The article summarizes the important aspects of the book Atomic habits. The core principle of this book says tiny changes lead to remarkable results.
Tiny changes lead to remarkable results
Atomic habit is an incredible book that explains the reader’s science behind our habits. By presenting the science of habit, author James Clear shows us an easy and proven way to make good habits and get rid of bad ones.
Our whole life is the result of habit. You will have the same effects with the same habit, but you can achieve anything with better habits.
The author stresses the importance of 1% improvement every day in life will accumulate into 30% improvement in 1 month. Similarly, the reverse is also true; a 1% decrease in improvement can lead to disastrous performance.
Forget goals focus on system
Habits are often formed because you want to achieve a goal. People worldwide set goals for themselves like getting rich, becoming fit, gaining knowledge, etc.
But results actually have little to do with your goals and everything to do with the system you follow. Goals are the results you want, but the system is the process that will lead to this outcome.
- Becoming rich is a goal, but getting a well-paid job or investing in a business is the system.
- Becoming fit is a goal but going to the gym and eating healthy is the system.
- Gaining knowledge is the goal, but reading books every day is the system to become knowledgeable.
Problems with goals
- Winners and losers have the same goals
One of the common new year resolution goals of everyone is becoming fit. But very few follow through it the entire year. Hence, a goal can’t be the differentiating point of success.
- Goals are momentary
Achieving goals changes your life, but only for a moment. Suppose you have the goal of cleaning the room, after cleaning the room, your goal is achieved.
But if you are not organized with keeping things in order, you will face the same dilemma again. Change the system to solve this problem permanently.
For example, keeping your books in a book rack or folding and organizing clothes after use every day.
- Goals restrict happiness
Goal-first mentality always has the implicit assumption of being happy after achieving the goal. It often pushes happiness or satisfaction to the next milestone.
Further, goals have the concept of either-or. You either achieve the goal and are successful, or you fail to achieve the goal and face unhealthy disappointment.
In contrast, system-oriented people fall in love with the process and think little about the outcome. They are happy and satisfied anytime the system is running.
- Goals restrict long-term progress
After working hard and finishing the race, many athletes stop training because they have achieved their goals. This is the drawback of a goal-oriented mindset. There is nothing to motivate them after the accomplishment of their dreams.
Setting goals leads to a single achievement but building a system is about continuous improvement and refinement.
Should you stop setting goals then?
No. Goals are necessary to set a direction, but the system is essential for making progress. Don’t spend too much time thinking about goals. Instead, invest your time in designing your system.
Habits shaping your identity
There are 2 critical reasons why it is difficult to make good tiny changes that lead to remarkable results and easy to repeat the bad ones.
- We try to change wrong things
- trying to change our habits the wrong way
Changes often happen in the layer. There are 3 layers associated with change.
It refers to changing the results. Most goals are associated with this level. Example: Publishing books, starting a business, losing weight, etc.
This level refers to changing the system and habits of an individual. Most habits are associated with this level. Example: designing a workout routine, getting up early to make time for writing, etc.
This is the deepest level that relates to your belief, self-image, your judgements about yourself, etc. Your assumptions and biases are associated with this level.
Simply put, the outcome is what you get, the process is what you do, and identity is what you believe. It is difficult to change the behaviour and not change your belief. i.e. The same belief set will lead to the same behaviour.
Outcome-based habits focus on what you want to achieve, but identity-based habits focus on who you want to become. Practice starts with motivation but sticks when it becomes a part of your identity.
Going to the gym once or twice can be done effortlessly, but going regularly needs a shift in behaviour. Remember tiny changes lead to remarkable results.
Some examples of identity-based changes are:
- The goal should not be to read more but to become a reader.
- The goal should not be to sell more but become a successful businessman.
2 step process to change your identity
Identity emerges from habits. Habits are small pathways that lead to identity change. No one is born with their existing set of beliefs. They have been conditioned with the help of experiences and habits.
New identity requires evidence and new changes. If you change nothing, then no one and nothing will change.
The 2 steps for changing identity is:
1. Deciding the type of person you want to be
This pertains to an individual’s beliefs, principles and values. Ask the type of person who could achieve the wanted objective or goal.
