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Sam Thomas Davies
Atomic Habits by James Clear
Print | Audiobook | Get My Searchable Collection of 100+ Book Notes
The Book in Three Sentences
- An atomic habit is a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do but is also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.
- Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change.
- Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.
The Five Big Ideas
- Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.
- If you want better results, then forget about setting goals . Focus on your system instead.
- The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.
- The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.
- Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.
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Atomic habits summary, chapter 1: the surprising power of tiny habits.
“Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”
“You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.”
“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.”
“Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.”
“Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.”
“If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, all you have to do is follow the curve of tiny gains or tiny losses, and see how your daily choices will compound ten or twenty years down the line.”
“Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change.”
If you find yourself struggling to build a good habit or break a bad one, it is not because you have lost your ability to improve. It is often because you have not yet crossed what James calls, the “Plateau of Latent Potential.”
“When you finally break through the Plateau of Latent Potential, people will call it an overnight success.”
“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement.”
“Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.”
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”
“Getting 1 percent better every day counts for a lot in the long-run.”
“Habits are a double-edged sword. They can work for you or against you, which is why understanding the details is essential.”
“Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You need to be patient.”
“An atomic habit is a little habit that is part of a larger system. Just as atoms are the building blocks of molecules, atomic habits are the building blocks of remarkable results.”
“If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.”
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
Chapter 2: How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)
“Changing our habits is challenging for two reasons: (1) we try to change the wrong thing and (2) we try to change our habits in the wrong way.”
“There are three layers of behavior 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.”
“With outcome-based habits, the focus is on what you want to achieve. With identity-based habits , the focus is on who you wish to become.”
“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. Prove it to yourself with small wins.”
“Ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?”
“The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.”
“Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”
“Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.”
“The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results (although they can do that), but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.”
Chapter 3: How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps
Whenever you want to change your behavior, ask yourself:
- How can I make it obvious?
- How can I make it attractive?
- How can I make it easy?
- How can I make it satisfying?
“A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.”
“The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible.”
“Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop that involves four steps: cue , craving , response , and reward .”
“The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious , (2) make it attractive , (3) make it easy , and (4) make it satisfying .”
Chapter 4: The Man Who Didn’t Look Right
“If you’re having trouble determining how to rate a particular habit, ask yourself: ‘Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?’”
“With enough practice, your brain will pick up on the cues that predict certain outcomes without consciously thinking about it.”
“Once our habits become automatic, we stop paying attention to what we are doing.”
“The process of behavior change always starts with awareness. You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them.”
“Pointing-and-Calling raises your level of awareness from a nonconscious habit to a more conscious level by verbalizing your actions.”
“The Habits Scorecard is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior.”
Chapter 5: The Best Way to Start a New Habit
“The 1st Law of Behavior Change is make it obvious.”
“Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.”
“The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases.”
“One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called habit stacking .”
“The habit stacking formula is: ‘After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].’”
“The two most common cues are time and location.”
“Creating an implementation intention is a strategy you can use to pair a new habit with a specific time and location.”
“The implementation intention formula is: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”
“Habit stacking is a strategy you can use to pair a new habit with a current habit.”
“The habit stacking formula is: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
Chapter 6: Motivation is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More
“Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.”
“Small changes in context can lead to large changes in behavior over time.”
“Every habit is initiated by a cue. We are more likely to notice cues that stand out.”
“Make the cues of good habits obvious in your environment.”
“Gradually, your habits become associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behavior. The context becomes the cue.”
“It is easier to build new habits in a new environment because you are not fighting against old cues.”
Chapter 7: The Secret to Self-Control
“The inversion of the 1st Law of Behavior Change is make it invisible.”
“Once a habit is formed, it is unlikely to be forgotten.”
“People with high self-control tend to spend less time in tempting situations. It’s easier to avoid temptation than resist it.”
“One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.”
“Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one.”
Chapter 8: How to Make a Habit Irresistible
“The 2nd Law of Behavior Change is make it attractive.”
“The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.”
“Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. When dopamine rises, so does our motivation to act.”
“It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike.”
“Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.”
Chapter 9: The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits
“The culture we live in determines which behaviors are attractive to us.”
“We tend to adopt habits that are praised and approved of by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong to the tribe.”
“We tend to imitate the habits of three social groups: the close (family and friends) , the many (the tribe) , and the powerful (those with status and prestige) .”
“One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group. ”
“The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.”
“If a behavior can get us approval, respect, and praise, we find it attractive.”
Chapter 10: How to Find and Fix The Cause of Your Bad Habits
“The inversion of the 2nd Law of Behavior Change is make it unattractive.”
“Every behavior has a surface level craving and a deeper underlying motive.”
“Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires.”
“The cause of your habits is actually the prediction that precedes them. The prediction leads to a feeling.”
“Highlight the benefits of avoiding a bad habit to make it seem unattractive.”
“Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings and unattractive when we associate them with negative feelings. Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.”
Chapter 11: Walk Slowly, But Never Backward
“The 3rd Law of Behavior Change is make it easy.”
“The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning.”
“Focus on taking action, not being in motion.”
“Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.”
“The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.”
Chapter 12: The Law of Least Effort
“Human behavior follows the Law of Least Effort.”
“We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.”
“Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.”
“Reduce the friction associated with good behaviors. When friction is low, habits are easy.”
“Increase the friction associated with bad behaviors. When friction is high, habits are difficult.”
“Prime your environment to make future actions easier.”
Chapter 13: How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule
Every day, there are a handful of moments that deliver an outsized impact. James refers to these little choices as “decisive moments.”
“Decisive moments set the options available to your future self.”
“A habit must be established before it can be improved.”
“Habits can be completed in a few seconds but continue to impact your behavior for minutes or hours afterward.”
“Many habits occur at decisive moments—choices that are like a fork in the road—and either send you in the direction of a productive day or an unproductive one.”
“ The Two-Minute Rule states, ‘When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.’”
“The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely it becomes that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things.”
“Standardize before you optimize. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.”
Chapter 14: How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible
“The inversion of the 3rd Law of Behavior Change is make it difficult.”
“A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that locks in better behavior in the future.”
“The ultimate way to lock in future behavior is to automate your habits.”
“Onetime choices—like buying a better mattress or enrolling in an automatic savings plan—are single actions that automate your future habits and deliver increasing returns over time.”
“Using technology to automate your habits is the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behavior.”
Chapter 15: The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change
“The 4th Law of Behavior Change is make it satisfying.”
“We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying.”
“The human brain evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards.”
“The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.”
“To get a habit to stick you need to feel immediately successful—even if it’s in a small way.”
“The first three laws of behavior change—make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy—increase the odds that a behavior will be performed this time. The fourth law of behavior change—make it satisfying—increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated next time.”
Chapter 16: How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day
“Named after the economist Charles Goodhart, Goodhart’s Law states, ‘When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.’”
“One of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress.”
“A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit—like marking an X on a calendar.”
“Habit trackers and other visual forms of measurement can make your habits satisfying by providing clear evidence of your progress.”
“Don’t break the chain. Try to keep your habit streak alive.”
“Never miss twice. If you miss one day, try to get back on track as quickly as possible.”
“Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing.”
Chapter 17: How an Accountability Partner Changes Everything
“The inversion of the 4th Law of Behavior Change is make it unsatisfying.”
“We are less likely to repeat a bad habit if it is painful or unsatisfying.”
“An accountability partner can create an immediate cost to inaction. We care deeply about what others think of us, and we do not want others to have a lesser opinion of us.”
“A habit contract can be used to add a social cost to any behavior. It makes the costs of violating your promises public and painful.”
“Knowing that someone else is watching you can be a powerful motivator.”
Chapter 18: The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t)
“The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition.”
“Pick the right habit and progress is easy. Pick the wrong habit and life is a struggle.”
“Genes cannot be easily changed, which means they provide a powerful advantage in favorable circumstances and a serious disadvantage in unfavorable circumstances.”
“Habits are easier when they align with your natural abilities. Choose the habits that best suit you.”
“Play a game that favors your strengths. If you can’t find a game that favors you, create one.”
“Genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on.”
Chapter 19: The Goldilocks Rule—How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work
“The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. ”
“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.”
“As habits become routine, they become less interesting and less satisfying. We get bored.”
“Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated. It’s the ability to keep going when work isn’t exciting that makes the difference.”
“Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way.”
Chapter 20: The Downside of Creating Good Habits
“The upside of habits is that we can do things without thinking. The downside is that we stop paying attention to little errors.”
“Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery”
“Reflection and review is a process that allows you to remain conscious of your performance over time.”
“The tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it.”
If you like Atomic Habits , you may also enjoy the following books:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey
- Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential by Tiago Forte
- Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
Buy The Book: Atomic Habits
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Atomic Habits Summary
1-Sentence-Summary: Atomic Habits is the definitive guide to breaking bad behaviors and adopting good ones in four steps, showing you how small, incremental, everyday routines compound into massive, positive change over time.
Favorite quote from the author:
Table of Contents
Atomic habits review, audio summary, who would i recommend the atomic habits summary to.
