This book has a terrible name. However, once I got over the title and into the book I found it packed a punch in ways I hoped The Power Of Habit would have but failed to do for me. What made me become borderline evangelical about Atomic Habits is that it is very action-based. Sure, it tells you why something will work, but then goes into a practical approach I crave from books like this.
These are my notes of things that really stood out and some of my thoughts.
The aggregation of marginal gains: searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do.
It’s easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.
Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action. Get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better.
We often dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment. If you eat an unhealthy meal today, the scale doesn’t move much. But our small choices compound into toxic results. It’s the accumulation of many missteps.
Choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could be. 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 weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. You get what you repeat.
Bamboo can barely be seen for the first five years as it builds extensive root systems underground before exploding ninety feet into the air within six weeks.
If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still succeed? Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. Fall in love with the process rather than the product. A systems-first mentality beats a goal-oriented mindset. Runners work hard for months, but as soon as they cross the finish line, they stop training. When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it? 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. Change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behaviour.
“Identity” derived from the Latin “essentitas”, which means being, and “identidem”, which means repeatedly.
Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want? Who is the type of person that could lose forty pounds? Who is the type of person that could learn a new language?
A habit is just a memory of the steps you previously followed to solve a problem in the past. When you have your habits dialled in and the basics of life are handled and done, your mind is free to focus on new challenges.
If a behaviour 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 behaviour 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 behaviour will not occur. Without all four, a behaviour will not be repeated.
The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue.
How to Create a Good Habit: 1 (Cue): Make it obvious 2 (Craving): Make it attractive 3 (Response): Make it easy 4 (Reward): Make it satisfying How to Break a Bad Habit: 1 (Cue): Make it invisible 2 (Craving): Make it unattractive 3 (Response): Make it difficult 4 (Reward): Make it unsatisfying The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible.
The cues that spark our habits become so common that they are essentially invisible. Begin the process of behaviour change with awareness. Before we can effectively build new habits, we need to get a handle on our current ones. Make a list of your daily habits.
There are no good habits or bad habits. There are only effective habits. That is, effective at solving problems. All habits serve you in some way – even the bad ones – which is why you repeat them. Categorize your habits by how they will benefit you in the long run. Good habits will have net positive outcomes. Bad habits have net negative outcomes.
Does this behaviour help me become the type of person I wish to be? Hearing your bad habits spoken aloud makes the consequences seem more real. Create an implementation
intention: “When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.” People who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through. We tell ourselves, “I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to write more,” but we never say when and where these habits are going to happen. When the moment of action occurs, there is no need to make a decision. Simply follow your predetermined plan.
Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.
You often decide what to do next based on what you have just finished doing.
Temptation bundling is one way to create a heightened version of any habit by connecting it with something you already want. Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
To build a new habit, identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behaviour on top. The habit stacking formula is: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
Social skills: When I walk into a party, I will introduce myself to someone I don’t know yet. Finances: When I want to buy something over $100, I will wait twenty-four hours before purchasing. Healthy eating: When I serve myself a meal, I will always put veggies on my plate first. Minimalism: When I buy a new item, I will give something away.
People often choose products not because of what they are, but because of where they are. Your habits change depending on the room you are in and the cues in front of you. Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behaviour. It’s easy not to practice the guitar when it’s tucked away in the closet. If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment. Think about your environment as filled with relationships – not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behaviour. Train yourself to link a particular habit with a particular context. Habits can be easier to change in a new environment. It is easier to associate a new habit with a new context than to build a new habit in the face of competing cues.
Want to think more creatively? Take a break from the space where you do your daily work, which is also linked to your current thought patterns. Create a separate space for work, study, exercise. One space, one use. Each context will become associated with a particular habit and mode of thought. Habits thrive under predictable circumstances like these. Focus comes automatically when you are sitting at your work desk. Relaxation is easier when you are in a space designed for that purpose. Sleep comes quickly when it is the only thing that happens in your bedroom. If you want behaviours that are stable and predictable, you need an environment that is stable and predictable.
90% of heroin users become re-addicted once they return home from rehab to their old neighbourhood with all of their previous cues that caused them to get addicted in the first place.
Practice self-restraint not by wishing you were a more disciplined person, but by creating a more disciplined environment. Remove a single cue and the entire habit often fades away.
Every behaviour that is highly habit-forming is associated with higher levels of dopamine. Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it. It is the anticipation of a reward – not the fulfilment of it – that gets us to take action.
Daydreaming about an upcoming vacation can be more enjoyable than actually being on vacation.
The brain allocates a lot of space to the regions responsible for craving and desire. Desire is the engine that drives behaviour. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it. It is the craving that leads to the response. The Polgar sisters grew up in a culture that prioritized chess above all else – praised them for it, rewarded them for it. In their world, an obsession with chess was normal. Whatever habits are normal in your culture are among the most attractive behaviours you’ll find.
We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them. We imitate the habits of the three groups in particular: The close. The many. The powerful. Join a culture where your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour. Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have. 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.
Every action is preceded by a prediction. Life feels reactive, but it is actually predictive. All day long, you are making your best guess of how to act given what you’ve just seen and what has worked for you in the past. A craving is the sense that something is missing. It is the desire to change your internal state.
