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Atomic Habits is the now infamous brainchild of James Clear. With over 56k global ratings averaging at 4.8 stars on Amazon, it’s a foundational tool for anyone who is thinking about stepping foot in the habit improving arena.
Clear started working on his habits in college after suffering a ‘baseball bat to the face’ accident at practice during his sophomore year of high school. After a grueling rehabilitation period and barely playing at all his senior year of highschool, he was determined to realize his potential and play in college. Eventually, his hard work paid off and he was selected to the ESPN Academic All-American Team as a senior in college for his excellence in both, you guessed it, academics and on-field performance.
And if that story wasn’t impressive enough, Atomic Habits was also #1 on the New York Times best seller list and has sold over 3 million copies.
James has a lot of experience in overcoming the obstacles to build good habits, so let’s check out 10 quotes from Atomic Habits and discuss how we can apply them to our daily habit building.
10 Quotes From Atomic Habits by James Clear
- “We all face challenges in life. This injury was one of mine, and the experience taught me a critical lesson: changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years. We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits. With the same habits, you’ll end up with the same results. But with better habits, anything is possible.”
You’re going to deal with bad days and setbacks. Hopefully not ‘baseball bat to the face’ kinds of setbacks, but setbacks are going to happen.
The systems you build through habit improvement are what will sustain you during your trying times. And during these times, it’s even more important to track your habits (insert link) so you can see that even when things are tough, you’re still making progress.
- “…habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance. In the early and middle stages of any quest, there is often a Valley of Disappointment. You expect to make progress in a linear fashion and it’s frustrating how ineffective changes can seem during the first days, weeks, and even months. It doesn’t feel like you are going anywhere. It’s a hallmark of any compounding process: the most powerful outcomes are delayed.”
Another benefit of habit tracking is that during the crucial beginning stages of starting a new habit you have a visual representation of the progress you’re making, even if you haven’t lost 20 lbs., made a blog post, or improved your chess game.
Vast and visible improvement doesn’t happen overnight. You’re playing the long game of lifestyle change, not the get-rich-quick scheme of a miraculous overnight success story.
- “The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.”
Yes, I’m going to say it. Fall in love with the process.
Setting a goal like getting 100,000 visitors a month or playing guitar to a packed stadium is fine, but what’s more important is to build a system that can facilitate a lifelong passion for improvement. The former is, to some degree, out of your control; the latter is flexible and can serve as a cornerstone that you can build a life around.
- “Whenever you face a problem repeatedly, your brain begins to automate the process of solving it. Your habits are just a series of automatic solutions that solve the problems and stresses you face regularly. As behavioral scientist Jason Hreha writes, “Habits are, simply, reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment.””
Actively building your habits is to proactively solve problems that will pay back dividends in time, mental fatigue, and enjoyment for months or years to come. It’s a never-ending game (which is why we fall in love with the process), so as life changes you’ll need to change with it. But it is one of the better ROIs out there.
- “The process of behavior change always starts with awareness. Strategies like pointing-and-calling and the Habits Scorecard are focused on getting you to recognize your habits and acknowledge the cues that trigger them, which makes it possible to respond in a way that benefits you.”
You’ll have to get the book for a dive into pointing-and-calling and the Habit Scorecard, but the important thing here is you first need to be aware of both your good and bad habits before you can start improving them.
Using awareness strategies gives a map of the challenges ahead of you while also laying out valuable assets you can build upon. Awareness is the first step!
- “Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for the time to be right to make an improvement.”
This is why awareness is so important: it lifts the fog of war.
Atomic Habits will help bring clarity to the path in front of you and give you a good set of tools to get started on your journey.
Stop getting bogged down in the unknown and start taking action.
- “Our behavior is not defined by the objects in the environment but by our relationship to them. In fact, this is a useful way to think about the influence of the environment and your behavior. Stop thinking about your environment as filled with objects. Start thinking about it as filled with relationships. Think in terms of how you interact with the space around you.”
If your phone is pulling at your attention while you’re working, then put it in another room. If you can’t stop switching tabs on your browser, then get a laptop dedicated to work. And if you can’t get a tool solely for a specific purpose, then try adding something into the mix that changes your relationship in the environment.
I use the same computer for work as I do for social media and writing these posts. For a long, long time it was difficult to sit down and write without letting social media pull my attention away from writing.
Two moves that have made all the difference were cutting back on coffee and using noise reducing earmuffs exclusively when I’m writing out these posts. I don’t even wear them for that long, maybe 10 to 15 minutes, before taking them off. But as soon as they go on my brain dials in and I know it’s time to write. That 10 to 15 minutes is all it takes to get into a good grove and push forward with a good writing session.
- “Join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.”
This one is huge, and I’ll have more posts dedicated to this concept in the future.
Your community will go a long way towards defining who you are. In high school or college you may have been on the debate team, played sports, or been in social clubs that did so much more than whatever they were at face value. These kinds of communities build a culture where certain activities (good grades, debate prep, being in shape) are all but (and sometimes, completely) mandatory.
Use sites like meetup.com or social media to network and find your people. You’ll not only stand a better chance of adopting your chosen behaviors, but also make some new friends along the way.
- “It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change: the fastest way to lose weight, the best program to build muscle, the perfect idea for a side hustle. We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action. As Voltaire once wrote, “The best is the enemy of the good.””
I’m currently drinking about 4 oz of coffee a day. That’s one third of a tall (or small for anyone unfamiliar with Starbucks lingo) at Starbucks. That’s not a lot of coffee.
Long story short there are quite a few posts on this site that touch on my struggle to quit drinking coffee. The latest round in this long back and forth has me relapsing and once again at the mercy of big coffee.
This time around I decided to take a different approach: instead of quitting I decided to just go ahead and taper down over an unspecified amount of time. It’s been roughly a month and instead of drinking a big mug of coffee, I weigh out the coffee on a scale and fill the rest of the mug up with milk and throw it in the microwave. I still get to enjoy a hot beverage every morning while also consuming less and less caffeine.
I don’t want to oversell this too much, but it seems like cutting back below a full tall cup of coffee was the biggest factor to being able to sit down consistently and start writing again. I sleep better and my mind doesn’t race as much when I’m drinking less coffee. And with this unspecified tapering approach, I can get some of the benefits of less caffeine without going completely coffee-free until I’m ready.
If you can’t go all out, then sit down and figure out how you can go a little out. Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.
- “One of the most effective ways to reduce the friction associated with your habits is to practice environmental design. In chapter 6, we discussed environmental design as a method for making cues more obvious, but you can also optimize your environment to make actions easier.”
If your goal is to establish a walking habit, then set your shoes in front of your bedroom or bathroom door so you have to walk over them. Throw out all of the junk food in your house. Stash your credit card and cash at family or friends house so you can’t splurge (seriously, I’ve done this and it works).
Don’t work against your environment, make it work for you.
Wrapping It Up
Alright, that’s it for today. 10 quotes from Atomic Habits by James Clear. If you liked these quotes, then get the book! Cover to cover, it’s one of the most helpful books I’ve read in a long time.
Until next time,