Book Review: Atomic Habits
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
- James Clear
I listened to the audiobook edition of Atomic Habits in late October, but wanted to percolate with the ideas gleaned from the book before I wrote a review or reflection.
Like most self-help books, it advocates changing yourself in order to attain your personal definitions of success. While some ideas in it are very useful and applicable, I find that - this is true across nearly all of the 'self-help' genre - there is a reluctance to address structural and societal obstacles to individual accomplishment and satisfaction. Clear does talk about environment as an invisible influence that shapes our behavior, though not in great depth, since his focus is on individual, personal change.
That said, I did like several ideas articulated in this book and have put in place a few small habits. A quick summary first:
Habits are repeated responses to a stimulus that satisfy a craving. The satisfaction we get from the habit is our reward.
Do not look to attain a paradigm change when it comes to habits. Instead, go for small, incremental changes that compound over the years.
The Four Laws of Behavior Change are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy and (4) make it satisfying. To break a habit, just think in the opposite way.
I think one major takeaway I have is that, in order to build lasting changes in my habits, I have to know what sort of person has the same kind of habits as I want to have? For instance, lots of people say that they want to be a writer. However, what are the habits a writer has? Having interviewed a number of writers and creators, I can definitively say that writers show up to their writing place, regardless of motivation, and dedicate a minimum amount of time to their writing. Hence, we should first decide that we want to be writers, and commit ourselves to showing up at our writing spot regularly. Habitually. Start with five minutes of writing, and then as the habit becomes ingrained, write more. And one day we will look back and think, hey! I am a writer!
Also, in order for any self-help process to work, we have to understand ourselves and our drives. Being aware of my habits has prompted me to change my environment slightly in order to encourage better habits. For example, I want to be someone who is well-hydrated. In order to do that, I have a large water bottle with me, and a pretty thermos bottle that I take with me when I go out. Having drinking water within arm's reach has got me drinking regularly. Previously, I might drink only two glasses of water a day, simply because I could not remember to do so. I started with filling my water bottle while I prepare breakfast and having it on my desk. Then I installed an app to remind me to drink. Now, I don't need the app; I am aware of when my mouth starts feeling dry. Having the bottle of water near me, having the app on my phone are changes to my environment that helped me build a habit of drinking sufficient water every day.
Atomic Habits is a down-to-earth and very accessible read. It lays out what we may have suspected, and provides an encouragingly simple way to make changes to our lives.