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Atomic Habits - by James Clear

I saw this book mentioned in so many places (even noticed a copy during my dentist visit) that I finally read it. I found it lives up to those praises. Not all ideas are new to me, but James Clear did an exceptional job on organizing them into a simple framework, combining the different aspects of habit building. The writing is clear, with explanations backed by science, but not dry, as he uses ample stories and examples. This is the writing I want to strive for.

To fully utilize the book, understanding the ideas by itself is not all that matters. The most important thing is to take actions. The book is filled with practical actions we can take right now. I’ll need to absorb the wisdom through my continuing practice.

Outline #

  • The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits
    • Small habits make a big difference (compound interest), whether they’re good habits or bad.
    • Habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold.
    • Focus on systems, not goals.
  • How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)
    • Three layers of behavior change: identity, processes and outcomes.
    • The goal is not to achieve some outcomes, the goal is to become someone (change the identity).
    • Two-step process to changing your identity: 1) decide the type of person you want to be; 2) prove it to yourself with small wins.
    • The real reason habits matter is because they can change your believes about yourself.
  • How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps
    • Cue: make it obvious for good habits / invisible for bad habits
    • Craving: make it attractive / unattractive
    • Response: Make it easy / difficult
    • Reward: Make it satisfying / unsatisfying
  • The 1st Law: Make It Obvious
    • Start with awareness. For example, use The Habits Scorecard — make a list of your daily habits, mark them as good or bad or neutral.
    • Use two common cues: time and location: I will [behavior] at [time] in [location].
    • Use habit stacking, pairing a new habit with a current one (as the cue): After I [current habit], I will [new habit].
    • Design your environment
      • Make the cues of good habits obvious.
      • Eliminate bad habits by reducing exposure to the cues.
  • The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive
    • Use temptation bundling. Pair an action you want with an action you need to do: after [habit I need], I will [habit I want].
    • Use culture and social groups (also a kind of environment).
      • Imitate the close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (those with status and prestige).
      • Join a culture where (1) your desired is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
    • Understand the deeper underlying motive of bad habits and solve it in another way. Highlight the benefits of avoiding them to make it seem unattractive. Reframe hard habits to make it attractive.
  • The 3rd Law: Make It Easy
    • Practice through repetition. Take actions and make progress, not just plan it.
    • Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible, by reducing frictions (number of steps to start), or priming the environment. Make doing bad habits difficult by doing the opposite.
    • Use Two-Minute Rule: when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do. Then use habit shaping to scale your habit back up gradually toward your ultimate goal.
    • Think about commitment devices, choices you make in the present that lock in future behavior, bind you to good habits, and restrict you from bad ones. Think about one time choices or use technology to automates your future habits.
  • The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying
    • Make habits feel immediately successful (What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.)
    • Track whether you did a habit each time. Keep the streak, never miss twice. Remember just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing.
    • Make a habit contract, motivate by an accountability partner, to make bad habits unsatisfying.
  • Advanced Tactics
    • About genes: Pick the right habit, or the right aspect of a habit, that favors your strength and align with your natural abilities.
    • About motivation: feel motivated to work right on the edge of our current abilities.
    • About the downsides: reflect and review your progress to achieve deliberate practice.

Highlights #

The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits

If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, all you have to do is follow the curve of tiny gains or tiny losses, and see how your daily choices will compound ten or twenty years down the line… You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.

p. 18

Habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance.

p. 20

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results… Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.

p. 24

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

p. 27

True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement.

p. 27

How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)

The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it.

p. 33

The goal is not to read a book, the a goal is to become a reader. The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician.

p. 34

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

p. 38

Ultimately, your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you wish to be.

p. 41

How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

When you have your habits dialed in and the basics of life are handled and done, your mind is free to focus on new challenges and master the next set of problems. Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future.

p. 47

The 1st Law: Make It Obvious

One of our greatest challenges in changing habits is maintaining awareness of what we are actually doing.

p. 64

We often say yes to little requests because we are not clear enough about what we need to be doing instead.

p. 72

The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases.

p. 73

Stop thinking ing about your environment as filled with objects. Start thinking about it hat as filled with relationships.

p. 87

Here’s the punch line: You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it.

p. 94

Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one. You be able to resist temptation once or twice, but it’s may muster the willpower to override your desires unlikely you can every time.

p. 95

The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive

Foods that are high in dynamic contrast keep the experience novel and interesting, encouraging you to eat more.

p. 103

Your brain has far more neural circuitry allocated for wanting rewards than for liking them.

p. 108

Temptation bundling is one way to apply a psychology theory known as Premack’s Principle. Named after the work of professor David Premack, the principle states that “more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.”

p. 110

Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires. New versions of old vices. The underlying motives behind human behavior remain the same.

p. 128

The 3rd Law: Make It Easy

It is human nature to follow the Law of Least Effort, which states that when deciding between two similar options, people will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.

p. 151

When I delete social media apps from my phone, it can be weeks before I download them again and log in.

p. 158

The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying

The first three laws of behavior change—make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy—increase the odds that a behavior will be performed this time. The fourth law of behavior change—make it satisfying—increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated next time. It completes the habit loop.

p. 186

The dark side of tracking a particular behavior is that we become driven by the number rather than the purpose behind it.

p. 202

Advanced Tactics

In short: genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity.

p. 219

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 assume you’re getting better because you’re gaining experience. In reality, you are merely reinforcing your current habits—not improving them. In fact, some research has shown that once a skill has been mastered there is usually a slight decline in performance over time.

p. 239

In the beginning, repeating a habit is essential to build up evidence of your desired identity. As you latch on to that new identity, however, those same beliefs can hold you back from the next level of growth. When working against you, your identity creates a kind of “pride” that encourages you to deny your weak spots and prevents you from truly growing. This is one of the greatest downsides of building habits.

The more sacred an idea is to us—that is, the more deeply it is tied to our identity—the more strongly we will defend it against criticism.

p. 247

The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements. There is no finish line.

p. 253