10 min read

atomic habits reviewed

I read Atomic Habits for the first time this year and it completely changed the way I thought about decision-making and creating goals.

Below are some cliff notes that I wrote down. I hope the notes help you as much as they help me.

How Habits are Formed

Cue --> Craving --> Response --> Reward

Setting Goals

The first step to setting goals is to ask yourself what type of person do you want to be.

Your actions are tied to your identity, and you must set goals to reflect this.

Do you want to be someone who prioritizes health, such as an athlete? If yes, what does that look like in your eyes?

The following goals make sense to me as they can easily be measured and tracked, i.e., I can answer "yes" or "no" if I ask myself, "did you do this today?"

  • Weight training 3-5 times a week
  • 1 gram of protein per lb of bodyweight each day

I also find it helpful to find a role model in each field in which I want to set goals. I ask myself, what do they do each day?

If we take the athlete identity example from above, I would look at what my friend Dr. Emil Hodzovic does on a daily basis/weekly basis.

It's typically pretty easy to find out this information as well, thanks to social media. Let's take a look at Dr. Hodzovic's post showing his 10-year transformation:

https://www.instagram.com/p/CYou2xOrITH/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Inside the caption, he says: "Consider this - if you spent the next 10 years training with resistance, eating well, and doing mobility work - do you expect to be in better shape and health in a decade?"

Based on this caption, it'd be wise to set goals around:

  • Resistance Training
  • Eating well
  • Mobility work

Obviously, you need to drill down further than this to create concrete numbers and KPIs you can track and make sure you adhere to, but this is a great starting point.

To wrap up goal setting, you want to do the following:

> Find an Identity you want to inherit
> Create goals based on what people who have that identity do
> Track and measure your KPIs and goals daily, weekly, and monthly.

You Don't Rise to Your goals; You Fall to Your Systems

We all need systems to keep ourselves on track. Otherwise, we won't hit our goals.

Motivation is great, but it doesn't last.

The habits and systems that we build and structure into our day-to-day lives are what last.

How do we do this?

1. Affirm What You're Going to Do

Forming a Positive Habit

Tip #1 from Atomic Habits is to say out loud what you're going to do so that you stick with it.

I want to go to the gym on Monday at 2:00 pm, then on Sunday, I'm going to say out loud to myself, "I am going to the gym tomorrow at 2:00 pm for one hour."

Make this as detailed as possible with no room for ambiguity for your brain: time, location, and duration.

To take this deeper and further concrete it within your brain, you could say:

"I'll leave my office at 1:15 pm to drive 45 minutes in my car to the YMCA. I will get to the YMCA at 2:00 pm, train for one hour, and leave no earlier than 3:00 pm."

Breaking a Negative Habit

The concept of speaking out loud is also used to break a bad habit. When you are about to partake in a bad habit, say the pros and cons of this decision out loud.

For instance, if my friends invite me out for a night of drinking, I might come up with the following pros and cons:

Pros

  • Get to hang out with my friends
  • Good laughs and potential memories

Cons

  • Extra calories that I don't need which pushes me further away from my goal
  • Less than an optimal amount of sleep
  • Potential hangover the next day - feel horrible
  • Spending money that I don't need to spend

Based on these pros and cons, I would choose not to go out with friends because it pushes me further away from the goals I'm trying to achieve, and I desire to reach my goals more than a night out with friends.

Disclaimer: I'm not saying never go out. I love going out with my friends and having a good time, but I try and do so in moderation. Breaking loose can actually help you get back on track, just like a cheat meal can help you stick to a diet.

2. Habit Stacking


Habit stacking allows you to construct the perfect day for yourself.

Habit stacking is essentially queuing your mind to take the following appropriate action in the day.

The time and location of the habit must be tied to everything.

