3 Lessons I Learned from Atomic Habits (A Book Summary)

3 Easy Steps to create new, good habits and say goodbye to bad ones!

If you’re into self-improvement — like me — then you’ve probably at some point in your life heard about the book “Atomic Habits”, by James Clear, right?

I’ve read it, and I decided to write a short summary about it.

Because, to be honest… I enjoy reading, but I don’t enjoy reading self-help books. Most of them are really alike, and tell the same story in a different way.

Why read Atomic Habits?

Let’s start with the question of why someone would read this book.

Well if you’re struggling with one of the following things, then this book might be for you:

  • Do you have great ideas and big goals, but struggle to reach them?
  • Do you keep procrastinating about certain tasks?
  • Do you want to increase your productivity and focus?
  • Are you interested in transforming your life through small, consistent improvements?
  • Do you want to break bad habits and start new, healthy ones?
  • Are you ready to achieve your goals gradually and sustainably?
  • Do you want to know how to make big changes by focusing on small steps?

Personally, I answer YES on all of these questions.

I’m a master procrastinator. I’m a lazy bastard.

So, why did I decided to write this summary?

It was my birthday recently.

*yay* — 34 years old.

I don’t know about you, but I always make special wishes for my birthday.

I think about goals, targets… things… I want to achieve this year.

But.. as I said: I’m a lazy bastard and a master procrastinator. SO, these promises are usually tricky to keep. It’s not easy to start new habits or stop old ones.

The intro

So, in this cool book called “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, he talks about why forming habits can be tough.

He says our brain is like a machine that follows steps to make habits.

  • First, it gets a signal to do something.
  • Then, it wants to do it.
  • After that, it actually does it.
  • Finally, it gets a reward.

Like when you want cookies, your brain makes you grab them and eat them.

James Clear gives nice tips to make good habits stick and bad ones go away.

So, what are those tips?

The “magical” tips

James says we should make it easy, make it fun, and make it satisfying to do good things.

But for bad things, we should make them hard, not fun, and not satisfying.

So, what does this actually mean?

It means that you should create an environment that supports these actions.

Pfff.. wtf? I still don’t get it.

I’ll explain it with an example:

Let’s say it’s your goal to start working out more, get fitter and healthier.

So, according to James Clear, we can do that as follows:

1. Make it easy — to perform the desired action.

I want to exercise a bit in the morning, after waking up and before going to work. So how do I make this easier?

Answer: Lay out your workout clothes the night before. Lay out a fitness mat, weighs, whatever you want to use.

Photo by Elena Kloppenburg on Unsplash

You wake up in the morning, and everything is already there, ready for you. It reduces the barrier to actually get started and do it.

Sounds logical, right?

Make it fun

You should associate positive emotions with the habit.

Easier said than done, right? But there are ways to do this. Let me give you a few examples, related to the “health niche” example from above.

  • Find a (fun) gym partner. Working out with friends makes it more fun, challenging and motivating. You will motivate and support each other.
  • Find a (fun) good fitness schedule, app or program. It should track your progress and keep motivating you.
  • Join a group class, for example BodyPump. Performing exercises in group, on music, with a teacher — is fun!
  • Find and experiment with recipes that you enjoy and find delicious. For example, I absolutely love eating chicken or salmon wraps with salad & guacamole etc. Very simple, quick and easy to make — healthy and very tasty!

So finding ways to make the habit more enjoyable, increases the likelihood of sticking to it.

Photo by Geert Pieters on Unsplash

Make it satisfying

Reward yourself after completing the habit.

“But how do I make going to gym satisfying?”

Here’s a few ways:

  • Acknowledge your accomplishment. You did it!
  • Track progress! Progress can be really, really motivating!
  • Treat yourself to something you like.
  • After working out in the morning, I take a nice hot shower, followed by a tasty breakfast.
  • Personally, I check a box on my daily “TO DO” list 🙂 This works quite satisfying. Just give it a try. Just google for to-do planners or so, print them out and stick them to your wall. Don’t get a to-do notebook.
  • Make it visible. In addition to the to-do list from above, it really works to literally STICK A PAPER to your wall, in a visible place. You’ll see it, you’ll look at it, and it will motivate and/or satisfy you.

Making the habit satisfying reinforces the habit and makes you more likely to repeat it.

But what about BAD Habits?

For bad habits, Clear suggests the opposite approach:

Make them hard

Introduce obstacles that make it difficult to engage in the bad habit. For instance, if you’re trying to reduce screen time, keep your devices in a different room so you’re less tempted to use them.

If you want to eat healthier, then simply STOP BUYING unhealthy food. Only buy healthy things.

A small anecdote

My mom used to buy constantly buy cookies, candy and all kinds of sugary & sweet things. Me and my brother grew up on Snickers, Mars, Twix, Kinder Bueno and all that “crap”.

Until, around 10 years ago, I followed some health seminars & courses (and I actually got a bit chubby), and then I realized this had to change.

I stopped eating this crap, but my brother didn’t. He gained a lot of weight. Until last year — he finally made a switch in his head and wanted to start losing weight. However, because there were constantly cakes and sweets and candy etc around, it just didn’t work.

Finally, me & him told my mom “STOP BUYING CRAP”. And so she did.

Now, a year later, my brother has lost 12kg! He’s fit as hell!

So, sometimes it’s a simple as “making it hard” to perform a habit.

Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Make them NOT FUN

Link negative emotions to the bad habit.

This might involve consciously recognizing the negative consequences of the habit each time you’re tempted to engage in it.

Keep reminding yourself of “why this is bad”.

Here also, it can help to print out things and stick them to the wall.

Might seem extreme — sure, but ask yourself: how badly do you want it?

Make them Not satisfying

Remove any rewards or positive outcomes associated with the bad habit.

If you’re trying to quit snacking on unhealthy foods, remind yourself of the negative impact they have on your health whenever you’re tempted.

Look at yourself in the mirror? Are you satisfied with what you see?

Summary

In essence, it’s about creating an environment that supports the behaviours you want to cultivate while discouraging those you want to eliminate.

By shaping your surroundings and your mindset in this way, you’re more likely to successfully build positive habits and break negative ones.

Small changes make a big difference

Remember, making changes in little steps can make a big difference.

Even if you’re taking baby steps, it’s better than taking no steps at all!

And if you want to make a good habit, make it easy and fun. If you want to stop a bad habit, make it hard and not fun.

This way, you can be the boss of your habits!

Thanks for reading!

If you’ve got questions or thoughts, drop them in the comments and I’ll get back to you! Follow or ???? if you’d like to see more content like this. Or buy me a coffee, this stuff is magical 😉

P.S. did you claim your copy of my free e-book yet?

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Michiel Schuer

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Enthusiastic about learning new things, side-hustles, and translating my personal experiences into motivational stories.

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