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Book Review on Atomic Habit

‘Atomic Habits’ starts with a life event of the upbeat author, James Clear how he came back as one of the key players of his team even though he was cut from his team after slipping into coma being fallen into an unfortunate accident in playground. A small belief in himself and determination of becoming a prominent player kept him going to recover and develop his body as an athlete. This lead James Clear to discover the staggering power of small habits for the first time and has included his lifetime experiences of self-development in this book. This book is able to guide us to fulfill our potential and the only thing we need to do is a small start and tiny breakthroughs.

We get what we repeat

If we save a little money now, that won’t make us a millionaire. We cannot learn a language if we study one hour today. As a result, we tend to slide back to our older routine getting no result immediately. Similarly, we may take an unhealthy meal today but that one meal won’t affect our body. If we repeat, then we’ll have an unhealthy diseased body. That declares the repetition of our actions shape us as a successful or a failure person. As of author, good habits make time an ally of us whereas bad habits make time an enemy.
True long-term thinking is a goal-less thinking
You must have thought that I have gone out of my mind. We passed all our life learning how important it is to have a goal in our life… Hold on!!! That’s what James Clear tried to say in this book explaining the goal vs the system. And that’s surprisingly veracious. Our main attention should be in designing the system that is how we will work toward our destination.

When a player is absorbed in a goal of winning a game, then what will be left to push or motivate after he win? He may revert to his old habits of mishap. We all sometimes push ourselves too hard towards a certain goal and think all the purposes and happiness in our lives are surrounded by that goal. By doing so we just make ourselves the slave to a goal … if we succeed then we are be happy if not then succumb to the darkness of failure. But before start working towards a goal if we design our system and can fall in love with the process- the tiny improvements we are making daily, then we don’t need to curse our names even if we fail as the process we love is still there to hold onto us. You may ask what about the goal we were talking about? It’s still there in disguise. It’s just a matter of time for it to come to light through the process!

It’s often difficult to keep good habits like journaling, exercising, eating healthy going more than few days even with the occasional burst of motivation. To fulfil the challenge to change, the author proposed three levels like the three layers of onion –

Change in results: Indicates your setting of goals like losing weight, publishing book etc. .
Change in process: Includes designing your system by implementing new routine that we have already come through.
Change in your identity: It’s the deepest layer concerned with changing your beliefs, worldview, self-image.
What we actually mean by identity change is to consider us the one we want to become. When you are offered to smoke you rather tell you’re not a smoker than to explain you’re trying to quit. Incongruous behave with ourselves won’t last. When you want more money, if you are identified as a consumer rather than an earner, it’s not going to help you.

Habit and the identity

When you want to become a writer, you need to cultivate the characteristics of a writer who is thoughtful, Conscious of his surroundings, imaginative and has taken writing, reading as a part of his daily activities. By doing so, you’ve become a writer, it’s your identity. The same way, your goal is not to run a marathon but to become a runner .. not to learn an instrument but to become a musician. Be the one ‘who is this’ not the type ‘who wants to become this’.
In this system, a false dichotomy may rise – doesn’t maintaining all these routines turn us into a chained person? That’s not true habit and freedom complement each other. A good financial habit provides you with a sufficient saving in time of your needs. A balanced diet makes you energetic and you are not out of strength most of the time. Daily furnishing of your knowledge gives you upper-hand to any social gatherings. If all these don’t make you feel free then what will?

Scientific explanation of how habit works
First comes cue -a stimulus affecting our behavior that predict rewards like primary (food, water, sex) and secondary (money, fame, power, status). Cue indicates towards a reward that leads to craving, the second step of building a habit.

Craving– a motivational force to act so that you can change your internal state. When you crave sugary foods or smoking, you crave the pleasure not the food or the cigarette.
Response- the actual habit you perform according to your ability.

Reward– finally it’s time to get rewarded to get satisfied. It depends on rewards which actions are remembered by us.
These four steps work as a loop. Cue triggers craving. Craving motivates to response and response provides reward, which satisfies craving leading to cue.

