Atomic Habits

A book about building systems of small habits that compound over time. Even small changes add up to big things—1% improvement every day result in 37x improvement.

About Habits

Makes the distinction between goals, systems, and identity as agents of change. You might have a goal which motivates you to make changes, but once that’s gone it’s easy to regress. Therefore focusing on the systems is a better strategy to consistently improve. Finally, identity (your set of beliefs) has a large impact on behavioral changes–if you see yourself as a person that does X as part of your identity, you are very likely to keep doing X. Actions should be dictated by values not emotions. Habits change your identity–they provide evidence of who you are repeatedly.

Habits reduce cognitive load, they’re automatic solutions to recurring problems.

Habits are formed by following a loop–cue, craving, reaponse, reward. As a result, the reward gets associated with the cue. To create a good habit, make it obvious (cue), make it attractive (craving), make it easy (response), make it satisfying (reward). To break a bad habit, invert each step.

Make it obvious

Habit stacking–use existing habits as a cue for new ones.

Implementation intention makes the likelihood of following through much higher by specifying the time and location up front. The level of apecificity is important–be precise and leave no room for thinking about it.

Environments are powerful cues, in particular visual ones. Highly visible cues are effective at driving behavior as is convenience. Rather than an environment being a collection of objects think of it as a collection of relationships. Your relationship with drinks is different at a bar than at home. It’s easier to form new habits in new environments so you can build new associations and cues without wrestling with existing ones.

You can break a habit but are unlikely to forget it. Cues are strongly associated.

Make it attractive

Supernormal stimuli creates a heightened reality which triggers a stronger response. Examples include junk food, social media. Highly engineered reality aims to make you form habits or addicitions.

Anticipation of a reward causes us to act due to dopamine (released before the reward). This creates a powerful desire because the ‘want’ is stronger than the reward.

Temptation bundling is when you connect something you want to do with something you need to do e.g. a stationary bike that plays Netflix only when you ride a t a certain speed. This is Premack’s principle in practice (more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors).

Habits are often transferred from those closest to you so it’s best to surround yourself with people who embody what you value. Belonging to a group that shares an identity helps support the changes you are making.

Behavior that get us approval, respect, and admiration we find attractive and are more likely to do.

Cravings are an expression of a deeper underlying motivation e.g. obtaining food, social acceptance, reducing uncertainty. Habit forming products tend to latch onto these motivations which is why they seem addictive. However, there are many ways to solve a need–you dont need the taco to satisfy the need to eat food. Good habits find positive associations to relieve an underlying motivation.

A craving is the desire to change your internal state–you desire to feel different which causes you to act.

we find evidence for whatever mindset we choose e.g. I have to vs I get to.

To create a positive association with a difficult habit, create a ritual that is associated with something positive and then link to the difficult habit by always performing the ritual prior to doing it.

Make it easy

Motion feels like progress but it’s not. Action is whats needed for a result to happen. Preparation is sometimes procrastination.

Hebb’s law: neurons that fire together wire together. it takes repetition for habits to form. Habit formation is more related to repetition than time.

Law of least effort: people tend to take the option that requires the least effort. Convenience is king.

Reduce friction to new habits by designing your environment, make the cues more obvious, don’t require that you go out or your way to do it. This simlar to product design. Also similar to engineering principle, make it easy to do the right thing.

Prime the environment by putting things related to the habit in their place or prepared for use e.g. leave the running clothes out the night before. The inverse also works for bad habits e.g. unplug the TV after watching to make it harder next time.

30-40% of our behaviour is determined by habits. However a small habit can lead to many other things e.g. putting on gym clothes guarantees working out and all the downstream choices. It’s like path dependence.

When starting a new habit start with something that take two minutes to start. Starting a gateway havit makes it much easter to continue doing it once you’ve started (convenience).

Committment device is a choice you make to that controls all actions in the future e.g. Victor Hugo’s locked away clothes to make it unsuitable to go outside. Procrastination can be beaten by making it hard to do other habits.

Automation is a way to make following good habits automatically. e.g. cash register makes it hard to steal. “Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.” -Alfred North Whitehead

Make it Satisfying

A positive emotion towards the result of a habit increases the likelihood it will be repeated e.g. mint flavored tooth paste leaves a clean mouth feeling instantly.

Time inconsistency means we value the immediate more than the delayed. This explains why we think so short term, the instant reward is (in the moment) valued higher i.e. smoking while you know it causes cancer eventually.

The cost of good habits is are in the present, the cost of bad habits is in the future. Instant gratification wins.

