Atomic habits was a book title that kept coming up in conversations - although no-one seemed to have read it all - so I did. It was published in 2018 so I'm a bit behind the curve on this one, but as I rely heavily on book recommendations from others this book fits. It also deals with habits which as a coach is something that I often work with in my clients. The book was an easy and enjoyable read and this is a summary of some what I thought were some of the more key ideas in the book.

Clear discusses habits as sitting within a pattern of behaviour change that links final outcomes (what you get) to processes ( what you do) and a central core Identity layer which is about what you believe (p31). He discusses how change can start from focusing on outcomes - i.e. what we want to achieve;  or on identity - i.e.. who we wish to be.   He stresses how this can be a powerful motivator, so instead of saying "no I  shouldn't" which requires both self control and denial and is neither easy nor fun; this can be reframed into an identity instead of an action so it becomes "No I'm not a...-er" . The magic of this is that by stating this you have already claimed this identity for your own and the action merely reinforces the decision (not to smoke (no i'm not a smoker) or not to eat cake (no I don't have a sweet tooth) for example). 

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This claiming of an identity is powerful - and as an educator I was pleased to read the discussion on page 35 which discusses the double edged sword that is identity. On the one hand (as illustrated above) identity is a powerful driver for lasting change, and on the other it can be an anchor that can create a fixed mindset and a hopelessness around ever changing that "I'm not good with technology" to use an example of a fixed identity mindset  from the book (p35). Clear therefore stresses the need to continuously revisit what we claim as our identity and throw out any outdated or outgrown beliefs.

The book contains a long section where Clear tries to outline the link between cues, cravings actions and rewards: This is an interesting and useful section, but for me two insights stood out. The first was knowing the where and when of something as well as the what (so "I will run one mile in a loop around the streets near my house at 0650 every morning" compared to "I will make a habit of running one mile"). This is scheduling,  and as the decision has already been made it is easier and requires the very minimum of brain power to just do it rather than having to think about the logistics and make many additional decisions every day as to how and where and when to run.

The second insight is habit stacking- to attach a habit to something you already do anyway- so "I will do 10 sit ups while I'm waiting for the bath to fill", or "I will stand on one leg practice my balancing while brushing my teeth" (maybe not the best idea but you get the gist).

There are a few other key ideas in the book- one of those is not to break a streak. If you have five days in a row, try to get to six, then seven. Another is to encode the "gateway habit" (p163) which may be to put on your running shoes and get out of the door, rather than the run itself, or writing a single sentence every day. As Clear says, once this is embedded the rest follows: If you are outside with your running shoes on you might as well go for a little tiny run... Over time that tiny run can become a longer and longer run.

Another key idea is that the costs of good habits are in the present and the costs of bad ones in the future. Clear writes (p189) that the "More immediate pleasure you get from an action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long term goals". We tend to do easy pleasurable things now and defer the hard stuff.

Another aspect that Clear addresses well is the need to remain mindful- once an action is learned and becomes repetition, then it's easy to plateau there and switch off. To improve requires a watchfulness that looks always for those little 1% incremental changes or gains that combine to make a cumulative difference over time.

In summary (p253) Clear proposes that making something obvious, making it attractive, making it easy and making it satisfying will together be a recipe for encoding almost any new habit or change.

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