The first law to form a habit – make it obvious
It’s a method normally used in Japanese railways. The operators of trains speak out loud about every signal whether it’s green or red whenever the train reaches a new signal. In each station he calls out the exact speed of the speedometer. When it’s time to leave for the train, he states time. When stuff declares “all clear” by checking out, then the operator starts the train. Here every detail is identified and named out loud that makes the system 85% correct and cut accidents by 30%. Can you feel how habit works in this case? This method simply raises the level of awareness to a conscious and automatic behavior and ensures operators to notice problems before something goes wrong. We need a point-and-call system in our real life as more automatic a behavior becomes, the less likely we are to think about it. But the challenge is to track the daily habits and mark them by good and bad ones depending on whether the things we are doing favoring us to become the person we wish to become or not.

Starting a new habit with implementation intention

When you decide to gain or plan to do something, just decide the time and where you’ll do so. Rather than saying I’ll study, raise your chance to do just as planned by 90% by declaring to yourself, I’ll study English for 20 minutes at 6 my bedroom. The goal is to make the time and location so obvious that, with repetition, you get an urge to do the thing at right time, even if you cannot say why.
There is an effect named The Diderot Effect that states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption leading to additional purchases. This pattern is visible everywhere like when you purchase a dress you feel the urge to get a new pair of matching shoes. The same thing goes while cultivating a new habit and the connectedness of behavior can be used to our advantage. The way is to identify a habit you do every day and stack the new behavior on top of that habit. This method is called habit stacking and the idea is to tie your desired behavior with your old one. For example, if you wish to meditate every morning then plan to meditate after you pour your coffee for one minute. The reason behind the strategies like these is to simply trigger cue that lead to a certain behavior.

Designing environment

Sometimes when we walk through the kitchen, see cookie jar and grab one even we didn’t plan to have one. In this case, if we kept the jar in some place not that much visible, we could save ourselves from regretting about extra calorie intake. In the meantime, some of us buy stuffs not because we wanted them to but only because we see that stuff presented nicely in a shop and feel the urge for that. That’s why we need to be mindful to design our environment by productive cues. When you put your guitar in your closet you’re less likely to practice, when you have your bookshelf in a place that is not visible much, it’ll not be easy for you to read. That is when a cue is hidden, it’s easy to ignore. If you watch tv in your bedroom it’ll be hard for you to sleep early. If you play video game in your living room, it’ll be distracting for your study. That’s why you need to divide your rooms with different activities, move your tv in a different bedroom if you watch too much tv, move your setup of video games if you play too much neglecting your studies, then you can do stuffs without distractions. If you think about self-control being motivated, it’s short-lasting as it’s unlikely to muster the willpower to override your desires. No doubt perseverance and willpower are essential to success but to improve these qualities we need a disciplined environment as we can only break a habit but cannot forget it entirely.

The second law to form a habit-make it attractive

The dopamine-driven feedback loop
Habit forming behavior like taking drugs, eating junk foods, playing video games, browsing social media is associated with higher level of dopamine. Once scientists thought dopamine was all about pleasure but we can experience it also when we anticipate it. Whenever we predict an opportunity as rewarding, our level of dopamine spike in anticipation. Chain smokers feel exalted whenever they see the cigarette not after smoking it because of the surge of dopamine. As the dopamine level rises, our motivation to act stirs that is the anticipation of a reward that drives us to a certain action not the fulfilment of the action. For this reason, when Eid days approached near, as a kid we felt thrilled thinking about the day not after celebrating the day. As an adult we daydream about how to have a blast on the upcoming vacations than actually being on a vacation. It happens to me all the time, before starting my study session I put my earphone on turn up the volume with my favorite song playing and I feel adrenaline rush to provide my 100% concentration on my study. My brain is anticipating all the time about the pleasure I am about to get after I put my favorite song on. That’s why I feel the urge to start studying every morning.

Social norms in habit forming

‘The lone wolf dies but the pack survives’ – the deepest human desire is to belong. We don’t choose our earliest behavior but inherit them, all the social norms guide us to behave whether to get married or not, which holidays to celebrate. Going along with others does not feel like burden and we end up imitating our close ones, the majority and the powerful people.

