For understanding the context of what the book Atomic Habits is teaching, let us first look at the definition of each word in the title. The word Atomic in context to this book means a tiny amount of something; the single irreducible unit of a larger system. Atomic Habits correlate it to a tiny change multiplied over a series of months, creating massive results. The word habits in context to this book means a routine or practice performed regularly; an automatic response to a specific situation. It’s something we do almost automatically without thinking about. Download one of the most popular Atomic Habits Worksheets.
CH 1 Habits As A System
Small habits make a big difference because they are part of the grand formation of your life. If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is the structure of your system. Bad habits repeat over and over again because you have the wrong system for change. Because of this we can even want to change bad habits yet continue to fail. It’s important to note you don’t rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Focusing on the overall system, rather than a single goal, is one of the core themes of this Atomic Habits book summary. It’s also one of the deeper meanings behind the word atomic. By now, you’ve probably realized that an atomic habit refers to a tiny change, a marginal gain, a one percent improvement. But atomic habits are not just any old habits, they are little habits that are part of a larger system. Just as atoms are the building blocks of molecules, atomic habits are the building blocks of truly significant results. This is where the word Atomic in the title of this book comes from. Think of habits as being like the atoms of our lives. Each one is a fundamental unit that contributes to your overall improvement. At first, these tiny routines seem insignificant, but soon they build on each other and fuel bigger wins that multiply to a degree that far outweighs the cost of their initial investment. They are both small and mighty. 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. These tiny habits are a component of the system of compound growth.
Begin the habit of owning an online business. See this free video introduction.
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Getting one percent better every day counts for a lot in the long-run. Habits can work for you or against you depending on if it’s a good habit moving you forward to a better situation in your life or just the opposite. Therefore, understanding the details is so very important. Slight changes most of the time appear to make no difference until you cross a critical point in your journey. Small daily habits form a compounding process and the most powerful outcomes hidden from perception early on. So achieving the habit of patience is going to be a huge first step. If you want better results, the best thing you can do for now is to forget about setting goals. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but just stay with the content here until the end, and you’ll gladly see. Focus on your system you are going to be building instead of goals. Pin this next statement to your memory. You do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems.
CH 2 How Your Habits Shape Your Identity
THE TWO-STEP PROCESS TO CHANGING YOUR IDENTITY
1. Decide the type of person you want to be. Decide who you want to be.
2. Prove it to yourself with small wins by doing tasks that support that identity.
So the process is simply deciding what we want, realize who we need to become to get what we want (a photographer, a writer, etc.), and then do the tasks. The part that makes us realize the outcome of what we want is the doing the tasks part. Here is where the rubber meets the road. It comes down to realizing in our mind who we want to become and then do – be – have. By doing the action and developing it into a consistently completed task, we become that someone in reality. Like a writer, for instance. It’s not like putting a spell on ourselves and saying we are a writer. We decide in our mind that we want to become a writer and then write. We habitually write consistently. Then we become a writer. The last phase is having what a writer has. Whether we are an excellent writer is a matter of another subject and connects to things like who we choose as our mentors.
It’s all kick started with the first part, which is deciding our identity in our mind, or who we want to become. That’s the North Star, so to speak. After that, our identity emerges out of our actions from doing our habits. You are not born with preset beliefs. You are not born with preset habits. Only physiological cues exist, like knowing when you are hungry or when it’s time to go to the bathroom. Potty training is an example of a learned habit early on.
There are three levels of change: outcome change, process change, and identity change.
The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become. Your identity emerges out of our habits. Every action is a step forward for the type of person you wish to become. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously be flexible with your beliefs. To continually upgrade and expand your identity. The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results (although they can do that), but because they can change your beliefs about yourself. One important point to note is a person doesn’t need to like themselves or have a really high self-image in order to succeed at something. There are many people who are big successes with what they do who don’t like themselves. It’s not the healthiest way to live, but not a requirement. Sometimes the self-help movement gets distorted from facts. The reason I’m bringing this up is I’ve seen too many people sit around working on their self-image by reading books and taking courses to raise their self worth, yet not doing the work in order to succeed at their goal. Don’t use identity as a reason to fail.
Checkout the Atomic Habits Audiobook.
CH 3 How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps
All habits proceed through four stages in the same order: cue, craving, response, and reward. Your brain runs through these steps in the same order each time. First, there is the cue. The cue triggers your brain to start a behavior. It is a bit of information that predicts a reward. Cravings are the second step, and they are the motivational force behind every habit. Without some level of motivation or desire—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. You don’t crave smoking a cigarette; you crave the feeling of relief it provides. The third step is the response. The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction you associate with the behavior. If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than you are willing to expend, then you won’t do it. Your response also depends on your ability. It sounds simple, but a habit can occur only if you can do it. If you want to dunk a basketball but can’t jump high enough to reach the hoop, well, you’re out of luck. Finally, the response delivers a reward. Rewards are the end goal of every habit and the trigger that starts the cue. A cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us and (2) they teach us which actions are worth remembering in order to get future craving satisfaction.
