Dose Book Shelf #3 - 3 Key Takeaways from Atomic Habits


Dose was founded by The Tempest Two, James Whittle & Tom Caulfield, two ordinary friends who take on various adventures around the world. In 2015, they decided to board a 7 metre rowing boat, and cross the Atlantic Ocean, 3000 miles totally unaided. 54 days later they touched land in Barbados, having overcome a challenge many believed was impossible. During their voyage, a new mindset was instilled in the pair. Their perception of their own potential had been transformed, and the word can't removed from their vocabulary. James and Tom share their learnings from adventure with organisations around the globe. From the Atlantic Ocean to the boardroom, the Sahara to the C-suite. 

Having recently finished James Clears new book “Atomic Habits”, we were reminded of some absolute gems that relate to long term goals and success, and the key role habit formation plays.

It doesn't matter what your goals may be, or how far-fetched they may seem. They will always require behaviour change to accomplish. From a money saving figure, to a fitness-based finish line, discipline is required and actions are needed in order to attain success.

  1. You are a reflection of your environment

"We tend to believe our habits are a product of our motivation, talent, and effort. Certainly, these qualities matter. But the surprising thing is, especially over a long time period, your personal characteristics tend to get overpowered by your environment."

We have found that the quickest, most impactful way of introducing and sticking to new habits is to change the environment you are in. The traditional routine to implement change in personal and professional goals is to set a lofty goal, and then rely on willpower, motivation and discipline to get you through until you achieve. The reason this rarely succeeds and many lose sight of the goal is that it makes change feel like hard work. Changing your environment and surroundings has a huge impact on making those changes easier. Design your environment to accommodate your habits:

First, automate good decisions. Whenever possible, design an environment that makes good decisions for you. For example, it has been proven that buying smaller plates can help you lose weight by deciding portion size for you.

Second, get in the flow. Design an environment where good habits “get in the flow” of your normal behaviours. This is about placing triggers in the way. Leave your running shoes at the door, and kit ready the night before to cue the run the following morning.

Third, subtract the negative influences. For example, rearrange your workplace to save time by eliminating unnecessary turning, bending, and swivelling. Remove the distractions from deep work by leaving your phone in your desk drawer for time blocks in the day.

From the places and spaces you spend your time, to the content you consume and the people you surround yourself with, you are a reflection of your environment.

For us, environment is the single biggest thing we can do to drastically step change our progress towards a goal. Whether it’s the Atlantic, on a motorbike to the Sahara, or on a rock face in Yosemite, adapting our environment to enable quick progression through new habit formation has been the key to success in our adventures.

2. The Three layers of behaviour change.

According to James Clear, "There are three layers of behaviour change: a change in your outcomes, a change in your processes, or a change in your identity.”

“Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.” 

Simply put, the ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It is a simple two-step process: Decide the type of person you want to be, and then prove it to yourself with small actions and small wins. Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a personal vote for the type of person you wish to become.”

  1. Changing your outcomes. This level is simple, arguably the most basic and sometimes the spark point for the wider goal. Targeted at changing your immediate results: losing weight, publishing a book, climbing El Capitan, getting a promotion. Most of the goals you set are associated with this level of change.

  2. Changing your process. This level is about changing your habits and systems, the “how to”. From implementing a new exercise routine, re-arranging your desk for better workflow. The habits you build, and how you spend your time are associated with this law.

  3. Change your identity. This is about 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. “I am X"

In order to introduce a habit that sticks, and genuinely makes a change, build identity-based habits. 

"The most effective way to change your daily habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but who you want to become.”

By starting at the outcome and working back, you identify yourself with the lifestyle associated to your goal, not the specific task. This takes the behaviour from being singular and outcome oriented, (easy to put off or avoid), to intrinsically focused and values oriented (multiple layers of commitment, expectations) based around your inner motivations, therefore far more sustainable and achievable.

We find ourselves assuming the identity of the various disciplines we are taking on. From ocean rowers, to rock climbers. For us, this is about going all in, and as a part of that we need to assume the identity of that outcome. We have to have a certain level of connection to the challenge in order for us to train the way we need to. 

3. The power of tiny habits

Something we regularly speak about, is the power of habit. Tiny rituals repeated regularly that in the short term will feel like they are making very little impact, if any at all. The author encourages you to trust the process and states “You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”

Meaning it's your commitment to the process that determines your progress. There is very little luck involved, and no such thing as an “overnight success”.

“Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat.”

Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous (often small) actions, which build up the potential required to eventually make that major change. A lot of the time, expectations may be the reason habits fall away. People expect immediate results and when no progress is visible immediately, they give up. Clear explains the “Plateau of Latent Potential”, where the repetition of small habits has a compound effect, and it’s key to trust the process over the outcome. Take meditation, or exercising, where improvement is never immediate but often delayed, at which point "success" is obvious and visible.

The power is almost always in the detail, we often relate this to our Atlantic Row, where every two hours, we would swap shifts between rowing and eating/ sleeping. If we were not prepared for the shift and were late, or we sat at the oars sorting ourselves out before rowing, there could easily be a 3 minute delay during the change over. Nothing too significant at all compared to the 2 hour shift, but adding together all that wasted time over 54 days and we would be adding 32.5 hours onto our arrival time. A pretty significant chunk that for us really highlighted the power of the atomic habit. The same principal applies with meeting attendance, or attention towards phones. What’s a few minutes here or there in the moment, but take the knock on effect over a month or a year, and there is a lot of wasted productivity left on the table.

We would highly recommend Atomic Habits. It acts as a very useful guide that encourages reflection on your own daily routines and rituals to better your self. 

The Tempest Two