Atomic Habits is a must read for anyone struggling to maintain good habits or break bad ones. It reinforces the idea that success comes from repetition. You have to show up day-in, day-out, regardless of whether you feel like it or not. The book drives this point home and outlines practical ways to make it more likely you do so, such as environment design and habit stacking. I took so many notes and gained so much from this read.

My notes

The aggregation of marginal gains… the philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. ????

Success is the product of daily habits - not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat.

Your habits need to perist long enough to break through this plateau (the Plateau of Latent Potential).

Forget About Goals, Focus on Systems Instead

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.

“The score takes care of itself.” The same is true for other areas of life. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.

When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.

The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.

The meaning of atomic habits — a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do, but also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.

It’s hard to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behaviour.

True behaviour change is identity change.

Progress requires unlearning. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.

For most of my early life, I didn’t consider myself a writer. If you were to ask any of my high school teachers or college professors, they would tell you I was an average writer at best: certainly not a standout. When I began my writing career, I published a new article every Monday and Thursday for the first few years. As the evidence grew, so did my identity as a writer. I didn’t start out as a writer. I became one through my habits.

Each habit not only gets results but also teaches you someting far more important: to trust yourself. You start to believe you can accomplish these things.

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

Ultimately, your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you wish to be. Quite literally, you become your habits.

All behaviour is driven by the desire to solve a problem. Sometimes the problem is that you notice something is good and you want to obtain it. Sometimes the problem is that you are experiencing pain and you want to relieve it. Either way, the purpose of every habit is to solve the problems you face.

How to create a Good Habit (The Laws of Behaviour Change):

  • Make it obvious (cue).
  • Make it attractive (craving).
  • Make it easy (response).
  • Make it satisfying (reward).

How to break a Bad Habit (inversion of the laws):

  • Make it invisible (cue).
  • Make it unattractive (craving).
  • Make it difficult (response).
  • Make it unsatisfying (reward).

Carl Jung said “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

The first step to changing bad habits is to be on the lookout for them.

Implementation Intention

The two most common cues are time and location. Implementation intentions leverage both of these cues.

The format of creating an implementation intention is: “When situation X arises, I will perform response Y”.

People who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through.

Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.

Being specific about what you want and how you will achieve it helps you say no to things that will derail progress, distract your attention, and pull you off course.

Habit Stacking

One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behaviour on top. This is called habit stacking.

The habit stacking formula is: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

Habit stacking works best when the cue is highly specific and immediately actionable.

Environment

Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behaviour.

The most common form of change is not internal, but external: we are changed by the world around us. Every habit is context dependent.

It is so important to live and work in an environment filled with productive cues and devoid of unproductive ones.

If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment.

Environment design is powerful not only because it influences how we engage with the world but also because we rarely do it.

Environment design allows you to take back control and become the architect of your life. Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it.

Stop thinking about your environment as filled with objects. Start thinking about it as filled with relationships. Think in terms of how you interact with the spaces around you.

Habits can be easier to change in a new environment.

One place, one use.

A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is an environment where habits can easily form.

Self-Control

When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.

…the way to improve these qualities is not by wishing you were a more disciplined person, but by creating a more disciplined environment.

In the long-run, we become the product of the environment that we live in. To put it bluntly, I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment. A more reliable approach is to cut bad habits off at the source. One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.

Instead of summoning a new dose of willpower whenever you want to do the right thing, your energy would be better spent optimizing your environment. This is the secret to self-control. Make the cues of your good habits obvious and the cues of your bad habits invisible.

Attractive

Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop.

Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it.

It is the anticipation of a reward — not the fulfillment of it — that gets us to take action. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike.

Your brain has far more nueral circuitry allocated for wanting rewards than for liking them.

Temptation Bundling

Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do.

The habit stacking + temptation bundling formula is: 1. After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. 2. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].

Family

The Polgar sisters: world champion chess prodigies.

“The customs and practices of life in society sweep us along.” Michel de Montaigne.

We soak up the qualities and practices of those around us… One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour.

Your culture sets your expectation for what is “normal.” Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself.

Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe. It transforms a personal quest into a shared one.

Whenever we are unsure how to act, we look to the group to guide our behaviour. We are constantly scanning our environment and wondering, “What is everyone else doing?”

There is tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group. The reward of being accepted is often greater than the reward of winning an argument, looking smart, or finding truth. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.

When changing your habits means challenging the tribe, change is unattractive. When changing your habits means fitting in with the tribe, change is very attractive.

Action vs Motion

Action, on the other hand, is the type of behaviour that will deliver an outcome. If I outline twenty ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually sit down and wrte an article, that’s action.

… motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure. Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism. It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen.

If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection… This is the first takeaway of the 3rd Law: you just need to get your reps in.

Habit formation is the process by which a behaviour becomes progressively more automatic through repetition. The more you repeat an activity, the more the structure of your brain changes to become efficient at that activity.

… habits form based on frequency, not time.

To build a habit, you need to practice it. And the most effective way to practice a habit is to adhere to the 3rd Law of Behaviour Change: make it easy.

