Atomic Habits Book Summary
This is an important book! As a therapist, I will never be able to find a formula that fixes everyone’s problems BUT habits are essentially the formula that tells us everything about one’s beliefs, identity, internal systems, and behavioral patterns. This book breaks down habits to an atomic level.
Why is this book important to me?
Because I am a therapist. It is my profession to help people deal with difficult situations.
Every individual is different and no journey is going to be the same.
As a therapist, I will never be able to find a formula that fixes everyone’s problems BUT habits are essentially the formula that tells us everything about one’s beliefs, identity, internal systems and behavioral patterns.
Habits are crucial and this book breaks down habits to an atomic level.
The following 7 topics cover the important issues covered by this book:
- How Habits Happen
- In order to build habits, it is more important to build a system or environment than it is to focus on building goals.
- Habits and Identity
- Habits and Freedom
- Habits VS Self-Control
- The 4 Laws to Creating Habits
- Crazy Wisdom Nuggets in the Appendix
1. How Habits Happen:
“The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward.”
1. First, we get hit with a CUE.
This is the trigger that moves your brain to initiate a behavior. At this point, your brain is simply predicting a reward for that behavior.
In the beginning, all cues are neutral, we assign it value by choosing a craving to drive it.
Someone steps on your shoes by accident (cue= neutral)
You crave power= you yell at him for his mistake
You crave connection= you check in with the person to make sure they are ok.
A crucial aspect of changing behavior is realizing that learning a new habit is doing something with enough repetition so you are no longer aware of the cue. When automation happens your brain automatically triggers the cue so you can focus on craving the reward.
This is a part of what makes habits so hard to overcome, the cues are no longer apparent BUT awareness of the cue is crucial to actually planning a change.
2. The cue triggers a CRAVING which then motivates the response.
The craving is the motivating force behind behavior. It has more to do with a desire to change your state of being, it is not necessarily interested in the habit itself.
Cravings thrive in a painless environment. If cravings are given freedom, then a habit takes form, if they happen in the presence of friction then its days are numbered.
If there is an effort to create a new habit, craving can be a useful metric to track. Measuring how automatic a craving becomes is key to knowing when the habit has become reflexive.
3. The craving motivates a RESPONSE that is meant to obtain the reward.
This is the ACTION involved in a habit.
When most people think about addressing a habit they tend to focus solely on the response and funnel all effort at changing or resisting the response.
As you will notice below, there are many things that can be done to adjust the response but the areas of cue, craving, and reward need to be addressed as well.
4. The REWARD satisfies the craving and becomes associated with the cue.
This is the desired change of state predicted by the cue.
Emotions play a critical role in cementing the exhilaration of satisfying the craving. This satisfaction affirms the importance of cue.
Once the cue is validated by the emotion of achieving the reward is locked in and automated, it becomes a habit.
2. Building a system is more important than planning goals.
“Bad habits feed off of themselves, they are dependent on the bad emotions they are trying to numb. Therefore, only relying on resisting the habit or trigger emotion is not enough. The main solution is to hack the environment to reduce exposure to the foundational cue.”
One of the critical points made in the book is the idea that habits must be changed through a strategic approach as opposed to simply focusing on resolutions, goals, and plans.
Pros and Cons of Focusing on Goals:
- Good for setting an expectation
- Good for a look at what is to be achieved
- Good for defining a direction
- Problem #1: Winners and losers have the same goals.
- Problem #2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.
- Problem #3: Goals restrict your happiness.
- Problem #4: Goals are at odds with long-term progress.
It is important to reframe the idea of your environment. One of the points James makes in this book is that the environment is not made up of things (i.e. what is in a room or in a house) but rather the environment is about how we relate to the things around us. It has everything to do with our relationship with the room, computer, phone, etc.
It becomes essential to build a system because success is not a destination but rather a progressive movement of refinement and growth.
3. Habits and Identity
“Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.”
You can never change a habit if it is tied to something you believe about yourself. Identity is affirmed by behaviors. Behaviors are reflexive implementations that come from a source of convicted identity.
The bad news is that identity form habits. The good news is that habits can form an identity. Fake it until you make it!!!
This book does make an effort to highlight the meaning of REAL actions that actually move things in the right direction.
