctant to try Audible. I work hard to read at least one book each month and never thought it was “fair” to listen to chapters recited. I therefore was quick to turn up my nose. My husband, who is not and has never been a reader, urged me to give Audible a shot. “You are still focusing your attention for an extended period of time,” he reasoned. “You are just using your ears instead of your eyes. You still need to process the information with your mind.” That logic sufficed, so I opened up my Amazon app and cashed in my complimentary credit.
“Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by Jim Clear was the first title that caught my eye: I had never heard of the book or author before but was intrigued by the topic and number of rave reviews received. I have written in the past about habit creation, habit destruction, failure to successfully implement or eradicate. I also like listening to inspiring self-help podcasts, so for my first read, I thought that this might hold my attention.
I noted Clear’s brilliance immediately: He opened his book by highlighting that he practiced what he preached, had his sights set on an athletic career from an early age and was involved in sports until a fatal injury set him back. Through careful, steady daily application of small and then larger tasks, he was able to overcome his physical, mental, and emotional restraints and play collegiate sports. He won records due to his dedication of strategic habits, then applied them to other areas of his life, saw success there too.
Jim Clear’s mantra is simple: “The quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits.” His focus? The small shifts toward a greater initiative: A system, rather than a goal identified. He says that “a slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a very different destination. Making a choice that is 1% better or 1% worse seems insignificant in the moment. But over the span of moments that make up a lifetime, these choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could be. Success is the product of daily habits, not once in a lifetime transformations.”
He compares this to a plane on course. Moving the nose ever so slightly in a particular direction seems so insignificant while in the air, but in actuality, the plane lands hundreds of miles from the destination with the minor movement. He explains that our outcomes are a lagging measure of our habits.
I drank in every word of the 5-hour long narration; My 3-hour daily commute was enriched tremendously and I took notes whenever I could, legally and safely. I sang the book’s praises to my co-workers and may even present my findings in a team meeting, the insights were transferable to so many life facets.
If I had to summarize and compile a list of my favorite takeaways, here are a few worth mentioning:
- All research discussed in the book directly references the 4 Laws of Behavioral Change, as developed by B.F. Skinner and others. In order to make a habit successful, you need to outline the following: 1. Develop cues: Make the behavior obvious 2. Ensure a craving: Make the behavior attractive 3. Guarantee a response: Make the behavior easy 4. Create a sense of reward: Make the behavior satisfying (On Habit Forming)
- Goals sometimes wait for bursts in motivation; Systems involve steady application. True long term thinking is goalless thinking; creating a system does not have an end date, but is a cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your long term progress. (On Systems vs. Goals)
- Habits are the atoms of our lives; They are small and mighty, regular acts with incredible power. “The Plateau of Latent Potential” is a concept discussed in the book at length; Many people give up on habits because results don’t happen quickly. Steady application and a trust in the process always produces change, however; It can be seen when an ice cube sits in a warming room. If a room begins at 20 degrees F, the ice will not melt. 21 degrees, 22 degrees… as the temperature climbs, the ice cube will remain unchanged until finally- a 32 degree temperature causes the ice cube to sweat. Tectonic plates moving is another example; they can grind and shift for hundreds of years before creating an earthquake. The process- a slight but steady continuation of forward or upward movement- always yields results.
- Your identity is literally your “repeated beingness;” Your habits are how you embody your identity. If you make your bed, you are an organized person. If you write, you are a creative person. If you train, you are an athletic person. The process of building habits is the process of becoming yourself, so the task is then to 1. Decide who you want to be, the type of person you wish to become and 2. Prove that to yourself with small wins. The author talks about a friend who lost an impressive amount of weight because she embodied the type of person she wanted to become until she became that person. She went to the gym because “fit people work out” and she said no to sweets because “fit people don’t eat junk food” until the weight came off. He explains that “habits shape your identity. Your identity shapes your habits. It’s a two way street: The formation of all habits is a feedback loop.
- Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it: If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment. Ensure that you have no choice but to choose the optimal route, and start with that. Standardize before you optimize- You cannot improve a habit that doesn’t exist.
Aside from the incredible volume of information shared within the chapters of the book, I was wildly impressed by the resources that Jim Clear referenced: His own website, http://www.jamesclear.com, is filled with visual interpretations, helpful habit cheat sheets, continuing education guides, and more.
Perhaps in the future I will link back up with a presentation of my own that dissects these ideals further, but in the meantime, read this book! Listen! Do whatever you can to soak in this information. It’s so simple, but innovative and brilliant all the same.
Final Score: 4.5 Is it strange that I purchased the audiobook but now want to buy the paperback for reference purposes? This one will be in my back pocket for a while, and I will recommend the book to everyone I meet, from my husband (he can listen to Audible!) to my co-workers to my closest friends.
BEST FOR: Anyone who is looking to enhance their quality of life in any way: This book is a gift from Jim Clear, but the future, better version of yourself wants you to read it now.
NOT GOOD FOR: Minions of Mediocrity
IF THIS BOOK/ AUTHOR WAS A HIGH SCHOOL STEREOTYPE: He would be the student voted, “Most Likely To Succeed.”
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