Book Notes: Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
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If you get just 1% better each day you will be ~38 times better by the end of the year, if you get just 1% worse you reduce by 97% over a year. Some examples of positive and negative compounds.

Positive Compounding

  • Productivity compounds. Accomplishing one extra task is a small feat on any given day, but it counts for a lot over an entire career. The effect of automating an old task or mastering a new skill can be even greater. The more tasks you can handle without thinking, the more your brain is free to focus on other areas.
  • Knowledge compounds. Learning one new idea won’t make you a genius, but a commitment to lifelong learning can be transformative. Furthermore, each book you read not only teaches you something new but also opens up different ways of thinking about old ideas. As Warren Buffett says, “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest.”
  • Relationships compound. People reflect your behaviour back to you. The more you help others, the more others want to help you. Being a little bit nicer in each interaction can result in a network of broad and strong connections over time

Negative Compounding

  • Stress compounds. The frustration of a traffic jam. The weight of parenting responsibilities. The worry of making ends meet. The strain of slightly high blood pressure. By themselves, these common causes of stress are manageable. But when they persist for years, little stresses compound into serious health issues.
  • Negative thoughts compound. The more you think of yourself as worthless, stupid, or ugly, the more. you condition yourself to interpret life that way. You get trapped in a thought loop. The same is true for how you think about others. Once you fall into the habit of seeing people as angry, unjust, or selfish. you see those kind of people everywhere.
  • Outrage compounds. Riots, protests, and mass movements are rarely the result of a single event. Instead, a long series of microaggressions and daily aggravations slowly multiply until one event tips the scales and outrage spreads like wildfire.

Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any com pounding process are delayed. You need to be patient.

Forget about goals – focus on systems

Many people and companies have the same goal, however it is the system which decides if they will succeed or not. As an example:

  • Winners and loser have the same goal
  • Achieving a goal is only a momentary change
  • Goals restrict your happiness
  • Goals are at odds with long-term progress

There are three levels of change: outcome change, process change, and identity change.

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 (aka the identity).

  • 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.
  • A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to be come 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 Behaviour Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are
    1. Make it obvious
      • 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 behaviour 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 non-conscious 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 behaviour.
      • 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].
      • Small changes in context can lead to large changes in behaviour 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 behaviour. The context becomes the cue.
      • It is easier to build new habits in a new environment because you are not fighting against old cues.
      • The inversion of the 1st Law of Behaviour 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.
    2. Make it attractive
      • The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to be come 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 fulfilment 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.
      • The culture we live in determines which behaviours 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 behaviour is the normal behaviour and
        2. you already have something in common with the group
      • The normal behaviour of the tribe often overpowers the desired behaviour of the individual. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
      • If a behaviour can get us approval, respect, and praise, we find it attractive.
      • The inversion of the 2nd Law of Behaviour Change is make it unattractive
        • Every behaviour 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.
    3. 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 behaviour 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.
      • Human behaviour 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 behaviours. When friction is low, habits are easy.
      • Increase the friction associated with bad behaviours. When friction is high, habits are difficult.
      • Prime your environment to make future actions easier.
      • Habits can be completed in a few seconds but continue to impact your behaviour 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.
      • The inversion of the 3rd Law of Behaviour Change is make it difficult.
        • A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that locks in better behaviour in the future.
        • The ultimate way to lock in future behaviour 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 behaviour.
    4. Make it satisfying.
      • We are more likely to repeat a behaviour when the experience is satisfying.
      • The human brain evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards.
      • The Cardinal Rule of Behaviour 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 behaviour change increase the odds that a behaviour will be performed this time. The fourth law of behaviour change make it satisfying-increases the odds that a behaviour will be repeated next time.
      • 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.
      • The inversion of the 4th Law of Behaviour 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 behaviour. It makes the costs of violating your promises public and painful.
        • Knowing that someone else is watching you can be a powerful motivator.

Tips for success

  • 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 favourable circumstances and a serious disadvantage in unfavourable circumstances.
  • Habits are easier when they align with your natural abilities.
  • Choose the habits that best suit you. Play a game that favours your strengths. If you can’t find a game that favours you, create one.
  • Genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on.
  • 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.

The down side of 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.

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