Title: “Atomic Habits”
Author: James Clear
Published Date: 2018
Average Time to Read: 8-9 hours
Chapter 18 – The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t)
This chapter is all about why and how your personality and identity (sense of Self) impacts your habits.
The Sustainable Wealth Method is all about finding your unique characteristics and developing them in ways that expands your capacity to grow money and this chapter dives deeper into how you can align your natural talents with the building blocks of success – your habits.
A big takeaway from this chapter is also James Clear’s discussion on the “Big Five” personality traits and how they impact habits.
The five main personality traits that drive behavior include:
These traits and how they manifest are associated with genes so while they manifest differently for each person, there are commonalities in the habits of people with similar traits. This chapter explores how you can align your personality traits with your habits.
For more information on your personality type, see James Clear’s favorite personality tests.
“All big things come from small beginnings.”
“Progress requires unlearning. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.”
“You have to standardize before you can optimize.”
How Atomic Habits Found Me
I had seen “Atomic Habits” a long time ago but the book didn’t resonate with me. I was deep into the early years of parenting and the idea of working on my habits seemed unrealistic.
I was barely surviving.
A few months ago, during a LinkedIn networking call, a connection recommended “Atomic Habits” and said that the book completely changed how he worked. He also remarked that his business really took off after he addressed his habits.
When he talked about the book, I felt a little nudge from The Universe that now was the time to read “Atomic Habits.”
I seized the moment, hopped on Amazon and ordered a copy of the book.
Then it sat on my nightstand for another two months 🙄.
Apparently, there was a part of me that just wasn’t ready to read it.
So rather than forcing myself to read “Atomic Habits,” I let the book sit on my nightstand, accepted that the timing wasn’t exactly right and moved on to reading a few other books, including “The Go-Giver.”
What was I really concerned about? Why was I not ready to read “Atomic Habits?”
Because I was scared that the author would judge me.
Or in other words, that the book would call out my bad habits and I would judge myself.
Sounds ridiculous, I know. But after working with many coaches and lifestyle experts, many of them tend to talk about habits, willpower and discipline from a judgmental viewpoint – “The only thing that’s stopping you from success is YOU!” kind of thinking.
While this quip is true, it hardly feels good.
I just really wanted to make sure that I was in the right mindset to have a book (or someone) hold up a mirror that closely and shine a light on all of my imperfections.
And I wanted to make sure that I was open to:
- Seeing those imperfections
- Loving them for what they are, and
- Ready to see what I could do to improve them
So I waited until I was ready. And I am so glad that I did.
Who Would Benefit from Reading Atomic Habits?
As mentioned in my “Atomic Habits” reading journey, you need to be ready to receive this book. There are definitely some “tough love” sections and other sections that made me uncomfortable because they held up a mirror to my bad habits.
It also is an intermediate read – a conversational-style mixed with education and tutorial-style sections. There’s story, theory, and practice.
If you are self-aware and ready to really dig deep into your challenges, this book is for you.
If you are satisfied with your habits or aren’t attuned to how your habits are impacting your life, skip this book.
This book is best suited for someone who is already aware that their habits are creating issues or holding them back and is ready to do something about it.
“Atomic Habits” does not provide guidance on why you should pay attention to your habits, it assumes that you already do.
Key Takeaways from Atomic Habits
Habits are the building blocks of life
James Clear picked such a great title for this book because he’s 100% right, habits really are the building blocks of life.
What would life be like without your behavior?
How we relate to our environment is all through our thinking, feeling, and resulting behaviors.
We relate to our world through our senses which give rise to our feelings which give rise to our thoughts which give rise to our behaviors.
Sensing -> feeling -> thinking -> behaving (acting)
Feelings themselves are actually so critical to making decisions, that we cannot make a decision without being aware of our emotions.
In “Atomic Habits,” Clear makes a case for why habits are actually the foundational bedrock for all of living.
Yes, habits originate from the sensing/feeling aspects of life but they are the only action-oriented part of that process. You can change how you sense, feel, think but unless you change how you behave, you will not change your behavior.
For instance, let’s look at this scenario:
Sense: You sense that you are tired
Feel: You feel upset that you don’t have more energy
Think: You think that you should be more energetic
Behave: You grab a cup of coffee <- Habit
You can play out the same scenario and end up with wildly different results.
Instead of a coffee you could:
- Grab a cup of caffeine-free tea
- Go for a walk
- Get out in the sunshine
- Take a nap
- Take a cold shower
Habits are those behaviors that run almost like a program in response to sensing, feeling, thinking.
