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A Powerful Impact

By Karen Vally on 18 Jan 2022

On 12 January 2021, I started and finished reading, Atomic Habits, by James Clear. I have just finished reading it for the second time. I read it slowly this time, took notes and as a result, gained a much deeper understanding.

I had already been applying, "habit stacking" and "habit tracking," with great success, but it was his comment that our identity plays a crucial role in behavioural change, that made me pause and dig a little deeper.

 Feeling curious, I created a new belief, a new response to a particular situation and then followed through. To my delight, it worked effectively.

"Few things can have a more powerful impact on your life than improving your daily habits." James suggests that we begin by deciding what sort of person we want to be and then set about proving it to ourselves, with each small win.

"The focus should always be on becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome." Some people think that habits curtail their freedom. They actually enhance it by creating space to focus on new challenges, because the decisions about simple tasks have already been made.

"Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future." There are four steps in the building of a habit, says James Clear: cue; craving; response and reward.

"If behaviour is insufficient in any of the four stages, it will not become a habit. Eliminate the cue and your habit will never start. Reduce the craving and you won 't experience enough motivation to act. Make the behaviour difficult and you won 't be able to do it. And if the reward fails to satisfy your desire, then you'll have no reason to do it again in the future."

The author emphasizes the importance of being clear and specific about what outcome we want to achieve.

"When and where you choose to insert a habit into your daily routine can make a big difference."

"One of the secrets to sticking with a habit is asking yourself to act at the right time. Habits are attractive when you have the energy to do them and your energy levels largely depend on the time of day."

What role do our feelings play in our habits? When our emotions are stable, we make wise desions about which habits to maintain and which ones to change. They determine our mindset. The author tells the story of a wheelchair bound man who said, "I am not confined to my wheelchair - I am liberated by it. If it weren't for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house."

One of the most helpful tips in this book is, "to create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit."  He then goes on to explain the four laws that need to be applied, when creating a good habit: make it obvious; make it attractive; make it easy amd make it satisfying. Conversely, to break a bad habit, he suggests the following: make it invisible; unattractive; difficult and unsatisfying.

"Habit formation is the process by which a behaviour becomes progressively more automatic through repetition...Habits are easier to  build when they fit into the flow of your life." Another helpful tip is to prepare your environment so that it is ready for immediate use.

The author describes how he disconnected from social media except over weekends, while he was writing this number one bestseller and was astounded at how quickly he adapted. To enhance his productivity, he often leaves his phone in another room, so that he is able to work for extended periods of time, without being interrupted.

The author makes this book so real and so relevant by giving numerous examples of how top sports stars struggle with the same challenges as we do. He also introduces his reader to his Two-Minute Rule, a useful way in which to kick-start a new habit.

"If you show up at the gym for five days in a row - even if it's for two minutes - you are casting votes for your new identity." 

You might find this strange, but he goes on to explain, " push-up is better than not exercising. One minute of guitar practice is better than none at all. One minute of reading is better than never picking up a book. It's better to do less than you had hoped to do than to do nothing at all."

"The vital thing in getting a habit to stick is to feel successful - even if it's in a small way. The feeling of success is a signal that your habit paid off and that the work was worth the effort." 

James strongly recommends tracking your habits, as he says, "It feels good to watch your results grow...and if it feels good, then you're more likely to endure." It provides evidence of our hard work and reminds us of how far we have come. Habit stacking, is when we "stack" a new habit onto an existing one. I have found it to be highly effective.

His mantra is, "Never miss twice." He says, if life gets in your way, it's best to get back on track as soon as possible.

"Too often, we fall into an all-or-nothing cycle with our habits. The problem is not slipping up; the problem is thinking that if you can't do something perfectly, then you shouldn 't do it at just don't realize how valuable it is to just show up on your bad (or busy) days."

How can we keep improving? "Improvement is not just about learning new habits, it's also about fine-tuning them." By regularly reflecting on, and reviewing our habits, we become aware of ways in which we could improve. 

"Without reflection, we can make excuses, create rationalizations, and lie to ourselves. We have no process for determining whether we are performing better or worse compared to yesterday." This process encourages us to pay close attention to our lives and helps to combat potential saboteurs, such as boredom, complacency and the lure of immediate gratification.

 "The most effective habits are the ones that make you feel good in the moment and lead to the results you want in the long run." 

"When you can't win by being better, you can win by being's more productive to focus on whether you are fulfilling your own potential than comparing yourself to someone else." 



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