Study shows if one person in relationship lose weight, the other one would also slim down about one third of time. If a group of friends together aim to become researchers then the environment leads them to their goal. It’s common for chain smokers to start smoking because of their friends. That’s why it’s effective to join group where our desired behavior is the normal behavior. It’s always happens when we want to buy a new product we feel insecure about which model to select and tend to get the product that everyone else is purchasing or giving good feedbacks on. Who doesn’t pursue power, prestige and status? We search for the habits of people who has good names and aim to behave according to their proved ways that bring us respect, admiration and status.

Laszlo Polgar, a firm believer of hard worke, made decision to raise his three daughters to become chess prodigy and designed the house with chess books, pictures of famous chess players and children were bound to play against each other constantly. After sometime three of them became chess prodigies and left mark on the field of chess.

The third law to form a habit – make it easy
Motion vs action

Motion is the planning, strategizing and learning. All of them are about perfection but never produce outcome. Action is the behavior that produce outcome. Generating ideas about your article is the motion but if you actually sit down to write is the action. Fear to fail is the reason we slip into motion rather than taking action. You know what if this motion in the disguise of preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change your method.
Walk slowly but never backward
It’s the prerequisite rule to form a habit. When we repeat doing something even if it’s a tiny step forward, after sometime doing it becomes your automatic tendency of your non-conscious mind. There is no estimated date when a habit will form, it’s the repetition that form habit by making it an automatic action. To repeat any action, you need to make it easy – the third rule of habit forming. Our brain looks for the easy task to fulfill that’s why scrolling phones, checking mail, watching television done without complexity, steal so much of our time. If you are motivated to write a hundred pages at a time every day, after a couple of days, you feel like draining rather than worked up. Meanwhile, if you decide to stick to the habit to write one or two pages a day, that pay you off in the long term.

In this case, when you decide to read before bed each night, read one page, when you think of studying, open your notes. The goal is to make your desire as easy as possible. Anyone can read for one minute and it won’t seem like a challenge to you. If you continue doing so, the habit of reading book before bed will become part of your daily activities and then you can improve the habit easily by reading more books. This idea is named as “Two minutes rule” as it takes two minutes to fulfill your goal. The goal of this rule is to trick your brain by showing it the easy task and persuade it to advance in the intermediate step and repeat the process.

The fourth law to form a habit – make it satisfying

We are more likely to repeat what pleases us. At the beginning of the launch of chewing gum, it was not globally hit like today as consumers got no delight from chewing until Wrigley revolutionized the industry by adding flavors like Juicy Fruit. Then manufacturers went another step forward by adding a pathway to clean mouth to the chewing gum. Using the slogan in their advertisements- “Refresh your taste”, the skyrocketed the consumption of chewing gum.

When as a company we are boring, people tend to leave us as they get no entertainment from us. That’s why we need to make our desired routine pleasing as everything giving immediate satisfaction is repeated and applauded. We know smoking kills still we smoke as it eliminates stress. We know overeating cause obesity still we overeat. All of these give us with ultimate pleasure and we end up doing what is pleasurable avoiding the facts. The costs of our bad habits are in the future but costs of our good habit are in present. We all want good health and success and to achieve these we need to ignore immediate reward. To ignore immediate gratification, the best way is to add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits we want to grab on.

How to track your habits

The basic format to do so is not to break the chain and to do so we can get a calendar and cross off each day we stick with our routine. By doing so, whenever we look at the calendar and see the streak, we’ll be reminded to act again. It’s proven to have progress on any type of goal if we can track our habit. When we get the feeling of moving forward, we get motivated to continue down to that path and the progress even if it’s a little bit, can become an addiction this way.
It’s normal to break our consistency in pursuing the habit for a day but it’s wise for us to get back on track the other day. The first mistake is never going to bring ruin in our lifestyle but same type of repeated mistakes is going to as it’s the start of a new habit.

The truth about talent

The secret to maximize the odds of our success is to choose the right field of competition suited with our abilities– where our natural inclination lies. Many of us may show dissatisfaction about this fact as none of us has any control over our genes that shapes our abilities. But we need to accept that to reach at the top of any field, we need to be suited for that field with lots of hard work. Thus, it’s gene that paves your way for your success and surely you need proper inclination towards the way.

Let’s start pursuing the way that is suited for us and never stop improving even if it’s a tiny progress. That’s where the power of atomic habit lies- tiny changes but remarkable results.

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