Getting Started with Atomic Habits
The basic premise of the book is to help people see that building healthy habits incrementally over a lifetime can create a great life.
Summary of the Introduction:
In the introduction James Clear tells of his high school experience of being accidentally hit in the face with a baseball bat. He was airlifted to a hospital, experienced seizures, induced into a coma, put on a ventilator and when they brought him out, he had months of therapy to get himself back to a normal state. He describes a difficult six-year road that led him from being critically injured to becoming Denison University’s top male athlete and named to the ESPN Academic All-American Team.
We all face challenges and James’s injury was one of his. His rehabilitation experience taught him 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.” I like how simple and understandable that idea is.
“The quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits” Easy enough to understand and I would say that is true in my life. I have some difficult struggles because of my autism but I do have some very good habits and I definitely have some habits that if I were to stop doing them my life would be better. A good habit I have is when I use something like a tool, the kitchen scissors, or scotch tape, I put them back where they belong after using them. A bad habit I have— eating too much sugar. If there is a pie on the counter, I don’t just eat one piece, I eat one huge piece or the whole thing. If I open a package of Oreos, I need to eat all of them. Leaving a few in the package drives me crazy because I can’t stop thinking about them until I finish all the cookies and throw the package away. A habit I would like to build is to use my electric toothbrush regularly. I dislike the sound of it so I continue with my conventional toothbrush but the dentist says I need to use the electric more or my gum health will deteriorate. I think the biggest new habit I want to build is a routine that I can keep up with. Having the desire to build a good routine is what led me to find Atomic Habits in the first place.
Chapter One, The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits
In the first chapter James Clear does the math. By doing 1% better every day for a year you will end up with results that are nearly 37 times better than you were when you started. And if you keep building your habit over time your success compounds over the years.
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” This sounds really true to me. I am looking forward to building some better habits over time using what I learn from the book.
Three sentences that I liked:
“A very small shift in direction can lead to a very meaningful change in destination.” James Clear says, if you took off in a 747 from Los Angeles going to New York and you changed your heading at the start by just 3.5 degrees. You would end up in Washington D.C. over 200 miles off-course.
“Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”
“You get what you repeat.”
New Idea and Phrase: “The plateau of latent potential.” This is what James Clear calls the place where people feel like they have been doing the new habit for a while, but they have yet to see any results. If you stop building on your habit while traveling through the plateau… you fail. If you can continue your process and make it through to the other side of the plateau of latent potential then you will reap the rewards of that consistency.
Goals, Goals, and More Goals…
James has a short and powerful couple of pages covering four ideas on what goals actually are. He says, and I agreed with this once I understood what he meant. “Forget about goals, focus on creating a system instead.”
Here is a way of thinking about goals and systems:
“Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.”
I have tried to be a good goal setter for much of my adult life. I have had a little success but I have noticed, more often is the case, that after I achieve a goal, I stop doing whatever it was that I did to get me to the goal. An example: I trained for many months to run in a marathon. I work very hard and I was in really good shape but once I finished the twenty-six point two miles in the marathon, I had met my goal and I gradually stopped running. In hindsight I wish I had kept up with my running especially because a year later I set a goal of doing another marathon and I had to start training all over again.
James writes, “goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.”
I can look back in my life and see that many of my failures were “failures” because I did not have a system to support what I was wanting to achieve. I just had a target far out on the horizon waiting for me to hit it.
James points out and explains four things that I never thought about relating to goals. I found them to be very helpful in shaping my thinking going forward.
#1: Winners and losers have the same goals.
“Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.”
#2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.
You summon the energy to meet your goal and finally clean your room. If you don’t have a system in place to keep it clean then you will mess it up again over a short time and need to reset your goal.
#3: Goals restrict your happiness.
Many people think- When I reach my goal then I will be happy. James says, “with a goals-first mentality the problem is you put happiness off until you reach your goal. A systems-first mentality lets you fall in love with the process rather than the end product.” (the goal) Being in the process you don’t have to wait to be happy. You can find happiness in the doing of the process.
#4. Goals are at odds with long-term progress.
“When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it?” “This is why many people find themselves reverting to old habits after accomplishing a goal.” Then they need to start over with a new goal or succumb to old habits. This is why working with a system of incremental improvement 1% over time gives you a process to keep going long after you achieved your milestone.
A last thought on Chapter 1:
“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.”
I wish someone had explained to me the difference between goals and systems years ago. I can see that I have invested in many years of struggling to build my life towards something meaningful but basically, I was moving myself forward with unfocused, grandiose, goal-oriented thinking. The incremental rituals of getting better at something one percent a day and building yourself with healthy positive habits over time sounds great. I can’t wait to see what chapter two is all about.
James Clear packed a lot of relevant information into one chapter. If at this point you find the premise of the book interesting, I suggest you buy the book Atomic Habits.