One of the best keynote speeches I’ve seen is Seth Godin’s presentation for his book Linchpin . On one of the slides, he shows a baseball bat flying into the stands, with people ducking away and raising their arms in terror.
While Seth uses the picture to make a point about our irrational fears , in some rare cases, those fears come true. James Clear was one of those cases. When he was in high school, a loose bat smashed right into his face. Broken nose, dangerous brain swellings, dislocated eyes, fractures, his recovery took months.
To get his own baseball career back on track, he had no choice but to rely on the power of small gains. In college, he slowly accumulated good habits and eventually managed to become one of 33 players for the All-American Academic team. Wow!
Today, he is one of the most popular habit researchers, reaching millions through his blog at JamesClear.com . His first book, Atomic Habits , is now the definitive guide on the topic and has quickly become a New York Times bestseller!
Here are 3 lessons to help you use everything he’s learned to break bad habits and form good ones:
- Every time we perform a habit, we execute a four-step pattern: cue, craving, response, reward.
- If we want to form new habits, we should make them obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.
- You can use a habit tracker as a fun way to measure your progress and make sure you don’t fall off the wagon.
Let’s see what it takes to form new habits by learning from a true habit master!
If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.
Lesson 1: All habits are based on a four-step pattern, which consists of cue, craving, response, and reward.
In 1776, Adam Smith laid the foundation of modern economics in his magnum opus , The Wealth of Nations . One of his most famous observations is that, in a free market system, all workers naturally maximize their own society’s welfare, even if merely acting in their own best interest:
“…he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”
When it comes to habits, James suggests that environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. That’s why a prompt is always the first step in performing any habit . It may not always be external, but, most of the time, it will be. Then, three more stages follow to complete the four-step pattern:
- Cue . A piece of information that suggests there’s a reward to be found, like the smell of a cookie or a dark room waiting to light up.
- Craving . The motivation to change something to get the reward, like tasting the delicious cookie or being able to see.
- Response . Whatever thought or action you need to take to get to the reward.
- Reward . The satisfying feeling you get from the change, along with the lesson whether to do it again or not.
There are several popular methodologies that try to predict how and why we do what we do, such as Charles Duhigg’s habit loop , Gretchen Rubins four tendencies , or BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits behavior model . James offers a more refined version of what Duhigg described in The Power of Habit and while all of these approaches are different, none of them are mutually exclusive.
Lesson 2: To form habits, you must make them obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.
From the four-step pattern he suggests, James then derives four laws of behavior change, which correspond to one part of the loop each. Here they are, along with some ideas for how you can use them to facilitate good behaviors and make bad ones harder:
- Make it obvious . Don’t hide your fruits in your fridge, put them on display front and center.
- Make it attractive . Start with the fruit you like the most, so you’ll actually want to eat one when you see it.
- Make it easy . Don’t create needless friction by focusing on fruits that are hard to peel. Bananas and apples are super easy to eat, for example.
- Make it satisfying . If you like the fruit you picked, you’ll love eating it and feel healthier as a result!
You can apply these to all kinds of good habits, like running, working on a side project , spending more time with family, and so on. Conversely, do the opposite for bad habits. Make them invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying. For example, you could hide your cigarettes, add financial penalties, get rid of all lighters, and only allow yourself to smoke outside in the cold.
Lesson 3: A habit tracker is a fun and easy way to ensure you stick to your new behaviors.
With a framework like this, making and breaking habits becomes fun. You’ll likely want to tackle multiple things sooner rather than later, but it’s important to not take on too much at once. An easy way of keeping yourself accountable without becoming overwhelmed is to track your habits with a habit tracker .
The idea is simple: You keep a record of all the behaviors you want to establish or abandon and, at the end of each day, you mark which ones you succeeded with . This record can be a single piece of paper, a journal, a calendar, or a digital tool, like an app.
This strategy is based on what’s sometimes called the Seinfeld productivity hack . Comedian Jerry Seinfeld apparently marked his calendar with a big ‘X’ every day he came up with a joke. Soon, his goal was to not break the chain. It’s a simple, but effective strategy to help you build good habits.
And since habits are the compound interest of self-improvement , that’s a process we should all start today.
When it comes to changing our behavior, we all need to find out what works for us. That said, there are several scientifically proven strategies we should all try first. Atomic Habits is a complete, fun, engaging, and simple to understand compendium of those strategies. I highly recommend you make it your first stop when wanting to learn about the science of habits.
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The 17 year old high school athlete, who wants to go pro in college, the 43 year old overworked creative, who struggles with finding time for sports, and anyone who’s never written down a list of their habits .
Last Updated on August 15, 2022
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Atomic Habits (James Clear) – Book Summary, Notes & Highlights
This book helped me understand how habits are formed and what we can do to build long-lasting chains of cues, cravings, responses, and rewards to create systems that will help us achieve our goals.
🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences
- Real change comes from the compound effects of hundreds of small decisions or habits that over time accumulate to produce remarkable results.
- To achieve our goals we need to first build systems made of single processes and habits that will take us to our goals.
- Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement – it’s the good and bad things that we do each and every day that compound over time to create real change.
This book helped me understand the difference between systems and goals and why the former is more important. By making small habits a part of our identity we can over time get to our goals no matter how big or small they are.
👤 Who Should Read It?
There’s really no limit to who should read Atomic Habits . We’re all “made of” habits therefore this book is inherently about our behaviours and what all of us do every day. That being said, you’ll really enjoy this book if:
- You care about achieving your goals,
- You want to deliberately change your habits,
- You want to discover how habits are formed,
- You want to know how you can build systems that will support your goals.
☘️ How the Book Changed Me
- It helped me build healthy habits like going to the gym or taking my supplements.
- From now on whenever I seek to change my behaviour I look inwards trying to change my identity first instead of starting with the desired outcome.
- I realised that systems are more important than goals since systems are what really takes us to our goals. (Remember – journey before destination – systems are like the journey and the goals are our destinations).
- I definitely notice much more of what I do each day. Every little thing – good or bad – becomes a habit over time that will compound and work for or against us depending on whether it’s positive or negative!
✍️ My Top 3 Quotes
Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.
Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.
Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.
📒 Summary + Notes
🔁 what are habits.
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.
And when we repeat 1% errors, day after day, through replicating poor decisions, duplicating tiny mistakes, and rationalising little excuses, our small choices compound into toxic results.
🧑⚖️ There are 4 laws of behaviour change that we can use to create good habits and break the bad ones
A single habit is made of a cue, craving, response, and reward . And these components are formed according to the 4 laws of behaviour change:
- Make it obvious – the habit needs to be effortless for us and require no active thinking. For example, when I had a hard time remembering to take my Vitamin D pills. I realised that the problem was that I kept these pills on the other side of the kitchen. Once I put them in the obvious spot that I couldn’t miss, I started taking them more regularly.
- Make it attractive – if the habit is unattractive we likely won’t have enough willpower to do it over and over. Therefore, you should come up with some ways to make the habit attractive even if it’s something hard like going to a gym or studying for long hours. For me, it was restricting my fantasy audiobooks listen-time to when I was at the gym which made the whole workout thing much more pleasurable.
- Make it easy – the less friction there is between you and the habit, the greater the chances are that you’ll actually do it. This applies to simple things like packing your gym bag a day before you want to go to the gym or preparing a healthy meal to make sure that you don’t order another takeaway.
- Make it immediately satisfying – our brain rewards immediate returns so it’s good to come up with something simple that brings us joy right after we perform our habit. Every time I go to the gym, I hop into a pool and spend 10 to 20 minutes in a spa. I know that it sounds a bit excessive but this little routine makes me much more optimistic about spending an hour or two in the gym.
⏳ It takes time to build a habit or break a bad one and that’s why most people quit halfway
If you find yourself struggling to build a good habit or break a bad one, it is not because you have lost your ability to improve. It’s often because you’ve not yet crossed the Plateau of Latent Potential. Complaining about not achieving success despite working hard is like complaining about an ice cube not melting when you heated it from twenty-five to thirty-one degrees. Your work was not wasted, it’s just being stored. All the action happens at thirty-two degrees.
San Antonio Spurs, one of the most successful teams in NBA history, have a quote from social reformer Jacob Riis hanging in their locker room:
“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it—but all that had gone before.”
⚙️ Adopt a systems-first approach instead of focusing on goals
The goal in any sport is to finish with the best score, but it would be ridiculous to spend the whole game staring at the scoreboard. The only way to actually win is to get better each day. In the words of three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh, “The score takes care of itself.” The same is true for other areas of life.
If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems.
A systems-first mentality provides the antidote. When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. And a system can be successful in many different forms, not just the one you first envision.
The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
🪞 To form good habits, make them a part of your identity
Our habits should be a part of our identity and the starting point of building it. Most of us get this wrong – we start with outcomes and work backwards towards our identity. But when a habit comes from who we are, it serves as the best form of intrinsic motivation.
