You may have come across Atomic Habits while scrolling through #BookTok or browsing Barnes & Noble looking for your next self-help read. After all, it’s been a consistent bestseller since its release in 2018. And as a book lover with a passion for books that cater to bettering oneself, I had to give this one a go. I am happy to say it lived up to the hype–I walked away with tangible tools to create better habits that I now stick with while letting go of old ones holding me back.
Habits make up our everyday life, some as simple as brushing your teeth each morning or setting an alarm before you go to bed each night. These habits require little thought or energy and are ingrained into our routines. Starting a new habit is not always easy as keeping up with old ones, so it’s important to have the motivation and a good system in place to be able to stick with it. Atomic Habits breaks down a foolproof way to not only make sure you stick to your habits but also choose the right ones, and it even reverses theories to help break the bad ones too. So if you’re looking to build better habits, read on for the hacks that changed my life.
1. Improve by 1 percent every day
Let’s say you want to lose weight. Your goal is to go to the gym every day and eat a healthier diet. At first, that may seem daunting, which is why the best way to start is to start small. Maybe it’s as simple as putting on your running shoes and walking outside for 10 minutes (it may not seem like much, but over time it adds up!) or adding leafy greens to one meal per day. Eventually, you can work up to 30 minutes or a workout at the gym and eat delicious, healthy foods for every meal, but focusing on the end goal will be overwhelming instead of helpful. “Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change,” James Clear explains in the book. Oftentimes, we look at athletes or successful business leaders and wonder how they got to where they are and how they accomplished so much. The answer is that they started small and never stopped.
2. Start habit stacking
The easiest way to introduce a new habit into your daily routine is to implement it with other habits you already have. Habit stacking is a formula for ensuring that your new habits don’t fall to the wayside. For example, if you want to create the habit of meditating each morning but find yourself forgetting or not having the time, the best way to fix this is by inserting it with another habit. If your morning routine consists of waking up, brushing your teeth, and pouring a cup of coffee, insert “meditate for five minutes” before you have your coffee. Set the intention, say it aloud, and then insert the new habit into your routine. Sometimes when and where you choose to execute a habit can make a big difference.
3. Be aware of your environment
We are both victims and architects of our environments—AKA the home we live in and where we go to work and exercise. All of these different spaces can affect our habits for better or worse. If every night before you go to sleep you lie in bed and watch TV, over time your bed will be associated as a place where you watch TV. Working from the comfort of your bed may sound nice but can be much more difficult if your bed is already associated with a place of rest. Once we understand the relationships we have with the spaces we occupy, we can use that knowledge to help form better habits and break unproductive ones. As Clear said, “It is easier to associate a new habit with a new context than to build a new habit in the face of competing cues.” It’s no wonder working from home can be more difficult if you don’t have a designated space to do so.
4. Use the “Two-Minute Rule”
Clear’s two-minute rule states that when you start a new habit, it shouldn’t take longer than two minutes to complete. The idea is to scale down a habit so that it is more attractive and you are more likely to continue repeating the habit. If the goal is to write a book, start by writing one sentence each day. If you want to read more before bed each night, start by reading one page. If you want to work out more, start with jumping jacks for two minutes, or if you want to have a meditation practice, set the timer for two minutes–you get the idea. The more the process is ritualized, the easier it will be to continue. You have to start small before you move on to bigger and better habits.
5. Try a commitment device or accountability partner
We all start off with the best of intentions when we decide to form a new habit, but then life gets in the way and it becomes easy to forget why we wanted to start the habit in the first place. This is where a commitment device or accountability partner comes in. A commitment device is a choice made in the present to help control your actions in the future. For example, if you want to stop buying coffee every day, you can decide to leave your wallet at home to reduce temptation. Another version of this is an accountability buddy: someone who can help keep you accountable for your actions, understands your commitment, and can check in on you (read: a friend, partner, family member, coworker, coach, etc.). We value the opinions of those around us, which is exactly why an accountability partner can work to help build better habits.
6. Make the habit satisfying
It’s a cardinal rule in life that we repeat actions that are satisfying: eating ice cream on a hot summer day, consistently working out and releasing endorphins, or online shopping and receiving a package in the mail. We return to these actions over and over again because we remember how satisfying they were. The same tactic is effective when forming a new habit. There’s a reason why you book your next workout class right after you finish one and then a couple of days later debate whether to go. Providing immediate reinforcement tells the brain to keep going back to an activity, whereas delayed satisfaction is not as effective. In other words, when you’re starting a new habit, make sure it’s enjoyable so it will last.
7. Reflect on your habits and progress
Habits are great tools to help us accomplish our goals, but as we evolve and complete certain goals or set new ones, it’s important to look back and assess our habits and progress. If you set out to write a book and haven’t finished one chapter, maybe the habits you set are not working and need to be changed. Our habits should be our motivators and keep us engaged in our goals. They should be something we look forward to doing. Taking the time to reflect on our habits (both the good and bad) is a great way to make sure we are constantly challenging ourselves to do better.