No matter the goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving just a little bit every day. James Clear, one of the world's leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.
The Surprising power of Atomic Habits
The effects of small habits compound over time. For eg, if one can get 1% better each day at something, they would be 37 times better at it by the end of the year.
1.01**365 = 37.78
1% worse each day would lead your skill to decline to zero. Habits are the compounded interest of self improvement.Outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits.
One of the core reasons why people fail to build habits is because they make a few small changes and fail to see a tangible result, and decide to stop.
We expect progress to be linear, but it's not.
Forget about goals, focus on your systems instead. Losers and winners have the same goals. Every olympian wants to win the gold medal.
You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.
How your habit shape your identity
There are three layers of behaviour change: a change in outcomes, a change in your behaviour and changes in identity.
Most people don't consider their identity when working towards a goal, missing the fact that their identity can ruin them on the way.
Someone wants to lose weight and does the right things for a while and gets to the their but they fat again when their original habits come back after reaching the target.
The goal is not to read a book, but to be a reader.
New identities require new evidence.Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.
Eg. I am the type of person who advocates for her employees.
The most effective way of changing your habits is not to focus on the outcome, but on who you wish to become.Each action is a vote towards the type of person you want to become.
How to build better habits in 4 simple steps
A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to be automatic. Habits are mental shortcuts learned from experience.
It is incredibly useful because the conscious mind can only pay attention to one problem at a time and it likes to pawn off tasks to the non conscious mind to do automatically. This is what happens when a habit is formed.
The process of building a habit can be divided into -
Cue -> Craving -> Response -> Reward
The cue triggers a craving which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and becomes associated with the cue. This cycle is known as the habit loop.
The four laws of behaviour change are -
Make it obvious ( Cue )
Make it attractive ( Craving )
Make it easy ( Response )
Make it satisfying ( Reward )
The reverse of this works to try to break a habit.
The man who didn't look right
You don't need to be aware of a cue for the habit to begin. You can notice an opportunity and take action without dedication conscious attention to it. This is what makes habits useful, and what makes them dangerous.
"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate" - Carl Jung
One of the greatest challenges in changing habits is maintaining awareness of what we are actually doing. Activities that can help the habit awareness -
The Habits Scorecard
Pointing and Calling
The best way to start a new Habit
The cues that can trigger a habit can come in various range of forms, but the two most common cues are time and location. Implementation intentions leverage both of these cues.
A format for a general implementation intention is: "When situation X arises, I will perform response X"
TLDR; people who make a specific plan are more likely to follow through.
Most people think that they lack motivation, but what they really lack is clarity.
Deiderot's Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases.
Most human behaviors follow this cycle. We decide what to do next based on what we just finished doing. No behaviour happens in isolation.
The idea of Habit Stacking builds on top of this to create a special form of implementation intention. Rather than pairing a new habit with a time and location, one can pair it with another habit. Eg - After I pour my morning coffee, I will meditate for sixty seconds.
The secret to creating a successful habit stack is selecting the right cue to kick things off.
The cue should have the same frequency as the desired habit.
Habit stacking works best if the cue is highly specific and immediately actionable.
Motivation is overrated; Environment Often Matters More
People often choose products not because of what they are, but because of where they are. Your habits change depending on the room you are in, and the cues infront of you.
Environment is the invisible hand that shapes all human behaviour.
Example - Customers often buy products not because they need them, but because of the way they are presented. Items at the eye level get purchased more often than the items near the floor.
By sprinkling triggers around throughout your surrounds, you increase the odds that you'll think about your habits and take the cue.
Gradually your habits become associated, not with a single trigger, but with a 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 old cues.
The Secret to Self-Control
Addictions can dissolve with a radical change in environment. However, they can easily resurface again if the previous environment is brought back in.
You can break a habit, but you're unlikely to forget it.
A reliable approach is to cut bad habits at the source - by reducing exposure to the cue that causes it.
"Disciplined" people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic will power and self-control. They spend less time in tempting situations.
The people with the best self control are the ones who use it the least.
Self control is a short term strategy.
Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself. you feel bad, so you eat junk food. Because you eat junk food, you feel bad.
To create a good habit
Make it obvious
Make it attractive
Make it easy
Make it satisfying
To break a bad habit
Make it invisible
Make it unattractive
Make it difficult
Make it unsatisfying
How to make a habit irresistible
The 2nd law of behaviour change is to make it attractive
Habits are a dopamine driven feedback loop. Every behaviour that is highly habit forming - taking drugs, eating junk food, browsing social media - is associated with higher levels of dopamine. Dopamine plays a key role in motivation, learning and memory. Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it. Gambling addicts see a dopamine spike when right before they place a bet, not after they win it.
Desire is the engine that drives behaviour, and hence we need to make our good habits attractive.
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 that you need to do.
The role of family and friends in shaping your habits
Behaviours are attractive when they help us fit in. We imitate the habits of -
To make your habits attractive, join a culture where your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour
Whenever we are unsure how to act, we look at the group to guide us.
We are drawn to behaviours that earn us respect, approval, admiration and status. Once we fit in, we start looking for ways to stand out. Many of our daily habits are imitations of the people we admire.
How to find and Fix the causes of your Bad Habits
A craving is just a specific manifestation of a deeper underlying motive. Your habits are modern day solutions to ancient desires
Your current habits are not necessarily the best way to solve the problem you face. They are all about associations. Every time you perceive a cue, your brain runs a simulation and makes a prediction about what to do in the next moment. Whenever a habit successfully addresses a motive, you develop a craving to do it again.
Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast lightweight way to reprogram your mind to make the habit more attractive.
