Advanced Tactics

Apr 12 2019

Reading through Atomic Habits

Wrapping up the book, Atomic Habits, James Clear includes a bit more information about habits beyond his behavior laws for change as listed below:

Cue : Make it Obvious Craving : Make it Attractive Response : Make it Easy Reward : Make it Satisfying

Chapters in this Section

Section Overview

While the previous chapters give great advice for designing habits, this section digs a little deeper into the questions that will arise after you’ve tried a few different things.  Clear uses the comparison of swimmer Michael Phelps and runner Hicham El Guerrouj; they excel in sports that take advantage of their biological strengths—namely in height and build.  They could certainly do the other sport, but may not be as wildly successful.  As Clear states, “Habits are easier to perform, and more satisfying to stick with, when they align with your natural inclinations and abilities.”  Conversations about being an early bird or night owl are more recently being linked to your chronotype, which can be used to describe whether your energy peaks earlier or later in the day.


For learning more about natural inclinations, Clear starts at the personality.  Using the “Big Five” personality traits, Clear encourages you to consider your:

This may sound like common sense, but it can be difficult to build a habit to your own personality when most of the advise you see is for the opposite.  Instead of becoming frustrated with yourself for not waking up at way-too-early AM per the advice of every successful person you see, you can find a way that better incorporates those activities for you.  It may be that you wish you could exercise before work, but if your exercises in the evening are far more satisfying because you have more energy then, do it then! There is no one way to success.

Learning About What Works

Clear encourages returning to the Third Law of Behavior Change: Make it Easy.  What comes naturally to you? Try new things, and learn what works and more importantly what doesn’t.  To explore how you can best take advantage of your strengths, Clear encourages asking the following questions:

Finding the Motivational Sweet Spot

Once you have a habit, and you’re tracking how you sustain it, does the gratification of completing it start to diminish? Here, Clear brings up the need to feel “manageable difficulty,” that sweet spot within an optimal zone of difficulty.  As Clear points out, we love a challenge.  If something is too easy, we can get bored; too hard and we become discouraged. Clear calls this sweet spot the Goldilocks Rule, where you experience more motivation when the task lies at a difficulty level somewhere between boredom and failure.  Think this would look better as a graph? Clear does, too! I like the brief return to a graph, and what he acknowledges that this can also be described as a flow state.

While the Goldilocks state is ideal, Clear recognizes that mastery comes from practice, and practice—training every day—gets boring.  As Clear states, “The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.”

The Downside of Creating Good Habits

While the discussion of habits often groups the mundane (brushing your teeth) and specific practices (running).  In this chapter, Clear makes the distinction between these a little clearer in terms of outcomes.  Sustaining a habit, he argues, will eventually make it become automatic.  This is great for the mundane, but he cautions that it doesn’t help you excel in areas where you want not only consistency but also improvement.  His suggested formula for these areas is: Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery.

While I want to automatically put on my running shoes after I get home, I want to deliberately push myself to run longer or further depending upon my goals. Clear’s caution here comes along the same lines as the rule of diminishing returns. To improve, Clear encourages stacking, or layering improvements: now that you’ve automated this habit, build a more intermediate action on top of it. Using the example of the LA Lakers, Clear encourages assessment of your habits and your goals. To do so, determine the baseline of your activity, measure how it has changed through the sustained habit, and use that sweet 1% better method to continue to improve yourself.

Clear also outlines his own method to reflect and review, in which he uses an Annual review to tally up his habits and reflect on what did and didn’t go well.  Mid-year, he uses an Integrity Report to revisit his core values, how they are reflected in his actions, and if he can set a higher standard for himself. I love this integration of values, goals, and actions.  It speaks back to his stance on identity-based change while also using them as a foundation for growth. It also encourages a flexible sense of identity.  Clear argues that when your identity is tied to a certain action or belief, if something changes to damage that action or belief you can lose your sense of self.  It can also make you incredibly resistant to change, even when that change is for the better.

Atomic Habits read-through: