Atomic Habits | James Clear | Summary
On a fine sunny day, while playing baseball, James Clear was accidentally hit on the face with a baseball bat. It was a massive blow.
He was flown to the Hospital. He had to be placed in a coma due to seizures. A long road to recovery lay ahead,
Yet 6 years later - He was selected as the top male athlete at Denison University and named to the ESPN Academic All-America Team - an honour give to just 33 players across the country. He was also awarded the university’s highest academic honour, the President’s Medal.
The author of Atomic Habits - James Clear - attributes this to Habit Building.
A habit is a routine or behaviour that is performed regularly - and in many cases, automatically.
A small habit improvement every day, adds up to big results over time. Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Yet we often dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter very much in the moment.
Here is some math to see this better -
1% worse every day, for one year = (0.99)[to the power of]365 = 0.03
1% better every day, for one year = (1.01)[to the power of]365 = 37.78
His point - we all face challenges in life. The injury was his challenge. The experience taught him that changes that seem small and unimportant at first, will compound into remarkable results, if you are willing to stick with them for years.
In his book, James Clear draws from Biology, Neuroscience, Philosophy and Psychology to synthesise the best ideas of smart people in the area of Habit Formation.
You fall to the level of your systems. You have to design better systems for yourself
Habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance. In the early and middle stages of any quest, there is often a valley of disappointment. This is one of the core reasons, why it is so hard to build habits that last. People make a few small changes, fail to see a tangible result and decide to stop.
James Clear calls it the Plateau of Latent Potential. So how do you cross this Plateau? Prevailing wisdom is that you set goals. Specific Actionable Goals. This is how he started working on his habits. Set a Goal for weight to lose. Set a Goal for the grade you want.
This did not work for him.
Eventually he began go realise that results had very little do with goals he set and nearly everything to with the systems he followed. In fact, if you completely ignore the goal and only work on the system, you would still succeed.
doableAction Reflect on this - You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall the level of your systems.
If you spend too much time thinking about your goals and too little designing your systems - then these problems arise:
For every winner, there are many losers who also had the same goal. So having goals did not give success too many.
Goal achievement is only momentary satisfaction
Goals restrict your happiness because you keep putting it off till the next milestone.
Goals restrict long-term progress because how do you find motivation to continue after you reach your goal?
Ultimately it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.
doableAction If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on identifying a small enough process change and stick to it.
What you design for yourself to stick to the small identified change, is your system.
How your habits shape your identity and how your identity shapes your habits
There are 3 levels of change - Outcome change (what), Process Change (how) and Identity change (who)
The natural tendency is to focus on outcome change. As in, What habit I want to change.
More effective, is to change, how I do small simple things (Process change). But the most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve but on who you want to become (Identity Change).
Habits and Identity both affect each other. Habits that affirm your identity are most likely to stick.
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 continually edit your beliefs and to upgrade and expand your identity.
doableAction Reflect on this - 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
A habit is a behaviour 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
The backbone of the book is the 4 step habit model - Cue, Craving, Response and Reward - and the 4 laws of behaviour change that evolve out of these steps.
Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop that involves four steps - cue, craving, response and reward.
Your habits are shaped by the systems in your life. You can (re)design the systems in your life and change your habits.
To build a habit -
Cue - Make it obvious
Craving - Make it attractive
Response - Make it easy
Reward - Make it satisfying
To break a habit -
Cue - Make it invisible
Craving - Make it unattractive
Response - Make it difficult
Reward - Make it unsatisfying
Make it Obvious - The 1st Law
The human brain is a prediction machine. It is continuously taking in your surroundings and the information it comes across. When it sees something repeatedly, it sorts and highlights the relevant cues and files that information for future use.
You don’t need to be aware of a cue consciously, for a habit to begin. This is both good and bad. Good because additional processing effort is saved. Bad - because habits begin to govern us unconsciously.
For this reason, the process of behaviour change must begin with awareness. If a habit remains mindless, you can not hope to improve it.
If you travel on the Japanese subway - you will see the conductors pointing and calling out verbally - every job related action that the perform. This required-by-the-train-company mindfulness has reduced errors by 85% and accidents by 30%.
doableAction To mindfully identify your habits - Make a habit scorecard by listing your habits and assigning them (= for neutral, + for desirable, - for undesirable).
The goal is simply to notice what is going on. Bring it into awareness. If you eat a chocolate bar every morning, acknowledge it, as if you were seeing someone else doing it. No more. No less.
Desirable and Undesirable scores depend on what you want to achieve.
The first step to changing bad habits is to be on the lookout for them.