What are habits, really? Habits are mental shortcuts learned from experience. A habit is just a memory of the steps you previously followed to solve a problem in the past. The conscious mind likes to pawn off tasks to the nonconscious mind to do automatically. This is precisely what happens when a habit is formed. Habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity, so you can allocate your attention to other tasks.
WHY YOUR BRAIN BUILDS HABITS
A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. Neurological activity in the brain is high during this habit building period. You are carefully analyzing the situation and making conscious decisions about how to act. You’re taking in tons of new information and trying to make sense of it all. The brain is busy learning the most effective course of action. There is a feedback loop behind all human behavior: try, fail, learn, try differently. With practice, the useless movements fade away and the useful actions get reinforced. That’s a habit forming. As behavioral scientist Jason Hreha writes, “Habits are, simply, reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment.” As you create habits, the level of activity in the brain decreases. You learn to lock in on the cues that predict success and tune out everything else. When a similar situation arises in the future, you know exactly what to look for. There is no longer a need to analyze every angle of a situation. Your brain skips the process of trial and error and creates a mental rule: if this, then that. These cognitive scripts are followed automatically whenever the situation is appropriate.
THE FOUR LAWS OF BEHAVIOR CHANGE
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.
THE 1ST LAW: Make It Obvious (Cue)
CH 4 The ATOMIC HABITS SCORECARD
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”Carl Jung
We need a “point-and-call” system for our personal lives. That’s the origin of the Habits Scorecard, which is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior. To create one, make a list of your daily habits from how you wake up. Once you have a full list, look at each behavior and ask yourself, “Is this a good habit, a bad habit, or a neutral habit?” If it is a good habit, write “+” next to it. If it is a bad habit, write “–”. If it is a neutral habit, write “=”. The marks you give to a particular habit will depend on your situation and your goals. For someone who is trying to lose weight, eating a bagel with peanut butter every morning might be a bad habit. For someone who is trying to bulk up and add muscle, the same behavior might be a good habit. It all depends on what you’re working toward. The process of behavior change always starts with awareness. Strategies like Pointing-and-Calling and the Habits Scorecard focuses you on recognizing your habits and acknowledging the cues that trigger them, which makes it possible to respond in a way that benefits you. With enough practice, your brain will pick up on the cues that predict certain outcomes without consciously thinking about it. Once our habits become automatic, we stop paying attention to what we are doing.
The process of behavior change always starts with awareness. You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them. Pointing-and-Calling raises your level of awareness from a nonconscious habit to a more conscious level by verbalizing your actions. The Habits Scorecard is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior. Use this pdf download to create your Atomic Habits Scorecard.
CH 5 The Best Way to Start a New Habit
You simply need to fill out a sentence called an implementation intention. This is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. That is how you intend to implement a particular habit. Broadly, the format for creating an implementation intention is: “When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.” They increase the odds that people will stick with habits like recycling, studying, going to sleep early, and stopping smoking. People who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through. Too many people try to change their habits without these basic details figured out. We tell ourselves, “I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to write more,” but we never say when and where these habits are going to happen. We leave it up to chance and hope that we will “just remember to do it” or feel motivated at the right time. An implementation intention sweeps away foggy notions and transforms them into a concrete plan of action. Clarity of when and where is key. Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action. Many people spend their entire lives waiting for the time to be right to make an improvement. To stop procrastination When the moment of action occurs, there is no need to decide. Simply follow your predetermined plan. The simple way to apply this strategy to your habits is to fill out this sentence: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Being specific about what you want and how you will achieve it helps you say no to things that derail progress, distract your attention, and pull you off course.
Download a free copy of the Atomic Habits Cheatsheet that is a quick step-by-step system of starting a new habit and how to break a bad habit.
HABIT STACKING A KEY TO GETTING THINGS DONE
One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. We call this habit stacking. Habit stacking is a special form of an implementation intention. Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit. The habit stacking formula is:
“After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].” An example would be for exercise. After I take off my work shoes, I will immediately change into my workout clothes. In cleaning the house. After mopping the kitchen floor I will clean my mop and immediately do the bathroom floor. You can begin to create larger stacks by chaining small habits together. This allows you to take advantage of the natural momentum that comes from one behavior leading into the next. The process is cue – craving – response – reward. The secret to creating a successful habit stack is selecting the right cue to kick things off. Unlike an implementation intention, which specifically states the time and location for a behavior, habit stacking implicitly has the time and location built into it.
CH 6 Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More
The cues that trigger a habit can start out specifically, but over time, your habits become associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behavior. For example, many people drink more in social situations than they would ever drink alone. The trigger is rarely a single cue, but the whole situation: watching your friend’s order drinks, hearing the music at the bar, seeing the beers on tap. We mentally assign our habits to the locations in which they occur: the home, the office, the gym. Each location develops a connection to certain habits and routines. You establish a particular relationship with the objects on your desk, the items on your kitchen counter, the things in your bedroom, and even the pictures on the wall which are seen every day. The power of context also reveals an important strategy: habits can be easier to change in a new environment. It helps to escape the subtle triggers and cues that nudge you toward your current habits. Go to a new place—a different coffee shop, a bench in the park, a corner of your room you seldom use—and create a new routine there. It is easier to associate a new habit with a new context than to build a new habit in the face of competing cues. That’s why it’s a good idea to completely remodel our homes from time to time.
