Book notes: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits by James Clear book summary review and key ideas.

Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear

Synopsis:

“No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving – 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.

If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Here, you’ll get a proven system that can take you to new heights.

Learn how to:

  • Make time for new habits (even when life gets crazy)
  • Overcome a lack of motivation and willpower
  • Design your environment to make success easier
  • Get back on track when you fall off course
  • And much more

Atomic Habits will reshape the way you think about progress and success and give you the tools and strategies you need to transform your habits – whether you are a team looking to win a championship, an organization hoping to redefine an industry, or simply an individual who wishes to quit smoking, lose weight, reduce stress, or achieve any other goal.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

I picked up this book because it was on sale on Audible. It also had good reviews and I think it was either on my wish list or I found it under recommended books. Either way, it sounds like the perfect book for me as I’m starting my YouTube channel on 28-day experiments.

Key notes:

  • He had a traumatic baseball accident that ruined his high school baseball career
  • A habit is a routine or behavior that is performed regularly and in many cases automatically
  • His experience taught him a critical lesson:
    • Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years
  • We all deal with setbacks. But in the long run, the quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits
    • It’s easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis
  • Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement
    • The same way money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them
  • It’s only when looking back after a long period of time like 2, 5 or 10 years do the value of good habits or the costs of bad ones become strikingly apparent
    • This makes it a difficult concept to appreciate in daily life
    • We dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much
  • Success is the product of daily habits, not once in a lifetime transformations
  • You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than your current results
  • Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits
  • Time magnifies the margin between success and failure
    • It will multiply whatever you feed it
  • Breakthrough moments are often there result of many previous actions which build up the potential required to unleash major change
    • Ex: ice melting only after hitting a certain temperature, but a result of compounded temperature increases
  • All big things come from small beginnings
    • The seed of every habit is the single, tiny decision
    • But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger
  • Forget about goals, focus on systems
    • Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress
  • Problems with goals:
    • Achieving a goal is only a momentary change
    • Goals restrict your happiness
    • Goals are at odds with long term progress
  • True long term thinking is goalless thinking
    • It’s not about any single accomplishment, it’s about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement
    • Ultimately, it’s your commitment to the process that will determine your progress
  • You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems
  • Changing habits is hard for 2 reasons:
    1. We try to change the wrong thing
    2. We try and change our habits in the wrong way
  • Many people focus on what they want to achieve. This leads to outcome-based habits
    • The alternative is to build identity-based habits
      • This approach focuses on who we wish to become
    • Your old identity could sabotage your new plans for change
    • Behind every system of actions are a system of beliefs
    • Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last
      • True behavior change is identity change
  • You can’t get too attached to one version of your identity
    • Progress requires unlearning
    • Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs and to upgrade and expand your identity
  • Small habits can have a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity. And if a change is meaningful, it is big
  • Habit change is a simple two-step process:
    1. Decide the type of person you want to be
    2. Prove it to yourself with small wins
  • Major theme: feedback loops
    • The formation of all habits is a feedback loop
      • Your identity shapes your habits, then your habits shape your identity
    • But it is important to let your values, principles, and identity drive the loop rather than your results
      • Your focus should always be becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome
  • There are three levels of change:
    • Outcome
    • Process
    • Identity
Chapter 3: How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps
  • A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic
    • The process of habit formation begins with trial and error
    • Habits are simply reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment
  • Habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity so you can allocate your attention to other tasks
  • Habits do not restrict freedom, they create it