A practical example of this (my mourning routine):

  1. When I wake up, I will weigh myself in my bathroom.
  2. After I weigh myself in my bathroom, I will take a shower in my shower.
  3. After my shower, I will brush my teeth at my bathroom sink.
  4. After I brush my teeth, I will floss at my bathroom sink.
  5. After I floss, I will put on deodorant at my bathroom sink.
  6. After I put on deodorant, I will cook breakfast in my kitchen.
  7. After I cook my breakfast, but before I eat it, I will log what food I am about to eat in my Apple iCloud notes.
  8. After I log my breakfast, I will write in my gratitude journal for the day at my kitchen table.
  9. Etc.

As we see here, you can literally map out every detail of your ideal day.

I highly encourage you to do this, as habit stacking is what makes continuous automatic habits.

Spending the initial time to map this out will pay dividends as you can easily manage yourself to the schedule you've created.

Disclaimer: Again, do not live and die by this. Just do it 80% of the time. It's okay if you forget to floss one day (please don't forget to put on deodorant!) The goal with habit stacking is to build a sustainable lifestyle where you hit your goals 80% of the time.

3. Make it Visible

Now that you've written your ideal day, creating cues for the habits is vital. A great way to do this is to make your cues easy to see.

For instance, I found that I wasn't flossing enough and would continually skip it, so I needed to make the cue more obvious.

All I did was move my floss right next to my toothbrush, so every time I sat my toothbrush down, I couldn't help but see the floss.

I kid you not; I have not missed a day of flossing since I made this change, haha. It's incredible how something so simple has created a new daily habit for me.

Another example of making a cue more obvious would be putting a book on your pillow.

If you want to identify as a reader and set a goal to read every night for at least 20 minutes, then placing a book on your pillow that you physically have to move each night will ensure you see the cue to take action.

4. Make it Invisible

An excellent approach to breaking a negative habit would be the inverse of building a positive one, i.e., making it invisible.

I want to break the habit of checking my phone while working. All I did to solve this was put it in another room. It's no longer in my face, so I never visually see it.

Plus, we humans are inherently lazy, and I don't want to get up and check it (more on that later.)

5. Make it Attractive

Combine the habit you need to do with something you want.

For instance, I need to review my financials every week. I also really enjoy going to a local shisha lounge.

So now, on Sundays, I head to the shisha lounge and review my weekly finances there.

This section of the book also discusses the idea of changing one's mindset and philosophy. So instead of thinking that I have to do boring review work of my fiances each week, I reframe my mindset to:

"I get to review my financials so I can save more, allowing me to fly business class, travel the world, and do whatever I want - whenever I want."

6. Make it Easy

How can you create an environment where doing what's right requires the least effort? For instance, placing a book on your pillow is much easier than digging it out of your nightstand.

The book on your pillow not only visually cues your mind to read but also requires little to no effort because you have to pick the book up anyway if you want to sleep.

7. Make it Difficult

As you can guess, you want to do the inverse of making it easy if you're going to break a bad habit. So again, if I want to break the bad habit of checking my phone, then I'm going to make it difficult to reach.

The above example of putting it in another room is a double whammy. I don't visually see it, so my brain is never cued to look at it.

Plus, it's annoying to get up and walk into the other room, haha.

This is based on the Law of Least Effort.

8. Standardize Before You Optimize

Get your reps in.

Habits form based on frequency - not time.

What do I mean by this?

The idea is to walk slowly but never backward.

A new habit is formed based on the number of repetitions you do it. So the idea here is to do the smallest thing you can in the beginning and grow from there.

It kind of reminds me of the concept of "minimum viable product" used in the tech community.

"Minimum Viable Product or MVP is a development technique in which a new product is introduced in the market with basic features, but enough to get the attention of the consumers." - Economic Times.

For example, I really want to identify as the "coolest cucumber in the room," as Naval puts it, and I believe that extremely calm people meditate.

So I want to build a habit of meditation each morning but sitting down for 10+ minutes in the day will burn me out faster than I started.

