Habits are powerful tools for your personal and professional development. That’s why there are so many books devoted to them. But one has emerged in recent years that helps reframe the discussion around habits to help others succeed with them where they may have previously failed: Atomic Habits by James Clear.
Start Small, Finish Big
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity…meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity.”
Just like compounding interest in a bank account, small habits don’t just become powerful habits, they actually give you more power to make other habits which can make big changes. The power of these changes, like a snowball, is cumulative.
Clear has Four Laws of Behavior Change to help readers understand how to build these habits one at a time. These are four characteristics of each habit you wish to build.
Your new habits need to be obvious, not vague. You can’t simply “be a better manager” or “lose weight.” You could “become a better manager by developing stronger personal relationships with my team” or “lose five pounds in the next three months.” When working on the habit gets tough (as it inevitably will) you can always come back to the obvious goal.
Clear unabashedly wants to use your body’s chemistry to help with habits. Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but even when you anticipate it. For example, gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right before they place bets, not when they win.
When your body thinks an opportunity will be rewarding, dopamine spikes in your body. But when dopamine rises, so does your motivation to act.
Going back to our weight loss example, going to the gym may be unattractive, but watching a certain TV show may be very attractive. By making it so that you can only watch that show while at the gym, you can make your new habit attractive, as it carries a pleasure you want.
Complicated is the enemy of easy. When you make a habit complicated, you will make excuses not to do it. You need to build a string of successful habit performances and that’s simpler to do if the habit is easy and straightforward.
The fourth law, be satisfying, is about repeating the cycle so that you can continue to pursue an obvious, attractive, easy habit. That feeling of making progress is in itself satisfying.
Clear also notes the importance of not breaking a habit chain. Try to keep that streak alive, but if you break it for any reason, don’t give up. Get back on track as quickly as possible.
There are many other important points Clear makes in this helpful book. To get a peek, here’s a free excerpt on the four stages of habit.
A habit many of our team has here at Apex is reading. If you liked this review, check out the others in our Book Club series.