The best way to start a new Habit
An experiment in Britain involving motivating people to exercise. Volunteers were asked to state their clear implementation intentions by completing the sentence, ‘During the week, I will exercise vigorously for 20 minutes on [day] at [time] in [place]. Those who did so, had double the success rate of those who did not.
Two of the most common cues are time and location. It is a blessing that smartphones allow you to set reminders for both.
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. What they really lack is clarity.
doableAction Fill out this sentence for an intended habit - I will [behavior], at [time], in [location]
Unrelated aside to self - Implementation intention makes all the difference. That is why these summaries have doableActions :)
Habits can be stacked as one good habit leads to another.
The Diderot effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases. You buy a couch and you then question the layout of your entire living room.
doableAction The habit stacking formula is - After [current habit], I will [new habit]. Fill it up for stacking a new habit on top of an existing one.
The key is to tie the new habit to something you already do every day as a matter of habit. The secret is in selecting the right cue, to kick things off for the new habit.
New habit should not be out of place with your new cue | should have same frequency. doableAction - Refer to your habit scorecard created earlier to figure out where to stack your new intended habit.
1st Law of behaviour change is to make it obvious. Strategies like implementation intention and habit stacking are practical ways to create cues. But cues must be specific.
The author had an intention of doing 10 pushups. The cue of doing it after lunch did not work for him. Later, a more specific cue of, ‘After I close the laptop lid to go to lunch (when) I will do 10 pushups against the desk next to mine (where)’ - worked!
Motivation is over-rated. Environment matters more
Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behaviour.
In a temple people tend to talk in whispers. Customers will buy products sometimes not because they need them, but how they are presented to them. Retailers put a premium on end of aisle at the eye level positions as they generate maximum sales.
doableAction When you want to change habits, think of yourself as Environment Re-designer. Redesign your environment so it is filled with productive cues and devoid of unproductive ones. When the cues that spark a habit are subtle or hidden, they are easy to ignore.
Schipol Airport reduced toilet cleaning costs at the airport by 8% by putting a sticker resembling a bug in the urinals. The men aimed for it and spillage outside reduced.
If you want to eat more fruit, keep it visible on the table, not in the fridge’s crisper. If you want to drink more water, fill up a few more bottles and keep them in common locations around the house.
doableAction You can train yourself to link a particular habit with a particular environment. The trick is to see your environment not as a composition of things but as a composition of activities you perform with those things.
In one study, scientists asked volunteers who could not sleep to stay away from the bed room when they could not sleep. To only go the the bedroom and the bed, when they felt sleepy. Quickly over time it because easier for them to fall asleep, when they came to their beds. Their brains learnt that beds were not for surfing the net or watching TV.
doableAction Find new environment for a new habit.
It is easier to build a fresh association than to compete with old cues. To shop healthier food, stop going to your existing supermarket and go buy from a new place.
doableAction You can also redesign existing spaces with the mantra, ‘One space, One use’.
The table where you eat meals is not so good for doubling up as your study table. You are missing out on automatically cueing yourself to study, when you use the eating table for both purposes.
The Secret to Self Control
During the Vietnam war, upto 20% of the soldiers stationed there became heroin addicts. This was scary. But 90% of them did not persist with their addiction upon returning back. This was completely counter to prevailing wisdom on heroin addiction.
The difference was in cues. In the 1st place they became addicts because the cues (easy availability, fellow addicts, high stress) were present. Then the addiction disappeared on returning back to US because the very same cues were no more there.
Disciplined people are simply better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self control. They spend less time in tempting situations.
Yes. Willpower and discipline is essential to success. But the answer is to doableAction Create a more disciplined environment!
The people with the best self control are those who need to use it the least.
Once a habit is encoded the urge to act follows whenever the environmental cues reappear. Even after a long time. This is one reason why behaviour shaming techniques can backfire.
Shaming obese people with weight loss presentations or smokers with pictures of blackened lungs creates anxiety. The anxiety -which is an old familiar cue - coping mechanism for these people is to comfort eat or to smoke. Guess what they will end up doing?
Bad habits in general are autocatalytic. The process feeds itself. They foster the feelings they try to numb.
You feel bad so you eat junk food. Because you eat junk food, you feel worse.
You feel sluggish so you watch TV. You continue to watch TV, because you no more have energy for anything else.
You have bad health. You worry about it. You get anxious. With anxiety, you smoke or overeat. Bad health becomes worse.
doableAction Cut off the bad habit at the Cue itself by redesigning your environment. Forget about exercising conscious self control instance by instance.
Make healthy food easily available. Remove TV from front of the couch. Place the TV in front of the treadmill.
Make the cues of your good habits obvious and the cues of your bad habits invisible and out of sight.