CH 7 The Secret to Self-Control
When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations. The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least. It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often. Perseverance, grit, and strong desire are essential to success, but the way to improve these qualities isn’t by wishing you were a more disciplined person, but by creating a more disciplined environment. There is a phenomenon known as a “cue-induced wanting”. It’s an external trigger which causes a compulsive craving to repeat a bad habit. Once you notice something that was once a bad habit, you can want it. You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it. Once the mental grooves of habit have been carved into your brain, they are nearly impossible to remove entirely—even if they go unused for quite a while. And that means that simply resisting temptation is an ineffective strategy. It is hard to maintain a Zen attitude in a life filled with interruptions because it takes too much constant energy. It’s rarely seen that someone consistently sticks to positive habits in a negative environment. A much better way, the only way, really, is to cut bad habits off at the source. One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it. This doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it or to disassociate with those who have the habit. Eventually, you will develop the ability to help these people break their bad habits. It simply means if you can’t seem to get any work done, leave your phone in another room for a few hours. If you’re continually feeling like you’re not enough, stop following social media accounts that trigger jealousy and envy. If you’re wasting too much time watching television, move the TV into a different room or turn off cable and satellite for a month. Basically, remove a single cue and the entire habit often fades away. Instead of giving yourself a fresh dose of willpower whenever you want to do the right thing, it would be better to use your energy in optimizing your environment. This is the secret to self-control. Make the cues of your good habits obvious and the cues of your bad habits invisible.
HOW TO CREATE A GOOD HABIT and HOW TO BREAK A BAD HABIT cheat sheet.
THE 2ND LAW: Make It Attractive (Craving)
CH 8 How To Make A Habit Irresistible
The craving for something comes from a neurotransmitter body chemical known as dopamine. It’s a feedback loop. Without dopamine, we would die because we would lose the desire to complete basic survival functions like eating and drinking. For years, scientists assumed dopamine was all about pleasure, but now we know it plays a central role in many neurological processes, including motivation, learning and memory, punishment and aversion, and voluntary movement. Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure but also when you expect it. Gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right before they place a bet, not after they win. What this key point means is it’s the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action. This is one reason the anticipation of an experience can often feel better than the attainment of it. Daydreaming about an upcoming vacation can be more enjoyable than actually being on vacation. Your brain has far more neural circuitry allocated for wanting rewards than for liking them. Even the physical makeup of our brain has the wanting centers larger than the wanting centers of our brain. Researchers have found that 100 percent of the nucleus accumbens are activated during wanting. This is compared to only 10 percent of the structure that is activated during liking. These factors come together to prove desire is the engine that drives behavior. Every action is acted upon because of the anticipation that precedes it. It’s clearly the craving that leads to the response.
HOW TO USE TEMPTATION BUNDLING TO MAKE YOUR HABITS MORE ATTRACTIVE
Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do. If we need to sweep the garage, we could bundle it by having a beer during the activity or by playing certain music that releases dopamine and cuing us into action. If you want to check Facebook, but you need to exercise more, say these steps to yourself:
1. After I pull out my phone, I will do ten burpees (need).
2. After I do ten burpees, I will check Facebook (want).
The hope is that eventually you’ll look forward to doing ten burpees because it means you get to check Facebook. By doing the thing you need to do, it means you get to do the thing you want to do. This is a super important chapter, so lets review a few details. The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming. Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. When dopamine rises, so does our motivation to act, which is a craving. It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike. 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 you need to do.
CH 9 The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits
Humans are herd animals with the need to fit in, to bond with others, and to earn the respect and approval of our peers. Such inclinations are essential to our survival. For most of our evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in tribes. We don’t choose our earliest habits; we imitate them. We follow the script handed down by our friends and family, our church or school, our local community and society at large. Each of these cultures and groups comes with its own set of expectations and standards. These social norms are the invisible rules that guide your behavior each day. You’re always keeping them in mind, even if they are not at the top of your mind. We follow the habits of our culture without thinking. We imitate the habits of three groups in particular and by ensuring we take part with these three groups in order to pull us along in our habit forming. These 3 groups are:
1. Imitating those Close To Us: We pick up habits from the people around us. We copy the way our parents handle arguments, the way our peers flirt with one another. As a general rule, the closer we are to someone, the more likely we are to imitate some of their habits.
2. Imitating the Many: The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. There is tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group. The reward of being accepted is often greater than the reward of winning an argument, looking smart, or finding truth. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
3. Imitating the Powerful: Humans everywhere pursue power, prestige, and status. This tendency can seem useless and sometimes arrogant or narcissistic, but overall, it’s a smart move. In all societies, the person with greater power and status has access to more resources, worries less about survival, and proves to be a more attractive mate. This is one reason we care so much about the habits of highly effective people. We try to copy the behavior of successful people because we desire success ourselves. Whether or not we realize it, many of our daily habits are imitations of people we admire.
