I often find myself setting lofty goals and resolutions for “the start of next week”, “the start of the month”, or “New Year’s day”. I imagine myself waking up and being a brand new person, someone who is suddenly capable of sticking to all manner of brand new and super healthy routines. In Atomic Habits, James Clear makes a compelling case against this manner of “habit forming”. He, instead, advocates for the power behind small but consistent changes.
The idea that small, but consistent, changes compound is central to the book. Getting 1% better each day over the course of a year is more valuable than short bursts of improvement. While the advice may seem logical and simple enough, it’s delivered in an engaging, thought-provoking manner. Clear takes us on a journey through a traumatic event that shaped his philosophy around forming habits, going from a medically induced coma to an academically successful individual.
I particularly like the real-world success stories. For example, the British cycling team used to be considered a joke amongst other nations. Through the power of marginal gains, they began to steadily improve, going on to dominate the sport and win numerous gold medials at multiple Olympic games.
Another important aspect of habit-forming is environment. It’s easier to change habits in a different environment. As an example, Vietnam veterans were able to overcome heroin addiction when they returned home from war at a greater rate of success than heroin addicts who remain in the same environment.
People who are viewed as having high discipline are usually just in better environments. Instead of aiming to be highly disciplined, it’s usually more effective to examine your environment and consider ways to optimise it for your goal. A suggestion from the book is to not only tell yourself you’re going to work out in the morning, but to also prepare your workout clothes and shoes so that they’re easily available for you to change into after you get up.
The recounting of Goodhart’s law–when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure–is another thing that I appreciated. There should always be a wider context when evaluating success.
Although the advice in the book may seem straightforward, I appreciated the engaging way it was presented and the inspirational stories that accompanied it. It was a nice reminder to stop expecting a “brand new you” to emerge at the start of the next week/month/year and, instead, focus on small, incremental changes each day.