Atomic Habits

From James Van Dyne
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Title: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Author: James Clear

Purchased: 2020-12-03

Length: 271

Chapter 1[edit]

  • Small habits compound over time - good _or_ bad.
  • A 1% improvement may seem of inonsequence , but when combined with other seemingly small changes the result is drastically different.
  • Focus on systems, not goals. Goals can be important for a sense of measuring progress, but it's the repetition of the systems put in place that get you there.
  • Bamboo builds a dense network of roots for 5 years, before suddenly sprouting out of the ground to grow 30 feet in 6 weeks.

Chapter 2[edit]

  • Three layers of behavior change:
    • Outcome
      • Most goals are at this level
    • Process
      • Most habits are at this level
    • Identity
      • Most beliefs are at this level
    • Habits can be either top-down ( Outcome-based habits ) or bottom-up ( Identity-based habits )
      • Example of a person quitting smoking - when offered a cigarette a person who says "No thanks, I'm quitting" is Outcome-based as the speaker still identifies as a smoker, while a response like "No thanks, I'm not a smoker" no longer identifies as a smoker and is using Identity based habit changes.
    • "The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you'll be to maintain the habits associated with it."
  • The goal is not to read a book, the 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
  • Behaviors are usually a reflection of your identity -> Identity emerges out of your habits -> Each action is a vote for the type of person you want to become

How to change your identity[edit]

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins

Chapter 3[edit]

  • The conscious brain can only focus on one thing at a time, and habits are formed to allow us to perform tasks automatically and reduce cognitive load.
  • Every habit is a 4 step process
    • 1. Cue
    • 2. Creaving
    • 3. Response
    • 4. Reward
    • Example:
      • Cue: You hit a stumbling block on a project at work
      • Craving: You feel stuck and want to relieve your frustration
      • Response: You pull out your phone and check social media
      • Reward: You satisfy your craving to feel relieved. Checking social media becomes associated with feeling stalled at work.

How to Create a Good Habit[edit]

  1. Cue: Make it obvious
  2. Craving: Make it attractive
  3. Response: Make it easy
  4. Reward: Make it satisfying

How to Break a Bad Habit[edit]

  1. Cue: Make it invisible
  2. Craving: Make it unattractive
  3. Response: Make it difficult
  4. Reward: Make it unsatisfying

When trying to change a habit ask yourself: "How can I make it obvious/attractive/easy/satisfying"

Chapter 4[edit]

  • As habits form, your actions come under the direction of your automatic and non-conscious mind
  • "Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate" - Carl Jung

Habit Scorecard[edit]

Use Point-and-call (like a Japanese train conductor) to point-and-call out your automatic habits and become aware of them. Mark each habit as positive, negative, or neutral.

The goal isn't to change anything immediately, but rather to become aware of your habits to better inform yourself for how you'd like to change.

  • Wake up =
  • Turn off alarm =
  • Check my phone -
  • Go to the bathroom =
  • Weigh myself +
  • Take a shower +
  • Brush my teeth +
  • Floss my teeth +
  • Put on deodorant +
  • Hang up towel to dry =
  • Get dressed =
  • Make a cup of tea +


Verbalizing bad habits makes the consequences seem more real: "I'm about to eat a cookie that I don't need. It will cause me to gain weight and hurt my health"

Chapter 5[edit]

Two most common cues are time and location.

e.g. Meditation. I will meditate in my kitchen at 7am for 1 minute.

Habit Stacking[edit]
  • Use Habit stacking to chain new habits to existing habits and make it _obvious_.
  • "After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]"
    • Meditation. After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute.
    • Safety. After I put on my running shoes, I will text a friend or family member where I'm running and how long it will take.
  • Cue should have the same frequency as your desired habit.

Chapter 6[edit]

  • Environment matters when you're making choices. e.g. you may make it a habit to drink more with friends than you would alone
  • "People often choose products not because of what they are, but because of where they are. e.g. By placing baskets of bottled water throughout the hospital's cafeteria, rather than only at the checkout together with the sodas, they managed to reduce soda sales 11% and increase water sales by 25%.
  • Kurt Lewin: Behaviore is a function of the Person in their Environment, or B. B = f(P,E)
Designing Your Environment for Success[edit]
  • 1st Law of Behavior Change: Make it obvious
    • If you want to practice guitar more - place the guitar stand in the middle of the living room, not in your cloest
    • If you want to drink more water, fill up a few water bottle each morning and place them in common locations around the house.
Context is Cue[edit]
  • Habits can start by a specific trigger, but over time become associated with the entire context surrounding it.
  • Our behavior is not defined by the objects in the environment but by our relationship to them. Stop thinking of your environment as filled with objects and start thinking of it as filled with relationships.
    • e.g. for one person a couch is a place to relax, while for another it's a place to binge eat ice cream

Chapter 7[edit]

  • The inversion of the 1st Law of Behavior Change is make it invisible
  • People with high self-control tend to spend less time in tempting situations. It's easier to avoid temptation than resist it
    • Personal examples where I've had success with this strategy
      • When trying to lose weight (~100lbs) I shopped only the perimeter of the store, where the meat and vegetables are and avoid the center aisles, where the highly processed junk food is.
      • When quitting smoking I just simply stopped buying them. Can't smoke what you don't have.
    • Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long term one.

Chapter 8[edit]

  • The second rule is "Make it attractive"
  • Humans fall for exaggerated versions of reality supernormal stimuli
    • Think junk food / highly processed foods with a lot of salt/sugar
    • social media likes / praise - far more than we could get at home
    • mannequins with exaggerated features
  • Falls back to a Dopamine-driven feedback loop
    • Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it
    • It's the anticipation of reward - not the fulfillment of it - that gets us to take action
  • Habit stacking + Temptation Building Formula
    • 1. After I [CURRENT HABIT], I WILL [HABIT I NEED].
    • 2. After [HABIT I NEED], I WILL [HABIT I WANT]

Chapter 9[edit]

  • Many habits come from society around us
  • We imitate habits of three groups
    • The close
      • The way parents handle arguments
      • Friends do something, we're likely to do it as well
      • Joining a culture (club?) where your desired behavior exists and the habit will become more attractive to continue
      • Reminds me of Seth Godin's "People like us do things like this".
    • The many
      • Social pressure exists to not challenge the tribe.
        • e.g. In a social experiment where people were asked to look at a piece of paper and report which line was longest. Actors were staged to give clearly wrong answer. As the number of actors increased as a percentage the non-actors who knew their answer was wrong, went along with it.
      • Some monkeys that know a superior method for opening nuts will revert to an inferior method of their new tribe to fit in
      • Changing your habits when challenging the tribe makes it unattractive. Switch tribes
    • The powerful
      • We
        • Borrow storytelling strategies from our favorite writers
        • Replicate marketing strategies of the most successful firms in our industy
        • Mimic the communication style of our boss
  • If a behavior can get us approval, respect, and praise, we find it attractive.