For example, I had to change my thinking regarding eating healthy. Before reading Atomic Habits I was thinking that if I want to reduce my belly fat, I must follow Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb diet which will make me a healthy person (outcome -> identity).
But a correct identity-based approach would be for me to think that I’m a healthy person therefore, as a healthy person, I’ll eat wholesome food and exercise regularly which will then lead to reduced belly fat (identity -> outcome).
Most people don’t even consider identity change when they set out to improve. They just think, “I want to be skinny (outcome) and if I stick to this diet, then I’ll be skinny (process).”
They set goals and determine the actions they should take to achieve those goals without considering the beliefs that drive their actions.
They never shift the way they look at themselves, and they don’t realise that their old identity can sabotage their new plans for change. Behind every system of actions is a system of beliefs.
- The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader.
- The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner.
- The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician.
Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity.
- “I’m terrible with directions.”
- “I’m not a morning person.”
- “I’m bad at remembering people’s names.”
- “I’m always late.”
- “I’m not good with technology.”
- “I’m horrible at math.” … and a thousand other variations.
When you have repeated a story to yourself for years, it’s easy to slide into these mental grooves and accept them as a fact.
Over the long run, however, the real reason you fail to stick with habits is that your self-image gets in the way. This is why you can’t get too attached to one version of your identity. Progress requires unlearning. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.
Your identity emerges out of your habits. You are not born with preset beliefs. Every belief, including those about yourself, is learned and conditioned through experience.
More precisely, your habits are how you embody your identity. When you make your bed each day, you embody the identity of an organised person. When you write each day, you embody the identity of a creative person. When you train each day, you embody the identity of an athletic person.
Whatever your identity is right now, you only believe it because you have proof of it. If you go to church every Sunday for twenty years, you have evidence that you are religious. If you study biology for one hour every night, you have evidence that you are studious. If you go to the gym even when it’s snowing, you have evidence that you are committed to fitness. The more evidence you have for a belief, the more strongly you will believe it.
This is a gradual evolution. We do not change by snapping our fingers and deciding to be someone entirely new. We change bit by bit, day by day, habit by habit. We are continually undergoing microevolution of the self.
Each habit is like a suggestion: “Hey, maybe this is who I am.” If you finish a book, then perhaps you are the type of person who likes reading. If you go to the gym, then perhaps you are the type of person who likes exercise. If you practice playing the guitar, perhaps you are the type of person who likes music.
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
Building better habits isn’t about littering your day with life hacks. It’s not about flossing one tooth each night or taking a cold shower each morning or wearing the same outfit each day. It’s not about achieving external measures of success like earning more money, losing weight, or reducing stress. Habits can help you achieve all of these things, but fundamentally they are not about having something. They are about becoming someone.
Ultimately, your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you wish to be. They are the channel through which you develop your deepest beliefs about yourself. Quite literally, you become your habits.
If you’re still having trouble determining how to rate a particular habit, here is a question I like to use: “Does this behaviour help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?” Habits that reinforce your desired identity are usually good. Habits that conflict with your desired identity are usually bad.
Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action.
“Disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.
The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least. It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often.6 So, yes, perseverance, grit, and willpower are essential to success, but the way to improve these qualities is not by wishing you were a more disciplined person, but by creating a more disciplined environment.
It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change: the fastest way to lose weight, the best program to build muscle, the perfect idea for a side hustle. We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action. As Voltaire once wrote, “The best is the enemy of the good.”
If the motion doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it? Sometimes we do it because we actually need to plan or learn more. But more often than not, we do it because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure.
Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism. It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen. And that’s the biggest reason why you slip into motion rather than taking action: you want to delay failure. It’s easy to be in motion and convince yourself that you’re still making progress. You think, “I’ve got conversations going with four potential clients right now. This is good. We’re moving in the right direction.” Or, “I brainstormed some ideas for that book I want to write. This is coming together.” Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to merely be planning. You want to be practising.
If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice. This is the first takeaway of the 3rd Law: you just need to get your reps in.
The greater the obstacle—that is, the more difficult the habit—the more friction there is between you and your desired end state. This is why it is crucial to make your habits so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it. If you can make your good habits more convenient, you’ll be more likely to follow through on them.
Certainly, you are capable of doing very hard things. The problem is that some days you feel like doing the hard work and some days you feel like giving in. On tough days, it’s crucial to have as many things working in your favour as possible so that you can overcome the challenges life naturally throws your way. The less friction you face, the easier it is for your stronger self to emerge.
“When I walk into a room everything is in its right place,” Nuckols wrote. “Because I do this every day in every room, stuff always stays in good shape …. People think I work hard but I’m actually really lazy. I’m just proactively lazy. It gives you so much time back.”
We are more likely to repeat a behaviour when the experience is satisfying. This is entirely logical. Feelings of pleasure—even minor ones like washing your hands with soap that smells nice and lathers well—are signals that tell the brain: “This feels good. Do this again, next time.” Pleasure teaches your brain that a behaviour is worth remembering and repeating.
Every habit produces multiple outcomes across time. Unfortunately, these outcomes are often misaligned. With our bad habits, the immediate outcome usually feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad. With good habits, it is the reverse: the immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good. The French economist Frédéric Bastiat explained the problem clearly when he wrote, “It almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa… Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits.”
Put another way, the costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future.
The brain’s tendency to prioritise the present moment means you can’t rely on good intentions. When you make a plan—to lose weight, write a book, or learn a language—you are actually making plans for your future self. And when you envision what you want your life to be like, it is easy to see the value in taking actions with long-term benefits. We all want better lives for our future selves. However, when the moment of decision arrives, instant gratification usually wins. You are no longer making a choice for Future You, who dreams of being fitter or wealthier or happier. You are choosing for Present You, who wants to be full, pampered, and entertained. As a general rule, the more immediate pleasure you get from an action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals.
Here’s the problem: most people know that delaying gratification is the wise approach. They want the benefits of good habits: to be healthy, productive, at peace. But these outcomes are seldom top-of-mind at the decisive moment. Thankfully, it’s possible to train yourself to delay gratification—but you need to work with the grain of human nature, not against it. The best way to do this is to add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long run and a little bit of immediate pain to ones that don’t.
The vital thing in getting a habit to stick is to feel successful—even if it’s in a small way. The feeling of success is a signal that your habit paid off and that the work was worth the effort. In a perfect world, the reward for a good habit is the habit itself. In the real world, good habits tend to feel worthwhile only after they have provided you with something. Early on, it’s all sacrifice. You’ve gone to the gym a few times, but you’re not stronger or fitter or faster—at least, not in any noticeable sense. It’s only months later, once you shed a few pounds or your arms gain some definition, that it becomes easier to exercise for its own sake. In the beginning, you need a reason to stay on track. This is why immediate rewards are essential. They keep you excited while the delayed rewards accumulate in the background.
Immediate reinforcement can be especially helpful when dealing with habits of avoidance, which are behaviours you want to stop doing. It can be challenging to stick with habits like “no frivolous purchases” or “no alcohol this month” because nothing happens when you skip happy hour drinks or don’t buy that pair of shoes. It can be hard to feel satisfied when there is no action in the first place. All you’re doing is resisting temptation, and there isn’t much satisfying about that.
One solution is to turn the situation on its head. You want to make avoidance visible. Open a savings account and label it for something you want—maybe “Leather Jacket.” Whenever you pass on a purchase, put the same amount of money in the account. Skip your morning latte? Transfer $5. Pass on another month of Netflix? Move $10 over. It’s like creating a loyalty program for yourself. The immediate reward of seeing yourself save money toward the leather jacket feels a lot better than being deprived. You are making it satisfying to do nothing.
It is worth noting that it is important to select short-term rewards that reinforce your identity rather than ones that conflict with it. Buying a new jacket is fine if you’re trying to lose weight or read more books, but it doesn’t work if you’re trying to budget and save money. Instead, taking a bubble bath or going on a leisurely walk are good examples of rewarding yourself with free time, which aligns with your ultimate goal of more freedom and financial independence. Similarly, if your reward for exercising is eating a bowl of ice cream, then you’re casting votes for conflicting identities, and it ends up being a wash. Instead, maybe your reward is a massage, which is both a luxury and a vote toward taking care of your body. Now the short-term reward is aligned with your long-term vision of being a healthy person.
Eventually, as intrinsic rewards like a better mood, more energy, and reduced stress kick in, you’ll become less concerned with chasing the secondary reward. The identity itself becomes the reinforcer. You do it because it’s who you are and it feels good to be you. The more a habit becomes part of your life, the less you need outside encouragement to follow through. Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.
In summary, a habit needs to be enjoyable for it to last. Simple bits of reinforcement—like soap that smells great or toothpaste that has a refreshing mint flavour or seeing $50 hit your savings account—can offer the immediate pleasure you need to enjoy a habit. And change is easy when it is enjoyable.
“Don’t break the chain” is a powerful mantra. Don’t break the chain of sales calls and you’ll build a successful book of business. Don’t break the chain of workouts and you’ll get fit faster than you’d expect. Don’t break the chain of creating every day and you will end up with an impressive portfolio.
The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.
You don’t realise how valuable it is to just show up on your bad (or busy) days. Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you. If you start with $100, then a 50 percent gain will take you to $150. But you only need a 33 percent loss to take you back to $100. In other words, avoiding a 33 percent loss is just as valuable as achieving a 50 percent gain. As Charlie Munger says, “The first rule of compounding: Never interrupt it unnecessarily.”
This is why the “bad” workouts are often the most important ones. Sluggish days and bad workouts maintain the compound gains you accrued from previous good days. Simply doing something—ten squats, five sprints, a push-up, anything really—is huge. Don’t put up a zero. Don’t let losses eat into your compounding.
Furthermore, it’s not always about what happens during the workout. It’s about being the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts. It’s easy to train when you feel good, but it’s crucial to show up when you don’t feel like it—even if you do less than you hope. Going to the gym for five minutes may not improve your performance, but it reaffirms your identity.
The secret to maximising your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition. This is just as true with habit change as it is with sports and business. Habits are easier to perform and more satisfying to stick with when they align with your natural inclinations and abilities. Like Michael Phelps in the pool or Hicham El Guerrouj on the track, you want to play a game where the odds are in your favour.
When you can’t win by being better, you can win by being different. By combining your skills, you reduce the level of competition, which makes it easier to stand out. You can shortcut the need for a genetic advantage (or for years of practice) by rewriting the rules. A good player works hard to win the game everyone else is playing. A great player creates a new game that favours their strengths and avoids their weaknesses.
“At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.”
People talk about getting “amped up” to work on their goals. Whether it’s business or sports or art, you hear people say things like, “It all comes down to passion.” Or, “You have to really want it.” As a result, many of us get depressed when we lose focus or motivation because we think that successful people have some bottomless reserve of passion. But this coach was saying that really successful people feel the same lack of motivation as everyone else. The difference is that they still find a way to show up despite the feelings of boredom.
As Machiavelli noted, “Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly.”
I can guarantee that if you manage to start a habit and keep sticking to it, there will be days when you feel like quitting. When you start a business, there will be days when you don’t feel like showing up. When you’re at the gym, there will be sets that you don’t feel like finishing. When it’s time to write, there will be days that you don’t feel like typing. But stepping up when it’s annoying or painful or draining to do so, that’s what makes the difference between a professional and an amateur.
Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way. Professionals know what is important to them and work toward it with purpose; amateurs get pulled off course by the urgencies of life.
David Cain, an author and meditation teacher, encourages his students to avoid being “fair-weather meditators.” Similarly, you don’t want to be a fair-weather athlete or a fair-weather writer or a fair-weather anything. When a habit is truly important to you, you have to be willing to stick to it in any mood. Professionals take action even when the mood isn’t right. They might not enjoy it, but they find a way to put the reps in.
There have been a lot of sets that I haven’t felt like finishing, but I’ve never regretted doing the workout. There have been a lot of articles I haven’t felt like writing, but I’ve never regretted publishing on schedule. There have been a lot of days I’ve felt like relaxing, but I’ve never regretted showing up and working on something that was important to me.
If you’d like to check out more of my Book Summaries, you might find these interesting.
- “Happy” – Derren Brown – it’s one of my all-time favourites
- “The Magic of Thinking Big” – David Swartz – it’s about being a doer, not a don’t-er
And if you haven’t checked out my Book Club over on YouTube before – the playlist lives here .
thank you, excellent notes
Great Summary of book. Thank you.
These are great! Thanks for sharing
Thank you Ali, for this awesome summary
You’re very welcome. Glad you liked it.
Incredible summary! I’ve been watching your YouTube videos since 2021 and all I got to say is that you’re a true source of inspiration. Thank you Ali
I did a test. Listened to this book summary on Blinkist and then read your summary.
You won by 3 lengths.
Thank you. Appreciate the nice comments 🙂
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Atomic Habits Summary: Book Review & Key Insights
Atomic Habits Summary
James Clear’s Atomic Habits offers practical strategies and proven ideas that will help you create good habits, stop destructive behaviors, and improve your life with a simple, four-step process for making small changes that compound into large, positive results.
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What are atomic habits? An atomic habit is a small habit that is part of a bigger system of changing your life with self-awareness, goal-setting, and action. With the right set of atomic habits, you can harness the power of small changes to create remarkable results.
The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” We focus too much on single, defining moments when real progress comes from making small improvements on a regular basis. Over a long enough time period, those small improvements — created through building atomic habits and breaking bad habits — can compound to great results.
“Your habits can compound for or against you.” Like compound interest can help you in your financial life, the compounding power of habits can work for you or work against you. If you focus on good habits like better productivity, knowledge, and relationships, your life will improve over time. If you let bad habits repeat (like stress, negative thoughts, or outrage) your life gets worse over time.
Progress is not linear. We often expect our efforts to have a linear relationship with progress. But because your efforts and atomic habits compound over time, progress starts slow in the beginning and then grows at a much faster rate. If you give up too early, you lose the power of compounding.
“Forget about goals, focus on systems instead.” Goals are measurable results, but systems are the specific processes that help you achieve those results. It’s better to focus on systems that build good habits in the direction you want to go, instead of dwelling on a one-time goal that is not repeatable. Because systems are so important to the results you achieve, it’s important to avoid building the wrong system.
How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)
When building atomic habits, there are three levels of possible change:
- Outcome change : This involves changing the results in your life (e.g., losing weight, publishing a book, etc.)
- Process change : This is about adopting new habits and systems that move you toward the type of person you want to be (e.g., healthy habits like going to the gym to lose weight).
- Identity change : This is about changing your beliefs, self-image, and ideas about yourself and other people on your path of continuous improvement.
If you want to make big changes in your life, it’s don’t focus on specific outcomes. Instead, optimize your systems for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible.
Your daily habits, including your financial habits, healthy habits, eating habits, cleaning habits, and everything that you do, ultimately create the person you are. So the best way to become who you want to be is to develop a set of good habits and systems.
How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps
Habits are patterns of behavior that you’ve repeated enough to become automatic. The most helpful function of atomic habits is to solve the problems of your life with as little effort as possible.
The science of habit formation involves four things: “A cue, which triggers a craving , which motivates a response , which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue.”
For example, a cue could be that your phone vibrates to let you know you have a text. Then the craving is that you want to know what someone said to you. The response is that you grab your phone and read the text. The reward is that you satisfy your craving to read the message. The habit loop repeats when your phone buzzes again.
There are four laws of behavior change for building better habits that leverage the science of habits: (1) make it obvious; (2) make it attractive; (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.
The 1st Law: Make It Obvious
The man who didn’t look right.
Because habits are automatic actions, our brain does not pay attention to them. With some training, you can start to become aware of the cues in your environment that encourage both good habits and bad habits. If you want to change a particular habit or make bad habits impossible, awareness is the first step so that you’re not trying to fly in the dark.
The Best Way to Start a New Habit
If you want to create new good habits, the best way to do it is to use the two most powerful cues: time and location. For example, let’s say you want to start reading more books because you believe that’s important for business leaders like you. You can make an intention like this: I will read a book at 7am (time) in my favorite lounging chair (location). This is a simple way to use the science of habit formation to your advantage.
A good way to adopt habits is to habit stack. Let’s say you have a habit of drinking coffee in the morning. If you want to read more books, you can say that you’re going to read while you drink your morning coffee (perhaps instead of scrolling social media). Habit stacking like this is easier because you already have the habit of drinking coffee and reading something. You’re just changing what you read from social media to a book to the delight of your future self.
Motivation is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More
Because the cues in your environment are signals for your habit loops, it’s important to amplify the cues you have for good habits. For example, if you want to go to the gym more often, at night, you could put your gym clothes in plain sight so that when you wake up in the morning, you’re reminded that you want to go to the gym.
If you’re struggling to let go of some bad habits, it can help to change your environment so that you’re not surrounded by old cues that lead to the behavior you want to change.
The Secret to Self-Control
You cannot rely on intrinsic motivation for behavior change. That’s because motivation comes and goes, and when it goes, suddenly that motivation you had to quit smoking is consumed by your desire to reduce stress with just a few drags.
If you truly want to eliminate a bad habit, it’s helpful to make the cue for that habit invisible. Let’s say you love snacking on chips at lunchtime, and you want to develop better eating habits. Instead of relying on self-control to avoid the chips that you have on the counter, you can simply not buy chips at the grocery store and buy apples instead.
If the chips aren’t in the house and on the counter, you’re not likely to crave or eat them. This is much more effective than relying on willpower and self-control, both of which eventually fade and let bad habits repeat in the long run.
The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive
How to make a habit irresistible.
To activate the reward part of the habit loop, it helps to make the atomic habits you want to do attractive. Because the reward of a habit often releases dopamine, we are often motivated to do something to get the dopamine at the end of the cycle. If the reward is good enough, we begin to anticipate it, and that motivates us to act.
