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Little Actions Lead to Big Results

A review of Atomic Habits by James Clear.


Success is the product of daily habits - not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.

I've been saying for a long time that little actions lead to big results. My belief was based on gut feel and my own personal experiences, rather than on any solid research. This book - Atomic Habits - confirmed and clarified my thinking about habits, goals, and how to achieve them. This is a very practical, easy-to-read book that is based on research, Behaviour Theory, and years of James Clear's thousands of interactions and experiences with his own clients. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking to create change in their life (and who isn't?).


Clear outlines a way for people to create systems in their life that will help them reach goals. In fact, he posits that we should be setting up systems, instead of setting goals. Not that goals aren't important, it's just that goals tend to be "big" and "out there" and aspirational and....just plain hard (as in I want to run a marathon, or I want to save a million dollars). The challenge for many of us is that we run out of steam before we're anywhere near our goal. And it's not because we lack motivation, or don't have the smarts, or don't have the ability -- it's because we haven't set ourselves up for success. We haven't created a system to help us out. And, as Clear's main point of the book states, habits are the building blocks of systems. So therefore...creating habits, and then setting up systems and processes to support our habits...will enable progress over the long term and ultimately - you guessed it - achievement of goals.


A system of small daily habits (or little actions, as I like to say), seems so simple, and even a little boring. I mean, don't we all want that one "big idea" that will solve all our problems, transform us, and take us away to a better life? Well...this is a big idea. It's a big idea that involves us taking action in the tiniest way possible, each and every day. Those tiny actions, done every day, will eventually lead to big results.


Atomic Habits goes through the laws of creating good habits, and breaking bad ones. It's all about starting small, and then building upwards. By doing this, you can see and feel instant positive results. When we see positive results right away, we stay motivated and on track.


One great idea is what Clear calls "habit stacking". This is taking an existing habit we already have, and adding in one small action. Let's take as an example that you want to start meditating. Starting a daily 20 minute mediation practice on Monday probably won't gain a lot of traction. But what if you started small? What if during your morning habit of drinking a cup of coffee, you added in taking three deep breaths? You're already drinking your coffee anyways, so adding in something easy like taking some deep breaths will likely be something you can stick with. I had a friend tell me she does squats while she brushes her teeth. I also had a client who started adding in pushups and situps after his daily walk, since he was already dressed in his workout clothes anyways, and taking a few minutes at the end of his walk to do some extra activity would help his goal of getting fit.


One of my biggest takeaways from this book was that habits are shaped by our identity, and that identity creates habits. What this means is that if we want to accomplish something, we need to identify as a person who does that thing. For example, if I want to get fit (goal), I might join a spin class (system), but it's not enough for me to just show up in class. Because sometimes I won't feel like going, or I'll get discouraged because I don't see results immediately, or I'll get sidetracked by friends who drink and party. I need to start thinking of myself as an active, healthy person who goes to the gym. I need to identify as a fit person, not as someone who wants to get fit. The goal is not getting fit, the goal is being a healthy, active, fit person. We need to ask ourselves "who do I want to be?"


Atomic Habits is filled with tons of practical, achievable advice and steps that are based on evidence and research. I believe that starting small can be powerful. Taking one, teeny tiny action is better than taking no action at all. And if you can take that tiny action every day, then you will make progress, and you will accomplish what you want. Better than that, you will become the person you want to be.


James Clear has a really awesome weekly newsletter that I recommend you sign up for (at jamesclear.com). It's short and sweet and offers thought-provoking quotes and questions, such as "What do I actually want?". Try journalling the answer to yourself for a few days and see if you get any clarity. Clarity enables action by the way. Oh, and read the book too. I've love to hear your thoughts on it and how the ideas in the book have influenced your thinking around habits and goals.

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