Make it Attractive - The 2nd Law
How to make a Habit Irresistible
The brain of each animal is preloaded with certain rules for behaviour. When it comes across an exaggerated version of that rule - it lights up like a Christmas tree.
With excess of Salt, Sugar and Fat - Junk food is an exaggerated version of reality. It therefore drives our reward systems into a frenzy. Modern food industry relies on this coding, to create addictions for its success. It is the corrupted example of Law of Attraction. The 2nd Law.
Today’s society is filled exaggerated versions of reality. Social media delivers ‘Likes’ in bulk. Porn delivers sexual stimulation in overdrive. Recreational drugs are becoming ‘harder and meaner’ every day.
At the core of all this, is the craving for Dopamine. Dopamine stimulates desire. If dopamine production is experimentally blocked in rats, they lose all desire to live and die. If it is boosted, they fast-track to addiction.
Habits are a Dopamine driven feedback loop. All highly habit forming behaviors are associated with a dopamine spike.
doableAction As an aside, If you are getting large doses of Dopamine (binge TV or Porn watching, Drugs, Alcohol, Gambling) - first set of habits to work on, should aim to get off these.
The large spikes from here are not conducive to smaller spikes from Disciplined Habit Building efforts. They are bad for your Habit Discipline. Period.
Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure but also when you anticipate it. Gambling addicts get a dopamine spike on placing a bet, not on winning. Result: It is the anticipation of reward - not fulfilment of it - that gets us to take action.
This is one reason why anticipation of an experience often feels better than actually experiencing it. Daydreaming about an upcoming vacation (wanting) can be better than the actual vacation (liking).
The brain has far more neural circuitry devoted to wanting rewards than for liking the experience itself and forms the basis for the Law of Attraction.
We need to make our habits attractive because it is the expectation of a rewarding experience that motivates us to act in the first place.
doableAction Use Temptation Bundling to make your habits more attractive.
Ronan Byrne, a student in Dublin, limited his Netflix access to treadmill moving above a certain speed. He bundled watching Netflix (what he wanted to do) with Exercise (what he needed to do)
Temptation bundling is about making what we want to do conditional on doing what we need to do.
doableAction Revisit your Habit Scorecard and creatively explore bundling possibilities to the formula - After [current Habit], I will [Habit I need]. Then after that, I will [Habit I want and crave]
The role of family and friends in shaping your Habits
There is a seductive pull of social norms. Humans are herd animals. We want to fit in and bond. We don’t chose our earliest habits. We imitate them. You follow the habits of your culture without thinking.
We imitate the habits of 3 groups in particular -
Each group offers an opportunity to leverage the law of attraction to make our habits more attractive.
Imitating the Close
A ground breaking study tracked 12000 people for 32 years and found that chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if a person had a friend who became obese. We soak up the qualities and practices of those around us.
doableAction Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have. You’ll rise together.
In the internet era when searching is so much easier you can take it a step further.
doableAction join a community / tribe/ culture where your desired behaviour is the norm and you already have something in common with the group (on some other count)
Example - Nerds who want to become fit. Film buffs who want to cycle. Food lovers who want to Diet.
Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe. The shared identity begins to reinforce the personal identity. It is friendship and community that help behaviours last over the long term.
Imitating the Many
When changing your habits means challenging the tribe, the change is unattractive. When changing the habit means fitting it, the change is attractive.
doableAction With a particular habit in mind - Reflect on this: What does it meant to change your tribe? in context of your friends, extended family and workplace.
Imitating the powerful
Have you caught yourself mimicking your bosses communication style? We care about the habits of successful and powerful people, because we desire success ourselves.
We are also motivated to avoid behaviours that lower our status.
doableAction With a particular habit in mind - Reflect on this: How can this get me approval, respect and praise?
How to find and fix the causes of your Bad Habits
There are many ways to address the same underlying motive. One person might learn to reduce stress by smoking while another by going for a run.
Habits are all about our associations. You see a cue and based on past experience determine an appropriate response. Our behaviours depend on how we interpret what is happening to us and not on objective reality (if there was such a thing :))
What you really want is to feel different
A craving is a sense that something is missing. It is a desire to change your internal state. 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.
It is therefore possible to reprogram your brain to enjoy hard habits and give up the bad ones.
doableAction Change a ‘Have to’ to a ‘Get to’
If you get to wake up early for work then you don’t have to get up early for work. If you get to make another sales call for your business, then you don’t have to make another sales call
By reframing them in your mind, you can change behaviours from burdens into opportunities.
doableAction Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits is a fast and light weight way to reprogram your mind to make a habit seem more attractive.
