Atomic Habits, a Refreshing Read

So maybe this book is kind of old news, but it’s kind of rocking my world right now.

It’s Atomic Habits by James Clear

The title feels a little misleading. If you’re anything like me, you associate “atomic” with “bomb” and immediately think you’re in for a bro-y, do-it-and-your-cool, creatine-drinking, all-or-nothing, self-help journey. But it’s actually the opposite. And it really jives with my soul.

As you may know, one of our mantra’s here at Waffles Friends Work is to start small. We said it in at least three episodes and even repeated it in our last blog post. The “atomic” in “atomic habits” refers to an atom – the smallest unit of matter. And James Clear uses this idea to walk through building habits by looking at the smallest steps you can take to build new habits. 

How many of us get a stroke of motivation and say something like, “starting Monday, I’m going to get up early, work out, pack my lunch, and read a book” when you haven’t done any of those things once in the last two years? What will change about us on Monday compared to today? Not a whole lot. But if we start really, really small, we can build momentum and start seeing big changes. (hmm… I feel like there’s an episode about this in our future.)

For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to get up early, work out, pack my lunch, and read a book,” we could start with “I’m going to get up and put on my workout clothes.” You don’t even have to commit to exercising! Just start building muscle for getting into workout clothes, or putting on tennis shoes. And he gave some really good tools to do this throughout the book.

Here are some of my favorites:

Start by looking at habits you actually want to adopt.

We often get caught up in the habits we should have. Like, say, going to the gym. If this is a habit you’re trying to adopt, consider why.

Is it because you really want to be a gym-goer? Then absolutely you should build this habit.

Is it because you think you should because it seems like everyone you know who has their life together is a gym-goer? Then maybe reconsider a different way to get exercise that you actually care about.

What kind of person do you want to be? What habits will get you there? Start with those habits first.

Try habit-stacking.

Take a look at some of the habits you’re already doing and see if you can use that momentum to build something new.

For example, say you’re already in the habit of brushing your teeth every day (something simple already in your routine) and you’d like to create a habit of being more grateful. Perhaps you could habit stack something like, “After I brush my teeth at night, I’m going to write down three things I’m grateful for in my gratitude journal.”

Lean into your strengths instead of trying to fix all your weaknesses.

As someone who is quick to dwell on my areas of improvement, this one hit hard.

What if my habits were to help me optimize areas where I’m strong, instead of trying to correct all the things that were bad?

This doesn’t mean we never look at habits that are really hard for us. But what if we started strong? And were actually, like, really successful the first time? Wouldn’t you want to try another one? And another one? Until building new habits/setting new goals/changing behavior got easier?

There are many other tactics, including journals and contracts and the like. This book was jam-packed with useful tips rather than beating a dead horse chapter after chapter, restating the same mildly profound concept that sounded nice in the title but has now lost any meaning because you’ve read it so. many. times. It was values- and identity-focused, speaking to who you are instead of who you should be.

It was good for the soul. Do recommend.