Desire is the difference between where you are now and where you want to be. What you really want is to feel different. Reframe your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks. Instead of telling yourself “I need to go run in the morning,” say “It’s time to build endurance and get fast.”
Living below your current means increases your future means.
If I outline twenty ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually sit down and write an article, that’s action. Motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure. To master a habit, start with repetition, not perfection. Habit formation: It doesn’t matter if it’s been thirty days or three hundred days. What matters is the rate at which you perform the behaviour. Addition by subtraction: look for every point of friction and eliminate it. Subtract wasted effort to achieve more with less effort. Whenever you organize a space for its intended purpose, you are priming it to make the next action easy. Prime your environment so it’s ready for immediate use.
Decisive moments set the options available to your future self. The difference between a good day and a bad day is often a few productive and healthy choices made at decisive moments. Each one is like a fork in the road, and these choices stack up throughout the day.
When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do. Master the habit of showing up. 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. If you show up at the gym five days in a row – even if it’s just for two minutes – you are casting votes for your new identity. You’re becoming the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.
Cut down on eating? Ask the waiter to split my meal and box half of it to go before the meal is served. A woman who had a narcissistic relative who drove her nuts. In an attempt to spend less time with this egomaniac, she acted as dull and as boring as possible whenever he was around. Within a few encounters, he started avoiding her because he found her so uninteresting.
The costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future.
What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided. 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 ending of any experience is vital because we tend to remember it more than other phases. You want the ending of your habit to be satisfying. 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 masage. Visual measures – like moving paper clips or hairpins or marbles – provide clear evidence of your progress. They reinforce your behaviour and add a little bit of immediate satisfaction to any activity.
The best way to measure your progress is with a habit tracker. Don’t break the chain of creating every day and you will end up with an impressive portfolio. Record each measurement immediately after the habit occurs. The completion of the behaviour is the cue to write it down. The mere act of tracking a behaviour can spark the urge to change it. People who kept a daily food log lost twice as much weight as those who did not. Habit tracking keeps you honest. Most of us have a distorted view of our own behaviour. We think we act better than we do. Measurement offers one way to overcome our blindness to our own behaviour and notice what’s really going on. One glance and you immediately know how much work you have (or haven’t) been putting in. If I miss one day, a simple rule: never miss twice. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit. Too often, we fall into an all-or-nothing cycle with our habits. The problem is thinking that if you can’t do something perfectly, then you shouldn’t do it at all. 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 all-or-nothing cycle of behaviour change is just one pitfall that can derail your habits. When a measure becomes the target, it ceases to be a good measure. Measurement is only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture, not when it consumes you.
Babies who turn toward noise are more likely to grow up to be extroverts. Those who turn away are more likely to become introverts. Understand your nature to better your strategy. Genes tell you where the odds are in your favour.
Work on tasks of just manageable difficulty. The human brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty: roughly 4% beyond your current ability.
Successful weightlifting comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over. 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. 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. Mastery is the process of narrowing your focus to a tiny element of success, repeating it until you have internalized the skill, and then using this new habit as the foundation to advance to the next frontier of your development.
Peak performance = getting slightly better each day. Keep a “decision journal” to record the major decisions you make each week, why you made them, and what you expect the outcome to be. Review the choices at the end of each month or year to see where you were correct and where you went wrong. I perform an Annual Review, in which I reflect on the previous year. I tally my habits for the year by counting up how many articles I published, how many workouts I put in, how many new places I visited. What went well this year? What didn’t go so well this year? What did I learn? Revisit your core values and consider whether you have been living in accordance with them. 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?
Your identity creates a kind of “pride” that encourages you to deny your weak spots and prevents you from truly growing. The more sacred an idea is to us – that is, the more deeply it is tied to our identity – the more strongly we will defend it against criticism. The veteran who is committed to doing things “his way.” The band who produces a mind-blowing first album and then gets stuck in a rut. The tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it. Avoid making any single aspect of your identity an overwhelming portion of who you are. Keep your identity small. Happiness is simply the absence of desire. Happiness is when you have no urge to feel differently – when you no longer want to change your state. Happiness is the space between one desire being fulfilled and a new desire forming. Suffering is the space between craving a change in state and getting it.
Peace occurs when you don’t turn your observations into problems – if you do not desire to act on what you observe. Craving is about wanting to fix everything.
We can only be rational and logical after we have been emotional. The primary mode of the brain is to feel; the secondary mode is to think. This is one reason why appealing to emotion is typically more powerful than appealing to reason. If a topic makes someone feel emotional, they will rarely be interested in the data. This is why emotions can be such a threat to wise decision making.
Resisting temptation: just ignore it. It creates space for the craving to pass. Self-control requires you to release a desire rather than satisfy it.
New plans offer hope because we don’t have any experiences to ground our expectations. New strategies seem more appealing than old ones because they can have unbounded hope. Hope declines with experience and is replaced by acceptance.
The first time an opportunity arises, there is hope of what could be. Your expectation (cravings) is based solely on promise. The second time around, your expectation is grounded in reality. You begin to understand how the process works and your hope is gradually traded for a more accurate prediction and acceptance of the likely outcome.