    • Book reference – Extreme Ownership
    • The people who don’t have their habits handled are often the ones with the least amount of freedom
    • Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future
  • The cue, cravings, response, and reward create a neurological feedback loop
  • The four laws of habit change:
    1. Cue – make it obvious
    2. Craving – make it attractive
    3. Response – make it easy
    4. Reward – make it satisfying
  • We can also invert these laws to break a bad habit
  • If a habit remains mindless, you can’t expect to improve it
Chapter 5: The Best Way to Start a New Habit
  • The format for creating an implementation intention is:
    • When situation X arises, I will perform response Y
    • People who make a plan for when and where they will perform a specific habit are more likely to follow through
  • Many people think they lack motivation when really they lack clarity
  • If you don’t know when to start your habit, try the first day of the month, week, year
    • People are more likely to take action at those times because hope is usually higher
    • If we have hope, we have a reason to take action
    • A fresh start feels motivating
  • The Diddero Effect is how one purchase or action leads to other similar ones
  • One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do and then stack your new behavior on top
    • This is called habit stacking
  • Formula: “After I (existing habit), I will (new habit)
  • Specificity in cues for habit stacking is important
    • The more tightly bound your new habit is to a specific cue, the better the odds are you will notice when the time is to act
Chapter 6: Motivation is Overrated. Environment Often Matters More
  • Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior
  • It’s easier to associate a new habit with a new context than to build a new habit in the face of competing cues
  • One habit, one context
    • Every habit should have a home
Chapter 7: The Secret to Self-Control
  • One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it
  • Self-control is a short term strategy, not a long term one
Chapter 8: How to Make a Habit Irresistible
  • A supernormal stimulus is a heightened version of reality
    • It elicits a stronger response than usual
  • Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop
  • Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it
  • How to use temptation bundling to make your habits more attractive
    • You’re more likely to find a behavior attractive if you get to do one of your favorite things at the same time
  • Premac’s Principle: more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable ones
  • Whatever habits are normal in your culture are among the most attractive behaviors you will find
    • The seductive pull of social norms
  • We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them
    • We follow the script handed down from our friends and family, our church or school, our local community and society at large
    • Each of these groups comes with their own expectations and standards
  • We imitate the habits of three groups:
    1. The close
    2. The many
    3. The powerful
  • One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior
    • The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the behavior of the individual
  • If a behavior can give us approval, respect, and praise, we will find it attractive
Chapter 10: How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits
  • A craving is the sense that something is missing
    • It is the desire to change your internal state
  • Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings
    • Change your mindset from “you have to” do something to “you get to” do something
  • Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit
Chapter 11: Walk Slowly but Never Backwards
  • If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection
  • Repetition is actually a form of change
    • Simply putting in the reps is one of the most critical steps you can take to encoding new habits
  • What matters is the rate at which you perform a behavior, not the amount of time that has passed
    • The amount of time you have spent performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it
Chapter 12: The Law of Least Effort
  • You don’t actually want the habit itself. What you really want is the outcome the habit delivers
    • The more difficult the habit, the more friction there is between you and your desired state
    • This is why it’s crucial to make your habits so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it
  • Addition by subtraction
    • We can achieve more with the least effort by removing the points of friction that sap our time and energy
  • Prime your environment to make future actions easier
Chapter 13: How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule
  • Two-Minute Rule: when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do
    • What you want is an easy gateway habit that naturally leads you down a more productive path
  • A habit must be established before it can be improved
    • Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis
    • You have to standardize before you can optimize
  • It’s better to do less than you’d hoped then to do nothing at all
Chapter 14: How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible
  • A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future
  • When working in your favor, automation can make your good habits inevitable and your bad habits impossible