This powerful influence is also called the power of association. Who you associate with makes up habits and beliefs. One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
CH 10 How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits
The way to do this is by systematically reframing each cue associated with the unpleasant habit and give it a new meaning. The cue leads to the craving. You do this by saying things like: you think you are quitting (something), but you’re not quitting anything because the bad habit does nothing for you.
You think your bad habit is something you need to do to be social, or any other reason, but it’s not. You can be social, or whatever reason you are using for the bad habit, without doing your bad habit at all.
You think your bad habit is about relieving stress, or for another reason, but it’s not.
Your bad habit does not relieve your nerves, it destroys them.
*Get this next statement clearly in your mind… By fixing your bad habit you are losing nothing and you are making marvelous positive gains not only in health, energy, and money but also in confidence, self-respect, freedom and, most important of all, in the length and quality of your future life.
When you get this clearly in your mind, you will think your bad habit seems like the most ridiculous thing in the world to do. And if you no longer expect your bad habit to bring you any benefits, you have no reason to do the bad habit. It is an inversion of the 2nd Law of Behavior Change. Again, the 2nd law is Craving and to Make It Attractive. To fix the cause of our bad habit, we use the inversion. We are making it unattractive because it truly is. This isn’t pretending its unattractive, this is the reality of believing it is unattractive. This sounds overly simplistic, yet let us dig a little deeper and find out what’s going on here. We’re going to expose WHY this is so powerfully effective.
WHERE CRAVINGS COME FROM
A craving is the sense that something is missing. It is the desire to change your internal state. As you already know, any craving is super powerful and a key to good and bad habit formation. This gap between your current state and your desired state provides a reason to act. What you really want is to feel different. Every behavior has a surface level craving and a deeper, underlying motive. Some basic underlying motives are: conserve energy, get food and water, find love and reproduce, connect and bond with others, win social acceptance and approval, reduce uncertainty and anxiety, and achieve status and prestige. Look at nearly any product that is habit forming and you’ll notice that it doesn’t create a new motivation. It latches onto the underlying motives of human nature. This is a key point to remember. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires. New versions of old vices. The underlying motives behind human behavior remain the same. The specific habits we perform differ based on the period of history. Here’s the powerful part: there are many 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 because habits are all about associations. These associations determine whether we predict a habit to be worth repeating or not. The cause of your habits is actually the prediction in your mind and physiology that precedes them. These predictions lead to feelings. A craving is a feeling, a desire, an urge. Feelings and emotions transform the cues we perceive and the predictions we make into a signal that we can apply. Remember our four laws of behavior change again? Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward.
HOW TO REPROGRAM YOUR BRAIN TO ENJOY HARD HABITS
You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience. We do this by changing just one word: You don’t “have” to. You “get” to do the task. Whether it’s waking up early to go to work, or sweeping the kitchen, this simple slight mind-set shift works. By simply changing one word, you shift the way you view each event. You transition from seeing these behaviors as burdens. You now have turned them into opportunities. The key point is that both versions of reality are true. You have to do those things, and you also get to do them. This is very important because if your mind thinks it’s fooling itself or lying to you, it will affect your subconscious and render confused signals. Here we can honestly find evidence for whatever mind-set we choose. We choose the “get” to or opportunity mind-set. This shift in perspective will completely transform how you live each day. Reframing 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. Again, that is the 2nd Law of Behavior Change: Craving and making it attractive. You can reframe giving a presentation from “I am nervous” to “I am excited and I’m getting an adrenaline rush to help me concentrate.” The cause of your habits is actually the prediction that precedes them. The prediction leads to a feeling. Highlight the benefits of avoiding a bad habit to make it seem unattractive.
The 3RD LAW: Make It Easy (Response)
CH 11 Walk Slowly, But Never Backward
“The best is the enemy of the good.”
This quote refers to striving for perfectionism to the point that nothing gets done. Some call it analysis paralysis.
It’s easy to get bogged down trying to find the perfect plan for change. Focusing on the fastest and single best way to lose weight, the best program for bodybuilding, the perfect idea for a home business blog. In other words, we can get so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action. We also called this analysis paralysis. Being in motion is not action. If I outline ten ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion.
If I actually sit down and write one article, that’s action, and it’s even further action to get it published. If I search for a better diet plan and read a few articles on diets, that’s motion. If I actually eat a healthy meal, then that’s action. Motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without risking failure. Most of us dislike criticism. It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we avoid situations where that might happen. This is the biggest reason you get caught in motion rather than taking action. You want to delay failure and it’s easy to be in motion and feel good by convincing yourself that you’re still making progress.
