James Clear has become an emerging name in the world of habits. He has consistently produced useful, actionable content relating to changing habits for several years. His highly anticipated new book, Atomic Habits does not disappoint and has tremendous applicability to most aspects of improvement – fat loss and health included.
Here are 10 highlights from Atomic Habits that apply most to fat loss and health enhancement.
1. 1% better every day:
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement”. Small changes don’t register immediately when it comes to noticeable improvement. 4 days in a row of gym attendance or a week at work saying no to donuts won’t typically manifest itself in inches lost or pounds off that scale. That said, even a slight change of trajectory – when practiced daily – will have significant impact over time. Work in hitting singles – daily. Ingraining small habits that will yield big long-term results.
2. The plateau of latent potential:
This is where we see a delayed outcome to our efforts. It’s a period of time that everyone goes through where we feel we are working hard but the physical results aren’t coming. Your work isn’t going to waste, it’s being stored. There’s a quote about a stonecutter that pounds a stone 100 times without so much as a dent. Then on the 101st strike the stone splits in half. It wasn’t that 101st blow that broke through – it was the 100 previous strikes that did it.
3. Focus on Systems instead of Goals:
Goals are simply wish lists and don’t transfer into anything tangible for the most part. Clear points out a few problems he has with traditional “goals”. Namely;
- Winners and losers both have the same goals.
- Achieving a goal is only a temporary situation: Achieving a goal only changes things in that moment. Coaches know all too well that achieving a weight loss goal initially is only the first step and weight can easily be put back on.
- Goals restrict your Happiness: There is an inherent assumption that our lives will be monumentally better once we achieve a goal. It creates a dichotomy as we attach happiness to an achievement – experiencing elation if we reach it and disappointment when we don’t.
- Goals are at odds with long-term progress: A goal-focused mindset can cause a yo-yo effect as once they are achieved. Once people achieve a goal they may revert to a previous way of living that was suboptimal. Clear summarizes this nicely when he says; “The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.”
4. Identity Goals” Instead of asking “what do I want to accomplish?”
Instead ask “Who do I want to become?” Clear notes that “your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously)”. To change behaviors you need to start changing how you perceive yourself. Each positive habit that brings you closer to where you want to be is a vote for your identity. In the end, attaining fat loss and health goals comes down to aligning actions to your personal belief systems.
5. Creating good habits by making them; Obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying.
Conversely, break bad habits by making them; Invisible, unattractive, difficult and unsatisfying. Keeping desired habits as accessible as possible is absolutely crucial for success. Engineering your home, workplace and social situations in a way that facilitates better habits will take away the need for exercising copious amounts of willpower. Let’s give an example with food;
Obvious: Keep healthy food eye level in the fridge, front and center on the counter/cupboards. Have healthy snacks on hand at work and a water bottle at your desk.
Attractive: Find ways to make healthy foods taste more appetizing such as spices, low calorie sauces/dressings.
Easy: Aim for healthy convenience ie. pre-cut/pre-washed lettuce, roasted chicken, frozen veggies, portable higher protein snacks such as beef jerky or mini cans of tuna.
Satisfying: With healthy eating the immediate aftereffect isn’t typically satisfying and the results from eating healthfully are decidedly delayed. This is where self-talk can come in handy. “I’m nourishing my body with this salad” or “this protein is really doing good things for keeping my muscles intact”.. Attaching some form of immediate satisfaction through this kind of personal narrative can go a long way.
6. The 2 Minute Rule
Just about any habit can be scaled down to a 2 minute starting task. When starting a new habit, it should take less than 2 minutes to do. This makes tasks seem less overwhelming. Here are some examples:
- Read before bed each night becomes “Read one page”
- Do 30 minutes of yoga becomes “Take out my yoga mat”
- Study for class becomes “open my notes”
- Fold the laundry becomes “fold 1 pair of socks”
- Run 3 miles becomes “tie up my running shoes”
7. Habit Shaping:
This is an extension to the “2 minute rule” in that is scales the habit up towards the ultimate goal. Once the 2 minute rule has been mastered, start chaining other steps on top of it. Here are 2 relevant examples:
8. Standardize before you Optimize:
When it comes to healthy eating and fitness, aim for consistency and standardization first – optimize later. Just start – do something to take action now, knowing it doesn’t have to be perfect, nor will it ever be. Don’t worry about not having all the information, all the tools, all the knowledge or technical proficiency for cooking/exercise – just act. Don’t worry if your meat isn’t grass fed or your produce organic – just get your butt to the grocery store and get veggies and some protein. Put the habits in place first – nail the basics.
9. Never Miss Twice:
One of the most formidable indicators of long term success is being able to get back on the proverbial horse when you fall off. Right away. It’s never the initial slip that impedes progress, rather it is the mentality of the “what the hell” effect; blowing a diet with a donut and mailing it in for the rest of the day, rationalizing the choice by saying “well I’ve already blown it so I’ll just eat 3 donuts”. As we all know it’s easy for one bad day to turn into a week, then into a month and so on. The “never miss twice” rule states that if you miss a workout, eat a heavy meal. Have a few drinks, you immediately steer the ship right.
“Atomic Habits” is an important read for anyone trying to improve at any aspect of life. Following even a few of the above strategies will VASTLY improve your success at losing fat and getting healthy – for good.