Also, one of the items reviewed in this book was the difference of defining your identity based on actions VS the value of your actions. For example, I am an athlete- (Action) VS I am the type of person who is mentally tough and loves a physical challenge - (value of action)
4. Habits and Freedom
“Habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity, so you can allocate your attention to other tasks.”
One of the important themes of this book is the attention to how habits impact your freedoms. It is my belief that true freedom exists in your mental and emotional spaces. Habits (which are automated behaviors) free up your mental capacity. For this reason, habits create freedom, they do not take away freedom.
5. Habits VS Self-Control
“Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one.”
This was an important topic for me. As a parent, trying to raise impulsive children, I find that majority of my disciplining efforts are to reinforce my children’s ability to rely on their self-control.
This book has really challenged my thought process.
Starting with this: Motivation and Self-Control are not enough to sustain a habit that creates a change in behavior.
Consider the fact that habits are usually created by behavioral feedback. No one ever self-willed a new habit into life. Even if a habit begins with disciplined effort, eventually you develop a cue and craving and the behavioral mechanics will take over.
Again, discipline alone will not be enough to create or change a habit.
One of the researched facts uncovered by James was the fact that a disciplined person isn't skilled with high self-control, they are simply more skilled at minimizing temptation.
In other words, disciplined people are masters at structuring their lives in a way that doesn’t require massive efforts of self-control.
Here is the biggest realization I’ve had about Habit VS Self-control:
Do not throw effort at changing or resisting your responses, instead throw effort at avoiding your cues.
How do you throw effort at avoiding your cues?
Build a life routine that leads you away from the cues you do not want and towards the cues that you do want.
Bad habits feed off of themselves, they are dependent on the bad emotions they are trying to numb. Therefore, only resisting the habit or triggering emotion is not enough. The main solution is to hack the environment to reduce exposure to the foundational cue.
6. The 4 Laws to Creating Habits
The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
- Become aware of your own habits
- Reduce exposure to the cue, this will be the proper redirection of your willpower
The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
- You have to repeat a new habit until your craving becomes automated and reflexive.
- You have to identify and root yourself in a specific culture that supports the trajectory of your development
The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
- Action and repetition will create the behavioral change
- Repetition creates the prized goal of Automaticity (automation). If you get here, you win!
- The idea that preparation is equal to action is false. If you are truly making a change it happens within the arena of action, not preparation.
- Actions cost energy. Make it easy and frictionless to gain momentum and cement the habit.
- Learning to be proactively lazy is key to having the capacity to putting in action. Put new habits within the natural flow of your life.
- On the approach to a new habit, it is best to break down the effort into small chunks of action, the point is to train your ability to show up to the task.
- Our REAL actions are our choices and our choices set up the path of our day and the path of our day creates the habits that dominate us and our habits form our identity.
The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
- The default and human impulse is to consume immediate rewards and forego delayed rewards
- It is generally accepted that immediate rewards create long-term hardship and long-term rewards create immediate hardship.
- Find a way to make the end of a forming habit activity rewarding- this is called reinforcement.
- Instead of burying avoidance behind the negative emotion that stops you from the action, find a way to bring it out and give it purpose. Example: Instead of saving money- open an account called profit and put away money there as an incentive to keep the uncomfortable effort going.
- Creating habit trackers offers a system to turn the work of habit formation into a measuring and reward system. If you can measure it you can make a plan to overcome it.
- The rules to repetition is to avoid breaking the chain of action more than once.
- Pain is an effective teacher.
7. Crazy Wisdom Nuggets in the Appendix
Here are some crazy 1 liners at the very end of the book that offered some “blow your mind” nuggets to chew on.
- Happiness is not an achievement, it is the lack of a desire to change.
- We generate the idea of happiness in our minds but we have no real idea of whether the pursuit will equal the expectation.
- Our emotions play a dominant role in our decisions. This isn't an obstacle it is simply a truth.
- You feelings can be used as a tool to indicate your progress in growth and decisions
- Satisfaction= Experience - Expectations
- Hope is a catalyst to action but experience metabolizes hope into acceptance
- Observations and Curiosity inform the rhythm and pace of your efforts