Most of us tend to scoff at self-help books. The entire genre is often a subject of ridicule from people like you and me, who like to think of themselves as highbrow.
I was in this same boat. Even until recently when I picked up the widely-popular The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, a book that could be summarised into one line as – “Prioritise your fucks.” For me, that exactly is the problem with self-help books. They rarely have had much to impart beyond the obvious few bits.
But that has changed with Atomic Habits by James Clear. This is a book about breaking bad habits, and building and maintaining good ones. Again, the topic seems like something very obvious, but the book has insights that are anything but obvious.
James Clear is clear (sorry) in what he wants to put forward and how he wants to do it. He’s given actionable takeaways throughout the book. I found them so useful that I started to jot down notes while I was reading the book. So, here’s a list of the points that I found most interesting and useful from Atomic Habits.
Focus less on goals and more on systems and processes
If you’re obsessed with goals, you won’t pay attention to doing the little things properly to achieve those goals. On the other hand, if you do the little things well, you will build the systems and processes that are essential to achieving these goals.
To change habits, change how you identify yourself
If you want to quit smoking, instead of telling yourself, “I wish to quit smoking,” tell yourself, “I’m not a smoker.”
To build good habits, the environment is more important than being motivated
You might be motivated to start a good thing, but you won’t be able to if the setting around that good thing is unfavorable. Build the environment, the habit will follow.
To break a bad habit, reduce exposure to the cues that cause it
If you are bothered by how often you get distracted by notifications while you’re trying to work, turn the WiFi off on your computer when you have to focus on work.
Bundle an action you want to do with an action you need to do
Do something you desire to do only if you are able to do an action that forms a good habit. For example, I allow myself to open the Twitter app only after I’ve read a chapter or section of a book on the Kindle app.
Instead of saying “I have to,” say “I get to”
You don’t have to stop drinking alcohol, you get to start living a healthier life.
Don’t try to make a habit perfect, just repeat it
The perfect story for your book is never going to come about, but a very good story will come about if you keep writing stories regularly.
Reduce friction for good habits and increase friction for bad habits
Don’t keep a pack of cigarettes in your bag if you want to quit smoking and carry a gym bag to office if you want to work out in the evenings.
To make something not seem like a chore, do it for short periods of time
Walking on the treadmill for 20 minutes is tedious, but walking for only 2 minutes is easy-peasy. Start with a short period and gradually take it to a longer time.
To achieve long-term goals, make small habits rewarding
Treat yourself to a Rs 200 ice cream if you invest Rs 20,000 for your retirement.
Never miss more than once of a habit
If you miss one day of working out, make sure you don’t miss the second day as well. The more times you miss, the tougher it gets to rebuild the habit.
The biggest threat to success is boredom
Fight boredom. Do it even if it’s boring. It’s easy to let boredom win, but when boredom wins, you fail. Doing something when it’s boring is what separates the professionals from the amateurs.
These are some of my favorite takeaways from Atomic Habits. I’d totally recommend the book to one and all. Very rarely do I find a book that is actually useful in my day-to-day, and Atomic Habits is one of those rare gems.