Atomic Habits by James Clear

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Intellectual Humiliation

Confront your own ignorance.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

The Fundamentals

“The Aggregation of Marginal Gains” was a term coined by Dave Brailsford British cyclist coach who was hired by the British cycling team to change their habitual losing streak. What he meant was the philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. The point was to break down everything that was necessary to get to your goal and improve it by one percent. The biggest difference was that these tiny changes don’t stop merely the process of riding a bike, but everything else that could compromise the ride: sleeping, eating, preventing colds, what clothes to wear, etc.

The moral of the story is: focus on small changes to acquire big results.

Habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance. In any stage of a quest there’s a “Valley of Dissapointment”. You expect to make progress a linear fashion and it’s frustrating how results might not even show up in the first few months. But you have to remember: the most powerful outcomes can be delayed.

Mastery requires patience.

Forget About Goals, Focus on Systems Instead

– Goals are about the results you want to achieve. System are about to process that lead to that result.

– Achieve your goal only changes your life for the moment.

– Goals create an either or mentality: either you achieve a goal or you fail and are disappointed.

– Goals only help you until you achieve them, after you’re only motivated when the next goal comes.

If you’re having trouble changing your habits the problem isn’t you, the problem is your system. You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your system.

The meaning behind 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.

How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)

Changing your habits is challenging for two reasons:

1. We try to change the wrong thing.
2. We try to change our habits in the wrong way.

Three Layers of Behavior Change

(1) Outcomes: concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book, winning a championship. Goals.
(2) Process: concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym. Habits you build.
(3) Identity: concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, self-image, etc. Beliefs and assumptions.

Outcomes are about what you get. Process are about what you do. Identity about what you believe.

Many people begin the process of changing habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. We have to focus on who we want to become.

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this as opposed to begin the type of person. The more pride you have in particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it. Your behaviors are usually a reflection of who you are. What you do is an indication of the type of person you believe you are. The more you believe in a certain aspect of your identity, the more likely you are to act in alignment. Every action you to take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.

To achieve this is a simple two step process:
1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

First decide who you want to be: what do you want to stand out for? What are your principles and values? Who do you wish to become? Ask yourself: who is the type of person who [achievement]? The goal should always be on becoming the type of person, not getting a particular outcome.

How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

“Behaviors followed by satisfying consequences tend to be repeated and those that produce unpleasant consequences are less likely to be repeated.” – Edward Thorndike

“Habits are, simply, reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment.” – Jason Hreha.

The Science of How Habits Work

The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, reward.

First there is a cue that triggers your brain to initiate behavior. It is a habit of information that predicts a reward. Because the cue is the first indication that we’re close to a reward, it naturally leads to craving.

Craving are the second step, and the are th motivational force behind every habit. Without desire or motivation – without craving a change – we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers.

The third step is the response. The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a though or action. Whether a response occurs depends on how much friction is associated with the behavior or how motivated are you. If it requires more physical or mental effort than you’re willing to expend, then you won’t do it.

Finally, the response delivers a reward. Rewards are the end goals of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about  craving the  reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us (2) the teach us.

If a behavior 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 behavior 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 in the future.

These four steps can be slip in two: the problem phase with cue and craving, which is when you realize that something needs to change. And the solution phase with response and reward is when you take action and achieve the change you desire.

The Fours Laws of Behavior Change

To create a habit:
1st Law Cue: Make it obvious.
2nd Law Craving: Make it attractive.
3rd Law Response: Make it easy.
4th Law Reward: Make it satisfying.

To break a habit:
1st Law Cue: Make it invisible.
2nd Law Craving: Make it unattractive.
3rd Law Response: Make it difficult.
4th Law Reward: Make it unsatisfying.

The First Law: Make It Obvious

Before we can effectively build new habits, we need to get a handle on our current ones. This can be challenging for most habits are deeply rooted in your life to the point of becoming non-conscious and automatic.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Carl Jung

The more automatic a behavior becomes, the less likely we are to consciously think about it. And when we’ve done something a thousand times before we begin to overlook things. One of the biggest challenges in changing habits is maintaining awareness of what we are doing.

