Atomic Habits - by James Clear

Atomic Habits - by James Clear

Read: 2021-11-29

Recommend: 10/10

I benefited a lot from this book. Here are a few examples:

  • I start keeping yearly progress reports like this.
  • I challenge myself to spend at least 30 minutes on my research projects (Make a good habit easy to repeat).
  • I keep my office door open while working at my office (making digression to Twitter and Youtube more difficult).

Notes

Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system.

  4. 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.

  5. There are three layers of behavior change: a change in your outcomes, a change in your processes, or a change in your identity.

  6. Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.

  7. True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity

  8. Research has shown that once a person believes in a particular aspect of their identity, they are more likely to act in alignment with that belief.

  9. Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior. In fact, the word identity was originally derived from the Latin words essentitas, which means being, and identidem, which means repeatedly. Your identity is literally your “repeated beingness.”

  13. Whatever your identity is right now, you only believe it because you have proof of it.

  14. When I began my writing career, I published a new article every Monday and Thursday for the first few years. As the evidence grew, so did my identity as a writer. I didn’t start out as a writer. I became one through my habits.

  15. the evidence accumulates and your self-image begins to change. The effect of one-off experiences tends to fade away while the effect of habits gets reinforced with time, which means your habits contribute most of the evidence that shapes your identity. In this way, the process of building habits is actually the process of becoming yourself.

  16. Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become

  17. The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do. Each time you write a page, you are a writer. Each time you practice the violin, you are a musician. Each time you start a workout, you are an athlete. Each time you encourage your employees, you are a leader.

  18. 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.

  19. Your habits shape your identity, and your identity shapes your habits. It’s a two-way street. 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.

  20. All habits proceed through four stages in the same order: cue, craving, response, and reward.

  21. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward.

    -Problem phase

     - Cue: You hit a stumbling block on a project at work. 
     - Craving: You feel stuck and want to relieve your frustration. 
    
    • Solution phase

      • Response: You pull out your phone and check social media.
      • Reward: You satisfy your craving to feel relieved. Checking social media becomes associated with feeling stalled at work.
  22. How to Create a Good Habit

    • The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
    • The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
    • The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
    • The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
  23. How to Break a Bad Habit

    • Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible.
    • Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive.
    • Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult.
    • Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying
  24. Whenever you want to change your behavior, you can simply 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?
  25. 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. For this exercise, categorize your habits by how they will benefit you in the long run.

  26. “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?” Habits that reinforce your desired identity are usually good. Habits that conflict with your desired identity are usually bad.

  27. Say out loud the action that you are thinking of taking and what the outcome will be. If you want to cut back on your junk food habit but notice yourself grabbing another cookie, say out loud, “I’m about to eat this cookie, but I don’t need it. Eating it will cause me to gain weight and hurt my health.”

  28. Broadly speaking, the format for creating an implementation intention is: “When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.”

  29. The 1st Law of Behavior Change is to make it obvious. Strategies like implementation intentions and habit stacking are among the most practical ways to create obvious cues for your habits and design a clear plan for when and where to take action.

  30. It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action.

  31. Next, a response is taken but the reward does not come as quickly as expected and dopamine begins to drop. Finally, when the reward comes a little later than you had hoped, dopamine spikes again. It is as if the brain is saying, “See! I knew I was right. Don’t forget to repeat this action next time.”

  32. Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do.

  33. Doing the thing you need to do means you get to do the thing you want to do.

  34. Here’s the powerful part: there are many different ways to address the same underlying motive. One person might learn to reduce stress by smoking a cigarette. Another person learns to ease their anxiety by going for a run. Your current habits are not necessarily the best way to solve the problems you face; they are just the methods you learned to use. Once you associate a solution with the problem you need to solve, you keep coming back to it.

  35. A craving is the sense that something is missing. It is the desire to change your internal state.

  36. To summarize, the specific cravings you feel and habits you perform are really an attempt to address your fundamental underlying motives. Whenever a habit successfully addresses a motive, you develop a craving to do it again. In time, you learn to predict that checking social media will help you feel loved or that watching YouTube will allow you to forget your fears. Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings, and we can use this insight to our advantage rather than to our detriment.

  37. 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 am liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.” This shift in perspective completely transformed how he lived each day.

  38. If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.

  39. Your current habits have been internalized over the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions. New habits require the same level of frequency. You need to string together enough successful attempts until the behavior is firmly embedded in your mind and you cross the Habit Line.

  40. the Law of Least Effort

  41. Look at any behavior that fills up much of your life and you’ll see that it can be performed with very low levels of motivation. 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.

  42. In a sense, every habit is just an obstacle to getting what you really want. Dieting is an obstacle to getting fit. Meditation is an obstacle to feeling calm. Journaling is an obstacle to thinking clearly. You don’t actually want the habit itself. What you really want is the outcome the habit delivers.

  43. 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.

  44. Whenever possible, I leave my phone in a different room until lunch. When it’s right next to me, I’ll check it all morning for no reason at all. But when it is in another room, I rarely think about it. And the friction is high enough that I won’t go get it without a reason. As a result, I get three to four hours each morning when I can work without interruption.

