Atomic Habits by James Clear: Summary and Notes
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.
Goals vs. Systems
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.
Winners and losers have the same goals.
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
Changing our habits is challenging for two reasons:
We try to change the wrong thing.
We try to change our habits in the wrong way.
Three Layers of Behavior Change
The first layer is changing your outcomes. This level is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book, winning a championship. Most of the goals you set are associated with this level of change.
The second layer is changing your process. This level is concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow, developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits you build are associated with this level.
The third and deepest layer is changing your identity. This level is concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, your self-image, your judgments about yourself and others. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases you hold are associated with this level.
Build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.
It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.
New identities require new evidence.
Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.
The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps:
You do not crave smoking a cigarette, you crave the feeling of relief it provides. You are not motivated by brushing your teeth but rather by the feeling of a clean mouth. You do not want to turn on the television, you want to be entertained.
Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state.
Habit stacking: 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].”
Formulate a plan for when and where they would exercise over the following week. Specifically, each member of the third group completed the following sentence:
“During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”… 91 percent of the third group exercised at least once per week—more than double the normal rate.
The sentence they filled out is what researchers refer to as an implementation intention, which is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. That is, how you intend to implement a particular habit.
Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for the time to be right to make an improvement.
The simple way to apply this strategy to your habits is to fill out this sentence: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
Habits can be easier to change in a new environment. It helps to escape the subtle triggers and cues that nudge you toward your current habits. Go to a new place—a different coffee shop, a bench in the park, a corner of your room you seldom use—and create a new routine there.
“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.
I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.
One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
Remove a single cue and the entire habit often fades away.
When it comes to habits, the key takeaway is this: dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it. Gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right before they place a bet, not after they win.
It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action.
Join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
When you binge-eat or light up or browse social media, what you really want is not a potato chip or a cigarette or a bunch of likes. What you really want is to feel different.
If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it. This is the first takeaway of the 3rd Law: you just need to get your reps in.
One of the most common questions I hear is, “How long does it take to build a new habit?” But what people really should be asking is, “How many does it take to form a new habit?” That is, how many repetitions are required to make a habit automatic?
Habits like scrolling on our phones, checking email, and watching television steal so much of our time because they can be performed almost without effort. They are remarkably convenient.
One of the most effective ways to reduce the friction associated with your habits is to practice environment design.
When deciding where to practice a new habit, it is best to choose a place that is already along the path of your daily routine. Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of your life.
Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.
If you find yourself watching too much television, for example, then unplug it after each use. Only plug it back in if you can say out loud the name of the show you want to watch.
The Two-Minute Rule: “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. What you want is a “gateway habit” that naturally leads you down a more productive path.
Your goal might be to run a marathon, but your gateway habit is to put on your running shoes. That’s how you follow the Two-Minute Rule.
Becoming an Early Riser
Be home by 10 p.m. every night.
Have all devices (TV, phone, etc.) turned off by 10 p.m. every night.
Be in bed by 10 p.m. every night (reading a book, talking with your partner).
Lights off by 10 p.m. every night.
Wake up at 6 a.m. every day.
As mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.”
Never miss twice. The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows.
HOW TO CREATE A GOOD HABIT
- Make It Obvious
Fill out the Habits Scorecard. Write down your current habits to become aware of them.
Use implementation intentions: “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”
Use habit stacking: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
Design your environment. Make the cues of good habits obvious and visible.
- Make It Attractive
Use temptation bundling. Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
Create a motivation ritual. Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.
- Make It Easy
Reduce friction. Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits.
Prime the environment. Prepare your environment to make future actions easier.
Master the decisive moment. Optimize the small choices that deliver outsized impact.
Use the Two-Minute Rule. Downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less.
Automate your habits. Invest in technology and onetime purchases that lock in future behavior.
- Make It Satisfying
Use reinforcement. Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit.
Make “doing nothing” enjoyable. When avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits.
Use a habit tracker. Keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain.”
Never miss twice. When you forget to do a habit, make sure you get back on track immediately.
HOW TO BREAK A BAD HABIT
- Make It Invisible
Reduce exposure. Remove the cues of your bad habits from your environment.
- Make It Unattractive
Reframe your mind-set. Highlight the benefits of avoiding your bad habits.
- Make It Difficult
Increase friction. Increase the number of steps between you and your bad habits.
Use a commitment device. Restrict your future choices to the ones that benefit you.
- Make It Unsatisfying
Get an accountability partner. Ask someone to watch your behavior.
Create a habit contract. Make the costs of your bad habits public and painful.
In summary, a habit needs to be enjoyable for it to last. Simple bits of reinforcement—like soap that smells great or toothpaste that has a refreshing mint flavor or seeing $50 hit your savings account—can offer the immediate pleasure you need to enjoy a habit. And change is easy when it is enjoyable.