Who is the type of person that could run a startup?
What type of person could lose 30 pounds?
When you ask such questions, your focus changes from outcome-based to identify based changes.
Running a startup (outcome-based)
question: what type of person could run a startup?
answer: someone who is hardworking, consistent and reliable (identity-based)
2. Prove it with small wins
After discovering what type of person you want to be, it is time to take small steps towards reinforcing that desired identity. Small changes lead to remarkable results in the long run.
- Writing one page every day can be a small win for a writer.
- For becoming fit, running 1 hour can be a small win.
Ask questions to yourself about the desired identity you want. If you wish to lose weight, ask yourself will a healthy person eat salad or burger? And it will help you shape your identity as well as your habits.
Habits have a phenomenal quality. Behaviour that follows satisfying consequences is repeated, whereas behaviour producing undesirable results are abandoned.
They are reliable and simple solutions for everyday recurring problems following a feedback loop of human behaviour. A habit consists of trying, failing, learning, and trying again differently. The useless moments fade away, and only beneficial actions are installed with practice.
The behaviour behind habits says that habits are mental shortcuts taken by humans that are learned from their previous experiences. To change our habits, we need to understand the science of how habits work.
Habit building goes through the four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward. All habits follow through these 4 step backbone structures of habit formation.
Cue is the initiation of behaviour. It triggers your brain with bits of information that helps predict rewards. Our ancestors paid attention to cues that pointed to the location of primary rewards such as food, water, survival, etc.
While today, we predict secondary rewards such as money, respect, power, approval, personal satisfaction, etc.
A healthy mind constantly searches the environment, internal or external, for cues or hints of where the reward is located. Cue indicates that we are close to rewards, and it triggers a craving.
Craving, the second step, is the motive force behind any habit. Without craving or desire for change, you will never act.
You don’t crave the habit itself but the internal state change or relief it provides. People are not craving to read, but being knowledgeable. You don’t desire to open social media; you want to be entertained.
Every craving is a desire for an internal change of state, and hence it differs for different people. A cigarette may be a potent trigger for a smoker, but for a non-smoker, it may do nothing. Cues are useless unless they are interpreted and transformed into cravings.
The response is the third step which involves habit being actually performed. A response occurs when enough motivation or friction is associated with the behaviour.
If a behaviour demands more mental and physical effort than you can expend, you are less likely to perform the action. Your habits also depend on your ability and capabilities.
The last and final step of any habit is the reward it gives. Cue is associated with noticing rewards, craving is all about wanting the reward, but the reward is about obtaining that result.
The 2 core reasons for chasing rewards are either they satisfy us or teach us. Rewards help gain containment and relief from your craving. Also, doing actions that bring pleasure will satisfy us and doing activities that dissatisfy us will lead us to not repeat the action.
It is an ongoing feedback mechanism that helps our brains to distinguish beneficial actions from unuseful ones. Reward completes the habit cycle and feedback loop.
Cue: waking up
Craving: wanting to feel alert and fresh
Response: drinking a cup of tea or coffee
Reward: satisfying the craving of feeling fresh and alert.
Here drinking coffee or tea becomes associated with waking up.
Also, check out this article that explains the 4 laws of behavior change.
Books core takeaways
- A small win or minor setback accumulates into something more. Tiny changes lead to remarkable results, whereas minor setbacks can lead to failure.
- Success is not a one-time transformation but a compound of good daily habits.
- Focus on the overall system rather than a single goal to ensure lifetime habits installation.
- Outcome-based habits can lead to temporary changes, but identity-based modifications can help you permanently install habits.
- Habits are formed with a close feedback loop of cue, craving: the problem phase; response and reward: the solution phase.
Any behaviour or action lacking in any stage of habit i.e. cue, craving, response or reward will not become a habit.
No cue, the habit will never start. The reduced craving will rob off the motivation to act. If your response or behaviour is complicated, you will not do the action at all. Finally, if the habit doesn’t give satisfaction, you have no reason to do it in future.
Changing a habit is a long process where even tiny changes lead to remarkable results. And these small wins will ensure you a better future.