By being in motion, you’re simply preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, something needs to change. One of the most common questions is, “How long does it take to build a new habit?” But what people really should ask is, “How many times does it take to form a new habit?” That is, how many repetitions are required to make a habit automatic? We’ve all heard repetition is the mother of skill. That holds true in habit formation as well. Many people used to say it takes 21 days to build a habit. It doesn’t matter how many days have passed. What matters is the frequency of doing the new habit. You need to string enough repetitions together over a period of days to embed it into your physiology. That’s why the most effective form of learning is practice, not planning, and why making it easy is so important. The time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.
CH 12 The Law of Least Effort
Energy is of high value and the brain is wired to conserve energy whenever possible. It is human nature to follow the Law of Least Effort. People will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work and we are taught to work smart instead of hard. 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 very convenient. Look at it this way, every habit is just an obstacle to getting what you truly want. It is the outer structure of an inner core want, which is a feeling. Dieting is an obstacle to looking better and getting healthier, thus feeling confident and attractive. Meditation is an obstacle to the feeling calm. Journaling is an obstacle to clear thinking, which is a feeling of security and control. You don’t really want the habit by itself. You really want the outcome the habit allows you to get. It’s usually a feeling provided by a shot of the body chemical dopamine. It is crucial to make your habits so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it. Therefore, it’s super critical to make your good habits more convenient. This way, you’ll be more likely to follow through on them. The idea here is not to do the easy things, but on the tough days, it’s crucial to have as many things working in your favor as possible. This way you can overcome the challenges life naturally throws your way. The less friction you face, the easier it is for your stronger self to emerge. Make it as easy as possible in the moment to do things that payoff over time. How do you achieve more with less effort? Trying to pump up your motivation and increase willpower to stick with a hard habit is like trying to force water through a bent water hose. You can do it, but it takes a lot of effort. It also increases the tension in your life. On the other hand, making your habits simple and easy is like removing the bend in the hose. Instead of trying to fight the friction in your life, you reduce it. The best way to reduce the friction associated with your habits is to practice environment design. We spoke in an earlier chapter about how motivation is overrated and that environment matters more. When deciding where to practice a new habit, it’s best to choose a place that is already along the path of your daily routine. Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of daily life. We try to follow a strict diet while we are out to dinner with friends. We try to write a book in a chaotic household. We try to concentrate while using a smartphone filled with distractions. Start looking around and you’ll notice things that what popular and successful products and services do best is to remove little bits of friction from our life. Meal delivery services remove the friction of shopping for groceries. Dating apps remove the friction of making social introductions. Ride-sharing services remove the friction of getting across town. Text messaging reduces the friction of sending a letter in the physical mail box. We can reduce friction associated with any habit we want to further develop by doing what is called priming the environment. Want to exercise? Set out your workout clothes, shoes, gym bag, and water bottle beforehand. Want to improve your diet? Chop up fruits and vegetables and pack them in containers and place in easy view in your refrigerator. Now you have easy access to healthy and ready-to-eat healthy foods anytime during your week. By doing the opposite, inverting this principle of the law of least effort, you can set up your environment to make destructive behaviors difficult. One example would be if your phone scrolling is interrupting your rest, leave it in a different room than your bedroom at night. This may not seem like much, but think about the combined impact of making dozens of these changes and living in an environment designed to make the friendly behaviors easier and the unacceptable behaviors harder. Simply redesign your life so the actions that matter most are also the actions that are easiest to do.
CH 13 How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule
Every day, there are a handful of moments that deliver an outsized impact. I refer to these little choices as decisive moments. If we can get into the act of doing something the same way each time we make it habitual. This also makes it repeatable, easy to do, and instinctive. It reduces the chance that you would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item to put in your arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about. The key to getting this routine started is adhering to decisive moments. We limit ourselves to where our habits lead us. Therefore, mastering the decisive moments throughout your day is so important. Each day comprises many moments, and your habitual choices determine the path you take. These little choices stack up, each one setting the course for how you spend the next block of time. So what is the two-minute rule? It says when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to complete. You’ll find that almost any habit is scalable into a two-minute version. The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to begin. Anyone can meditate for one minute, read one page, or put one rack of clean dishes in the dishwasher away. This is a powerful method because once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it. A new habit shouldn’t feel like a challenge. The actions that follow may seem challenging, but you need to make the first two minutes easy. What you want is a “gateway habit” that leads you naturally down a more productive path. To find your gateway habit, simply map out your goals from easiest to most difficult. Your goal might be to run a 10 mile marathon, but your gateway habit is to put your running shoes on, which implements the two-minute rule. The point is to master the habit of just showing up. We must establish a habit before we can ever improve it. This makes the art of showing up the first two minutes, and it simply becomes a ritual and gateway to the beginning of your larger routine. If the Two-Minute Rule feels forced and like you are manipulating yourself, then try this. Do it for two minutes and stop. Then go on to something else. Forget about it being a strategy for starting and make it the whole thing. One hundred and twenty seconds and that’s the rule. After a few weeks, you will look around and think about how you’re always getting going with it, anyway. You might as well stay in the activity a little longer. In a few months, you will realize your new habit is embedded into your physiology and even begin seeing results! Another method to put into your arsenal of routines is to employ the secret to always stay below the point where it feels like work. Do less than you feel like on purpose. Ernest Hemingway said about the path to great writing, “The best way is to always stop when you are going good.” This strategy works for another other reason too. It’s forming your new identity. You’re not worried about getting in shape, for example. You’re focused on becoming the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts. You’re taking the smallest action that confirms the type of person you want to be and alluding to what we said earlier of the steps to success, which are: Do – Be – Have. We realize who we want to be in our mind and that comes by doing. Most people will miss this strategy because they are so obsessed with the end goal. It’s better to do less than you hoped than to do nothing at all. After you’ve established the habit and you’re showing up each day, you can combine the Two-Minute Rule with a technique we call habit stacking to scale your habit back up toward your end goal. Mastering the first two minutes of the smallest version of the behavior. Then, advance to an intermediate step and repeat the process. The key here is to completely master the first two minutes.
