Atomic Habits by James Clear

(New York: Penguin, 2018), 271

I subscribed to James Clear's newsletter for a few years and enjoyed listening to his book on habits. The story in the introduction had me crying thinking about my boys. Overall he lays out a solid framework for understanding human behavior change with lots of practical tips for starting or stopping habits to improve our lives.

Key Takeaways

  • Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. (38)
  • Four Laws of Behavior Change
    1. Make it obvious
    2. Make it attractive
    3. Make it easy
    4. Make it satisfying

The Fundamentals

Why Tiny Changes Make a Big Difference

Ch 1: The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits

  • Get 1% better every day (compound interest is powerful)
  • Habits can work for or against you
  • Be patient: progress may not be visible continuously but come in jumps
  • An "Atomic Habit" is a small habit that is part of a larger system
  • Focus on habits rather than goals
    • Winners and losers have the same goals (survivorship bias)
    • Achieving a goal is only a momentary change
    • Goals don't bring happiness
    • Goal prevent long-term progress
  • "You don't rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."

Ch 2: How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vise Versa)

  • Three levels of change: outcomes, processes, and identity
  • Focus on who you want to become rather than what you want to achieve
  • Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. (38)
  • Continuously edit your beliefs and upgrade/expand your identity
  • Habits matter not for results, but because they change your beliefs about yourself

Ch 3: How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

  • Habit: behavior repeated enough that it is automatic
  • Habits solve the problems of life with as little effort as possible
  • The feedback loop of habits:
    • Cue
    • Craving
    • Response
    • Reward
  • Four Laws of Behavior Change
    1. Make it obvious
    2. Make it attractive
    3. Make it easy
    4. Make it satisfying

The 1st Law

Make It Obvious

Ch 4: The Man Who Didn't Look Right

  • With enough practice your brain makes predictions without thinking
  • We stop baying attention when our habits are automatic
  • Behavior change always starts with awareness --> "Habit scorecard"

Ch 5: The Best Way to Start a New Habit

  • The two most common cues are time and location
  • Create an implementation intention by saying: I will BEHAVIOR at TIME in LOCATION.
  • Habit Stacking is a strategy to pair a new habit with a current habit: After CURRENT HABIT, I will NEW HABIT.

Ch 6: Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More

  • Small changes in context can lead to large changes in behavior
  • Every habit is initiated by a cue: make the cues of good habits obvious in your environment
  • It is easier to build new habits in new environment because you are not fighting against old cues

Ch 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 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

The 2nd Law

Make it Attractive

Ch 8: How to Make a Habit Irresistible

  • The 2nd Law of Behavior Change is make it attractive
  • Habits are a dopamine feedback loop
  • It is the anticipation of reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action
  • Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive: pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do

Ch 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 by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in
  • 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)
  • Join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is normal, 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

Ch 10: How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits

  • The inversion of the 2nd Law of Behavior Change is make it unattractive
  • The cause of your habits is the prediction that precedes them
  • Highlight the benefits of avoiding a bad habit to make it seem unattractive
  • Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit

The 3rd Law

Make it Easy

Ch 11: Walk Slowly, but Never Backward

  • The Third 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 of making a behavior automatic through repetition
  • The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as total repetitions

Ch 12: The Law of Lease Effort

  • The Law of Least Effort: we gravitate toward the easiest option
  • Create an environment where the desired behavior is as easy as possible
  • Reduce friction for good behaviors and increase friction for bad behaviors
  • Prime your environment to make future actions easier

Ch 13: How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule

  • 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 that send you on either the right or wrong path
  • Two-Minute Rule: when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do
  • Ritualize the beginning of a process to slip into a state of deep focus
  • Standardize before you optimize: you can't improve a habit that doesn't exist

Ch 14: How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible

  • The inversion of the Third 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
  • One time choices can automate your future habits and deliver increasing returns over time
  • Use technology to automate your habits

The 4th Law

Make It Satisfying

Ch 15: The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change

  • The Fourth Law of Behavior Change is make it satisfying
  • The human brain evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards
  • Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.
  • Get a habit to stick by feeling immediately successful

Ch 16: How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day

  • Progress is one of the most satisfying feelings; use a habit tracker like marking an "x"
  • Don't break the chain; keep the habit streak alive
  • Never miss twice: if you miss one day, get back on track as soon as possible
  • Just because you can measure something doesn't mean it's the most important thing

Ch 17: How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything

  • The inversion of the Fourth 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
  • A habit contract can be used to add a social to cost to any behavior
  • Knowing that someone else is watching you can be a powerful motivator

Habits cheat sheet on page 212-213

Advanced Tactics

How to Go from Being Merely Good to Being Truly Great

Ch 18: The Truth About Talent

  • The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition
  • Pick the right habit and progress is easy
  • Genes cannot be easily changed, and habits are easier when they align with your natural abilities
  • Play a game that favors your strengths (or create one)
  • Genes do not eliminate the need for hard work, they clarify it by telling us what to work hard on

Ch 19: The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work

  • The Goldilocks Rule: peak motivation comes when we work right on the edge of our current abilities
  • The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom
  • Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way

Ch 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

Created: 2021-03-03
Updated: 2023-01-23-Mon