Imagine you love small doses of dark chocolate and you want to build a good habit like going to the gym. One thing you could do is to only allow yourself to eat dark chocolate once you log a workout. At the end of the workout, you get the reward of the chocolate, so you’re motivated to go to the gym and finish the habit with the joy of eating chocolate.
The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits
The people and environment around us have a big influence on what behavior we find attractive. That means that we often will do things that are praised by people in our culture because we want to fit in and be well-liked. It also means that the people and culture around us matter a lot in moving us toward or away from our desired behavior.
There are 3 groups of people that influence the process of habit formation – friends and family, our wider tribe, and people with status and prestige. A great way to build good habits is to surround yourself with people who already do the behavior you wish to do and who you have something in common with. That way, there are other people doing what you do, enjoying it, and approving of it.
How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits
A great way to shake a bad habit is to make it unattractive to you and to highlight the benefits of avoiding a bad habit. For example, if you want to drink less alcohol, you could come up with a long list of great benefits (like being a healthy person) you will gain from drinking less alcohol. That will make drinking less attractive.
The 3rd Law: Make It Easy
Walk slowly, but never backward.
The best way to learn and make progress is to take action. Planning can often feel like action, but it’s really not. It’s better to simply do things, and little by little, those behaviors begin to become automatic and ingrained and ultimately easier as you repeat desirable behaviors. Moving slowly is a reliable way for using atomic habits for self-improvement.
The Law of Least Effort
Humans are naturally lazy and will gravitate toward things that require less effort. That’s why you should optimize your environment to form good habits and break bad habits.
For example, imagine you want to lose weight and are thinking about forming new habits that help you with that goal. If you keep only healthy food in your house, for example, there is very little friction for you to eat healthy when you get hungry in the afternoon.
And when your intrinsic motivation for your new habits wanes, there is high friction if you want to eat something unhealthy because you have to order it or go to the store. Because there is higher friction, you have created a helpful barrier for your bad habits.
How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule
The two-minute rule : “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
When you’re creating a new habit, make it as simple and easy as possible. This is very important for creating atomic habits.
If you want to exercise more, instead of planning on going to the gym for an hour a day, decide to do 10 pushups in the morning. You can do that in under 2 minutes, and after you do it for 30 days, you’ll have built the good habit of exercising every day. From there, you can more easily add on more difficult forms of exercise since you already have momentum.
Making Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible
If you can lock yourself into the behavior you want to do more of or do less of, your likelihood of doing it is much higher. The best way to do that is to make a decision once that automates your future decisions.
For instance, let’s say you want to invest more regularly. Instead of logging into your account every week to invest, you can set up an automatic investment to occur every week. Once you set up your automatic investment, it runs in the background without you having to think about it.
The 4th Law – Make It Satisfying
The cardinal rule of behavior change.
If you enjoy something, you’re more likely to do it. That’s why the cardinal rule of behavior change is “What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.”
So when you’re starting a new atomic habit, you need to make a way to find it immediately rewarding, so that you feel good about doing it again.
How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day
Progress is one of the best forms of motivation. To benefit from the power of progress, you should keep a habit tracker to measure when you did the things you say you wanted to do. As you track your efforts over time, you will find it rewarding to see all of the progress you’ve made. It’s particularly rewarding if you don’t skip on doing your desired behavior.
Two rules that can help you make the most of the habit tracker: (1) don’t break the chain – keep your habit streak alive for as long as you can; (2) Never miss twice – if you miss one day, get back on track the next day. With habit trackers and a commitment to tiny behaviors, you can make the process of learning habits more accessible, enjoyable, and effective.
How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything
Leveraging the power of an accountability partner can help you stay on track. In part, that’s because we care what other people think about us. If you say that you’re going to do something to someone, it’s more likely that you’re going to do it.
One way to make an accountability partner more effective is to have a penalty if you stick with a particular habit. Let’s say you want to write every day for 30 days. You can make a deal that you will pay your accountability partner $50 for every day you don’t write. And if you make that deal, you’re going to be much more likely to sit down and write every day. If you’re motivated by money, this is a very useful tool in the early stages of habit formation.
Advanced Tactics – How To Go From Being Merely Good To Being Truly Great
The truth about talent.
If you want to succeed in life, you increase your chances of success by choosing the right places to compete and the right atomic habits to build. The opposite is true if you make the wrong decisions.
We all have talent in different areas, and if you learn about the areas you’re inclined to, you can choose to build good habits in a game that comes easier to you and likely be more successful.
The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work
Goldilocks rule : “Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities.”
If you’ve been doing something for a long time, you will likely get bored. And boredom is a great way to halt your self-improvement and let bad habits repeat. So it’s important to find ways to continue pushing yourself in a domain to stay motivated and excited about what you’re doing. That way you don’t get bored and quit.
Reviewing Your Progress
Atom habits and consistent, deliberate effort can help you on any path of continuous improvement and mastery. One important piece of this path is to make sure that you regularly reflect on and review your performance so that you stay aware of what’s going on over time.
On a weekly basis, you can use habit trackers, to-do lists, journaling practices , and other tools. But you also want to be able to zoom out and check in over a longer time scale so that you can measure how you’re doing.
An annual or quarterly check-in on the areas that you care most about can help shed light on what’s going well, what’s going okay, and what needs improvement.
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3 Sentence Summary
Atomic Habits gives you a step-by-step system for improvement, whether your goals center on health, money, productivity, relationships, or all of the above. Learn how to start new habits, break old ones, and maintain consistency long enough to see the results. James Clear’s book is a valuable resource, full of useful examples and templates, that make the science of human behavior change interesting and immediately applicable to your life.
5 Key Takeaways
- Fall in love with boredom. Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.
- Trust the process. Goals set directions; systems make progress.
- You are what you do. Improvement are only temporary until they become part of who you are.
- Disciplined people design their environment to work for them. They structure their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control.
- Start with repetition, not perfection. A habit must be established before it can be improved.
Atomic Habits Summary
The following book summary is a collection of my notes and highlights taken straight from the book. Most of them are direct quotes. Some are paraphrases. Very few are my own words.
These notes are informal. I try to organize them by chapter. But I pick and choose ideas to include at my discretion.
Atomic Habits Resources
- The Habit Loop
- The Habits Cheat Sheet
- Key Questions and Answers
- Personality Tests
The Habits Scorecard Template
Implementation Intentions Template
Habit Stacking Template
Habit Tracker Template
Habit Contract Template
1. the surprising power of atomic habits.
- It’s easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.
- 1% better every day for a year = 1.01 365 = 38
- Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.
- Be more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.
- Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.
- Time magnifies the margin between success and failure.
Ice cubes melt at 32 degrees.
Not at 30 degrees, nor at 31. As the temperature increases one degree at a time, transformational change only occurs once it reaches 32 degrees.
Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change.
- Meaningful habits must persist long enough to break through the Plateau of Latent Potential.
- When you finally get through the Plateau of Latent Potential, people will call it an overnight success.
Forget About Goals, Focus On Systems Instead
- Goals are the results you want to achieve. Systems are the processes that lead to those results.
- Goals set directions. Systems make progress.
- Fall in love with the process, not the end result.
- You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
2. How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (And Vice Versa)
- Changing our habits is challenging for two reasons: (1) we try to change the wrong thing and (2) we try to change our habits in the wrong way.
Three Layers of Behavior Change
- Change your results/outcomes.
- Change your process/habits/systems.
- Change your identity/beliefs about yourself.
How to Quit Smoking
Imaging two people resisting a cigarette. When offered a smoke, the first person says, “No thanks. I’m trying to quit.” It sounds like a reasonable response, but this person still believes they are a smoker who is trying to be something else. They are hoping their behavior will change while carrying around the same beliefs.
The second person declines by saying, “No thanks. I’m not a smoker.” It’s a small difference, but this statement signals a shift in identity. Smoking was part of their former life, not their current one. They no longer identify as someone who smokes.
- An old identity can sabotage your plans for changing behavior.
- Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last.
- The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.
- Improvement are only temporary until they become part of who you are.
- Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.
The Two-Step Process To Changing Your Identity
- Decide the type of person you want to be.
- Prove it to yourself with small wins.
- Your habits are how you embody your identity.
- You become who you want to be through your habits.
- As you repeat a habit, the evidence accumulates and your self-image begins to change.
- Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
- The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do.
3. How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps
- Habits are just a series of automatic solutions that solve the problems and stresses you face regularly.
- As habits are created, the level of activity in the brain decreases.
- Habits create freedom to focus on higher leverage activities.
- Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future.
The Science of How Habits Work
- Building a new habit is a four step process: Cue, craving, response, and reward.
- The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior.
- Cravings are the motivational force that give us reason to act.
- The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action.
- The reward is the end goal that satisfies the craving.
The Four Laws of Behavior Change
- Make it obvious (Cue)
- Make it attractive (Craving)
- Make it easy (Response)
- Make it satisfying (Reward)
You can invert these laws to break a bad habit:
- Make it invisible
- Make it unattractive
- Make it difficult
- Make it unsatisfying
The 1st Law: Make It Obvious
4. the man who didn’t look right.
