During various stages of our lives, It is common for us to create different goals for various outcomes. However we plan, execute and put enormous efforts towards these goals but fail to hit the bulls eye. Be it lack of competence, resources, direction, discipline or anything which might be impacting the results. Often it is observed that we focus on the major steps to ignore the importance and impact of the comparatively smaller but important steps in the process.
This is a summary to the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, which highlights the importance and impact of these small steps which we often ignore while working towards our goals. This book discusses the fundamentals of human behavior, the lasting principles we can rely on year over year.
In this article I am sharing my understanding of the book “Atomic Habits” along with a few quotes/excerpts from the book. I see this book a practical guide to achieve goals in our lives. My recommendation is to go slow with the book and build the habits as you read through the chapters. Moreover, I have read this book multiple times and it always act as an irresistible practical guide to me whenever I had to pick on a difficult goal or habit.
The book “Atomic Habits” is all about changes that seem small and unimportant at first, and will compound into remarkable results if I am willing to stick with them for years. We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits.
With the same habits, we’ll end up with the same results. But with better habits, anything is possible.
This book is about what doesn’t change. It’s about the fundamentals of human behavior.
The book begins with the importance of starting, no matter how small it is to start, followed by a brief discussion on “Why tiny changes make a big difference”, and gradually discusses about a routine or behavior that is performed regularly – and, in many cases, automatically.
Aggregation of Marginal Gains
The philosophy of searching a tiny margin of improvement in everything we do, also known as the aggregation of marginal gains is what makes the big difference in the results.
The intention is to make a tiny improvement everyday and wait for these compounded results to unfold. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Certainly, improving by 1 percent isn’t notable; rather it isn’t even noticeable most of the time ; but it can go significant , especially in the long run.
If I can get 1 percent better each day for one year, I’ll end up 37 times better by the time I’ve done.
Conversely, if I get 1 percent worse each day for one year, I’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.
Making a choice that is 1 percent better or 1 percent worse seems insignificant in the moment, but these choices define the difference between who we are and who we could be. In short, a single change in our routine is capable of leading our lives to a very different destination.
Outcomes are a Lagging Measure of our Habits
Our outcomes are a lagging measure of our habits, and not once-in-a-lifetime transformation. For instance:
- My worth is a lagging measure of my financial habits
- My weight is a lagging measure of our eating habits
- My knowledge is a lagging measure of my learning habits
- My clutter is a lagging measure of my cleaning habits
We Get What We Repeat
Habits are a a double-edged sword. Bad habits can cut us down just as easily as good habits can build us up, which is why understanding the details is crucial. I need to know how habits work and how to design them to my liking, so I can avoid the dangerous half of the blade.
Here is an excerpt from the book about positive and negative compounding of habits, which helps clarify that my habits can compound for me or against me:
Negative thoughts compound
One of the core reasons for a large number of people like us to fail in the process of building habits is that we make a few small changes, fail to see the tangible result of these changes, and decide to stop there.
It is important to learn here that we have to stop thinking about the goals and focus on the system instead. As the author says:
Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.
Forget About Goals, Focus on System Instead
If followed closely, it is easy to understand that achieving a goal is only a momentary change. Imagine of a messy room and we set a goal to clean it. If we recollect all are energies to tidy up, then we will have a clean room for now. And if we maintain the same set of habits that led a messy room in the first place, soon we’ll be looking at a messy room with us planning another burst of motivation to declutter it some day.
We’re left chasing the same outcome because we never changed the system behind it. We treated a symptom without addressing the cause. The author summarized it really well that goals create an “either-or” conflict: either we achieve our goal and are successful, or we fail and we are a disappointment. We mentally box ourselves into a narrow version of happiness.
In addition I learnt that “the purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long term thinking is goal-les thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is our commitment to the process that will determine our progress.
Three Layers of Behavior Change
One of my favorite section in the book reads “Three layers of behavior Change” which can be quickly summarized with the following quotes from the book:
Changing Our Outcomes: This level is concerned with changing the results like losing weight, publishing a book, winning a tournament etc.
Changing Our Process: This level is concerned with changing our habits and systems. Implementing a new routine, decluttering the desk, developing meditation practice etc.
Changing Our Identity: This level is concerned with changing our beliefs: our worldview, our self-image, our judgements about ourselves and others.
It depicts that outcomes are about what we get. Processes are about what we do. Identity is about what we believe.
Many of us begin the process of changing our habits by focusing on what we aspire for(goals), and that leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become. Here I would like to quote my favorite example of the book.
Imagine two people resisting a cigarette. When offered a smoke.
The first person says, "No Thanks, I'm trying to quit." It sounds like a reasonable response, but this person still believes they are a smoker who is trying to be something else. They are hoping their behavior will change while carrying around the same beliefs.
The second person declines by saying, "No Thanks. I'm not a smoker". It's a small difference, but this statement signals a shift in identity. Smoking was part of his former life, not his current one. He no longer identifies him as someone who smokes.
I feel the book can be referred as a guide to build habits for the readers . The book is suitable to every age group and is a recommendation to everyone around who aspire to be better version of themselves and somehow struck with a few routine challenges.
This book further contains information that helps building habits in routine and I found it very effective. It had allowed me develop multiple habits that I always aspired for. Even, me writing this article to share my views with you all right now is an outcome of a habit I developed while reading this book in second iteration 🙂
Have you already read the book? I’ll be happy to know about your views about the book in the comments section.
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