To make habits stick you need immediate reinforcement (reward or punishment). a good example is with avoidance habits like no latte’s. To make the reward more immediate do something when you avoid it like transfering the money you would have spent into another account for a future purpose. The reward should be aligned with identity.

Eventually the long term goal becomes the reward and short term reward is more to kickstart it. Incentives start the habit, but identity sustains it.

Habit tracking is a way of making progress visible and rewarding after each successful activity. As an example, moving a paperclip from one jar to another after each sales call or marking off a calendar.

When a habit streak ends, don’t miss twice in a row, start the streak again as soon as possible or it becomes a habit. In general, no zero days. Show up even if it is not your best.

Consequences need to be immediate and painful enough to cause behavior change. Laws are an example e.g. seat belt laws provide accountability. A habit contract with others that outlines the goal and consequences is another way.

Peak motivation comes from working on tasks that are not too difficult and nit too easy (goldilocks rule). To get into the zone, research suggest 4% beyond your current ability. Without variety and progress we get bored and are unlikely to stick with the habit. The greatest threat to success is boredom. You need to fall in love with boredom to keep showing up even when you don’t feel like it.

Habits are not sufficient for mastery. To continuously improve takes deliberate practice otherwise you merely reinforce the same habit.

Career best effort, a way of measuring progress that Pat Riley introduced to the lakers asking them to improve by 1% each year. They would reflect and review on performance regularly.

Reflect periodically on identity and how your actions and habits reflect that.

Keep your identity small (Paul Graham) means you won’t be resistant to change since any one thing is not tied up in your identity. This provides flexibility to grow and change.

  • Building a Note-Taking Habit

    Make it obvious: Journaling is the first thing I do in the morning after I take the dogs out. That provides the cue that it’s time to add to my notes as I reflect on the previous day. I can also look at the list of notes I took which sparks the desire to record them.

  • Less Time, More Time

    There are many things I want to spend less time doing and many things I want to spend more time doing.

  • Identity Is a Powerful Motivator for Behaviors

    Behavioral change, such as forming a new habit, can be motivated by how it reflects your identity (both positively and negatively)–we do things that provide evidence for who we are.

  • How to Write More

    The way I write more is by doing it every day. I write first thing in the morning (journaling and note taking) and publishing my notes (like this one). For work, I write product briefs to clarify the situation, my interpretation of the facts, and what we should do about it. I write memos for the team for anything important. I write investor updates. I do it without thinking—even when drafting a tricky email I’ll write it out to understand what I’m trying to do.

  • Convenience Is King

    People tend to take the path that requires the least effort to satisfy a need or want. You can often predict people’s behavior by merely understanding the convenience of each option.

  • We Find Evidence for Whichever Mindset We Have

    We tend to find supporting arguments for the mindset we are in. That’s why re-framing is effective in changing our relationship with the situation or environment. For example “I have to” vs “I get too” where the latter is a more positive mindset which leads to positivity.

  • Reflections on Writing 500 Notes

    I’ve now written 500 notes and roughly 84,000 words since May 25, 2020 in my Zettelkasten. Here are a few thoughts and observations.

  • Operant Conditioning

    Learning through association of a behavior with rewards and punishment. We tend to do more of the things that make us feel good rather than feel bad.

  • There Is an Iceberg of Content Within Organizations

    There is so much writing that goes into running modern organizations but very little of it is ever seen. Every email, chat, document, slides, spreadsheets that gets produced is limited in distribution to a handful of people or teams. What you can observe from the outside is only the most polished published content.

  • Publishing Notes Visualizes Growing Knowledge

    In a note taking practice, the act of publishing and reviewing notes helps to visualize progress of growing your knowledge. It’s difficult to quantify your intelligence or thinking at any moment, but seeing the list of files added/modified when doing a git commit makes it more tangible.

  • No Zero Days

    Make a little progress on your most important goals every day, even if it’s something small. Any time you let things slip, it’s easier to slip again and eventually it becomes a habit. The rule of no zero days prevents that and provides evidence of your changing identity every day.

  • Meta Habit

    A habit that helps make acquiring new habits easier. For example, the habit of removing the option of not doing something you need to do decreases the mental energy to take the desired action and thereby create the habit.

  • Consistency Is Potency

    The more consistent something is, the more potent it becomes. It might sound boring to say the same things over and over again, but it leads to better results. Said another way, it’s difficult to get anything of value by being inconsistent.

  • Habit Stacking

    Using an established habit as a cue for initiating another habit. For example, using the fact that you brush your teeth every night and build on it by flossing too. This makes it more likely that you will perform the action and establish a habit.