‘Atomic Habits’, the best-selling book to achieve success

‘Atomic Habits’, the best-selling book to achieve success
‘Atomic Habits’, the best-selling book to achieve success

In July 1991, the Gates family invited several people to dinner at their home, including their own son, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett. At one point during the dinner, the hosts asked their guests what factor they believed had been the most decisive in their success in life. Both Gates and Buffett, who had met that same night, answered “focus.” Michael Moritz, chief executive of the venture capital firm Sequoia for many years, would later write about Gates’ obsession with small habits that allowed him to eliminate distractions in his daily life, such as removing the car radio to prevent music from playing. or the news wouldn’t let you think about Microsoft while driving.

James Clear, “coach” for athletes and executives, explains the benefits of concentration and good habits in his work Atomic Habits: Small Changes, Extraordinary Results, a book that has recently become a worldwide bestseller. Throughout the book Clear proposes a complete system on how to introduce habits into our lives effectively and, most importantly, long-lasting. The habits the book talks about are not just any habits. As the author explains, they are atomic in the sense that “[l]Habits are like the atoms of our lives. Each one is a fundamental unit that contributes to overall improvement. At first these little routines seem insignificant, but they soon add up. […] They are at the same time small and powerful.”

In this sense, the book’s strategy pursues the aggregation of marginal profits, trying to obtain a small room for improvement in the different aspects of a topic in question. If we improve all these aspects at the same time, the total gain can be considerable. The most obvious parallel to the world of investing is the power of compound interest over long periods of time. In the author’s words, “it is very common to overestimate the importance of big defining moments and detract from making small, everyday improvements.”

One of the biggest obstacles we face when implementing a new habit is that generally on a daily basis we think in terms of goals, since it is very natural that whenever we want to achieve We first define specific and viable objectives. For Clear, the contradiction between goals and habits is that a goal is only a momentary milestone (we have reached the goal, now what?), while establishing a habit is a permanent change (I also wrote a year ago in this same column about the problems of setting goals in the review of Annie Duke’s book, Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away). All permanent behavioral changes begin by changing our identity and focusing on who we want to become (e.g., it is easier to stop drinking sugary drinks if, instead of saying I am not going to drink drinks today, you say to yourself, I am the type of a person who eats healthy food).

What is the best way to acquire new habits that end up being part of each one’s identity? Much of the book revolves around this question. The acquisition of any habit is governed by a feedback cycle composed of four steps, which are, in this order, the signal, the desire, the response and the reward. Only when these four steps are present and repeated multiple times over time can a habit be acquired. Additionally, only those behaviors that have satisfactory results tend to be repeated, and conversely, behaviors with adverse consequences tend not to be repeated.

This four-step process is nothing more or less the result of how our brains react to any external stimulus. On a chemical level, the most important neurotransmitter is dopamine, which makes us feel a sensation of pleasure and is secreted when we are anticipating a reward or the outcome of an action. At a structural level, there are many areas of the brain, such as the brain stem, nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmental area, dorsal striatum, amygdala, and some portions of the prefrontal cortex, that are activated when we want, not when we get the desire. reward. In comparison, and curiously, the centers of the brain dedicated to enjoyment are smaller and distributed throughout the brain. Our biology pushes us to desire, not to enjoy.

Clear uses each of the four components of the habit cycle to formulate what he calls the “Four Laws of Behavior Change,” which are make the habit obvious (which corresponds to the “signal”), make it attractive (” longing”), making it simple (“response”) and making it satisfying (“reward”). This cycle can also be applied if, conversely, we want to break a habit. In this case, it would involve first making it invisible, second, making it unattractive, third, making it difficult, and finally, making it unsatisfactory.

The book presents a multitude of strategies to master each of the four components of the habit cycle, making it impossible to do justice to the variety of resources it presents in a few paragraphs. Simply mention that readers will find very useful in their daily lives strategies such as implementation intention (“make it obvious”), habit accumulation (which consists of adding small habits to existing ones to “make it simple”), addition by subtraction (eliminating points of tension so you can accomplish more with less effort to, again, “make it simple”), the two minute rule (a new habit should take you no more than two minutes), or implementing visual measures, such as keeping a diet diary to check our progress (in order to “make it successful”).

As I mentioned before, one of the keys for habits to last over time It is not so much the time we practice the habit, but its frequency. Again, this is a consequence of how our neural networks work, and specifically what neurologists call Hebb’s Law, which states that neurons that activate together develop stronger connections between them over time. These physical changes in the brain occur both on a smaller scale, in the formation of habits, and on a larger scale, when developing excellence in a given discipline. For example, in musicians, the cerebellum, the part responsible for motor coordination, is larger, as is the back part of the hippocampus, responsible for short-term and spatial memory, in the case of taxi drivers.

Many readers will find that, even with all the strategies mentioned above, the most difficult thing is to maintain motivation during the acquisition of a new habit; In other words, maintain the frequency mentioned above. In this regard, Clear explains that one of the most consistent results in recent academic literature on this point is that we should put effort into tasks that have a “manageable level of difficulty”, tasks that allow us to be completely immersed in an activity, what scientists call “a state of flow”, which generates a midpoint between boredom and anxiety. This sweet spot, known in psychological research as the Yerkes-Dodson law, is typically only 4% below one’s current skill level.

Clear is an excellent storyteller, and he makes the book entertaining and provide useful conclusions on a topic that could easily seem banal, too qualitative or without much “chicha”. The greatest benefit that readers will undoubtedly obtain is to stop and think for a moment about how to effectively acquire (and solidify) habits, something that we rarely stop to reflect on. The benefits can be enormous since, in exchange for a small investment at the beginning, the accumulated value of repeating healthy habits increases over time. That a single decision can pay dividends time and time again is certainly fascinating, and it is an investment that we in the financial world do not hesitate to make when it rarely presents itself. If we apply this metaphor, it should be no different in the rest of our lives.

‘Data sheet’

Qualification: “Atomic Habits: Small Changes, Extraordinary Results.”

Author: James Clear.

Editorial: Diana Editorial, 2020, pp.336, hardcover.

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