Atomic Habits book summary

Abhinay Omkar
9 min readDec 30, 2022

My personal notes on Atomic Habits book by James Clear

Fundamental

  • Get 1% better each day for 1 year, you’ll end up 37% times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1% worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. Habits are a compound interest of self-improvement.
  • Change can take years — before it happens all at once (Plateau of Latent Potential).
  • Forget about goals, focus on systems instead. Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.
  • Most effective way to change your habits is not to focus on what you want to achieve (Outcome-based habits). Instead focus on habits (Identity-based habits) based on who you wish to become.
  • Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.
  • Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.
  • When your habits are dialed in and the basics of life are handled and one, 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.
  • Habit feedback loop: Cue, Craving, Response and Reward.
  • Four laws of behavior change to build better habits
    - Make it obvious (Cue)
    - Make it attractive (Craving)
    - Make it easy (Response)
    - Make it satisfying (Reward)
  • Break a bad habit
    - Make it invisible (Cue)
    - Make it unattractive (Craving)
    - Make it difficult (Response)
    - Make it unsatisfying (Reward)

Make it obvious (The 1st Law)

  • With practice, habits become automatic. Be conscious of unconscious habits, especially bad ones.
  • Pointing-and-Calling is a system designed to reduce mistakes. Example, before you leave a house you say: “I’ve got my keys. I’ve got my wallet. I’ve got my mobile.”
  • Make a habit scorecard to increase awareness of your habits. Mark good, bad and neutral habits in the list.
  • The 1st Law of behavior change is to make it obvious.
  • Make a plan (Implementation intention): ”I will Behavior at Time in Location” or “When situation X arises, I will perform response Y”. Pair a new habit with time and location.
  • Stack habits (Habit stacking): “After I Current Habit, I will New Habit”. Pair a new habit with current habit.
  • Create an environment which makes it easy to access or to do that habit. Make it visible.
  • Do not try to mix a space for multiple uses. For example, do not play video games and do work on the same desk. “One space, one use.”.
  • Associate a new habit with new context than to build a new habit in the face of competing cues.
  • To break bad habits: make it invisible. Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term strategy.

Make it Attractive (The 2nd Law)

  • Whenever you predict that an opportunity will be rewarding, your level of dopamine spikes in anticipation. Anticipation of reward (not the fulfilment of it) that gets us to take action.
  • Temptation bundling: Connect new habits to habits that you already enjoy. This can stimulate your brain to make the new habit attractive.
  • Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do. In the anticipation of reward from the Habit that you want you’ll be encouraged to perform the habit that you need.
  • Habit stacking + Temptation bundling formula:
    - After I (Current habit), I will (Habit I need).
    - After (Habit I need), I will (Habit I want).
  • We tend to adopt habits that are praised and approved by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong to the tribe.
  • We tend to imitate the habits of three social groups: The close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (highly effective people that you inspire from).
  • Going along with the group does not feel like a burden. Everyone wants to belong. If you grow up in a family that rewards you for your skills, performing that skill will seem like a very attractive thing to do. We pick up habits from the people around us. Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe.
  • Whenever we are unsure how to act, we look to the group to guide our behavior. (Checking Amazon reviews, etc). Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
  • Most effective thing you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior and you already have something in common with the group.
  • 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.
  • Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings and unattractive when we associate them with negative feelings. Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.
  • Make bad habits unattractive. Reframe your mind-set by highlighting the benefits of avoiding your bad habits.

Make it Easy (The 3rd Law)

  • Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done.
  • The key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice.
  • We’ll naturally graduate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.
  • Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.
  • Reduce the friction associated with good behaviors. When friction is low, habits are easy.
  • Prime your environment to make future actions easier.
  • The difference between a good day and a bad day is often a few productive and healthy choices made at decisive moments. Each one is like a fork in the road, and these choices stack up throughout the day and can ultimately lead to very different outcomes.
  • Make your habits as easy as possible to start. Your goal might be to run a marathon, but your gateway habit is to put on your running shoes. That’s how you follow the two-minute rule. The point is to master the habit of showing up.
  • 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. Rather than trying to change the behavior, make the preferred behavior automatic.
  • Let your partner reset your social media sites passwords. Partner would share the password only on Fridays’. On weekdays, Partner would do it again. Automation can make your good habits inevitable and your bad habits impossible.