There aren’t good or bad habits, just effective habits even the bad ones. They’re effective at solving problems. In order to identify which habits you should break make a list of habits that will have a positive outcome vs a negative one. If you’re having trouble categorizing a habit ask yourself: “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against our desired identity?” Habits that reinforce our desired identity are good. Habits that conflicts with your desired identity are usually bad.

The first thing to stop a bad habit is to be in the lookout for them. Try pointing and calling in your life in which you point the action/object you’re about to engage with and call it out loud before engaging with it. Hearing your bad habits out load will make them more real, and the consequences far heavier.

How to Create a Habit

Implementation intention is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. This is, how you intend to implement a particular habit.

“During this week, I will [HABIT] on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”

This has shown in countless studies will help us effectively stick to our goals. In order to follow through you will have to be really specific about the actions you will partake in to do your habit. If you leave it vague or by chance, the chances will be you’ll forget or won’t find the motivation to do it. Most of the time lack of motivation is simply a lack of clarity as to when and where to take action.

Habit Stacking

You often decide what to do next on what you just finished doing. One of the best ways to build a new habit is to stack it up upon a habit you already do each day. If you cook your meals everyday and wish to drink more water, make sure that every time you enter the kitchen you pour yourself a glass of water.

The formula is:

“After I [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”

No matter how you use this strategy, the secret to creating a successful habit stacking is selecting the right cue to kick things off. Your cued has to have the same frequency as your desired habit. If it’s habit that’s only done certain days of the week but you wish to develop a daily habit you must find a current habit that’s also daily.

Be specific of when and where you’ll be doing your habit. If you allow any sense of ambiguity, your habit won’t happen.

Environment Matters More than Motivation

People often choose products not because of what they are but where they are. Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. Certain behaviors usually show up under certain environmental conditions.

Every habit is initiated by cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out. Unfortunately, most environment we live in a work make it easy not to do certain actions because there’s no certain cue to trigger the behavior. But making obvious visual cues can draw your attention toward your desired habit.

It’s easier to associate a new habit with new context than build a new habit in the face of competing cues. Also try to limit each space or device for one task only. The desk for work, your phone for social communication, the table for eating, the tablet for reading, etc. Every habit should have a home.

“A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is environment where habits can easily form.” – James Clear

Once a habit has been enforced, the urge to act follows whenever the environment cues reappear. If you’re not careful about the cues, you can cause the very behavior you want to stop.

Bad habits are auto-catalytic: the cause the very behavior they try to numb. Researchers refer to this phenomenon as “cue- induced wanting”: an external trigger cause a compulsive craving to repeat a bad habit. Once you notice something, you begin to want it.

A more reliable approach is to cut bad habits off the source. One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that triggers it. Rather than following law 1 of making it obvious you make it invisible.

The Second Law: Make It Attractive

The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit forming. To do this, you must first understand what craving is and how it works.

Dopamine, the hormone responsible for making something pleasurable, usually gets release before the habit is done, making your anticipation to do it rise. It is the anticipation of a reward – no the fulfillment of it -that gets us to take action.

Interestingly, the reward system that is activated in the brain when you receive a reward is the same system hat is activated when you anticipate a reward. This is why sometimes the anticipation of an experience can often feel better than the attainment of it.

Desire is the engine that drives behavior. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it. It is the craving that leads to the response. We need to make our habits attractive experience because tit is the expectation of a rewarding experience that motivates us. This is where temptation bundling comes into play.

Temptation building woks by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do. You’re more likely to find a behavior attractive if you get to do one of your favorite things at the same time.

The habit stacking + temptation formula is:

1. After I [CURRENT HABIT] , I will [HABIT I NEED].

2. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].

Doing the things you need tot do mans you get to do the things you want to do.

Behaviors are attractive when they help us fit in: we imitate the habits of three groups in particular:

1. The close.
2. The many.
3. The powerful.

Each group can be used to leverage the 2nd Law of Behavior Change and make our habits more attractive.

1. Imitating the Close: we imitate the habits from the people around us. One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. To make the habit more attractive you take this strategy one step further: (1) join a culture where your desired behavior is normal and (2) you already have something in common with the group. Nothing sustains motivation than belonging to a tribe. It transforms a personal quest into a shared one.