The key to finding and fixing the causes of your bad habits is to reframe the associations you have about them.
Walk slowly, but never Backward
Motion and Action sound similar, but they're not the same. When you're in motion, you're planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don't deliver results. Action, on the other hand is the type of behaviour that will deliver an outcome.
Sometimes motion is useful, but it will never produce an outcome by itself.
If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You just need to practice it.
Habit formation is the process by which a behaviour becomes progressively more automatic through repetition. The more you repeat an activity, the more the structure of your brain changes to become efficient in that activity.
People ask "How long does it take to build a habit" while they really should be asking "How many does it take to build a habit"
The law of least effort
Every action requires a certain amount of energy. The more energy required, the less it is likely to.
This is why it is crucial to make your habits easy so that you end up doing them even if you don't like it.
One of the most effective ways to make things easier is to practice environment design, i.e. optimizing the environment to make actions easier.
Example: Want to draw more? Put your pencils, pens, drawing tools on top of your desk where they are easily accessible.
How to Stop Procrastinating by using the two minute rule
We are limited by where our habits lead us. This is why mastering decisive moments is important. Each day is made up of many moments, but it is really a few habitual choices that determine the path we take, The little choices stack up, each one setting the trajectory for how you spend the next chunk of time.
When you start a new habit, it should take less than 2 minutes to do. The key is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. A new habit should not feel like a challenge.What you want is a gateway habit that leads to a more productive path. The point is to master the habit of showing up.
Standardize before you optimize. You can't improve a habit that doesn't exist.
How to make good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible
Sometimes success is less about making good habits easy and more about making bad habits hard.
A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future. It's a way to lock in future behaviour, bind you to good habits, or restrict bad ones. Example: You can avoid overeating by purchasing food in tiny packets instead of a bulk size. Commitment devices are useful because they enable you to take advantage of good intentions before you can fall victim to temptation.
The best way to break a habit is to make it impractical to do. Increase the friction until you don't even have the option to act.
Tough one time choices are single actions that direct future habits and deliver returns over time.
The Cardinal rule of behaviour change
We are more likely to repeat a behaviour when the experience is satisfying. Feelings of pleasure - even minor ones like washing our hands with a soap that smells nice and lathers well teaches your brain that the experience is worth remembering and repeating.
What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.
But there's a trick. We are not looking for just any type of satisfaction. We are looking for immediate satisfaction.
The first three laws of behaviour change - make it obvious, make it attractive and make it easy - 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.
How to stick with Good habits every day
Making progress is satisfying, and visual measures provide clear evidence of your progress, which adds a little bit to the immediate satisfaction of any activity.
A Habit tracker is one of the best ways to measure your progress. The most basic format is to get a calendar and cross off each day you stick with your routine. The key is to maintain a streak even on the weaker days, instead of being concerned heavily about the quality of work. Habit tracking also keeps you honest.
Whenever possible, measurement should be automated. The tracking should be done immediately after the habit. This uses the habit stacking formula - 'After I [do X], I will [do Y].'
It's inevitable to have misses in the routine. The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It's the spiral of repeated mistakes that follow. Missing two is the start of a new habit.
How an Accountability Partner can change everything
We repeat bad habits because they serve us in some way, and that makes them hard to abandon. The best way to overcome this predicament is to increase the speed of the punishment associated with the behaviour. In general, the more local, tangible, concrete and immediate the consequence, the more likely it is to influence individual behaviour.
A straightforward way to add an immediate cost to any habit is a habit consequence.
A habit contract is a verbal or written agreement in which you state your commitment to follow through. Then you sign one or two people as your accountability partners. It adds a social cost to any behaviour and makes the costs of violating your promises public and painful. Knowing that someone is watching you can be a powerful motivator.
The truth about talent ( When Genes Matter and when they don't )
The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition. Habits are easier to perform, and more satisfying to stick with, when they align with your natural inclinations and abilities. Genes cannot be easily changed, which means they provide a powerful advantage in favorable circumstances and a serious disadvantage in uncomfortable situations. If you want to dunk a basketball, being 7 feet tall can be very useful.
Genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity.
Your genes are operating beneath the surface of every habit.
The scientific analysis of personality traits, Big Five, breaks them down into five spectrum of behaviour
Openness to experience
All five characteristics have biological underpinnings.
There is a version of every habit that can bring you joy and satisfaction. Tailoring your habits to your personality is a very good start.
The Goldilocks rule: How to stay motivated in life and work
The way to maintain motivation and achieve peak levels of desire is to work on tasks of "just manageable difficulty".. Consider playing tennis with someone who is your equal over someone 10 year old or someone who is a professional. You will have a good chance of winning but only if you really try. The challenge of just maintaining difficulty is an example of the Goldilocks Rule.
The Goldilocks Rule states that the humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of the current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.
The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes the expected. But the reality is 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 feeling of boredom. Mastery requires practice.
Professionals stick to a schedule; amateurs let life get in the way.
The downside of creating good habits
The upside of habits is that we can do things without thinking. The downside of habits is that you get used to doing things a certain way and stop paying attention to little errors.You need to setup a system of reflection and review.
Mastery is the process of narrowing your focus to a tiny element of success, repeating it until you have internalized the skill, and then using this new habit as a foundation to advance to the next frontier of your development.
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.
Conclusion: The secret to results that last
The holy grail of habit change is not a single 1 percent improvement but a thousand of them. It is a bunch of atomic habits stacking up, each one a fundamental unit of the overall system. Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, and endless process to refine. There is no finish line.
Small habits don't add up. They compound. That is the power of atomic habits. Tiny changes. Remarkable results.