Make it satisfying (The 4th Law)

  • Once in Karachi, Pakistan the rate of diseases drastically came down after people started using soap which has pleasurable experience (easy foam, great smell, etc). Because, people started using this soap to wash their hands properly in a satisfactory way.
  • Bad habit: the immediate outcome usually feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad. Good habit: the immediate outcome is enjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good.
  • Cardinal rule of behavior change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.
  • Habit needs to be enjoyable for it to last. Simple bits of reinforcement — like soap that smells great, toothpaste that has refreshing mint or transfer $5 when skipping a coffee — can offer the immediate pleasure you need to enjoy a habit.
  • Making progress is satisfying, and visual measures — like moving paper clips, crossing a todo list, turning a page, etc. They add a little bit of immediate satisfaction.
  • “Don’t break the chain”. Don’t break the chain of workouts and you’ll get fit faster than you’d expect.
  • Habit tracker: Get a calendar and cross of each day you stick with your routine.
  • Researchers have shown that people who track their progress on goals like losing weight, quitting smoking are all more likely to improve than those who don’t. The visual cues like the streak ofX’s on your calendar give immediate satisfaction.
  • Habit tracking provides visual proof of your hard work — a subtle reminder of how far you’ve come. You’re focused on a process rather than the result.
  • There is no need to track your entire life.
    - Whenever possible, make measurement automated.
    - Manual tracking should be limited to your most important habits.
  • We optimize for what we measure. When we choose the wrong measurement, we get the wrong behavior. When measuring a number, look at the larger pictures. See if the tracking is meaningful and the most important thing.
  • An accountability partner can create an immediate cost to inaction. We care deeply about what others think of us, and we do not want others to have a lesser opinion of us.
  • A habit contract can be used to add a social cost to any behaviour. Knowing that someone else is watching you can be a powerful motivator.

Advanced tactics

Genes

  • Michael Phelps (Swimming) and Hicham El Guerrouj (Running) are both fantastic athletes. They differ significantly in height. El Guerrouj is 5 ft 9 inch tall whereas Phelps is 6 feet (7” difference). But El Guerrouj has incredibly long legs and a short upper body, an ideal frame for distance running. El Guerrouj might be one of the best runners in history, but it’s doubtful he would ever qualify for the Olympics as a swimmer (Same for Michael). The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition. You want to play a game where the pods are in your favor.
  • People are born with different abilities. Genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity.
  • Direct your effort toward areas that both excite you and match your natural skills, to align your ambition with your ability.
  • Our habits are not solely determined by our personalities, but there is no doubt that our genes nudge us in a certain direction.
  • There is a version of every habit that can bring you joy and satisfaction. Find it. Habits need to be enjoyable if they are going to stick. Read whatever fascinates you. You don’t have to build the habits everyone tells you to build.
  • The goal is to try out many possibilities, research a broad range of ideas, and cast a wide net. Experiment occasionally. Balance between winning and losing. If you are currently winning, you exploit, exploit. If you are currently losing, you continue to explore, explore.
  • Effective strategy to follow habit that seems to deliver best results about 80% and continue to explore the remaining 20%. For example, Google asks employees to spend 20% percent on projects of their choice.
  • Questions to ask yourself:
    - What feels like fun to me, but work to others?
    - What makes me lose track of time?
    - Where do I get greater returns than the average person?
    - What comes naturally to me?
  • Boiling water will soften a potato but harden an egg. You can’t control whether you’re a potato or an egg, but you can decide to play a game where it’s better to be hard or soft.
  • Our genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on. Work hard on the things that come easy.

The Goldilocks Rule

  • The human brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty. If you love tennis and try to play a serious match with a 4 year old, you will quickly become bored (too easy). In contrast, if you play with a pro (Roger Federer) you will quickly lose motivation (too difficult). Play with someone who is your equal, (manageable difficulty). Your focus narrows, distractions fade away, you will fully invest in the game.
  • Goldilocks rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Regularly search for challenges that push you to your edge while continuing to make enough progress to stay motivated.
  • Professionals take action even when the mood isn’t right (or feel bored). They might not enjoy it, but they find a way to put the reps in.

Downside of Good Habits

  • The upside of habits is that we can do things without thinking. The downside of habits is that you get sided to doing things a certain way and stop paying attention to little errors.
  • Habits are necessary, but not sufficient for mastery. What you need is a combination of automatic habits and deliberate practice. Each habit unlocks the next level of performance. It’s an endless cycle. Remain conscious of your performance over time, so you can continue to refine and improve it.
  • Reflection and review:
    - What went well this year?
    - What didn’t go so well this year?
    - What did I learn?
  • Integrity report:
    - What are the core values that drive my life and work?
    - How am I living and working with integrity right now?
    - How can I set a higher standard in the future?
  • The more secret an idea is to us the more strongly we will defend it against criticism.
  • Avoid making any single aspect of your identity an overwhelming portion of who you are. For example, For business owners, they believe like “I’m the CEO”, what happens when you leave or sell your company? Instead, transform into “ I’m the type of person who is disciplined, reliable, and great on a team.”
  • The tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it.

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