Oct 8, 2021 • 6M

Discussion #9: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, by James Clear

An Operating Manual for Fulfilling Your Potential

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Introduction - Dismissing from Afar

We resisted reading Atomic Habits for a long time, and we were wrong in doing so. Thinkers and doers we admire have long ranted about how the book changed their lives, but we admittedly [mis]judged a book by its cover in this case - literally. In our shortsighted judgement, likely formulated while streaming tv on the couch or procrastinating on social media while at work, we believed that Atomic Habits was like other self-improvement stories about mustering the discipline to hold yourself to a routine, finding your purpose in life and expressing gratitude. We thought routines take the zest out of life and, while we appreciate the lessons of finding purpose and expressing gratitude in life, we’ve found that these concepts are often easier said than done.  If we had more discipline to offer toward our goals, we would’ve done so already.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The Truth About Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits is in the elite tier of “self-improvement” books, whether that’s a label that attracts or repulses us. Author James Clear presents a concise and effective framework that focuses on building a desirable life by emphasizing habits over traditional goal-setting or motivation.

“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, you’ll end up with the same results. But with better habits, anything is possible.”

In our lives, we’ve found that improving habits isn’t usually as glamorous as setting lofty goals or keeping ourselves motivated to a level of frenzy. However, Clear makes a compelling case that small, consistent, and incremental improvements compound and ultimately, generate transformational results in realms across health, money, productivity and relationships. Productivity compounds. Knowledge compounds. Relationships compound. Accomplishing one extra task a day, learning one new fact a day, or doing one more favor a day might not yield immediate results, but as these habits become second nature, they grow and have transformative impacts over longer periods of time. Exercising for a few days in a row won’t immediately make anyone more fit or strong, but consistently maintaining this habit over time allows them to complete more challenging exercises and see greater results. The name of the game is falling in love with the habit and successfully executing, even when it’s boring.

Conversely, the effects of bad habits also compound over time. By leaving bad habits intact and continuing to repeat them, we lose the game we’re ultimately seeking to win. Many of these points are obvious in hindsight, but sometimes it takes a nice wake up call, like the one in Atomic Habits, to realize how it applies to our own lives. The older you get, the greater the temptation to accept faults as immutable personality traits that make up your identity. As we read through Atomic Habits and reflected on our own lives, we shuddered to imagine a future in which we fail to reach our full potential. Like many others who have read the book though, we grew increasingly euphoric as the author delivered on his promise to provide an “operating manual” for fulfilling one’s true potential.

The Atomic Habits Framework

James Clear achieves this by drawing on insights from cognitive and behavioral science to help readers design a system of atomic - small but latently powerful - habits for themselves. For a system of action to stick, a key step is setting up a new system of belief. You’re more likely to stick with habits that you view as part of your new identity - habits that are perceived to be privileges with future rewards rather than punishments. In this mindset, you’re not punishing yourself - you take pride in becoming a master of your craft.

To optimally design the habits that become tied up in a positive feedback loop with identity, Clear has tips for each step in the behavior: Cue, Craving, Response, Reward.  

The Four Laws of Behavior Change (How to Create a Good Habit)

  • 1st Law (Cue) – Make it Obvious

  • 2nd Law (Craving) – Make it Attractive

  • 3rd Law (Response) – Make it Easy

  • 4th Law (Reward) – Make it Satisfying

Each of these laws can be inverted to break a bad habit as well:

  • Inversion of 1st Law (Cue) – Make it Invisible

  • Inversion of 2nd Law (Craving) – Make it Unattractive

  • Inversion of 3rd Law (Response) – Make it Difficult

  • Inversion of 4th Law (Reward) – Make it Unsatisfying

The book explores the science and reasoning behind these rules, as well as plenty of examples of how they can be implemented. These include setting up the right work environment for focus, laying out tools in advance of performing the task and countless other ways to improve your day-to-day life.

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At Citizen Scholar HQ, we’re excitedly reviewing our own habits (both the good & the bad) and designing improvements using the frameworks we learned in Atomic Habits. We haven’t always been immune to the complaining or excuse-making that’s rampant on social media or in today’s society more broadly. However, we believe being armed with a step-by-step plan for taking control of our own lives and fulfilling our true potential beats the common negativity we’re surrounded by. Atomic Habits ultimately carries a message of well-supported hope: that in our lives, we don’t have to settle for who we think we are but that we can systematically work toward who we truly wish to become. Control over chaotic or sub-optimal circumstances can be acquired gradually, one habit at a time.

If you’re open to reading an extremely realistic, helpful and pragmatic book that can change your life for the better, please don’t wait as long as we did to read Atomic Habits. If you’re one of over five million who have already read it, let us know what you thought about it in the comments.

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All the best,

The Citizen Scholar Team

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