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We tend to believe huge results come from huge actions. To lose weight, build a business or winning a championship, we pressurize ourselves to focus so much on the ‘one’ massive improvement that will make the world talk about us. On the contrary, a minor unnoticeable change in our habits makes a huge difference. 1% betterment each day gives us astounding results over the long run.
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that the money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.”
I absolutely loved the neutral tone James maintained throughout the book. He was concise, clear and never seemed preachy. There are umpteen examples one could relate to. During the course of my reading, I had sent more than 20 screenshots to my wife saying – “This is so us.” Moreover, the author gives a super-useful short summary after each chapter. Here are our 6 top takeaways from Atomic Habits:
1. WILL HABITS MAKE YOUR LIFE DULL?
Oftentimes, many of us ask or think of a similar question: “Will habits make my life dull? I don’t want to exist like a machine. My life has to be dynamic. Doesn’t so much routine take away the vibrancy and spontaneity of life?” I am myself guilty of battling with this thought whenever I try committing to a routine. But, this is a false dichotomy. It is not about choosing between building habits and attaining freedom. In reality, the two complement each other.
When you have your habits dialed in and the basics of life are handled and done, your mind is free to focus on new challenges and master the next set of problems. Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future.
2. VALLEY OF DISAPPOINTMENT
The problem with building habits is we expect tangible results. Even after going to the gym continuously for a few months, we do not see visible results. We expect our progress to be linear but that is not the reality. This gap is called the valley of disappointment. We must understand that our efforts are not wasted, they are just stored. Once we cross what the author calls the plateau of latent potential, we begin to see drastic results. People might call us an overnight success but we know how many hours of dedicated effort has gone into it.
“I start early and I stay late, day after day, year after year, It took me 17 years and 114 days to be an overnight success” – Leo Messi
3. THE 4 LAWS OF BEHAVIOR CHANGE
HABIT LOOP: The backbone of every habit is a 4-step pattern. The first step is a cue. The cue triggers your brain to start a behavior. As the cue predicts a reward, it leads to craving. Craving is the motivation behind every habit. You do not crave the cigarette, you crave the relief it provides. Same way, you do not crave to watch TV, you crave to be entertained. The third step is the response. This is the actual habit (or routine). The response depends on the complexity and your ability. If the task requires more physical/mental effort, you won’t do it. Also, a habit occurs only if you are capable of doing it. Finally, the response delivers a reward.
Your reward would either satisfy you or teach you. Rewards provide contentment and relief from craving for a time period, so they help in closing the habit loop.
“Our sensory nervous system constantly monitors which action provides us pleasure.”
Based on all these studies and findings, the author has designed a framework to form/change any habit and he calls these the 4 laws of behavior change. Download the framework cheat sheet from here.
4. IMPLEMENTATION INTENTION
The 2 most common cues that trigger a habit are time and location. So, an implementation intention is a plan we make in advance about when and where to act. The format is: “When situation X arises, I will perform Y.” Be it sticking to habits like recycling or even going to sleep early, research has proved that implementation intentions are effective for sticking to our goals. “I would eat healthier”, or “I would lose weight” are vague because we haven’t devised when and where this would happen.
“Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for the time to be right to make an improvement.”
Give your habits time and space. This way, when you make these factors very obvious you are prone to fewer distractions.
- MEDITATION: I will [meditate for 5 minutes] at [6 am] in [my living room]
- LEARNING: I will [study Spanish for 20 minutes] at [7 pm] in [my beroom]
- EXERCISE: I will [exercise for one hour] at [5 pm] in [the gym]
5. HABIT STACKING
The tendency of one purchase leading to another is called the Diderot Effect. It states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases. We could see it in our daily lives where we buy a shirt and suddenly feel like buying matching trousers or accessories. Or, we buy a new dining table and then feel the need to upgrade the whole kitchen.
Each action becomes a cue that triggers the next behavior and we could use this to our advantage. The best way to form a new habit is to identify an existing habit and stack this new habit on top of that.
It could be something like this: “As soon as I brush my teeth, I will meditate for 5 minutes.”, “After I remove my work shoes, I’ll put on my joggers”, and so on. Once you get a hold of this method, stack multiple habits by chaining individual routines together. I mixed all these ideas with my new habit of waking up early in the morning and now my morning routine looks like this:
I will rise at 6 am. After brushing my teeth I will exercise for 20 minutes. After the workout, I will meditate for 10 minutes. After meditation, I will drink a cup of tea and sit to write my journal. After writing my journal, I will read for 20 minutes.
6. ENVIRONMENT DESIGN
“Motivation is overrated; Enviroment often matters more.”
We often choose things depending on where they are, rather than what they are. We all know how supermarkets use this to boost their sales. If your office kitchen is always stacked with donuts or cakes, it becomes irresistible to not take a bite every now and then. From talking in whispers in a church/temple to acting wary on a dark street, despite our unique traits, we repeat some behaviors under certain environmental conditions. Psychologist Kurt Lewin said:
Behavior is a function of the Person in their Environment: B = f (P, E)
Soon, this was backed by scientific research. The more obviously available a product is, the more likely we are to try it. So, we could be the architect and design our environment for success.
Just like how we help to form good habits by making it obvious, the same way we could eliminate bad habits by making the cues invisible. Recent research shows that people with high “self-control” are after all similar to everyone else. Instead, “disciplined” people are just good at staying away from temptations.
“The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least. It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often. So, yes, perseverance, grit, and willpower are essential to success, but the way to improve these qualities is not by wishing you were a more disciplined person, but by creating a more disciplined environment.”
So, if you want to stop using social media, leave your phone in another room. Or, if you watch too much television, try and unplug it after every use. I personally used one of these techniques to my advantage. I do not have a Facebook app on my phone but whenever I turned on my laptop, I had the urge to log in to Facebook. So, I set up a very long password (of around 25 characters) and this did the trick. Every time I wanted to log in, I was too lazy to type the 25 characters so that split-second gave me a chance to think twice and I’d close the browser.
The 1st law of behavior change is to make it obvious and methods like implementation intentions or habit stacking would help you create a clear plan for when and where to act. To eliminate bad habits, make the cues invisible. Good or bad habits, either way, design your environment in a way that aids your progress.
There was just so much interesting content to share in this book that we initially decided to release this book-talk as 3-parts. But, to keep it brief, we have curbed ourself with great difficulty to only highlight a very few. So, we’d highly recommend you get a copy of the book. Believe us, it’ll be worth your time. If you are keen on reading a few more strategies, check these out: Identity-based habits, a commitment device (refer to “Strategy 1”) and temptation bundling.
We hope you liked this blog. What is the ONE takeaway for you from Atomic Habits? Please leave your comments or send us a private message with any feedback. Your suggestions would help us write better. Follow us for more.
– Kavi & Ninja
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