- You don’t need to be aware of the cue for a habit to begin.
- For this reason, you must begin the process of behavior change with awareness.
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. Carl Jung
- Make a list of your daily habits.
- As yourself if each habit is positive, negative, or neutral (this will depend on your goals).
- A helpful question is, “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be?”
- The purpose the Habits Scorecard is to simply recognize your habits and acknowledge the cues that trigger them, which makes it possible to respond in a way that benefits you.
5. The Best Way to Start A New Habit
- Use an implementation intention which is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act.
- Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.
- The simple way to apply this strategy to your habits is to fill out this sentence: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
- When your dreams are vague, it’s easy to rationalize little exceptions all day long and never get around to the specific things you need to do to succeed.
Habit Stacking: A Simple Plan to Overhaul Your Habits
- Diderot Effect: Obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases.
- One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top.
- After I [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
6. Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More
- People often choose products not because of what they are, but because of where they are.
- Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.
- Suggestion Impulse Buying: When a shopper sees a product for the first time and visualizes a need for it. In other words, customers occasionally buy products not because the want them but because of how they are presented to them. For example, items placed on the shelf at eye level tend to be purchased more than those down near the floor.
- Vision is our most powerful/influential sense.
- A small change in what you see can lead to a big shift in what you do.
How to Design Your Environment For Success
- Habits can be easier to change in a new environment.
- Create a separate space for work, study, exercise, entertainment, and cooking. One space, one use.
7. The Secret to Self-Control
- “Disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.
- Create a disciplined environment.
- Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself. They foster the feelings they try to numb.
- You feel bad, so you eat junk food. Because you eat junk food, you feel bad.
- One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
- Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one.
The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive
8. how to make a habit irresistible.
- We have the brains of our ancestors but temptations they never had to face.
- Dopamine is released no only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it.
- The expectation of a rewarding experience is what motivates us to act in the first place.
- Premack’s Principle: More probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.
9. The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits
- Behaviors are attractive when they help us fit in.
- We are influenced by (1) The Close, (2) The Many, and (3) The Powerful.
Imitating the Close
- We pick up habits from the people around us.
- The closer we are to someone, the more likely we are to imitate some of their habits.
- Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
- Surround yourself with people who have habits you want to have yourself.
- Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe.
- When you join a book club or a band or a cycling group, your identity becomes linked to those around you.
Imitating the Many
- Whenever we are unsure how to act, we look to the group to guide our behavior.
- There is tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group.
- Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
Imitating the Powerful
- We are attracted to behavior that can get us approval, respect, and praise.
- We are also motivated to avoid behaviors that would lower our status.
10. How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits
- Your current habits are not necessarily the best way to solve the problems you face; they are just the methods you learned to use.
- Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings.
How to Reprogram Your Brian to Enjoy Hard Habits
- You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience.
- You don’t “have” to. You “get” to.
- Shift from seeing burdens to seeing opportunities.
The Man In The Wheelchair
“I once heard a story about a man who uses a wheelchair. When asked if it was difficult being confined, he responded, ‘I’m not confined to my wheelchair—I’m liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.'”
- Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive.
The 3rd Law: Make It Easy
11. walk slowly, but never backward.
The best is the enemy of the good. voltaire
- There’s a difference between motion and taking action. Motion is when you’re planning, strategizing, and learning. Action is the type of behavior that delivers an outcome.
- Sometimes motion is useful. But more often than not, we prefer motion to action because we like to feel like we’re making progress without the risk of failure.
- Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done.
- If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.
- Habits are formed based on frequency, not time.
- “How long does it to form new habit?” Wrong question. The right question is, “How many does it take to form a new habit?”
12. The Law of Least Effort
- It is human nature to follow the Law of Least Effort, which states that when deciding between two similar options, people will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.
- The idea behind make it easy is not to only do easy things. The idea is to make it as easy as possible in the moment to do things that payoff in the long run.
How to Achieve More With Less Effort
- Practice environmental design.
- The most habit-forming products and services do the best job of removing little bits of friction from your life.
- Business is a never-ending quest to deliver the same result in an easier fashion.
- Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits and increase the friction associated with our bad ones.
13. How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule
- Estimated 40-50% of our actions are done out of habit.
- Habits are automatic choices that influence the conscious decisions that follow.
- A split second decision in one moment can dictate your behavior for hours afterwards. In this way, habits are like the entrance ramp to a highway.
- Two-Minute Rule: When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.
- Pare down new habits until they become incredibly easy to do. E.g. “Read before bed every night” becomes “Read one page.”
- The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start.
- Once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it.
- Your goal might be to run a marathon, but your gateway habit is to put on your running shoes.
- A habit must be established before it can be improved.
- If you can’t learn the basic skill of showing up, then you have little hope of mastering the finer details.
- Standardize before you optimize.
14. How to make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible
- Commitment Device: A choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future.
- The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do. Increase the friction until you don’t even have the option to act.
- When you automate as much of your life as possible, you can spend your effort on the tasks machines cannot do yet.
The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying
15. the cardinal rule of behavior change.
- Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.
- We don’t just want any type of satisfaction. We desire immediate satisfaction.
- Our brains prefer quick payoffs to long-term sacrifices.
- The costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future.
- As a general rule, the more immediate pleasure you get from an action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals.
- If you’re willing to wait for the rewards, you’ll face less competition and often get a bigger payoff.
- The last mile is always the least crowded.
- Habits need to feel successful—even if it’s just in a small way—if you want them to stick.
- The more a habit becomes part of your life, the less you need outside encouragement to follow through.
- Incentives start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.
- Immediate reinforcement helps maintain motivation in the short term while you’re waiting for the long-term rewards to arrive.
16. How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day
- Paper Clip Strategy: Making progress is satisfying, and visual measures—like moving paper clips or marbles from one jar into another—provide clear evidence of your progress.
- Use a habit tracker and don’t break the streak.
- Habit trackers also keep you honest. Measurement offers one way t overcome our blindness to our own behavior and notice what’s really going on each day.
- Manual tracking should be limited to your most important habits.
- Perfection isn’t possible. Better to keep a simple rule: Never miss twice.
- Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.
- The problem is not slipping up; the problem is thinking that if you can’t do something perfectly, then you shouldn’t do it at all.
- Be careful when tracking not to be motivated by the number rather than the purpose behind the habit.
- We optimize for what we measure. When we choose the wrong measurement, we get the wrong behavior.
- Goodharts Law: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.
- Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing. And just because you can’t measure something doesn’t mean it’s not important at all.
17. How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything
- The more immediate and more costly a mistake is, the faster you will learn from it.
- The strength of the punishment must match the relative strength of the behavior it is trying to correct.
- A habit contract is a verbal or written agreement in which you state your commitment to a particular habit and the punishment that will occur if you don’t follow through. Then you find one or two people to act as your accountability partners and sign off on the contract with you.
18. the truth about talent (when genes matter and when they don’t).
- The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition.
- Genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity.
- Build habits that work for your personality.
- Shape your exercise habits around your interests.
- Read whatever fascinates you.
- Habits need to be enjoyable if they are going to stick.
- If you can’t find a game where the odds are in your favor, create one.
- When you can’t win by being better, win by being different.
- By combining your skills, you reduce the level of competition, which makes it easer to stand out.
- Try specializing. Even if you’re not the most naturally gifted, you can often win by being the best in a very narrow category.
- Our genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on.
- People get so caught up in the fact that they have limits that they rarely exert the effort required to get close to them.
- Until you work as hard as those you admire, don’t explain away their success as luck.
“Big 5” Personality Traits
The most proven scientific analysis of personality traits is known as the “Big 5,” which breaks them down into five spectrums of behavior.
- Openness to experience: from curious and inventive on one end to cautious and consistent on the other.
- Conscientiousness: organized and efficient to easygoing and spontaneous.
- Extroversion: outgoing and energetic to solitary and resrved.
- Agreeableness: friendly and compassionate to challenging and detached.
- Neuroticism: anxious and sensitive to confident, calm, and stable.
How to Find A Game Where the Odds Are In Your Favor
- Explore and exploit.
- In the beginning, cast a wide net. Try many different possibilities.
- Then shift your focus to the best solution, while still occasionally experimenting.
- If you’re winning—exploit. If you’re losing—explore.
Questions to help narrow your focus
- What feels like fun to me, but work to others?
- What makes me lose track of time?
- Where do I get greater returns than the average person?
- What comes naturally to me?
19. The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work
- The human brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty.
- Goldilocks Rule: Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities.
- Without variety, we get bored.
- Boredom is the greatest villain on the quest for self-improvement.
- Really successful people feel the same lack of motivation as everyone else. The difference is that they still find a way to show up despite the feelings of boredom.
Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly. Machiavelli
- Learn to fall in love with boredom.
- The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over.
- Professionals step up even when it’s annoying or painful or draining to do so. That’s what makes them better than an amateur.
20. The Downside of Creating Good Habits
- Habits are necessary, but not sufficient for mastery. What you need is a combination of automatic habits and deliberate practice.
