You've successfully subscribed to What's Brian Doing
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access to What's Brian Doing
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.
Atomic Habits - Précis

Atomic Habits - Précis

Clear's book, Atomic Habits is a breezy read full of substance and tactics. I've been underlining like a fiend as I read the book. I'll try to capture those highlights here. And, more importantly for me, I'll summarize how I plan to implement Clear's tactics in my day-to-day life.

Brian Ross
Brian Ross
Note: This post includes Affiliate links to Amazon and Baron Fig. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. At Baron Fig they give me a $10 Coupon if you follow the link and use a $10 Coupon.
What’s a Précis
What’s a Précis. (Thanks Professor Wendell Bell)

Work in Progress

Book has been read; working to process, capture and turn into actions.

Last updated January 18, 2020.


I love pens.  I love planners.  I love trying to hack together better ways to plan, track and document my activities.  These loves led me to randomly discover Baron Fig.  By all accounts I should have come across this company sooner.  Last month I picked up a notebook, pen and some desktop accessories from them.

They're all very high quality and have been a joy to incorporate in my day-to-day journaling and planning.  If you're looking for a pen or a note pad you could do a lot worse.  Feel free to use this following link to get $10 off (I'll get $10 off in return):  Baron Fig.  But that's not the point of this post.  

On a lark, I decided to opt for Baron Fig's Clear Journal.  It's a mostly blank notebook, with special indexes, templates and guides.  The journal is a collaboration between  Baron Fig and  James Clear.  Clear, who summarized his life's work with the question, "How can we live better," has spent lots of time synthesizing research and prior thinking on habits and decision making into practical strategies for life improvement.  I hadn't heard of Clear before buying the journal.  I bought his book.  I'm a big fan now.  Here's a summary of "Atomic Habits" by James Clear.

Précis of "Atomic Habits" by James Clea

Clear's book, Atomic Habits is a breezy read full of substance and tactics.  I've been underlining like a fiend as I read the book.  I'll try to capture those highlights here. And, more importantly for me,  I'll summarize how I plan to implement Clear's tactics in my day-to-day life.

Chapter 1:  The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits

In this Chapter Clear begins to lay the  foundation for the rest of the book.  He starts with an eye-opening retelling of how the British Cycling team went from being one of the world's historic worst in 2003 to a decade of being one of its best by 2007.  

It is a powerful demonstration of why changing small habits can have a powerful effect.  Clear argues that British Cycling benefited from obvious and less obvious changes:  they changed their bikes AND changed how riders wash their hands.  The trick, Clear explains, was by a focus on the little things and benefitting from "the aggregation of marginal gains."  

An atomic habit is a small change, a 1 percent improvement. But it alone doesn't necessarily result in a changed life. Change doesn't happen overnight.  But Clear suggests "habits are the compound interest of self-improvement".  Over time, introducing net-positive atomic habits will result in change. Don't get discouraged a week into a new  habit, focus on the trajectory of improvement,  not the current state.  "[Ones] outcomes are a lagging measure of [their] habits.  [Ones] weight is a lagging measure of [their] eating habits."  And "Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change." It takes time and dedication to the aggregation of marginal gains to breakthrough the Plateau of Latent Potential.

Near the end of the chapter Clear starts to synthesize his tactical approach after unpacking the obvious benefits of atomic habits:  discard goals and focus on systems.  Systems are "about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement." In this context a system is made up of atomic habits.  

He finishes the chapter with the following summary:

Habits are like the atoms of our lives. Each one is a fundamental unit that contributes to your overall improvement. At first, these tiny routines seem insignificant, but soon they build on each other and fuel bigger wins that multiply to a degree that far outweighs the cost of their initial investment. They are both small and mighty. This is the m eanin of the phrase atomic habits -- a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do, but also the source of incredible power; a component of the sytem of compound growth.

Chapter 2:  How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)

Clear defines behavior as a combination of Identity, Process and Outcome.

And in this chapter the focus is on Identity.  He sets the stage by suggesting one often tries to change the wrong thing when setting out to change a habit.

Clear argues that one should focus on their identity more than their ends or the means.  Don't say I will lose weight or eat better; say, I'm a healthy person. Choose who you'll be and then work to be that person.  Focus on the identity.  "Behind every system of actions are a system of beliefs."  Behaviors that are not in line with ones sense of self will always be a stuggle.  Habits won't form if they're not part of an ideation of who one is.  And, it's important to allow this sense of self to be fluid; adaptable to your objectives, senses and values.  

Examples help and Clear delivers:

  • The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader.
  • The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner.
  • lThe goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician. [^1]: 'Atomic Habits', James Clear, pg. 34.

   So - how to change ones identity?  It's a feedback loop.  Decide who you want to be, behave that way to reinforce that identity, repeat.  Proove one's identity by acting according to the identity.  But, don't just act.  Believe. He summarizes:  Decide who you want to be and proove it to yourself through little wins.

Choose yourself

Perhaps, most importantly, Clear suggersts one aks themself:  "Who is the type of person that could get the outcome [you] want?"  Decide to be that person.  Tell yourself you are that person.  Do things that person will do.  When I was an undergrad studying sociology I took a course on Methods and did a project in Participate-as-Observor anthropology at an out-patient 12-step program.  A key tool leveraged by AA (NA, #A) participants is Fake it till you Make It.  I think that's a simple way of summarizing Clear here.

Chapter 3:  How to Build brtter Habits in 4 Simple Steps

Why Habits?

Clear argues "Habitds are simply, reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment." He touches on how habitsd are thoughtless behaviors, the things that become automatic to allow us to survice and process a complex world without much effort.

He presnts the concensus understanding of how habits work:  A cue creates a craving which creates a response that provides a reward.  A habit is a short-cut behavior from cue to reward.  It ultimately becomes the automatic response that satifies the immediate craving.  A behavior that reliable serves this purpose becomes a habit.  

Operationalizing this into a practice for habit change, Clear suggests these are the tenets of the Four Laws of Behavior Change and he introduces how one can game them.

How to create a good Habit
First Law - Cue Make it obvious
Second Law = Craving Make it attractive
Third Law = Response Make it easy
Fourth Law = Reward Make it satisfying

How to breaking a bad Habit
First Law - Cue Make it invisible
Second Law = Craving Make it unattractive
Third Law = Response Make it hard
Fourth Law = Reward Make it unsatisfying

The balance of the book focuses on these Four Laws.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones: James Clear: 9780735211292: Books
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones [James Clear] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. <b><b>The instant </b><b> New York Times</i></b><b> bestseller</b> <b> Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results</i></b></b> No matter your goals

Matamo Privacy Minded Analytics: