Atomic Habits

By: James Clear - Read: May 25, 2021 - Rating: 9/10

The definitive book on building habits. I hesitated to read it because I thought it would be like most self-help books with a few simple concepts that are generally intuitive.

I was very wrong. The book is extremely information-dense with useful strategies to effectively build habits. Every new chapter introduces new actionable tips.

Building habits is a critical skill, so reading this book is critical.

My Notes

Compounding is a very powerful force. You should be thinking about your current trajectory, habits, and the little things you're doing, not the results.

Results are a delayed reflection of this. This is a very important concept.

Positive compounding

  • Productivity
  • Knowledge
  • Relationships

Negative compounding

  • Outrage
  • Stress
  • Negative thoughts

Most compounding processes have delayed results. There's often a breakthrough period where results actually show, and it's delayed.

Observations about goals-oriented progress:

  • Winners and losers both have the same goals, so the goal itself clearly didn't account for the success
  • Achieving a goal is only a momentary change, and is prone to relapse
  • Goals restrict your happiness if you turn them into a binary path to success
  • Goals often make use motivated to achieve something, and then cause us to lose motivation after achieving it.

A better alternative is to have some goals, but have much more of a focus on the process itself. Would be good to realign focuses with being happy with progress as well.

The most effective form of change is identity change.

Habits act as votes for your identity. You want a majority vote.

Habits are a way to achieve results through identity change. Changing your identity is a source of ensuring a habit/associating it deeply with yourself.

The four ways to make habit formation optimal:

  • Make it obvious
  • Make it attractive
  • Make it easy
  • Make it satisfying

The four ways to break bad habits:

  • Make it invisible
  • Make it unattractive
  • Make it hard
  • Make it unsatisfying

Implementation intention is a great way to start building new habits and is important (you decide beforehand how exactly you will implement a habit).

Habit stacking is also effective (associate a new habit with a current one).

Our behavior and actions are heavily influenced by our environment.

  • The best way to take advantage of this is to take advantage of your environment by making cues to your habit obvious.
  • Old cues are often tied to old locations, so it often helps if you are trying to produce new behavior to move to a new location.
  • You can also change the cues that are associated with an environment. Ex: insomniacs only go to bedroom when tired otherwise stay in a separate room, no phone in room. Sleep becomes associated with bedroom.
  • Try to avoid mixing the contexts/environments of habits
  • My thought: associating each habit with a specific cue/environment is valuable because it gives you something that allows you a means to control that habit.

Habits can spontaneously dissolve given completely new environments/different cues (valuable to break bad habits)

Creating a more discipline environment is far more helpful than "becoming more discipline." Ideally, you want to have to rely on your discipline as little as possible.

  • A good way to avoid bad habits/improve productivity, etc. is to remove a cue that causes it, like moving phone to a different room, not using social media, remove phone/distractions from bedroom, move phone off bed stand to get up to turn off alarm.

You can use temptation bundling to make habits more attractive

Laszlo Polgar believed that there's no such thing as inherent talent, and everything is due to your environment. I lean toward agreeing with this. He raised three chess prodigies as children. This is perfect evidence.

We try to align our habits with the close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (popular/people with status). The most effective is the tribe. Doing things in groups can be very effective.

Human behavior follows the law of least effort - given two comparable options we will take the one that takes less effort.

Reducing the friction to doing something is a valuable way to make it easier. Doing little things to make good things easier or bad things harder goes a long way.

The two-minute rule and building "gateway habits" seems very useful to me. The idea is to make it as easy as possible to start doing a habit.

Take advantage of one-time choices that improve your future abilities to do a habit.

Automate habits whenever you can/forcing functions to get you to do something good/avoid something bad.

What is immediately rewarded is repeated. This is important. You can incentivize actions by tying them to an immediate reward.

Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.

Using a habit tracker is a good way to measure progress, though it's not for everyone. Missing a habit once/breaking a streak is not that bad as long as it doesn't lead to a new habit. Try to never go two days in a row breaking a habit, and try to start a new streak the day after breaking it.

Having an accountability buddy is a good way to stay on target.

The secret to overwhelming success is picking the right habit to work on, where you are both good at it and enjoy it. I can extend this to picking an area to work in. I need to enjoy it and be good at it.

The goldilocks rule - We experience peak motivation when working on things that are just outside of our comfort zone/abilities

The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. This one is very important for me to realize. Humans naturally demand novelty such that the person who is doing well wants change as much as the person who's doing badly.

If you only do work when it's convenient or exciting, you'll never be consistent enough to achieve remarkable results. You need to be ok with, aware of, and good at loving and working through boredom.

Stepping up and doing something you should do even when it's painful or boring is the sign of someone who will be able to do something.

When a habit is important to you, you have to stick to it in any mood or circumstance.

Professionals stick to schedules. Amateurs let life get in the way.

"Keep your identity small" - Paul Graham