CH 14 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. This takes the 3rd Law of Behavior Change, which is making it easy, and inverts it into: make it difficult. You can make your bad habits more difficult by creating what psychologists call 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. Commitment devices work because they enable you to take advantage of good intentions before you fall victim to temptation. The key is to change the task such that it requires more work to get out of the good habit than to get started on it. Increase the odds that you’ll do the right thing in the future by making bad habits difficult in the present using commitment devices. We can do even better. We can make good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. Did you ever think about automating a habit so you never think of it ever again? The best way to break a bad habit is to increase the friction until you don’t even have the option to act. Here are a few examples of onetime actions that lock in good habits, ranging from productivity to health. Use smaller plates to reduce caloric intake. Remove your TV from your bedroom. Unsubscribe from emails. Turn off notifications and mute group chats. Set your phone to silent. Delete games and social media apps on your phone. Move to a friendly, social neighborhood. Buy good shoes to avoid back pain. Buy a supportive chair or standing desk. Cut your cable service. It’s easy to write off minor distractions like checking social media every 30 minutes as “just taking a break,” but over time they can accumulate into a serious issue. Technology can work for or against us. Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.” The downside of automation and technology is that we can find ourselves jumping from easy task to easy task without making time for more difficult and more rewarding work. The constant tug of “just one more minute” can prevent you from doing anything of consequence. The average person spends over two hours per day on social media. What could you do with an extra six hundred hours per year? After removing the mental candy from your environment, it will become much easier to eat the healthy stuff.
THE 4TH LAW: Make It Satisfying (Reward)
CH 15 The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change
If an experience is satisfying, we want to repeat it and conversely, if it’s not satisfying, we have little reason to repeat it. What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided. Positive emotions cultivate habits, negative emotions destroy them. Our 4th law of behavior change, make it satisfying, increases the odds that we will repeat a behavior in the future, thus closing the habit loop. One thing to know about us humans is we aren’t designed to use the principle of delayed gratification well. It’s got to be learned. Proof of this is of researching our ancestors. It may take days to secure a meal and it was a must to be on the constant lookout for predators that would devour us. There was little time to think and plan for the future. After thousands of generations in an immediate-return environment, our brains evolved to prefer quick payoffs to long-term ones. A reward that is certain right now is typically worth more than one that is possible in the future. The immediate payoff of the nicotine fix wins over the long-term realization it can cause lung cancer. Why would we overeat when we know obesity comes with many long-term problems? The consequences of bad habits are delayed in our mind while the rewards are immediate. Every habit produces multiple outcomes over time. There is a misalignment between good and bad habits. With our bad habits, the immediate outcome usually feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad. With good habits, it is the reverse. The immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good. Put another way, the price you pay for your good habits is in the present. The price you pay for your bad habits is in the future. When the moment of decision arrives, instant gratification usually wins. This brings us to the 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 practice delayed gratification. The key is you need to work with the grain of human nature, not against it like most people do. The best way to do this is to add a small amount of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long run and a bit of immediate pain to ones that don’t.
HOW TO TURN INSTANT GRATIFICATION TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
The most important thing in getting a habit to embed itself is to feel successful about the task. To feel success 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. Immediate rewards are essential. They keep you excited while the delayed rewards accumulate in the background. You want the ending of your habit to be satisfying. The best approach is to use reinforcement, which refers to the process of using an immediate reward to increase the rate of a behavior. Reinforcement ties your habit to an immediate reward, which makes it satisfying when you finish. Immediate reinforcement can be especially helpful when dealing with habits of avoidance, like resisting temptations to behaviors you want to stop doing. Here is an example of a solution. Open a savings account and label it for something you want, like a new pair of shoes. Whenever you pass on buying it, put the same amount of money in the account. Skip your morning latte? Transfer $5. Pass on another month of Netflix? Move $10 over. It’s like creating a loyalty program for yourself. The immediate reward of seeing yourself save money toward the new pair of shoes feels a lot better than being deprived. You are making it satisfying to do nothing. Conversely, if your reward for having a great workout is eating a bowl of ice cream, then you’re casting votes for conflicting identities, and it ends up neutralizing the benefit and habit building. Instead, maybe you reward yourself with 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. Simple bits of reinforcement like soap that smells great, or toothpaste that has a refreshing mint flavor, or seeing $30 hit your savings account, offer the immediate pleasure you need to enjoy a habit. Change is easy when it’s enjoyable.
