The Writing Life: Atomic Habits

image of Atomic Habits in Audible player

When I used to work in an office, I loved listening to non-fiction in my car during my morning and afternoon commutes. Learning is something that is very pleasurable. Driving in traffic is not. Listening to audiobooks is one way I make a tedious situation into a time that, if not enjoyable, is at least more tolerable.

One of the books I listened to was Atomic Habits by James Clear. He uses the super powerful atomic bomb, made up of minuscule atoms, as a metaphor for the substantial progress we can experience by making tiny shifts in our choices and behaviors on most days. The English geek in me loves this comparison: atom bomb is to atoms as change is to habits. Math geeks might like this too!

This is one of the best books on change I have come across so far. It is well-narrated by the author, interesting, easy to follow, and extremely practical. Clear breaks down the science of change and habit formation into his own proven system that enables us to affect significant transformations over time by taking small steps every day. He also offers many tips that will ensure our success. An example of this is habit stacking which means to piggyback a new habit onto another that is already well established making it more likely you will follow through with the new behavior. This reminds me of one of the basic laws of physics: objects in motion stay in motion. Let your momentum and/or pleasure and satisfaction from completing the previous activity carry you through the new practice you are trying to create.

This text is loaded with helpful information. I wouldn’t be able to do it justice in a single blog post and that would probably violate copyright laws, so I’ll just write about a remarkable gem called “The Habit Loop”. This concept is distinctive because it works on any behavior, negative or positive.

The Habit Loop demonstrates how some trigger causes a craving that we act upon and receive a reward for. Determining how and when this loop operates (or can operate) in our lives will help us reduce bad practices and construct new routines. We can intervene at any point in the loop. Let me illustrate how this works with an example of my own.

I am accustomed to eating certain foods when I am overly tired or particularly emotional. (I won’t mention what they are because someone reading this post, who shares this proclivity, could be triggered.) My feelings are the cue to start craving and the response is that I stop somewhere to buy those items. The reward is the feeling of anticipation at eating these tasty products and relieving my stress. I know this is not healthy and the immediate results are various discomforts such as stomach upset and headache followed by weight gain. I have several choices in how to break this cycle.

  1. I can notice when I begin to feel fatigued or emotional and chose to eat something healthy or take a break from what I’m doing to restore energy and equilibrium.
  2. I may try to resist the craving by focusing on something else such as a work task, reading, cleaning, exercising or any number of activities.
  3. I could purchase healthier versions of my “feel better” foods or select the smallest size available so as not to overindulge.
  4. I might remind myself of all the negative consequences of eating that stuff and how engaging in this behavior is contrary to many of the positive changes I am striving to make in order to be happier, healthier and feeling better.

As you can see, some are better options than others. We want to set ourselves up for success so discovering our loops, and planning ahead, will improve results. For some, early intervention in the cycle will work best and, for others, maybe multiple points of interference will do the trick. Whatever the solution, consistent application is the way to achieve outstanding results.

I highly recommend Atomic Habits. When you purchase the book, you gain access to a wealth of material on jamesclear.com, not all of which is available to the public. Some of this is in the form of worksheets to help with planning your new habits. I have found it to be a wonderfully helpful guide that offers growth in all areas of our lives. If you are looking for a simple plan for building an exceptional life, this is an excellent resource!

What do you do to inhibit undesired behaviors and to encourage advantageous actions? If you have read Atomic Habits, what did you find most useful?

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