2. Imitating the Many: whenever we are unsure how to act we look at to the group to guide our behaviors. There is evidence in numbers. But there can be a downside. There is evidence in numbers. But there can be a downside. The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. There is an enormous pressure to comply with the norms of the group. When changing your habits means challenging the tribe, change is unattractive. When changing your habits means fitting with the tribe, change is very attractive.

3. Imitating the Powerful: We are drawn to behavior that earns us respect, approval, admiration and status. Once we fit in a tribe we look for ways to stand out. We also avoid behaviors that would lower our status. Find a way to imitate the habits of the people you wish to emulate.

How to Find and Fix the Cause of Your Bad Habits

Every behavior has surface level craving and a deeper, underlying motive. A craving is just a specific manifestation of a deeper underlying motive. At a deeper lever, you simple want to reduce uncertainly and relieve anxiety, to win social acceptance and approval, or to achieve status.

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 in the future. Even the tiniest action is tinged with the motivation to feel differently than you do in the moment.

Whenever a habit successfully addresses a motive, you develop a craving to do it again. Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings.

Re-framing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive.

The Third Law: Make It Easy

Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something.

If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. This is the first takeaway of the 3rd law: you just need to get your reps in.

Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes more progressively more automatic through repetition. The more you repeat an activity, the more structured your brain changes to become efficient in that activity. Repetition is a form of change.

All habits follow a similar trajectory from effort-full practice to automatic behavior, a process known as aromaticity. Aromaticity is the ability to perform a behavior without thinking about each step, which occurs when the non-conscious mind takes over. In other words: habit form based on frequency, not time.

To make a habit you  need to practice it, and the most effective way to make practice happen is to adhere to the 3rd law of behavior change: make it easy.

Conventional wisdom, holds that motivation is the key to habit change. But the truth is that our real motivation is to be lazy and to do what’s convenient. The brain is wired to do what delivers the most value with the least amount of effort.

In a sense a habit is just an obstacle to what you really want. You don’t actually want to habit itself, what you you really want tis the outcome the habit delivers. The greater the  obstacle the less likely you’re to do your habit. The key to making a habit easy isn’t about doing easy things, but about making as easy as possible in the moment to do things that payoff in the long run.

How to Achieve More With Less Effort

One of the most effective ways to reduce the friction associated with your habits is to practice environment changes. Design your space so it takes less effort to make a habit happen.

For example: when deciding where to make a habit make it along the path that’s your daily routine. Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of your life. Make it easy to flow from one habit to the next.

The central ideas is to create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. Much of the battle to building new habits is about reducing the friction between the habits you wish to build or good habits and increasing the friction with those you wish to stop or bad habits.

How To Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two Minute Rule

Habits are the automatic choices that influence the conscious decisions that follow.

The minute rule states that when you want to start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes. The idea is to make your habit as easy as possible to start. A new habit should not feel like a challenge. Maybe what follows will be challenging but string should take less than two minutes.

Nearly any longer life goal can be transformed into a two-minute behavior. Any time your struggling to stick with a habit, just employ the two minute rule.

How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible

Sometimes success is less about making good habits easy and more about bag habits hard. This is an inversion of the 3rd Law: make it difficult. If your struggling to follow through create something called a commitment device.

A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future. It is a way to lock in future behavior, bind you to good habits and restrict you from bad ones. They’re good because they enable you to take advantage of good intentions before you fall victim to temptation in the future. The key is to change the task such that it requires more work to get out of the good habit that to get started on it.

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 Fourth Law: Make It Satisfying

We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying. Pleasure teaches your brain that a behavior is worth remembering and repeating. You learn what to do in the future based on what you were rewarded for doing the past. Positive emotions cultivate habits. Negative emotions destroy them.

The first three laws: make it obvious, make it attractive and make it easy increase the odds of the habits being performed. The fourth law: make it satisfying ensure the habit will be repeated.

But the trick is to make the satisfaction immediate.

The human brain evolved in what scientist cal an immediate-return environment, which is when your actions instantly deliver clear and immediate outcomes. The problem is our modern life has switched that to delayed-return environment because you can work for years before your actions deliver their  intended payoffs.

The brain evolved to function in an environment in which immediate gratification was evident. But for the last five hundred years, modern life has switched to the delayed gratification/reward system which causes us to abandoned causes that don’t pay or show results right away.