CH 16 How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day
Using a habit tracker is a wonderful way to keep habits moving and reinforcing their permanent existence in our lives. Old-fashioned methods like moving one marble from one jar to another still work today. Another simple and very visual way is to take a calendar and cross of each day you stick with your routine. It’s a simple way to measure whether you did a habit. Benjamin Franklin is the most famous habit tracker. Habit tracking is powerful because it leverages multiple laws of behavior change. It simultaneously makes a behavior obvious, attractive, and satisfying. Making habit tracking obvious naturally builds a series of visual cues like the streak of X’s on your calendar or the list of meals in your food log. When you look at the calendar and see your streak, you’ll be reminded to act again. Making habit tracking attractive because each small win feeds your desire and can have an addictive effect on motivation. Making habit tracking satisfying is the most crucial benefit of all and happens when we cross off our achievement on our habit tracking system, which provides a shot of dopamine, the feel good neurotransmitter. Habit tracking also keeps your mind on the process and off the ultimate result.
HOW TO RECOVER QUICKLY WHEN YOUR HABITS BREAK DOWN
No matter how consistent you are with your habits, inevitably, life will interrupt you at some point. Perfection is not possible. When this happens, remind yourself of a simple rule: never miss twice.
How do I know when and when not to track a habit? We simply employ Goodhart’s Law. Named after the economist Charles Goodhart, the principle states, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” To sum up how to stick with good habits everyday just remember; one of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress.
CH 17 How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything
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. We repeat bad habits because they serve us and that makes them hard to avoid. It’s key to increase the speed of the punishment associated with the behavior so that there can’t be a gap between the action and the consequences. Customers pay their bills on time when they are charged a late fee. Students show up to class when their grade is linked to their attendance record. There is a straightforward way to add an immediate cost to any bad habit, and it’s to create what’s called a habit contract. A habit contract is a verbal or written agreement in which you state your commitment to a particular habit and the punishment that will occur if you don’t follow through. Then you find one or two people to act as your accountability partners and sign off on the contract with you. Knowing that someone is watching can be a powerful motivator. You are less likely to procrastinate or give up because there is an immediate cost. If you don’t follow through, perhaps they’ll see you as untrustworthy or lazy. Also, signing the contract shows seriousness as well as commitment.
ADVANCED TACTICS: How to Go from Being Merely Good to Being Truly Great
CH 18 The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t)
If you want to dunk a basketball, then being seven feet tall is a glorious thing. If you want to be a gymnast, being seven feet tall can be a great hindrance. Our environment determines the suitability of our genes and the utility of our natural talents. When our environment changes, so do the qualities that determine success. This is true not just for physical characteristics but for mental ones as well. The people at the top of any competitive field are not only trained very well, but they are also well suited for the task. This is why, in order to be truly great, selecting the right place to focus is crucial. What this means genes don’t determine your destiny, they determine your areas of opportunity. You may ask, how do I find the opportunities and habits that are right for me? The first place we will look for an answer is by understanding your personality. We know the most proven scientific analysis of personality traits as the “Big Five,” which breaks them down into five spectrums of behavior. 1. Openness to experience: from curious and inventive on one end to cautious and consistent on the other. 2. Conscientiousness: organized and efficient to easygoing and spontaneous. 3. Extroversion: outgoing and energetic to solitary and reserved (you likely know them as extroverts vs. introverts). 4. Agreeableness: friendly and compassionate to challenging and detached. 5. Neuroticism: anxious and sensitive to confident, calm, and stable. A good example would be to consider neuroticism. It is a personality trait all people possess to various degrees. People who are high in neuroticism tend to be anxious and worry more than others. This trait has been linked to hypersensitivity of the amygdala, the portion of the brain responsible for noticing threats. People who are more sensitive to negative cues in their environment are more likely to score high in neuroticism. Our habits are not solely determined by our personalities, but our genes push us in a certain direction. The way to look at your personality and certain genetic characteristics in your makeup as it correlates to habits is that you should build habits that work for your personality. You don’t need to feel obligated to build the habits everyone tells you to build. Choose the habit that best suits you, not the one that is most popular. There is a version of every habit that can bring you joy and be satisfying to you. It’s your job to find it. Habits need to be enjoyable if they are going to stay with you long term. This is the core idea behind the 4th Law of make the reward satisfying. Tailoring your habits to your personality is a good start. Let’s turn our attention to finding and designing situations where you’re at a natural advantage and stack the odds in your favor. By doing this, you can stay motivated and maintain a feeling of success and not dreaded failure. How do we pick the right habit? We use the explore/exploit trade-of. Ask yourself questions like: What feels like fun to me, but work for others? What makes me lose track of time? Where do I get greater returns than the average person? What comes naturally to me? When you can’t win by being better, you can win by being different. 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. Focus on whether you are fulfilling your own potential than comparing yourself to someone else. Our genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. Once we realize our strengths, we know where to spend our time and energy. We know which types of opportunities to look for and which types of challenges to avoid. In summary, one of the best ways to ensure your habits remain satisfying over the long-run is to pick behaviors that align with your personality and skills. Work hard on the things that come easy.
