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Atomic Habits

An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones.

In this month’s B+G Book Club, David Carter, Account Director, reviews “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

When a promising baseball career was ended in high school due to an unfortunate head injury, James Clear did all he could to get his studies and sporting career back on track. Faced with a challenge, he started to make some small changes that compound into huge results if you stick with them – the practicing of atomic habits.

What did I think

Be more productive at work. Keep the house tidier. Get back to regular exercise. Be able to run a 10k. Eat healthier. Drink less alcohol. These are not lyrics from a Baz Luhrmann song. These were goals I had at the beginning of the year. And it’s March now, and I’m not really hitting any of them. I can’t be the only one who struggles with these things. Usually, I’ve got things in hand. But the lockdown and the pandemic has really put an end to a lot of my good habits. Throw in a new baby that arrived at the end of last year and I have the perfect cocktail of excuses to not work towards these goals.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. It’s why there’s a whole ‘self-development’ genre. And it’s why I was keen to read this book by James Clear, which aims to look at developing ‘atomic habits’ – little habits that are part of a larger system – to help get myself back on track.

From the start, Clear sets out frameworks to start building your own good habits, processes and identities. It is an amazing lesson in reviewing all aspects of what you do in life, identifying your goals and how you can build a roadmap to change how you perform in order to achieve them one small step at a time.

For example, as one of my goals is to run 10km, you’d assume I should start running regularly. But it’s too easy to avoid that. Instead, my process should start with putting on my running shoes. That’s the first habit to get into. Then, once my runners are on, celebrate that, and move onto the next small behavioural change to lead onto the next and the next until I’m running 10km. It all sounds a bit too easy, and I’m sceptical. Especially as I really don’t like running. But one thing that is clear in this book and in other books in this genre is that clarity in your communication and integrity is very important. Both in how you communicate to yourself and others and then how you hold yourself accountable and who you open up to, to allow them to hold you to account too. Add that into the mix, and it’s harder to give up.

Clear says that the ‘greatest threat to success isn’t failure. It’s boredom’. He claims those who are top of their field are actually just the ones who can handle the boredom of doing the same thing day in, day out for the longest time. Athletes who train daily, actors who rehearse the same lines over and over, even practicing presentations for hours to nail your next pitch.

Each chapter is introduced by a relevant and interesting real-world example. How the British Cycling team went from a series of failures to having what is widely regarded as the most successful run in cycling history in ten years. They made improvements in training, equipment, nutrition and all the obvious things but also made small changes like making dirt easier to spot in the bike transport truck by changing the interiors to white. In turn, dirt gets cleaned quicker, so bikes perform better and smoother for the riders.
Each chapter finishes with a summary and a reminder of your roadmap. It makes it a quick and easy read with a lot of benefits. It really hammers home the importance of sticking to a routine, and how small improvements can gather pace.

I can’t say that I’ve achieved all my goals yet. But I’m exercising again, and vacuuming more often. And like the British Cycling Team, it’s those small changes which gain momentum and can result in greatness.

Who should read it

  • Anyone interested in learning about processes to make improvements in their life.