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Booknotes - Atomic Habits

June 2020
12 minute(s) reading time

Small habits make a big difference.


  • Habits are the compound interest of self improvement. Getting 1 percent better every day counts for a lot in the long run.
  • Habits are a double edged sword. They can work for you or against you which is why understanding the details is essential.
  • Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You need to be patient.
  • An atomic habit is a little habit that is part of a larger system, just as atoms are the building blocks of molecules, atomic habits are the building blocks of remarkable results.
  • If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. focus on your system instead.
  • You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

How your habits shape your identity and visa versa

  • There are three level of change: outcome change, process change and identity change. 
  • The most effective wat to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve but on who you wish to become. 
  • Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. 
  • Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs and to upgrade and expand your identity. The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results (although they can do that). But because they can change your beliefs about yourself.

How to build better habits in 4 simple steps

Process of building habits: cue, craving, response, reward Framework: 4 laws of behavior change.

Good habits:

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

Bad habits:

  1. Cue: make it invisible
  2. Craving: make it unattractive
  3. Response: make it difficult
  4. Reward: make it unsatisfying
  • A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.
  • The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible. 
  • Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop that involves four steps: cue, cravings, response and award.
  • The four laws of behavior change are a simple of rules we can use to build better habits: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy and make it satisfying.

The man who didn’t look right

  • With enough practice, your brain will pick on the cues that predict certain outcomes without consciously thinking about it. 
  • Once our habits become automatic, we stop paying attention to it. 
  • The process of behavior change always start with awareness. You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them.
  • Pointing-and-calling raises your level of awareness from non-conscious habit to a more conscious level by verbalizing your actions.
  • The habit scorecard is a simple effective exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior.

The best way to start a new habit

Diderot effect: Obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases.

  • The two most common cues are time and location
  • Creating an implementation intention is a strategy you can use to pair a new habit with a specific time and location.
  • The Implementation Intention Formula is: I will BEHAVIOR at TIME in LOCATION.
  • Habit stacking is: Build new habit on top of existing habit. 
  • Formula: After CURRENT HABIT, i will NEW HABIT.

Motivation is overrated: Environment often matters more

  • Be the architect of your environment. Make habit cues more obvious.
  • If you want to practice guitar more often place the stand in the middle of the room.
  • Small changes in context can lead to large changes in behaviors over time.
  • Every habit is initiated by a cue. We are more likely to notice cues that stand out.
  • Make the cues of good habits obvious in your environment
  • Gradually, your habits become associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behavior. The context becomes the cue.
  • It is easier to build new habits in a new environment because you are not fighting against old cues.

The secret to self control

  • Once a habit is formed it is unlikely to be forgotten .
  • People with high self-control trends to spend less time in tempting situations. Its easier to avoid temptation than resist it.
  • One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit ia to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
  • Self-control is a short term strategy. Not a long-term one.

How to make habit irresistible

  • The more attractive an opportunity is the more likely it is to become habit-forming.
  • Habit are a dopamine driven feedback loop. When dopamine rises so does our motivation to act.
  • It is anticipation of a reward not the fulfilment of it they get us to take action. The greater the anticipation the greater the dopamine spike.
  • Temptation building is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to lake an action you want with an action you need to do.

The role of family and friends in shaping your habits

  • The culture we live in determines which behaviors are attractive to us.
  • We tend to adapt habits that are praised and approved of by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong to the tribe.
  • We tend to imitate the mentor of three social groups: the close, the many and the powerful.
  • One of the most effective things 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
  • The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. 
  • If a behavior can get us approval, respect, and praise we find it attractive.

How to find and fix the causes of your bad habits

You can make hard habits more attractive to learn associate them with a positive experience. You don’t HAVE to, you GET to. Shift from seeing things as burdens into opportunities.