Sustaining an effort is the most important thing for any enterprise. The way to be successful is to learn how to do things right, then do them the same way every time. Pat Riley
- Reflection and review enables the long-term improvement of all habits because it makes you aware of your mistakes and helps you consider possible paths for improvement.
- A lack of self-awareness is poison. Reflection and review is the antidote.
- Tally all your habits for the year (if the results are measurable).
- Reflect on progress by answering three questions:
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What did I learn?
- Answer these questions halfway through the year:
- What are the core values that drive my life and work?
- How am I living and working with integrity right now?
- How can I set a higher standard in the future?
- Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.
- The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements.
- It’s remarkable what you can build if you just don’t stop.
More Books Like Atomic Habits
If you enjoyed Atomic Habits , check out these similar book summaries:
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Atomic Habits by James Clear
Rating : 7/10
This is one of the most useful book on changing your habits, more than The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I’d recommend this book over most books aimed at helping you get control over your life.
Video Book Notes
Podcast episode, summary notes.
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.
Goals vs. Systems
- Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.
- Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
- Winners and losers have the same goals .
- Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.
- Goals restrict your happiness.
- Goals are at odds with long-term progress.
- The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.
- You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
Changing our habits is challenging for two reasons:
- We try to change the wrong thing.
- We try to change our habits in the wrong way.
Three Layers of Behavior Change
- The first layer is changing your outcomes . This level is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book, winning a championship. Most of the goals you set are associated with this level of change.
- The second layer is changing your process . This level is concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow, developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits you build are associated with this level.
- The third and deepest layer is changing your identity . 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.
The alternative is to build identity-based habits . With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.
Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last . You may want more money, but if your identity is someone who consumes rather than creates, then you’ll continue to be pulled toward spending rather than earning.
Nail biting : “I asked my wife to schedule my first-ever manicure,” he said. “My thought was that if I started paying to maintain my nails, I wouldn’t chew them. And it worked, but not for the monetary reason. What happened was the manicure made my fingers look really nice for the first time. The manicurist even said that—other than the chewing—I had really healthy, attractive nails. Suddenly, I was proud of my fingernails.
The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.
New identities require new evidence. If you keep casting the same votes you’ve always cast, you’re going to get the same results you’ve always had. If nothing changes, nothing is going to change. It is a simple two-step process: Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.
I have a friend who lost over 100 pounds by asking herself, “ What would a healthy person do? ”
The formation of all habits is a feedback loop (a concept we will explore in depth in the next chapter), but it’s important to let your values, principles, and identity drive the loop rather than your results . The focus should always be on becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome.
The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps:
You do not crave smoking a cigarette, you crave the feeling of relief it provides . You are not motivated by brushing your teeth but rather by the feeling of a clean mouth. You do not want to turn on the television, you want to be entertained.
Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state.
The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the observer are what transform a cue into a craving.
The response is the actual habit you perform , which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior.
Rewards are the end goal of every habit . The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward.
The first purpose of rewards is to satisfy your craving.
Second, rewards teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future.
If a behavior is insufficient in any of the four stages, it will not become a habit.
- Eliminate the cue and your habit will never start.
- Reduce the craving and you won’t experience enough motivation to act.
- Make the behavior difficult and you won’t be able to do it.
- And if the reward fails to satisfy your desire, then you’ll have no reason to do it again in the future.
Without the first three steps, a behavior will not occur. Without all four, a behavior will not be repeated.
The problem phase includes the cue and the craving, and it is when you realize that something needs to change. The solution phase includes the response and the reward, and it is when you take action and achieve the change you desire.
you don’t need to be aware of the cue for a habit to begin. You can notice an opportunity and take action without dedicating conscious attention to it.
We need a “point-and-call” system for our personal lives. That’s the origin of the Habits Scorecard , which is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior.
- Make a list of your daily habits.
- Ask yourself, “Is this a good habit, a bad habit, or a neutral habit?”
- If it is a good habit, write “+” next to it. If it is a bad habit, write “–”. If it is a neutral habit, write “=”.
If you’re having trouble determining how to rate a particular habit, here is a question I like to use: “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?”
The first step to changing bad habits is to be on the lookout for them. If you feel like you need extra help, then you can try Pointing-and-Calling in your own life. Say out loud the action that you are thinking of taking and what the outcome will be .
they were also asked to formulate a plan for when and where they would exercise over the following week. Specifically, each member of the third group completed the following sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”… 91 percent of the third group exercised at least once per week—more than double the normal rate.
The sentence they filled out is what researchers refer to as an implementation intention, which is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act . That is, how you intend to implement a particular habit.
Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity . It is not always obvious when and where to take action. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for the time to be right to make an improvement.
The simple way to apply this strategy to your habits is to fill out this sentence: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases .
Habit stacking : identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top.
The habit stacking formula is: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
Creating a habit list for creating new habits
- Make a list with two columns. In the first column, write down the habits you do each day without fail.
- In the second column, write down all of the things that happen to you each day without fail.
- Armed with these two lists, you can begin searching for the best place to layer your new habit into your lifestyle.
Habits like “read more” or “eat better” are worthy causes, but these goals do not provide instruction on how and when to act. Be specific and clear: After I close the door. After I brush my teeth. After I sit down at the table . The specificity is important. The more tightly bound your new habit is to a specific cue, the better the odds are that you will notice when the time comes to act.
habits can be easier to change in a new environment . It helps to escape the subtle triggers and cues that nudge you toward your current habits. Go to a new place—a different coffee shop, a bench in the park, a corner of your room you seldom use—and create a new routine there.
“disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control . In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.
I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment .
One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
Remove a single cue and the entire habit often fades away.
The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.
When it comes to habits, the key takeaway is this: dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it. Gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right before they place a bet, not after they win.
It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action .
The habit stacking + temptation bundling formula is :
- After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].
- If you want to watch sports, but you need to make sales calls: After I get back from my lunch break, I will call three potential clients (need). After I call three potential clients, I will check ESPN (want).
- The hope is that eventually you’ll look forward to calling three clients or doing ten burpees because it means you get to read the latest sports news or check Facebook.
Join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
Whenever we are unsure how to act, we look to the group to guide our behavior . We are constantly scanning our environment and wondering, “What is everyone else doing?”
The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual . For example, one study found that when a chimpanzee learns an effective way to crack nuts open as a member of one group and then switches to a new group that uses a less effective strategy, it will avoid using the superior nut cracking method just to blend in with the rest of the chimps.
Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires. New versions of old vices. The underlying motives behind human behavior remain the same. The specific habits we perform differ based on the period of history.
Even the tiniest action is tinged with the motivation to feel differently than you do in the moment. When you binge-eat or light up or browse social media, what you really want is not a potato chip or a cigarette or a bunch of likes. What you really want is to feel different.
Find something that makes you truly happy—like petting your dog or taking a bubble bath—and then create a short routine that you perform every time before you do the thing you love . Maybe you take three deep breaths and smile. Three deep breaths. Smile. Pet the dog. Repeat. Eventually, you’ll begin to associate this breathe-and-smile routine with being in a good mood.
If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection . You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it. This is the first takeaway of the 3rd Law: you just need to get your reps in.
One of the most common questions I hear is, “How long does it take to build a new habit?” But what people really should be asking is, “ How many does it take to form a new habit? ” That is, how many repetitions are required to make a habit automatic?
Habits like scrolling on our phones, checking email, and watching television steal so much of our time because they can be performed almost without effort. They are remarkably convenient.
One of the most effective ways to reduce the friction associated with your habits is to practice environment design .
when deciding where to practice a new habit, it is best to choose a place that is already along the path of your daily routine. Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of your life .
create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.
Resetting the room : For instance, when he finishes watching television, he places the remote back on the TV stand, arranges the pillows on the couch, and folds the blanket.
If you find yourself watching too much television, for example, then unplug it after each use. Only plug it back in if you can say out loud the name of the show you want to watch.
When I hide beer in the back of the fridge where I can’t see it, I drink less. When I delete social media apps from my phone, it can be weeks before I download them again and log in.
Your options are constrained by what’s available . They are shaped by the first choice.
The Two-Minute Rule: “ When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do .”
A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. What you want is a “gateway habit” that naturally leads you down a more productive path.
Your goal might be to run a marathon, but your gateway habit is to put on your running shoes . That’s how you follow the Two-Minute Rule.
Becoming an Early Riser
- Be home by 10 p.m. every night.
- Have all devices (TV, phone, etc.) turned off by 10 p.m. every night.
- Be in bed by 10 p.m. every night (reading a book, talking with your partner).
- Lights off by 10 p.m. every night.
- Wake up at 6 a.m. every day.
As mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “ Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them. ”
Stories like these are evidence of the Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is rewarded is repeated . What is punished is avoided . You learn what to do in the future based on what you were rewarded for doing (or punished for doing) in the past. Positive emotions cultivate habits. Negative emotions destroy them.