So the idea here is to say out loud when and where I'm going to meditate (remember, every habit should be tied to a time and location) and then start by just GETTING there.

An example of how it looks in the beginning:

I will meditate on the living room couch every morning for thirty seconds after I put on deodorant and before I start cooking breakfast.

Now, thirty seconds probably isn't going to give me a whole lot of benefit in the beginning, but again, we're building habits here, and we're thinking long term.

I'm simply making the act of sitting on my couch and meditating part of my daily routine. As I continue to do this and it becomes secondhand, I will optimize and increase the time I meditate.

James Clear gave an excellent example in the book that stuck with me. One of his clients in the past needed to lose a lot of weight. So what they did each day was simply have him stop at the gym after leaving the office.

In the beginning, he didn't even work out when he got there. He went inside and walked out.

After he had built a habit of going to the gym, he thought... well, I'm already here, why not work out?

Next thing you know - he's lost over 200 pounds.

The importance here is to think long term. What will help you build a habit that you do each day, resulting in compounded results in the long run?

What about habits that you don't do each day?

As I mentioned above, I try and review my finances weekly. Making this habit once a week is not enough frequency to ingrain it into my brain. That needs to happen daily.

So for situations like this - we should use technology to help us either automate the task or remind you.

Example: Automatically transfer your leftover funds to your savings account.

You can use a tool like ClickUp (my favorite) to remind you what daily tasks you need to do. Not just for work but also for life, i.e., every Sunday, I get reminded that it's time for my weekly review.

9. Make It Satisfying

What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.

Making it satisfying makes sure that you will repeat the action. You can ensure this with instant gratification.

How to make avoiding bad habits pleasurable?

As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy going to a shisha lounge. However, I know I shouldn't be doing this on a daily basis. But there was a time when I would go very frequently (4-5 times a week).

I also like watches. Like I'm obsessed with them.

So to stop myself from going to shisha, I created a "Watch Savings Account." Every time I didn't go to shisha, I transferred the money I would have spent at the lounge into that savings account.

These immediate reinforcements/rewards help maintain motivation while waiting for the long-term benefit.

Wrapping it Up

Never Miss Twice - if you screw up one day, get back on track the next. Don't go off the rails or in full bender mode.

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to become a good measure.

We aren't just trying to make numbers on the scale go down - the number is simply a measure. The goal is to become an athlete, a healthy individual, or someone who prioritizes health. Bake it into your identity.

Habit creation is a continuous process, and there is no finish line. Fall in love with the process of growing each and every day and track your results.

Behaviors are effortless when they are:

  • Obvious
  • Attractive
  • Easy
  • Satisfying

Behaviors are challenging when they are:

  • Invisible
  • Unattractive
  • Hard
  • Unsatisfying

Don't live and die by your habits. Have fun. Enjoy life.

These are some of the notes I've taken from the book, and I recommend you check it out for yourself if you want to dive deeper into this.

Check out the book here: https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits

Additional Notes...

James Clear had a recent interview with Peter Attia: https://peterattiamd.com/jamesclear.

I think Taylor Person put it nicely...

"Even after reading James's book, I enjoyed this interview as a refresher and heard how some of his thoughts had developed since publication. In particular, the section on "never missing twice" really resonated with me.

As someone prone to binge-eating pizza, getting better at forgiving myself and getting back on track has made a big difference."

I never miss twice is the little mantra I try to tell myself. I stuck to the diet for nine days then binge ate a pizza on the 10th day. Well, I wish I hadn't done that, but never miss twice. So I'm going to make sure the next meal is a healthy one.
I think we all know this implicitly from going through life, but it's easy to forget in the moment, which is, it's rarely the first mistake that ruins you. It's like usually the spiral of repeated mistakes that's the real problem.
Letting slipping up become a new habit is the real issue. Cutting that off at the source and never missing twice are just little blips on the radar when you get to the end of the year. It's really about getting back on track quickly. I see this with top performers across different industries.