If you want to make a different choice in how you response to the sensing, feeling, thinking program, you have to address the behavior or habit.
Which takes me to my next point regarding habits being the building blocks of life.
Habits build on each other
Another important reason to get your habits aligned with your desired outcomes is that habits compound for or against you.
Habits help good things get better and bad things get worse.
You definitely want to make sure that your habits are supporting your intended outcome and are not working against you and preventing you from making progress toward your goals.
Master foundational habits before moving on to harder ones.
Since habits build on one another, you can’t skip ahead. You really have to get to the very basic habit and make it stick before you can move on to harder habits.
For instance, if you want to exercise more start with picking the music for your workout.
Make it a habit that every Sunday at 8:00pm before turning on the T.V. you will pick the music you want to listen to for your workout tomorrow.
Once you’re consistently picking the music for your workouts, you can build on it. Maybe having your workout clothes ready and by your bed. Or put your shoes on by a certain time.
Break down the objective of “working out more” into bite-sized pieces that are easily achievable.
Focus on what you can achieve and sustain, not just what you can do.
Getting started is often the hardest part of changing your habits so you only want to do that once. You are much more likely to give up entirely if you start something that is too difficult to continue over the long-term.
Use the power of compounding habits and make those building blocks work for you by starting out with a super small, achievable step towards your goal.
Identity (Self) drives habits
Yes, the Identity also known as The Self or Ego drives habits.
When we sense, feel, and think we put these states through a filter or framework in order to evaluate them for meaning and action.
This filter is our Identity or Ego.
Let’s go back to our example above with the coffee and put it through the Identity of someone who identifies as a hard worker.
Sense: You sense that you are tired
Feel: You feel upset that you don’t have more energy
Think: You think that you need energy to work
Behave: You grab a cup of coffee
Makes sense right? Someone who identifies with being a hard worker will likely reach for a cup of coffee over other options?
Now let’s change the Identity to someone who identifies with Anti-Hustle Culture.
Sense: You sense that you are tired
Feel: You feel grateful for that awareness
Think: You think that your body needs rest
Behave: You decide to take a nap
See how the Identify shift changes not only the feeling and thoughts but also the behaviors?
Now you may feel the urge to just pick a bunch of different Identities then to associate with, RESIST IT.
While Identity states are important and the Ego is a key part of who we are as human beings, more Identities and a bigger Ego generally means more challenges.
A strong sense of Identity can make it harder to accept change and therefore make bad habits a lot stickier.
Someone who has a flexible Identity will stay more open-minded to alternatives which will make changing habits a lot easier.
One easy flip that Clear gives on how to address the Identity challenge is to take anything that you feel that you have to do and make it a “get to.”
Hard Worker Identity says:
“I have to go to work so I have to drink coffee.”
“I get to go to work so I get to drink coffee.”
Notice the difference?
The “get to” creates some space in the thinking pattern. If you get to go to work, can’t you “get to” choose something else to do as a result?
“Get to” opens up choice and takes you out of victim consciousness.
“Have to” implies that you have no other alternative and closes off your thinking. You become a victim to circumstances when you’re actually not.
You always have a choice in life, even when you don’t like the choices.
Your relationships shape your habits
Relationships with people
You’ve likely heard the quip “you are the company you keep” and there’s a reason that it’s a well-known saying – the people who surround you, greatly impact your behaviors.
Clear writes: “One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.”
If you want to exercise more, find people who regularly exercise and befriend them. If you want to eat better, find people to hang out with that practice your desired eating habits.
If you don’t yet have these relationships, find them on social media. Follow people on Instagram or Twitter who highlight your desired habits.
The more you see the desired, healthier habits normalized and modeled, the easier it will be for you to integrate them into your life.
Relationships with content
Now you may just be thinking about your friends, family or other relationships and how they impact your behavior but relationships extend well beyond people.
Think about the content you’re consuming – does it align with and support the habits you want?
If you want to make a lot of money, are you consuming content that teaches you how to do that?
Where can you find content that supports your desired behaviors?
- Fill your social media feed with content creators who teach about the topics you want to improve on
- Sign-up for newsletters, podcasts, or read books
- Take courses
- Register for group programs or memberships
The more content you can find that educates you on the why and how of transforming your habits, the more likely you are to change your behaviors.
At Sustainable Wealth, we focus on teaching you how to Get Health, Grow Money and Make an Impact. Check out our Free Resources for information on how you can build your capacity to grow money that makes an impact.
