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James Clear’s - Atomic Habits

Principles for how to cultivate habits and stick to them

“Your outcomes in life are the lagging measure of your habits” James Clear

Understanding our habits is so critical to how we can live our lives with more joy and more energy. The International best-seller book, “Atomic Habits” by James Clear has some really amazing wisdom nuggets for learning more about how to cultivate habits and stick to them. For those of you curious to learn more or with no time to read the book, here are his principles broken down in an easy to read 10min summary.


“Results in your life are determined by your habits” “We don’t rise to our goals, we fall to the level of our systems” “There are no high performance people just high performance habits”

Principle #1: Habits and our sense of identity

  • Habit = Behaviour done so much it becomes automatic

  • Identity and sense of self is rolled up in your habits

  • We come to believe things about ourselves through repetition of experiences which result from the story we tell ourselves

  • Habits create experiences that reinforce the repetition

  • Every action we take is a vote for the type of person we want to be/become

  • This is why smaller habits matter. Small actions don’t create an immediate transformation but they cast a vote. Doing one push up every day might not transform your body but you can now say you’re the type of person who does a push up every day. You’re changing your identity/story

  • Daily behavioural choices really do add up

  • Build Identity based habits first

  • The real goal is not to write a book but to become a writer, or not to run a marathon but to become a marathon runner

  • When you adopt a new identity you just act in alignment with who you are. It’s much easier to show up as you want to because this is who you are now

Principle #2: Habit, energy & the brain

  • Energy is needed to survive, getting energy requires energy and using energy is expensive — because the more energy you use the less you have available for whatever life throws at you

  • The brain is always looking for ways to conserve energy and habits are a great way of conserving energy (habits — e.g tying a shoelace or brushing your teeth — by their automatic definition require less energy, thought & attention)

  • The first time you do something it takes energy but once it becomes a habit you free up energy and waste less energy

Principle #3: Where do bad habits come from?

  • Modern society asks us to practise delayed outcomes & gratification (e.g getting paid at the end of the month…) which runs counter to our biological process which is for instant gratification

  • We are in a mismatched environment and so we look for other forms of instant gratification — bad habits are formed so easily because they offer immediate rewards. There are no immediate rewards with good habits

  • There are two types of rewards. “Immediate” and “Ultimate”. Bad habits bring us immediate reward and good habits bring us the ultimate reward

  • The cost of your good habits is in the present and the cost of your bad habits is in the future

Ways to counter this: Work out how to introduce an element of surprise and delight (instant gratification) to form a new counter habit. The instant gratification keeps you motivated to stick with the behaviour whilst the ultimate reward is on the way

Principle #4: Habits & belief

  • You can’t believe something about yourself without evidence

  • Delusion = Belief without evidence

  • To create a new story or identity let your behaviour lead the way because that creates new evidence and proof

  • This evidence and proof compiles to make your story/belief stronger

  • To create new beliefs and a new identity you have to create strong behaviour, evidence and proof of this

Principle #5: Habits & control

  • Many people believe they don’t have control over their habits

  • We can structure our habits to become the architect of our habits and not the victim of them

  • The Internal (cognitive) & external (behavioural) world influence our behaviours which create habits

Principles #6: Habits and environmental design

1st Law — Cues

  • Cues are obvious, visible and easy to see and they influence your behaviour

  • Make the cues for bad habits invisible and inverse this for good habits (e.g put the fruit in a bowl as the first thing you see in the kitchen, or put the fizzy drinks right to the back of the fridge out of sight)

  • You can do this with your digital environment too e.g by arranging your apps, changing the colour of them (research says that by changing app colours to black and white they are less enticing) or setting up habit automation (e.g automatic money-saving plans)

  • If you want a habit to be a big part of your life make it a big part of your environment have the cues in a prevalent place and if you want to reduce the impact a habit makes it a smaller part of your environment