Atomic Habits by James Clear explores the power of tiny changes in order to achieve remarkable results. He delves into the science and psychology behind habits, offering practical strategies and examples to build and break habits effectively.

Atomic = (i) an extremely small amount of a thing; the single irreducible unit of a larger system (ii) the source of immense energy or power.

Habit = a routine or practice performed regularly; an automatic response to a specific situation.

Atomic habits are small, incremental changes that compound over time to lead to significant transformations. James Clear sets out a comprehensive framework to help understand the mechanics of habits and how to make meaningful changes. He begins by emphasising the crucial role of habits in our lives, explaining that they shape our identity and determine our success or failure.

He sets out what he calls his 4 Laws:

Law 1 – Make it Obvious

This includes the use of a habit scorecard in order to become aware of your daily habits by tracking and monitoring them.

Implementation intentions are a great way to start new habits by incorporating ‘I will [the behaviour] at [time] in [location]’. Then you can combine this with what he terms habit stacking, and this adds ‘After [current habit], I will [new habit]’ – by adding on a new habit after an old habit, it increases the likelihood of success.

Designing your environment can only be very useful by making the habits easier if your environment is set up to help. A simple example is, if you want to remember to take a pill every night, put the pill bottle by the bathroom sink.

And naturally the reverse is true, so in order to break a bad habit, make it invisible by reducing exposure and removing the cues of bad habits from your environment.

Law 2 – Make it Attractive

The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit forming. This involves the use of temptation bundling, so you pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do. An extreme example from the book was an engineering student who knew he had to exercise more. He linked his exercise bike to his laptop and programmed it so that he could only watch Netflix if he was cycling at a certain speed!

Again, the reverse here is to make it unattractive by re-framing your mindset and highlighting the benefits of avoiding the bad habits.

Law 3 – Make it Easy

Reduce friction by decreasing the number of steps between you and your good habits. Prime your environment in the same way. Good example is if you want to exercise, set out all your workout clothes ahead of time or the night before. Utilise decisive moments; those moments and decisions that shape the rest of your day. Each one is a fork taking you in one direction or another. Start small and use the two-minute rule. When you start a new habit, it should take less than 2 minutes to do at first, i.e. reading a book starts with reading one page, or run three miles starts with tie my running shoes. Automation works well with habits. Each habit that can be dealt with via technology frees up time.

The reverse here is to increase the friction and the number of steps between you and bad habits.

Law 4 – Make it Satisfying

The key here is that what is rewarded is repeated and what is punished is avoided. Reinforcement refers to the process of using an immediate reward to increase the rate of behaviour. Making it satisfying increases the odds that a behaviour will be repeated next time. Using a habit tracker can be very useful and powerful. What gets measured, gets managed as the saying goes!

The reverse is to make it unsatisfying A name you hear a lot of these days is an ‘Accountability partner’ and the book sets this out and how having someone to keep you on track can work well for many people.

The book explains how to apply these laws to create positive habits and eliminate negative ones. There is an emphasis on the power of incremental progress, highlighting the compounding effect of these marginal gains over time. Whilst many of these concepts are not new, the book does a very good job of joining all the different aspects together into these four laws and would be useful for anyone in their personal or business life. Having sold over 8 million copies already, I can see why, and I certainly enjoyed reading it and if you want to understand more about these marginal gains and the ability to work on your personal and business habits and changes, then well worth the read.