Atomic Habits

Quiet Revolution is excited to spread the word about James Clear’s new book, Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. James sat down to answer these questions especially for the Quiet Revolution community.

Why did you decide to write about habits?

Habits are among the most important topics to understand in life for a variety of reasons.

First, habits can provide external results. They can help you lose weight, increase your income, be more productive, reduce stress, and so on. In fact, many of the outcomes in your life are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat.

It’s worth noting that habits not only provide external results like those mentioned above, but also shape our identity and internal beliefs. This is something I discuss in detail in Chapter 2 of Atomic Habits.

Another reason I decided to write about habits is because I felt there were many books that discuss how habits work from a scientific or philosophical level, but there was not yet a book that provided readers with a step-by-step, practical manual for how to actually change a habit. My hope is that Atomic Habits can be that manual.

What exactly is an atomic habit?

I chose the phrase “atomic habits” for three reasons.

The first one you might expect. The word “atomic” can mean tiny or small, like an atom. One of the central aspects of my philosophy is that habits should be small and easy to do.

The second reason is that the word atomic can also mean “the fundamental unit in a larger system.” Atoms form molecules, molecules form compounds, etc. In a sense, habits are like the atoms of our lives. They are small routines—fundamental units—that combine into the overall system of our life.

And finally, atomic can mean “the source of immense energy or power.” By combining all three meanings, you understand the narrative arc of the book: If you make small, easy changes and layer them on top of one another like units in a larger system, you can get powerful results.

In other words, atomic habits are both small and mighty—a regular practice or routine that is not only easy to do, but also the source of incredible power.

What do you mean when you say people have the wrong system for change?

Prevailing wisdom claims that the best way to achieve what we want in life—getting into better shape, building a successful business, relaxing more and worrying less, spending more time with friends and family—is to set specific, actionable goals.

But results have very little to do with the goals you set and nearly everything to do with the systems you follow. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

For example…

  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal might be to build a million-dollar business. Your system is how you test product ideas, hire employees, and run marketing campaigns.

  • If you’re a musician, your goal might be to play a new piece. Your system is how often you practice, how you break down and tackle difficult measures, and your method for receiving feedback from your instructor.

If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.

One of the primary reasons I wrote Atomic Habits was to give people a system they could use (whether they had failed in the past or not) to build good habits and break bad ones. This is the core idea behind the Four Laws of Behavior Change that I cover in the book. They give people a specific system they can use to improve their habits.

What are the most common habits that people want to change and how does your framework help?

It depends on the person, of course, but most of the habits I hear about center on health, money, and productivity. Luckily, the strategies I cover in Atomic Habits are relevant to any habit and anyone looking for a step-by-step system for improvement.

I start by breaking a habit down into four fundamental parts: cue, craving, response, and reward. By dividing a habit into these stages, you can get a better idea of where to focus or adjust a particular habit.

I cover these four stages in detail in the book, but I’ll mention a crucial step right now: I try to emphasize the importance of creating identity-based habits.

Most people start the process of change by thinking about the outcomes they want to achieve: How much weight do I want to lose? How much money do I want to earn? But I think it is often more useful to focus on the type of person you wish to become: your identity.

True behavior change is identity change. Anyone can convince themselves to visit the gym or eat healthy once or twice, but if you don’t shift the belief behind the behavior, then it is hard to stick with long-term changes. My framework shows you how to build habits that help you become the type of person you wish to be.