Cultivate What Matters Book Review | Atomic Habits by James Clear

Though I have read MANY books topically related to my goals (it's one of my favorite ways to learn new techniques and stay motivated to make progress, and I know I share those feelings with many of you!), I've actually read very few books about goals. That changed this year when I picked up a copy of Atomic Habits by James Clear.

If you're a goal-setter or have spent any amount of time in the PowerSheets® Facebook group, you've probably seen this book mentioned, as it's popular around these parts. (And in the wider world—it's a number one New York Times best seller with over one million copies sold, and a 4.8 average rating after 42k+ reviews on Amazon. Whew!)

I'm here to tell you the hype is real. I loved this book and think it would be a perfect addition to any PowerSheet user's bookshelf
—James's teaching aligns perfectly with what we believe here at Cultivate! Below are five of my favorite takeaways, and I'd love to hear yours in the comments, too.



Photo by Nancy Ray
—she has a great podcast episode on this book, too!

1. Little by little adds up. We know this one, right?! "It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action," James writes. It seems simple, but this is consistently one of the BIGGEST a-ha moments for new members of the Cultivate community. Once you see little-by-little progress in action, it's easy to get on the bandwagon, but there's something in our human psyches that's naturally and doggedly drawn to those big leaps!

I especially appreciated his point that where we are matters less than where we're going—and this makes it easier to accept slower progress instead of being desperate to race out of the starting gate. "It doesn’t matter how successful or unsuccessful you are right now," he writes. "What matters is whether your habits are putting you on the path toward success. You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results."


2. Systems are crucial for goal-setting progress. We love goals around here. James prefers talking about habits, but I think in the end, the distinction is a bit of semantics. We're both in alignment that systems
—environments, consistent small improvements, processes, routines—as opposed to occasional bursts of effort are what help you achieve your desired result. "Goals are good for setting a direction," he writes, "but systems are best for making progress." Happily, your PowerSheets help you do both!

3. Identity-based habits (and goals) are powerful. Outcome-based habits focus on what we want to achieve. Identity-based habits focus on who we wish to become. "
You have the power to change your beliefs about yourself," James writes. "Your identity is not set in stone. You have a choice in every moment." YES! Mindset shifts are one of the most powerful tools we have available to us in goal setting (one reason why we include the identity box section in the PowerSheets Prep Work!). 

"The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it"—or to take the next step forward in your goal. If you believe you are a great parent, you'll be more motivated to act like a great parent (whatever that means to you!).

On the flip side, "it's hard to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behavior. You have a new goal and a new plan, but you haven't changed who you are." It's worth the time to determine the fears and negative mindsets that are holding us back, and actively work to reframe them with new narratives.

4. We are the masters of our environments. Most people accept the status quo of the spaces where they work, play, and rest, James writes. But it doesn't have to be that way, and small tweaks to these spaces can have huge pay-offs for follow-through and progress. 

I appreciated his point that disciplined people are not usually superheroes who are categorically different from the rest of us
—they're just better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. "Instead of being disciplined," he writes, "create a more disciplined environment. It's easier to practice self-restraint when you don't have to use it very often."

Make sure the best choice is the most obvious one. This could mean putting your phone out of sight if you want to scroll less, setting your latest book next to the chair you curl up in at night if you want to read more, or removing junk food from your kitchen if you want to eat healthier.

5. The people you spend time with impacts the progress you'll make. Good news! If you're a part of the Cultivate community, you've already got a leg up here! "One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. New habits seem achievable when you see others doing them every day." When you see your fellow PowerSheets users filling out their Tending Lists on the 25th, you're more likely to pull out your own set and make a plan for the month ahead.

"Running against the grain of your culture requires extra effort," James adds. "When changing your habits means fitting in with the tribe, change is very attractive." Find ways to spend time with people who are going in the direction you want to go, whether they're equally-motivated goal setters or people who are succeeding at the particular goal you're hoping to achieve.

More on setting goals in community here!

There's so much more I loved and could share, but we'll leave it there for now! I'd love to hear: if you've read Atomic Habits, what was your favorite takeaway? 

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