Example:  I need to go running this morning Into It’s time to build endurance and get fast

  • Every behavior has a surface level craving and a deeper underlying motive.
  • Your habits are modern day solutions to ancient desires.
  • The cause of your habits is actually the prediction that precedes them. The prediction leads to a feeling.
  • Highlight the benefits of avoiding a bad habit to make it seem unattractive.
  • Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings and unattractive with negative feelings. Create a motivation ritual by doing something your enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.

Walk slowly but never backwards

  • The most effective form of learning is practice not planning. 
  • Focus on taking action, not being in motion. 
  • Habits formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.
  • The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.

The law of the least effort

  • Successful companies design their products to reduce wasted motion, to automate, eliminate or simplify as many steps as possible.
  • Humans behave follow the law of the least effort. We will naturally gravitate 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 behavior. When friction is low, habits are easy.
  • Increase the friction associated with bad behaviors. When friction is high, habits are difficult.
  • Prime your environment to make forget actions easier.

How to stop procrastinating by using the two minute rule

  • Habits are the entry point not the end point. Mastering the decisive moments throughout your day is important. 
  • Habits can be completed in a few seconds but continue to impact your behavior for minutes or hours afterwards.
  • Many habits occur at decisive moments - choices that are like a fork in the road- and either send you in the direction of a productive day or an unproductive one.
  • The two minute rule states, when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.
  • The more you ritualize the beginning of an process, the more likely that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things.
  • Standardize before optimize. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.

How to make good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible

  • A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that locks in better behavior in the future.
  • The ultimate way to kick in future behavior is to automate your habits.
  • Onetime choices like buying a better mattress or enrolling an automation financial plan are single actions that automate your future habits and deliver increasing returns over time.
  • Use technology to automate your habits in the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behavior.

The cardinal rule of behavior change

  • The costs of your good habits are in the present, the costs of bad habits are in future.
  • We are more likely to repeat a habit when the experience is satisfying. 
  • The human brain is evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards.
  • The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: what is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is as avoided.
  • To get a habit to stick you need to feel immediately successful even if it is in a small way
  • The first three laws increase the odds that a behavior will be performed this time. The fourth law: make it satisfying, increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated next time

How to stick with good habits everyday

  • Don’t break the chain.
  • One of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress,
  • A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you die a habit, like marking an X on a calendar.
  • Habit trackers and other visual forms of measurements can make your habits satisfying by providing clear evidence of your progress.
  • Never miss twice. If you miss one day try to get back on track as quickly as possible.
  • Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing.

How an accountability partner can change everything

  • We are less likely to repeat a bad habit if it is painful or unsatisfying.
  • 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 social costs to any behavior. It makes the costs of violation your promises public and painful.
  • Knowing that someone else is watching you can be a powerful motivator.

The truth about talent

How to find out whats working for your personality:

  • What feels like fun for you but feels like work to others
  • What make me lose track of time
  • Where do i get greater returns than the average person
  • What comes naturally to me

  • The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition.
  • Pick the right habits and progress is easy. Pick the wrong habit and life is a struggle
  • Genes cannot be easily changed, which means they provide a powerful advantage in favorable circumstances.
  • Habit are easier when they align with your natural abilities. Choose the habits that best suits you.
  • Play a game that favors your strengths. If you can’t find a game that favors you, create one.
  • Genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on.

The goldilocks rule: how to stay motivated in life and work

  • The optimal level of arousal ISs the midpoint between boredom and anxiety.
  • The Goldilocks rule states that human 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 greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.
  • As habits become routine, they become less interesting and less satisfying. We get bored.
  • Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated. It’s the ability to keep going when work isn’t exciting that makes the difference.
  • Professionals stick to the schedule. Amateurs let life get in the way.

The downside of creating good habits

Reflection and reviews enables the long term improvement of all habits because it makes you aware of your mistakes and helps you consider possible paths of improvement.

  • The upside of habits is that we can do things without thinking. The downside is that we are stop paying attention to little errors. 
  • Reflection and review is a process that allows you to remain conscious of your performance over time.
  • Habits + Deliberate practice = Mastery 
  • The tighter we cling to an identity. The harder it becomes to grow beyond it.