One solution is to turn the situation on its head. You want to make avoidance visible . Open a savings account and label it for something you want—maybe “Leather Jacket.” Whenever you pass on a purchase, put the same amount of money in the account. Skip your morning latte? Transfer $5. Pass on another month of Netflix? Move $10 over. It’s like creating a loyalty program for yourself.
One of my readers and his wife used a similar setup. They wanted to stop eating out so much and start cooking together more. They labeled their savings account “Trip to Europe.” Whenever they skipped going out to eat, they transferred $50 into the account.
In summary, a habit needs to be enjoyable for it to last. Simple bits of reinforcement—like soap that smells great or toothpaste that has a refreshing mint flavor or seeing $50 hit your savings account—can offer the immediate pleasure you need to enjoy a habit. And change is easy when it is enjoyable.
Never miss twice . The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows.
The more immediate the pain, the less likely the behavior. If you want to prevent bad habits and eliminate unhealthy behaviors, then adding an instant cost to the action is a great way to reduce their odds .
As soon as actions incur an immediate consequence, behavior begins to change. Customers pay their bills on time when they are charged a late fee. Students show up to class when their grade is linked to attendance. We’ll jump through a lot of hoops to avoid a little bit of immediate pain .
habit contract can be used to add a social cost to any behavior . It makes the costs of violating your promises public and painful.
HOW TO CREATE A GOOD HABIT
1. Make It Obvious
- Fill out the Habits Scorecard . Write down your current habits to become aware of them.
- Use implementation intentions : “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”
- Use habit stacking : “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
- Design your environment . Make the cues of good habits obvious and visible.
2. Make It Attractive
- Use temptation bundling . Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
- Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
- Create a motivation ritual . Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.
3. Make It Easy
- Reduce friction . Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits.
- Prime the environment . Prepare your environment to make future actions easier.
- Master the decisive moment . Optimize the small choices that deliver outsized impact.
- Use the Two-Minute Rule . Downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less.
- Automate your habits . Invest in technology and onetime purchases that lock in future behavior.
4. Make It Satisfying
- Use reinforcement . Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit.
- Make “doing nothing” enjoyable . When avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits.
- Use a habit tracker . Keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain.”
- Never miss twice . When you forget to do a habit, make sure you get back on track immediately.
HOW TO BREAK A BAD HABIT
1. Make It Invisible
1. Reduce exposure . Remove the cues of your bad habits from your environment.
2. Make It Unattractive
1. Reframe your mind-set . Highlight the benefits of avoiding your bad habits.
3. Make It Difficult
1. Increase friction . Increase the number of steps between you and your bad habits.
2. Use a commitment device . Restrict your future choices to the ones that benefit you.
4. Make It Unsatisfying
1. Get an accountability partner . Ask someone to watch your behavior.
2. Create a habit contract . Make the costs of your bad habits public and painful.
The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom . We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes expected. And as our habits become ordinary, we start derailing our progress to seek novelty.
You need just enough “winning” to experience satisfaction and just enough “wanting” to experience desire . This is one of the benefits of following the Goldilocks Rule. If you’re already interested in a habit, working on challenges of just manageable difficulty is a good way to keep things interesting.
I know of executives and investors who keep a “decision journal” in which they record the major decisions they make each week , why they made them, and what they expect the outcome to be. They review their choices at the end of each month or year to see where they were correct and where they went wrong.
I reflect on my progress (or lack thereof) by answering three questions:
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What did I learn?
My yearly Integrity Report answers three questions:
- What are the core values that drive my life and work?
- How am I living and working with integrity right now?
- How can I set a higher standard in the future?
You might also like my notes on...
The Motivation Hacker by Nick Winter
Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy
Simple Rules by Donald Sull
Work Clean (Everything in its Place) by Dan Charnas
The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker
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Book Summary: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
Versions Available: Article, Audio (Podcast)
In this article + podcast episode combo, we'll be looking at some of my favorite Big Ideas from the book, Atomic Habits by James Clear (checkout the full book summary here. )
Atomic Habits by James Clear is packed with powerful and practical advice on how to form good habits and break bad ones. In the book, Clear outlines the latest findings from various fields—including psychology, biology, and neuroscience—to create a simple and effective how-to guide for making good habits possible. “Habits are the compound interest of self improvement…” Prepare to yield massive returns.
Here's what you'll learn about in this summary:
- Using the "temptation bundling" method to build hard habits
- The game-changing power of getting just 1% better each day
- The 4 laws of behavior change
” This is the meaning of the phrase atomic habits—a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do but also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth. ”
“ Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. ”
“ When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow, it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it—but all that had gone before. ”
Tiny persistent steps over time will breed powerful results. Forget the goal, focus on the process, make high-level changes.
3 big ideas from Atomic Habits by James Clear
1. aim to get 1% better each day.
“If you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero.”
Focus on making small improvements each day, over time those small improvements will equate to massive change. Bad habits also compound over time, if you delay working on something every day, the bad habit of procrastinating will multiply and seep into other areas of your life.
For example, you want to lose weight. Instead of focusing on losing 50 lbs, concentrate on working out for 30 minutes three times a week for 30 days. Over time you will begin to see changes in your body. Thirty minutes a day, three times a week for 52 weeks is 4680 minutes worth of exercise.
In the book, Clear tells a story about the British cycling team. Since 1908, British cyclists won only one gold medal at the Olympics, and in over a century, no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France. In 2003, the team hired Dave Brailsford as their new coach/performance director.
Brailsford’s coaching strategy was an interesting one. His method was to push the team to get 1% better each day. He dug deep, searching for tiny improvements that could be made on a daily basis.
- They had the seats redesigned for extra comfort and stability
- They put rubbing alcohol on the tires for better grip
- They experimented with different racing suits for better aerodynamics
- They tested various massage gels for better muscle recovery
- They tested electrically heated shorts
The changes they made were tiny, but over time they made a significant impact. From 2007 to 2017, the British Cycling team won 178 world championships, 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and they had 5 Tour de France wins.
In a nutshell, tiny improvements often appear small, but minute changes are transformational if you stick with it.
Set yourself a challenge to get 1% better each day for the next 30 days. If you want to improve your knowledge on a particular topic, for example, read five pages every day. Writing a book? Write five pages a day for the next 30 days. Pay attention to small action steps, make small changes and achieve more.
“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger…”
2. The four laws of BEHAVIOR change
“The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.”
- Make it OBVIOUS : Don’t hide the books you need to read or the fruit you want to eat, display them to remind yourself to form new habits.
- Make it ATTRACTIVE : Read the books you like to read, and it’ll encourage you to read more.
- Make it EASY : If you want to eat more fruit, eat the fruits that are easy to eat.
- Make it SATISFYING : If you are satisfied, you will want more.
Apply this to all good habits, and do the opposite for bad habits: Make them invisible , unattractive , difficult and unsatisfying.
Whenever you want to change your behavior, focus on these factors:
- How can I make it obvious?
- How can I make it attractive?
- How can I make it easy?
- How can I make it satisfying?
- How can I make it obvious? Establish a running habit by placing your running shoes at the foot of your bed.
- How can I make it attractive? Buy nice running shoes and some new workout clothes.
- How can I make it easy? By starting small—I can run or walk for ten minutes a day.
- How can I make it satisfying? By preparing a delicious, healthy meal when I’ve finished my run.
3. Temptation bundling
”We need to make our habits attractive because it is the expectation of a rewarding experience that motivates us to act in the first place. This is where a strategy known as temptation bundling comes into play.”
To illustrate this Big Idea, Clear tells the story of an engineering student named Ronan, who had the unhelpful habit of constantly binging shows on Netflix. Ronan wanted to binge-watch less and exercise more.
But he had a big problem on his hands—he LOVED binge-watching and HATED exercising.
So, he came up with a clever solution: he connected his stationary bike to his laptop and television… then, he coded a computer program that allowed him to watch Netflix only if he was also cycling at a certain speed. When he slows down, his TV (or laptop) automatically pauses. When he picks up the pace again, it starts playing again.
Ronan’s solution to developing his exercise habit is an excellent example of temptation bundling, which works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
For Ronan, bundling Netflix (the thing he wanted to do) with exercising on his stationary bike (the thing he needed to do) was exactly what he needed to get himself going.
So, how does this apply to you? And how can you use temptation bundling in your own life?
Here’s the temptation bundling formula:
- After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].
- If you need to wash your dishes, but want to watch YouTube:After I wash my dishes, I will watch YouTube videos for 20 minutes YouTube.As an alternative option, you can choose to combine the two—like Ronan did with his exercise bike + Netflix—by watching YouTube only while you’re washing your dishes.
- If you want to read the news, but need to read a book:After I read my book for 30 minutes, I’ll read the news for 20 minutes.
- If you need to do some writing for work, but feel like you want to surf the web instead:After I’ve done 60 minutes of uninterrupted writing, I’ll check my favorite blogs for 30 minutes.
Now, let’s talk about how YOU can do the same with your own habits…
- Think about a habit you need to develop,
- Next, think about a habit you want (that you enjoy or like to do).
- Now use the temptation bundling formula to bring it together and make it happen: “After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].”
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