Atomic Habits - a book review, by Matthew Romans
Posted September 11, 2020 by Matthew Romans
James Clear is an author and speaker whose work has been featured in the New York Times, Time, Entrepreneur, and on CBS News This Morning. In 2018 he wrote the book "Atomic Habits", which discusses what habits are and how they are created, and also how to build good habits and break bad habits. Mr. Clear dealt with severe adversity when he was a sophomore in high school. While on the baseball team, he was accidentally hit in the face with a baseball bat and suffered a broken nose, multiple skull fractures and two shattered eye sockets. He suffered multiple seizures and was placed in a medically induced coma. Eventually Clear recovered, but his dream of one day playing professional baseball was irreparably damaged, although he did go on to play baseball in college. Ironically, it was this debilitating experience that led to his interest in habits, as he wanted to do everything he could possibly do to get back on the baseball diamond.
One interesting subject that is addressed in the book is the difference between goals and systems. Mr. Clear says that, "Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results." So much is made about the importance of goal-setting in terms of achieving success, but while it is important to know where you want to go, it doesn't mean much if you don't have a plan of how to get there. Habits (especially good ones) are components of the system you implement in order to get where you want to go. A habit is defined as "...a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic." There is a feedback loop that triggers all of human behavior: try, fail, learn, try differently. It is the same for infants learning to walk as it is for adults learning more complex skills. Building habits is really about creating solutions to problems that we regularly face.
There is a very simple science to how habits work. It starts with a cue, which triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. This is followed by a craving, and that is the motivational force behind every habit. Without a good reason, no action will follow. Next comes a response, which is the habit that you will actually perform. Lastly, the response delivers a reward; this is the end goal of every habit. If one of these requirements is not met, a habit will not be created. While this sounds very intuitive and self-explanatory, credit should go to the author for putting it together in an organized way that can be easily understood. We think of habits as being either good or bad for us, but Mr .Clear says, "There are only effective habits. That is, effective at solving problems. All habits serve you in some way-even the bad ones-which is why you repeat them." In order to create good habits, you should make the habit obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. It stands to reason that it is easier to stick with a behavior that is easy to do, leaves us feeling satisfied, and is in the forefront of our minds. Conversely, to break bad habits they should be made invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying. Habits that are not top of mind, hard to stick with, and don't provide much of a payoff are much easier to eliminate from our lives.
Another topic that I found pertinent is the effect of one's environment on habits and motivation. The author believes (as the title of chapter six says) that motivation is overrated, and that one's environment has a great impact on the sustainability of a habit, as well as a relapse into negative habits. What we see around us has a major influence on our behavior; an example given is if you want to practice playing the guitar more often, keep the guitar on its stand somewhere visible in the room instead of in a closet. Make the cue for the behavior a larger part of the environment. Likewise, if you want to make regular Total Results exercise sessions a part of your routine, synchronize your calendar to send an alert to your phone for your workout. On the other hand, if you are a recovering alcoholic that wants to abstain from alcohol, it's wise not to keep beer in the refrigerator or spend time hanging out in a bar. Again, this is something that seems pretty intuitive, but Mr. Clear made the point in an organized and relatable way.
Atomic Habits ties in very nicely with many of the concepts and principles we espouse at Total Results. We try to instill good habits in our clients, not just during their workouts, but also when they are outside of our studio. This includes proper sleep, managing stress, nutrition, and additional activity. We hope to educate you about thought processes you can take with you into other avenues, and while we teach the proper mindset for you to achieve the best workout possible, we also believe that best motivation is intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Mr. Clear is of the belief (and I concur) that, "The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom." While everyone experiences a lack of motivation at one time or another, successful people,"...Still find a way to show up despite feelings of boredom." Creating great habits is about seeing incremental progress and using that as motivation to stay the course in order to get to where you want to go. While Total Results exercise might not be entertaining or flashy to many people, it is the best exercise system for making progress and achieving optimal health. As the author says, "The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over."