Atomic Habits

Our office is starting up a book club, and last week I read the first book on the list: James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

Atomic Habits outlines four steps to building better habits (or removing habits you don’t care to have any longer.) The author lays out a detailed guide which is well-researched and easy to follow. I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in stepping up their habits (which, respectfully, should be every single one of us on the planet.)

Having read a good many books on habits already, much of the information was familiar to me, and yet it was a good refresher on what I would like to be doing with respect to my habits, because Lord knows even though I’ve read all these books, I still slack off and revert to bad habits on an astonishingly regular basis.

This article will not be a book report outlining the steps. I’m going to leave those for you to discover when you read the book! What I’ll cover here is one critical concept from the very beginning, regarding the layers of behavior change.

Clear uses a visual depiction of three concentric circles.

(Sorry in advance to you visual people out there, I’m going to explain it rather than draw it.)

The outer circle is labeled Outcomes.

The middle circle is labeled Processes.

The center circle is labeled Identity.

I found this description extremely helpful for creating a framework to think about our behavior and how to both predict it and change it. Let’s take a closer look at each of these layers:


The outcome circle deals with the crunchy fact of what we WANT. For example:

I want to lose 5 pounds. (Still working on this.)

I want to sell 100 houses. (Did I mention that I’m in real estate?)

I want to quit smoking. (I did this, by the way.)

This is all well and good – these are our wants. Okay. We all have things we desire, and it’s fair to say that we generally get some, and don’t get others, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that we don’t often spend adequate time thinking about why that is, or how we might do things differently to get better results on the items which matter most to us.

It is these WANTS, nevertheless, which generally get us moving down the road to adoption of habits.


This is where the rubber begins to meet the road.

This is the level where we go beyond saying I want to lose 5 pounds to something like I’m going to make sure my house is completely devoid of sugary snacks and I’m also going to plan all my meals for the next 4 weeks and pack lunches ahead of time on Sundays so that I’m not driven by sheer starvation to purchasing the 1lb bag of M&Ms in our new office vending machine for lunch on a day when there’s no time to go and buy a salad from the restaurant down the street.

Or something like that.

This is the planning layer.

This is where we decide what we’re going to DO in order to get what we WANT.

This is about putting together the infrastructure in the business that’s going to support the goals you’ve set (what your activities are, who you are in business with, what tasks are assigned to whom, and most importantly – what proven model are you following.)

This is where (for the smoking example) you tell everyone you know that you’re quitting smoking, install an app on your phone that tracks the days you’ve been quit, share your milestones with those around you, and make a plan to socialize in places that do not involve temptation.

This is the layer of DOING.


This is the deepest layer and it is where long-term success is going to come from.

Clear writes:

“This level is concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, your self-image, your judgments about yourself and others. Most of the beliefs, assumptions and biases you hold are associated with this level.”

This is the place where, in the case of losing 5 pounds, we adopt a new belief about ourselves, such as: I am the kind of person who eats healthy and goes to the gym.

Or: I am the kind of leader who coaches a team of real estate professionals like a winning sports team. I surround myself with super-stars and I help them reach for their highest capacity. That is who I am.

Or: I am an ex-smoker. All of the cool kids are ex-smokers and non-smokers. I am that kind of person.

Clear argues that most of us start by focusing on WHAT we want. The outcome. And this is the focus that is least likely to get it for us. The reason is that when we operate in that level, we’re going to develop outcome-based habits. He uses the example of the person who doesn’t want to smoke saying I’m trying to quit versus I’m not a smoker. This is a critical difference.

Clear notes that many people “don’t realize that their old identity can sabotage their new plans for change” and that the only way to truly change behavior is to become a different person.

This concept is replayed in at least half a dozen other books, generally under the terminology “BE, DO, HAVE.”

Meaning that:

Before we can HAVE something…

We must DO something. And yet in order to DO the thing…

We first must BECOME the kind of person who does the thing.

This is identity-based behavior change.

And it is tremendously powerful.

Now go read Atomic Habits! And share your thoughts with me on Facebook!

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