Relationship with your environment
Clear talks about how incredibly important it is to make your environment (physical space around you) supportive of your desired habits.
If you’re trying to cut back on how many sweets you eat, keep fewer of them in your environment or don’t have any around.
If you’re trying to work out more, make your gym clothes more accessible.
If you want to spend less time on your phone, set it in the other room.
Or better yet, use your environment to cue your desired habits.
Clear talks about how to use your environment to “scaffold” a habit sequence.
When I get home from work (environmental cue), I will undress and put on my workout clothes (action).
Once my workout clothes are on, I’ll walk on the treadmill (habit) while checking my social media (reward).
Your environment can work for you as much as it can work against you.
Set-up your environment in a way that makes preferred habits easier and the behaviors you’re trying to change, harder.
You will not win by overpowering bad habits, you need to work on reducing the friction of establishing better ones.
Aligning your habits with your goals expands your capacity to do more
This is by far one of my favorite takeaways from “Atomic Habits” because it integrates into how you expand your capacity to grow more money.
Clear writes: “As habits are created, the level of activity in the brain decreases.”
That means that as you create more habits in your life, your mind is free to devote that energy elsewhere – to creativity, to problem-solving, to rest.
This is such a big deal!
Imagine how much extra brainpower you could free-up if you worked on creating and aligning your habits to support your desired outcomes.
Clear shares this other quote which really make this point clear:
“Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.” – Alfred North Whitehead
The less you have to think about the minor things in life, the more energy you have to think about the things that truly matter and need your attention.
Habits are a critical way of expanding your capacity to do more.
Personality matters when working with your habits
You are unique. The kinds of habits you have, the motivation for them, and the rewards/consequences are all driven by your personality.
A key part of making your habits work for you is to pick the right area to focus on. This includes areas of your life where you are already thriving and things come naturally, and easily.
Those are a great place to start adding habits. Why?
Because when something is naturally easier, you have more capacity to accept changes. Generally, where there is ease and enjoyment people tend to be more open-minded. So if you are in a state where you are more open to change and more flexible, new habits will be easier to continue.
I’ve experienced this first-hand in the form of my writing habit. I love to write and writing comes easily to me. so I wanted to create a daily writing habit, which I’ve kept up with for well over 100 days.
Same goes with my Duolingo streak because I love learning new languages.
Once you have mastered putting together a series of habits, you can start focusing on the trickier aspects of your life.
Strive for Authentic Behaviors
Another part of this is finding what behaviors feel authentic and genuine. Trying to force yourself to run when you don’t like running will never work. You’ve got to find desired behaviors that align with your life and feel achievable and sustainable.
Focus on Novelty
Boredom will kill your progress faster than anything else. As you are working to establish your desired habits, shake things up occasionally.
If you’re trying to exercise more:
- Try new workout clothes
- Listen to different music
- Try a new exercise type
- Join a group class
- Exercise with a friend
Anything to slightly change up your habit so that it stays interesting.
A big part of this too is looking for behaviors that bring on flow states – periods of concentrated focus that allow your mind and body to fully commit to the task at hand.
These flow states can be highly motivating and will keep you more engaged and interested in keeping up with the habit.
Honestly, reading “Atomic Habits” has changed my life. I really appreciated Clear’s storytelling mixed with actionable guidance. His approach made these concepts easily accessible and he designed the book so that the chapters really build on one another, which helps to further clarify and reinforce the previously introduced concepts.
The only critique that I have is that Clear did not include how neurodiversity can impact habits. He had an opportunity to comment on this in Chapter 18 when he discussed how personality, genes and temperament can impact habits but did not.
Different brain-wiring such as with ADHD, Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury, Learning Disabilities, etc. greatly impacts how people develop their habits. I would have really appreciated at least a few sub-sections in “Atomic Habits” that explored how neurodiversity can impact habit formation. It would have been an extra bonus if Clear included a few resources that specialized in ways to improve habits for people with neuro-differences.
Overall, you will want to take some time to read “Atomic Habits”, there’s a lot of information crammed into it. I also did a lot of highlighting and marking-up of the text so that I could refer back to certain sections.
It will absolutely be a resource that you’ll likely use over and over again so it might make sense to invest in a copy of it.
Where to Buy
Let me know what you thought of the Book Review or what you got out of reading “Atomic Habits” by sending me a message. I can’t wait to hear from you!
May You Be Well & May You Find Peace
Read "Atomic Habits" if you want to get healthy, grow your money and make an impact. Habits are the building blocks of any life.
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