Book Notes: Atomic Habits

By James Clear. 306 pages.

NOTE: Whenever I read a nonfiction book, I like to summarize the ‘meat’ of it, the parts that really had value to me (I copied the idea from Derek Sivers). So, fair warning: this is less a book summary and more a ‘points I liked in a book’ summary.

There’s a lot of science behind successful habit formation. Much of the strategies and tactics involve working with our genetic (brain) requirements to make it attractive to the brain, or to fly ‘under the radar’ so as to not activate certain brain mechanisms.

There’s a lot of overlap with Jocko Willink’s ideas about discipline, and how to practice it. One key example: the idea of just ‘showing up’. Willink calls it ‘going through the motions’. Both authors emphasize it’s important to perform the habit ritual regardless of the outcome. For Clear this is to activate neural circuits; for Willink it is the essence of practicing discipline. There’s even more overlap with Robert Maurer’s One Small Step and Scott Adams’ How to Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

Goals vs. Systems

  • Forget about goals, focus on systems instead.
  • Acheiving a goal is only a momentary change.
  • 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.
  • You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Consider: It’s not goals that differentiate winners and losers. Winners and losers have the same goals. It’s the systems they create and follow.

Creating Habits

  • You get what you repeat.
  • Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.
  • Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits.
  • Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits.

Get clear about what your habits are today, and what you want them to be. If you keep saying something is a priority but you never act on it, then you don’t really want it. *Your actions reveal your true motivations*.

How to Create a Good Habit:

  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:

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

Habit-Forming Strategies

1: Associate habits with a time and place
People who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through.

2: Stack habits

  • You often decide what to do next based on what you have just finished doing.
  • To build a new habit, identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top.
  • The habit stacking formula is: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
  • Example: When I serve myself a meal, I will always put veggies on my plate first.
  • Remove a single cue and the entire habit often fades away.
  • It is the anticipation of a reward – not the fulfillment of it – that gets us to take action.

3: Reframe habits to highlight their benefits

  • Reframe your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks.
  • Instead of telling yourself “I need to go run in the morning,” say “It’s time to build endurance and get fast.”

4: Add pleasure to good habits, pain to bad habits

  • What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.
  • Add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long-run and a little bit of immediate pain to ones that don’t.

[Buy this book]