CH 19 The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work
Why is it that some people stick with their habits while most of us struggle to stay motivated? The way to maintain motivation and achieve peak levels of desire is to work on tasks of just manageable difficulty. Our brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty. Maximum motivation happens when we face a challenge of just manageable difficulty. In psychology research, we know this as the Yerkes–Dodson law, which describes the optimal level of arousal as the midpoint between boredom and anxiety. This is also known as the Goldilocks Zone. Once a habit has been established, it’s important to continue advancing in small ways. These minor improvements and new challenges keep you engaged. And if you hit the Goldilocks Zone just right, you can achieve a flow state where you feel you’re in the zone. Scientists have found that to achieve a state of flow, a task must be roughly 4 percent beyond your current ability. Improvement requires a delicate balance. You need to continually search for challenges that push you to your edge, while continuing to make enough progress to stay motivated and keeping the activities novel. This allows them to be both satisfying and motivating. Without variety, we get bored. Sadly, boredom is one of the greatest villains on the journey toward self-improvement. How do we stay focused working on our goals when we get bored? Many of us get depressed when we lose focus or motivation because we think that successful people have some bottomless reserve of passion. In reality, what separates very successful people from those that have almost identical genetics and goals is at some point, it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same routines over and over. As Machiavelli wrote, “Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly.” Maybe this is why many of the most habit-forming products are those that provide continuous forms of novelty and offer continual elements of surprise experiences. Video games are an outstanding example of this, as are slot machines. Psychologists call this variable-reward. This variance leads to the greatest spike of dopamine, enhances memory recall, and speeds up habit formation. Variable rewards won’t create a craving, but they are a powerful way to amplify the cravings we already experience because they reduce boredom. This may not excite you, but variable rewards or not, no habit will stay interesting forever. Somewhere along the line, everyone faces the same challenge on the journey of self-improvement: you have to fall in love with boredom. When pursuing our goals and dreams, if you only do the work when it’s convenient or exciting, then you’ll never be consistent enough to achieve remarkable results. Stepping up when it’s annoying or painful or draining to do so is what makes the difference between a professional and an amateur. We can either be like a pro and work toward it with purpose or be like the amateurs and get pulled off course by the urgencies of life.
CH 20 The Downside of Creating Good Habits
At first, each repetition of a new habit develops fluency, speed, and skill. But then, as a habit becomes automatic, you become less sensitive to feedback. You fall into mindless repetition. It becomes easier to let mistakes slide. 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 slight errors. Some research has shown that once a skill has been mastered, there is usually a slight decline in performance. What you need is a combination of automatic habits and deliberate practice. Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery. To become great, certain skills do need to become automatic. They need to become so automatic that they are like basic instinct. The process of mastery requires that you progressively layer improvements on top of one another, each habit building upon the last until a new level of performance has been reached and a higher range of skills has been embedded internally. Therefore, it’s important to establish a system for reflection and review. The way to do this is to improve your output by at least 1 percent over the course of one year. This career best effort procedure is not merely about points, statistics, or production, but about giving your best effort spiritually, mentally, and physically. This approach helps you get the most out of what you have and makes sure your habits improve rather than decline. It’s very important to employ reflection and review. It enables the long-term improvement of all habits because it makes you aware of your mistakes and helps you consider possible paths for improvement. It’s a super critical process for determining whether we are performing better or worse compared to yesterday. Another thing to consider in habit growth is the tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it. The more you let a single belief define you, the less capable you are of adapting when life challenges you. This doesn’t mean give up good habits either. It’s just a reminder to be a little flexible so you don’t limit yourself from growth to the next level. If your identity is wrapped up in a belief like “I’m an outstanding soldier,” what happens when your period of service ends? Transform “I’m an outstanding soldier” into “I’m the type of person who is disciplined, reliable, and great on a team.” Everything is impermanent. Life is constantly changing, and therefore we all need to periodically check in to see if our old habits and beliefs are still serving us. A lack of self-awareness is a type of cancer. Reflection and review are the solution.
Can one tiny change transform your life? It’s unlikely you would say so. But what if you made another? And another? And another? At some point, you will have to admit that one slight change transformed your life. The holy grail of habit change is not a single 1 percent improvement, but a thousand of them. It’s a bunch of atomic habits stacking up, each one a fundamental unit of the overall system. Getting that first habit embedded into your routine and physiology is so very important and establishes the pattern to use for stacking more habits. Gradually, as you continue to layer slight changes on top of one another, the scales of life start to move. Make it obvious. Make it attractive. Make it easy. Make it satisfying. Round and round. Always looking for the next way to get 1 percent better. Small habits don’t add up. They compound. That’s the power of atomic habits. Tiny changes. Remarkable results.
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