“Atomic Habits”

James Clear

My life is in flux at the moment. I’ve just recently started a new job, and as a very direct consequence, have to change up some of my outside-of-work doings as well. Happily, I decided to start my project list by going through some of my backlog of books, and alphabetical ordering landed me on this loan from a friend. It’s a good one for times of flux.

As a longtime fan of Cortex, I can’t say that there was anything groundbreaking in this book. Just about everything in it I’ve read or heard in some form or another before, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s one thing to know this stuff, and another to have it all put together in one place, coherently summarized.

So as not to be taking bread out of the mouth of James Clear,1 I’m only going to reiterate one of the core ideas. If you want to encourage yourself to do something, make it easy to do; conversely, if you want to discourage yourself from doing something, make it hard to do. The single best example of this is eating healthy: if you want to eat less junk food, buy less junk food. It’s a simple concept, but it’s hiding something clever: if you buy the junk food, you have to have self control all the time to not eat it. And that, perceptibly, wears on you; by the end of a long work day, you may not have the mental energy left to resist.

On the other hand, if there’s no junk food in the house, there’s nothing to resist. Instead of resisting the urge to open a bag of chips, you’re resisting the urge to… drive to the store, buy a bag of chips, drive home, and open a bag of chips. That doesn’t take much resisting.

And meanwhile, the amount of self-control it takes to not buy it in the first place? Just make sure not to go grocery shopping while you’re hungry, and it’s not that hard at all. How much of your day do you spend in the grocery store, after all?

Atomic Habits is a very good executive summary of several thought technologies like this, and I highly recommend it. Check it out.2

  1. Or however that phrase goes.
  2. This is a Bookshop affiliate link – if you buy it from here, I get a little bit of commission. It won’t hurt my feelings if you buy it elsewhere; honestly, I’d rather you check it out from your local library, or go to a local book store. I use Bookshop affiliate links instead of Amazon because they distribute a significant chunk of their profits to small, local book stores.