Behavior economist refer to this tendency as time inconsistent. That is, the way your brain evaluates reward is inconsistent across time. You value the present more than the future. A reward that is certain now is more valuable that an even higher reward that’s merely possible in the future.

Every habit produces multiple outcomes across time. Unfortunately, these outcomes are often misaligned with our bad habits, the immediate outcomes feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad. With our good habits, it is the reverse. Put another way: the cost of your good habits are in the present, the cost of the bad habits are in the future.

Your brain’s tendency to prioritize the present moment means you can’t rely on good intentions. When you make a plan you’re actually making plans for your future self. However, when the moment of decision arrives, instant gratification usually wins. As a general rule, the more immediate pleasure you gain from action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals.

Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: what is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.

Thankfully, it’s possible to train yourself to delay gratification but you need to work with the grain of human nature, not against it. The best way to do this is to add a little bit of immediate pleasure to your habits that pay off in  the long-run and a little bit of immediate pain of the ones that don’t.

The vital thing to get a habit to stick is to feel successful – even it it’s in a small way. The feeling of success is a sign that your habit paid off and that work was worth the effort.

What we are talking about here – when we’re discussing immediate rewards – is the ending of a behavior. The ending of a experience has to be satisfying enough of you to remember it and make you want to repeat the habit. The best approach is to use reinforcement which is by using an immediate reward to increase the rate of behavior. Habit stacking ties your habit to an immediate cue which make it obvious when to start. Reinforcement ties your habit to an immediate reward, which makes it satisfying when you finish.

The problem with habits you want to avoid is that there’s no reaward for not doing them. One solution is to turn the situation on its head. You want to make avoidance visible. Whenever you skip on a purchase use that money to save fro something you want. Whenever you skip on a snack because you wish to loose weight find a way to reward yourself by taking care of your body.

The best and easiest way to make the reward visible though is to keep a record every time you complete the task. If you skipped sugar that day mark in the calendar. If you worked out instead of sleeping in check a box. If you worked out instead of sleeping in check a box. If you saved money by bringing lunch to work out a dollar bill on a jar. The point is to make the reward visible and the progress measurable.

Create a habit tracker. Habit trackers create a visual cue that can remind you to act, is inherently motivating because you see the progress you’re making and don’t want to lose it, and feels satisfying whenever you record another successful instance of your habit. Further more, habit tracking provides visual proof that you are casting votes for the type of person you wish to become.

The habit tracking formula is:


How to Recover Quickly When Your Habit Breaks Down

If life gets in the way and you miss your cue to do your habit make sure it was only that one time when you missed. In other words: never miss twice. Th first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral or repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.

The dark side of tracking a habit is that we become driven by the number rather than the purpose behind it. So make sure you’re not tracking for the sake of keeping a streak going.

How to Determine Habits Based on Personality

As you explore different options and habits, there are a series of questions you can ask yourself to continually narrow in on the habits and areas that will be most satisfying for you:

What feels like fun to me, but work for others? The mark of whether you are made for a task is not whether you love it but whether you can handle the pain on the task easier than others.

What makes me lose track of time? Flow is the mental state you enter when you are so focused on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away. It is impossible to experience a state of flow if you don’t find the task satisfying to some degree.

Where do I get greater returns than the average person? When we continually compare ourselves to others and find greater results than them our motivation spikes.

What naturally comes to me? When have I felt alive? When have I felt like the real me? No internal judgments or people pleasing. No second-guessing or self-criticism. Just feelings of engagement and enjoyment. Whenever you feel authentic and genuine, you are headed in the right direction.

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. Even if you’re not the most naturally talented, you can often win by being the best in a very narrow category.

In summary, one of the best ways to ensure your habits remain satisfying over the long-run is to pick behavior that align with your personality and skills. Work hard on the things that come easy.

Success is not a goal to reach or finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to define.

Summary by Victoria Marulanda

My rating:

This book in 3 key points

  1. Identify the kind of person you want to be and follow the habits according to the behavior of that person.
  2. Make your habits as obvious/easy/unavoidable as possible.
  3. Align the habits you want to build with your personality and skills. It’ll be easier to maintain these habits this way. 

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