Make it Easy

On the tough days, it’s crucial to have as many things working in your favour as possible so that you can overcome the challenges life naturally throws your way. The less friction you face, the easier it is for your stronger self to emerge… The idea is to make it as easy as possible in the moment to do the things that payoff in the long run.

Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of your life.

…when we remove the points of friction that sap our time and energy, we can achieve more with less effort.

…create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits and increase the friction associated with our bad ones.

…we should ask ourselves… “How can we design a world where it’s easy to do what’s right?” Redesign your life so the actions that matter are the also the actions that are easiest to do.

Two-Minute Rule

Habits are automatic choices that influence the conscious decisions that follow.

We are limited by where our habits lead us.

The Two-Minute Rule states “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”

The point is to master the habit of showing up. The truth is, a habit must be established before it can be improved.

A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future. It is a way to lock in future behaviour, bind you to good habits, and restrict you from bad ones.

The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do.

When the effort required to act on your desires becomes effectively zero, you can find yourself slipping into whatever impulse arises at the moment.

Make it Satisfying

The Cardinal Rule of Behaviour Change: What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.

Positive emotions cultivate habits. Negative emotions destroy them.

The road less travelled is the road of delayed gratification. If you’re willing to wait for the rewards, you’ll face less competition and often get a bigger payoff. As the saying goes, the last mile is always the least crowded.

… select short-term rewards that reinforce your identity rather than ones that conflict with it.

Eventually, as intrinsic rewards like a better mood, more energy, and reduced stress kick in, you’ll become less concerned with chasing the secondary reward. The identity itself becomes the reinforcer. You do it because it’s who you are and it feels good to be you.

Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustain a habit.

A habit needs to be enjoyable for it to last. Simple bits of reinforcement… can offer the immediate pleasure you need to enjoy a habit. And change is easy when it is enjoyable.

Habit Tracking

Perhaps the best way to measure your progress is with a habit tracker.

On Jerry Seinfeld: …he is not focused on how good or bad a particular joke is or how inspired he feels. He simply focused on showing up and adding to his streak.

Benefit #1: Habit tracking is obvious. Benefit #2: Habit tracking is attractive. Benefit #3: Habit tracking is satisfying.

Habit tracking also helps keep your eye on the ball: you’re focused on the process rather than the result. You’re not fixated on getting six-pack abs, you’re just trying to keep the streak alive and become the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.

The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows.

This is a distinguishing feature between winners and losers. Anyone can have a bad performance, a bad workout, or a bad day at work. But when successful people fail, they rebound quickly. The breaking of a habit doesn’t matter if the reclaiming of it lasts.

I think this principle is so important that I’ll stick to it even if I can’t do a habit as well or as completely as I would like.

As Charlie Munger says, “the first rule of compounding: Never interrupt it unnecessarily.”

This is why the “bad” workouts are often the most important ones. Sluggish days and bad workouts maintain the compound gains you accrued from previous good days. Simply doing something — ten squats, five sprints, a push-up, anything really — is huge. Don’t put up a zero. Don’t let losses eat into your compounding.

Don’t break the chain. Try to keep your habit streak alive.

Never miss twice. If you miss one day, try to get back on track as quickly as possible.

If you want to prevent bad habits and eliminate unhealthy behaviours, then adding an instant cost to the action is a great way to reduce their odds.

The best way I know to overcome this predicament (repeating bad habits) is to increase the speed of the punishment associated with the behaviour. There can’t be a gap between the action and the consequences.

On habit contracts: …signing the contract was an indication of seriousness. “Anytime I skip this part I start slacking almost immediately.”

The more you master a specific skill, the harder it becomes for others to compete with you.

The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilitites. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.

At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.

On successful people vs the rest: The difference is that they still find a way to show up despite the feelings of boredom.

If you only do the work when it’s convenient or exciting then you’ll never be consistent enough to achieve remarkable results.

Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way. Professionals know what is important to them and work toward it with purpose; amateurs get pulled off course by the urgencies of life.

Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery.

Pat Riley, coach of NBA Championship team L.A. Lakers: “Sustaining an effort is the most important thing for any enterprise.”

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

On Eliud Kipchoge: …one of the greatest marathoners of all time and an Olympic gold medallist. He still takes notes after every practice in which he reviews his training for the day and searches for areas that can be improved.

Reflection and review ensures that you spend your time on the right things and make course corrections whenever necessary…

In the words of investor Paul Graham, “keep your identity small.” The more you let a single belief define you, the less capable you are of adapting when life challenges you.

The holy grail of habit change is not a single 1 percent improvement, but a thousand of them. It’s a bunch of atomic habits stacking up, each one a fundamental unit of the overall system.

Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine. “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.”

The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements. It’s remarkable what you can build if you just don’t stop. It’s remarkable the business you can build if you don’t stop working. It’s remarkable the body you can build if you don’t stop training. It’s remarkable the knowledge you can build if you don’t stop learning. It’s remarkable the fortune you can build if you don’t stop saving. It’s remarkable the friendships you can build if you don’t stop caring. Small habits don’t add up. They compound.