There are very few books in your life that you will read and think “Wow, this was life-changing”. You may enjoy reading books, and may even be a fan of a certain series of books like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. However, these are generally limited to serving entertainment purposes only and are not the kind of books that will give you deep insights into life or help you reflect on yourself. Having said all this, I do believe the book “Atomic Habits’ that I am going to discuss in this article is the type of self-help book that will change or give you a new perspective on habits and lifestyle choices in general.
The general idea of the book is this: small changes or habits you incorporate in your life will compound into much greater results in the long-run. Hence the use of the word ‘atomic’. The author is trying to explain that even small habits materialize into major results if we keep at them. This is a fairly new idea being introduced in this book, as we are often told if we want to change our lives, we have to take drastic steps like moving to a new place or quitting our jobs. This book replaces this notion with a new and improved one: change can occur even through miniscule habits and can provide life-altering results. You do not have to take drastic steps to create change, in fact you are probably better off starting at something very small and sticking with that. The process of building and sustaining these tiny habits, while also stopping or breaking free from bad ones, will help create the positive change we require.
- The 1% rule – This relates to ‘compounding’ as mentioned before. It works in a similar way to compound interest. As we leave something to develop for a long period of time, eventually the net growth is massive. In this way, if we try to better our lives by even just 1% everyday, then we will be a 37% better version of ourselves after a year. The author provides a very insightful quote “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement”. We should be careful though, as it also works the other way and even bad habits can compound to make us worse. So, we should focus on the self-beneficial ones while trying to limit or remove the harmful ones.
- Focus on ‘Systems’ not ‘Goals’ – An important idea stressed upon in the book is on building ‘habits’ and not focusing on ‘goals.’ Our behavior should be such that it becomes repetitive and compelling, and not completely goal-oriented. If we become goal-oriented, we may become disappointed if we don’t meet our goals, but if our sole focus is on building a habit which we will maintain for the rest of our lives, there will be a much greater positive impact. For example, if your goal is to lose 5 kgs in one month, you will become disappointed if you don’t. Even if you do, it is only a temporary achievement and you may gain weight again after that. Instead, you should build the habit of exercising routinely to sustainably lose weight and stay fit.
- Identity is the north star of habit change – This basically means that we should not solve problems based on their outcomes and results, as this means we only solve them temporarily. To solve problems for the long-term, we need to change our identity itself. This ties into the previous point in essence. For example, instead of saying you want to eat less junk food to lose weight, you should change your identity to a person who likes eating healthy and wants to build a good diet. To quote the book; “The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when habits become part of our identity.”
- How to build a habit – There is a basic 4 step process for building habits: cue, craving, response, reward. Cue triggers the brain to perform an action, Craving provides the motivational force to perform it, Response is the habit/action that we perform and Reward is the end result. So, we should build habits that we want to incorporate into our lives through this process, by making the habit obvious, attractive, easy to perform and satisfying. In case all these are adhered to, the process of habit formation becomes rather easy.
As mentioned earlier, the book really is life-changing for anyone struggling to build a habit or break an old one. The aim should be to build long-lasting and sustainable habits (systems), however small, and to not focus on achieving some set goals in life. It is hard for many of us, in this world of instant gratification, to stick to habits that will show outcomes only after a long time and through a process of compounding, However, this book helps us with this and guides us on how we can build habits in and easy and efficient manner, and also explains the benefit this may have on our lives if we are just able to stay discipled and stick to them. Tiny changes, remarkable results.