Atomic Habits is a very practical book with lots of bite-size tips that can be applied right away into your daily life to make a change right away while you continue reading the next pages. The principles in the book are not new. They have been mentioned before, in other self-help books, some famous, some not really so. What makes this book stand out from the crowd, a huge best seller, and one of the hottest books of 2019 is the sheer volume of tips, practices and advices that can be applied to make the theory become applicable and kickstart the changes in your life.
As the author also readily admitted, he was not the inventor of that theory of behaviour change. What he wanted to do in the book is to present real life examples of that theory in practice, mixed with some success stories to make it credible and convincible. That’s why he only briefly mentioned the principle briefly, and that is: Long lasting changes need to come from inside. It’s hard to change your identity, but once it takes place, the change will be more or less permanent, as opposed to changes in outcomes, or even processes, which can still be regressed or reverted quite easily.
As stated in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, the process to create a new habit or change an existing one involves 4 elements: Cue, Craving, Response and Reward. James Clear also built the bulk of his book on these elements, and the different ways to manipulate them in order to make a habit stick or go away. However, while the former delved too much into case studies on the power of a good or bad habit, the latter was more methodical, and solely focused on solving the problems in order to get the prize, and not starting from the prize itself. So, if you have not read both books, I suggest you read Atomic Habits first, followed by The Power of Habit. The second book will motivate and encourage you to work hard on your habits, and the first one will teach you how to do so. Combined together, they will make the change less painful and more desirable so that you can start getting the ball rolling.
An interesting point that I would like to mention in this book arises from the quote above. Many self help books encourage you to set goals: daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, yearly goals, life goals. However, James was totally against it, as he felt goals were temporary, and could not lead to lasting changes. He argued that once you have achieved your goals, you would be likely to stop trying and then the new habit would be gone soon after. I am not against this idea, but not 100% agreeable to it either. For me, having a goal to work towards is quite important. It gives me a purpose, a target to reach. Then when it comes to the method to reach that goal, that’s where the tips in this book come in handy. If I can make the steps I must do to reach the goal become habits, they will be easier for me to do, day in day out.
Another concept presented in the book is the power of compounding. We often hear about the power of compound interest in financial planning and investment. Here, James showed us the power of compound improvement on your life. I really like this application, and it’s encouraging to see how far I can go if I make a small progress each day, every day, consistently.
One effect to watch out for is the so called plateau of latent potential. Whoever wants to make a habit stick should try to avoid this pitfall. Basically, it means the change needs to build enough momentum before it can make visible impact on your life. Until then, the impact may be dismal, and you may feel discouraged, but you should hunker down and plough on until you can see the light. I rings very true to me, and looking back, I could see many times in my past where the effect was short lived and the habit could not stick just simply because I did not try it long enough. A seed needs enough time to sprout under the soil, during which you will not see anything but an empty pot. But once it has sprouted, it will grow leaves very quickly.
In this review, I do not want to focus too much on the practices, simply because there are too many of them, and they have been described and explained very well in the book. I just want to say that, even though not all of them may be applicable to you, you are likely to find something suitable for you there. They are not abstract concepts, you don’t need to look up in the dictionary in order to understand them. So, if you really want to change your habits, or create a new one, don’t procrastinate any longer. Grab the book, dig in and start applying right away. Good luck and all the best to you. May your habits make you who you would like to be.