  45. Even when you know you should start small, it’s easy to start too big. When you dream about making a change, excitement inevitably takes over and you end up trying to do too much too soon. The most effective way I know to counteract this tendency is to use the Two-Minute Rule, which states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”

  46. And, as we have just discussed, this is a powerful strategy because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it. 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.

  47. It’s better to do less than you hoped than to do nothing at all.

  48. As another example, my friend and fellow habits expert Nir Eyal purchased an outlet timer, which is an adapter that he plugged in between his internet router and the power outlet. At 10 p.m. each night, the outlet timer cuts off the power to the router. When the internet goes off, everyone knows it is time to go to bed.

  49. 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. The brilliance of the cash register was that it automated ethical behavior by making stealing practically impossible. Rather than trying to change the employees, it made the preferred behavior automatic.

  50. I often find myself gravitating toward social media during any downtime. If I feel bored for just a fraction of a second, I reach for my phone. It’s easy to write off these minor distractions as “just taking a break,” but over time they can accumulate into a serious issue. The constant tug of “just one more minute” can prevent me from doing anything of consequence. (I’m not the only one. The average person spends over two hours per day on social media. What could you do with an extra six hundred hours per year?)

  51. After I removed the mental candy from my environment, it became much easier to eat the healthy stuff.

  52. Everyone said handwashing was important, but few people made a habit out of it. The problem wasn’t knowledge. The problem was consistency.

  53. It is a lot easier for people to adopt a product that provides a strong positive sensory signal,

  54. Behavioral economists refer to this tendency as time inconsistency. That is, the way your brain evaluates rewards is inconsistent across time.

  55. Why would someone smoke if they know it increases the risk of lung cancer? Why would someone overeat when they know it increases their risk of obesity? Why would someone have unsafe sex if they know it can result in sexually transmitted disease? Once you understand how the brain prioritizes rewards, the answers become clear: the consequences of bad habits are delayed while the rewards are immediate.

  56. 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

  57. 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.

  58. 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

  59. 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.

  60. Too often, we fall into an all-or-nothing cycle with our habits. 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.

  61. 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.

  62. This pitfall is evident in many areas of life. We focus on working long hours instead of getting meaningful work done. We care more about getting ten thousand steps than we do about being healthy. We teach for standardized tests instead of emphasizing learning, curiosity, and critical thinking. In short, we optimize for what we measure. When we choose the wrong measurement, we get the wrong behavior.

  63. 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.

  64. He will also give Joey (his trainer) $200 to use as he sees fit if he misses one day of logging food.”

  65. If you are currently winning, you exploit, exploit, exploit. If you are currently losing, you continue to explore, explore, explore.

  66. 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 favors their strengths and avoids their weaknesses.

  67. In college, I designed my own major, biomechanics, which was a combination of physics, chemistry, biology, and anatomy. I wasn’t smart enough to stand out among the top physics or biology majors, so I created my own game. And because it suited me—I was only taking the courses I was interested in—studying felt like less of a chore. It was also easier to avoid the trap of comparing myself to everyone else. After all, nobody else was taking the same combination of classes, so who could say if they were better or worse?

  68. People get so caught up in the fact that they have limits that they rarely exert the effort required to get close to them.

  69. one of the most consistent findings is that the way to maintain motivation and achieve peak levels of desire is to work on tasks of “just manageable difficulty.”

  70. There were just enough victories to keep him motivated and just enough mistakes to keep him working hard.

  71. a task must be roughly 4 percent beyond your current ability.

  72. “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.”

  73. 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.

  74. Perhaps this is why many of the most habit-forming products are those that provide continuous forms of novelty. Video games provide visual novelty. Porn provides sexual novelty. Junk foods provide culinary novelty. Each of these experiences offer continual elements of surprise.

  75. Variable rewards won’t create a craving—that is, you can’t take a reward people are uninterested in, give it to them at a variable interval, and hope it will change their mind—but they are a powerful way to amplify the cravings we already experience because they reduce boredom.

  76. Variable rewards or not, no habit will stay interesting forever. At some point, everyone faces the same challenge on the journey of self-improvement: you have to fall in love with boredom.

  77. 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.

  78. 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.

  79. Without reflection, we can make excuses, create rationalizations, and lie to ourselves

  80. Personally, I employ two primary modes of reflection and review. Each December, 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, and more. Then, 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? Six months later, when summer rolls around, I conduct an Integrity Report. Like everyone, I make a lot of mistakes. My Integrity Report helps me realize where I went wrong and motivates me to get back on course. I use it as a time to revisit my core values and consider whether I have been living in accordance with them. This is when I reflect on my identity and how I can work toward being the type of person I wish to become. 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?

  81. Every author faces a few dark moments when writing a book, and one kind word can be enough to get you to show up again the next day.

  82. And finally, to you. Life is short and you have shared some of your precious time with me by reading this book. Thank you.