The Fourth Law: Make It Satisfying

Chapter 15: The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change
  • We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying
  • The cardinal rule of behavior change: what is rewarded is repeated, what is punished is avoided
  • Our brains have evolved to prefer quick payoffs to long term ones
  • This tendency is referred to as time inconsistency
    • The way your brain evaluates rewards is inconsistent across time
    • You value the present more than the future
  • If you are willing to wait for the rewards, you face less competition and often get a bigger payoff
    • Saying: “the last mile is always the least crowded
  • Reinforcement ties your habit to an immediate reward, which makes it satisfying when you finish
  • Incentives can start a habit, identity maintains a habit
Chapter 16: How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day
  • The most effective form of motivation is progress
    • When we get a signal that we’re moving forward, we get more motivated to continue down that path
  • The first mistake is never the one that ruins you, it’s the spiral of repeated mistakes that follow
    • Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit
  • Measurement is only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture
Chapter 17: How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything
  • You can use a habit contract that enforces a punishment for bad habits
    • A habit contract can be used to add a social cost to any behavior
    • It makes the cost of violating your promise public and painful
    • Knowing that somebody’s watching can be a powerful motivator
  • If you want to be truly great, selecting the right place to focus is crucial
    • Genes do not determine your destiny, they determine your areas of opportunity
  • The most proven scientific analysis of personality traits is called the Big Five, broken down into five spectrums of behavior:
    1. Openness to experience: curious & inventive <-> cautious & consistent
    2. Conscientiousness: organized & efficient <-> easygoing & spontaneous
    3. Extroversion: outgoing & energetic <-> solitary & reserved
    4. Agreeableness: friendly & compassionate <-> challenging & detached
    5. Neuroticism: anxious & sensitive <-> confident, calm, stable
  • You don’t have to build the habits everyone tells you to build
    • Choose the habit that best suits you, not the one that is most popular
  • Questions to Ask Yourself:
    • What feels like fun to me but work to others?
      • The mark of whether you are made for a task is not if you love it, but whether you can handle the pain of the task better than most people
    • What makes me lose track of time?
      • Flow is the mental state you enter when you were so focused on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away
    • Where do I get greater returns than the average person?
    • What comes naturally to me?
    • When have I felt alive?
    • When have I felt like the real me?
  • When you can’t win by being better, you can win by being different
    • By combining skills, you reduce the level of competition which makes it easier to stand out
  • Specialization is a powerful way to overcome the accident of bad genetics
    • The more you master a specific skill, the harder it becomes for others to compete with you
  • Our genes do not eliminate the need for hard work, they clarify it
    • They tell us what to work hard on
Chapter 19: The Goldilocks Rule – How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work
  • The Goldilocks Rule: Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities
    • Not too hard, not too easy, just right
  • The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over
    • You have to fall in love with boredom
Chapter 20: The Downside of Creating Good Habits
  • Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery
  • Establish a system for reflection and review
  • The author does annual reviews to track all of his habits throughout the year
  • He reflects on his progress by answering three questions:
    1. What went well?
    2. What didn’t go well?
    3. What did he learn?
  • Every six months in the summer, he does an integrity report and reviews the mistakes he’s done and how to course correct to align with his values and principles
    • He reflects on his identity and how he can work towards being the type of person he wishes to become
  • When chosen correctly, an identity can be flexible instead of brittle
    • Your identity works with the change in circumstances instead of against them
  • A lack of self-awareness is poison. Reflection and review is the antidote
  • Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross
    • It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine

Main ideas / Themes:

  1. The quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits
  2. Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement
  3. You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems
  4. True behavior change is identity change
  5. Your focus should always be becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome
  6. Habits do not restrict freedom, they create it
  7. Many people think they lack motivation when really they lack clarity
  8. Habit stacking is one of the best ways to build a new habit
  9. Environment often matters more than motivation
  10. The most practical way to eliminate a bad habit is reduce exposure to the cue that causes it
  11. Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit
  12. If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection
  13. Prime your environment to make future actions easier
  14. Two-Minute Rule: when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do
  15. A habit must be established before it can be improved
  16. Incentives can start a habit, identity maintains a habit
  17. The most effective form of motivation is progress
  18. Genes do not determine your destiny, they determine your areas of opportunity
  19. When you can’t win by being better, you can win by being different
  20. The Goldilocks Rule: Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities
  21. The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over
  22. Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery
  23. A lack of self-awareness is poison. Reflection and review is the antidote

Closing thoughts:

This was such a solid book with so much good advice and insights. As with all of my top books, this book not only has great ideas, but an action plan that helps the reader take steps towards making a change and putting it into practice.

While there are a lot of great books in the “self-development” genre, this one is definitely one of my favorites. Its applicable to almost everyone and the author delivers the information in such a useable way. He’s not only a practitioner, but he’s also a good teacher, and it shows in his writing.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

While I’ve already put some of these lessons into practice over the past couple of weeks, my one highlight takeaway from this book will be this:

  • Two-Minute Rule: when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do

When I’m trying out my 28-day experiments, I’ll not only combine the ideas of habit stacking to pair them up with my existing habits, but also to make sure they’re easy to do so that I can continue doing them.

Nutshell:

The A-Z on how to form good habits, break bad ones, and change your life with small, daily actions that add up overtime.

Rating:

5/5

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One thought on “Book notes: Atomic Habits by James Clear”

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