Instead of telling yourself, ‘I need to go and run’, tell yourself, ‘It is now time to build endurance and get fast’
Instead of telling yourself, ‘Distractions are preventing my meditation’, tell yourself, ‘Distraction is an opportunity to get back to the breath!’
doableAction If you want to feel happier in general, find something that makes you truly happy. Then create a short routine before you do your ‘truly happy’. Later your short routine by itself, can trigger your happiness cues, whenever you want.
You want to create a happiness routine for yourself.
You realize that you love to pet your dog (find something that makes you truly happy).
To build your routine - Every time before you pet your dog, teach yourself to take 3 deep breaths and smile.
Do this often, so it becomes a habit.
Later you can just take 3 deep breaths and smile to feel happy whenever you want. As simple as that.
Make it Easy - The 3rd Law
Jerry Uelsmann a professor at University of Florida divided his incoming photography class equally into 2 group - Xs & Ys.
Xs - the quantity group - would be able to earn an ‘A’ if they produced at least a 100 photos. Ys - the quality group - would need to create a near perfect photo to earn an ‘A’.
By the end of the semester, the best photos were from Xs - the quantity group. In the process of creating hundred of photos, they had honed their skills. While Ys - the quality group - had just sat and speculated about perfection.
doableAction You just need to get your repetitions in, when starting on a new habit.
To master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. The more you repeat an activity, the more the structure of your brain changes to become efficient at that activity (new neural pathways).
The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.
All habits follow a similar trajectory from effortful practice to automatic behaviour, a process known as automaticity.
The law of least effort
Anthropologist Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs and Steel) talks about the easier spread of agriculture on the world map over the ages.
The horizontal land masses (Asia, Europe) had it easier to spread their agriculture, than the vertical land masses (Africa, America) because climate does not change much between Shanghai and Paris (same latitude) but it does do so between Florida and Montreal (same longitude).
So agriculture spread 2-3 times faster in Asia and Europe and they prospered more . They built better armies and conquered more.
This is the last of Least Effort playing on a global scale.
Energy is precious and brain is wired to conserve it. It is human nature to follow Law of Least Effort. We are automatically motivated to do what is easy.
In a sense, every habit is just an obstacle to getting what you really want. Dieting is an obstacle to getting fit. Studying to doing better academically. To succeed, it is crucial to make your habits so easy, you will do them, even when you don’t feel like it.
One of the most effective ways to reduce the friction with your habits is to practice environment design. Habits are easier when they fit into the flow of your life.
doableAction in the course of daily living, reset your environment after use, not only to clean up after the last action, but to prepare for the next action.
When you walk into a room next time, everything will be at its perfect place. People may think you work hard at it, but all you are doing is being proactively lazy.
doableAction Explore different ways to prime your environment, so it’s ready for immediate use.
To draw more, put your art supplies on top of the desk, near easy reach.
To eat healthy in the morning, prep your kitchen to readiness, before sleeping
To exercise, ready your gym bag and water bottle ahead of time
To break writer’s block - start your next chapter, before you stop for the day, the previous night.
doableAction Explore different ways to design your environment for creating friction, if you want to rid a habit
Unplug the TV after every use, to reduce watching TV
Take the batteries out of the remote in addition :)
Want more? Move the TV to a closet from the living room, after every use. You get the picture!
Other hacks are here -
Leave the phone in a different room upto lunch. Guess why?
Get a friend to confiscate your phone for a few hours.
Hide the beer in the back of the fridge, where you can’t see it
Delete social media and food ordering apps from the phone often (so you have to reinstall them first)
Essentially, redesign your life so that the actions that matter most are also the action that are easiest to do.
How to stop procrastinating by using the 2 minute rule
Each evening, there is a tiny moment that shapes the rest of the day. You come back from office and either you change into your workout clothes or you crash on the recliner with a TV remote. The habit that you need is not for exercise. That is too big and unnecessary. The habit that you need is to change into your workout clothes.
Habits are like the entrance ramps to highways. Once enroute you will continue down the road. Just like you do when you continue to watch a bad TV show or binge after you are full.
doableAction identify your decisive moments. Every day, there are a handful of moments that deliver an outsized impact. These choices are a fork in the road.
Ordering takeout or cooking dinner
Driving the car or walking / taking the bike
Doing the homework or Taking the TV remote
We are limited by where our habits lead us. That is why, mastering the decisive moments throughout your day is so important.
You need to design the habits for your decisive moments with care. They should be super easy.
As habit designers we can get carried away and it is easy to plan on starting too big. You can sabotage your best plans by trying to do do, too much, too soon.
doableAction - Explore, and you will find that nearly any habit can be scaled down to a 2 minute version. Prefer that!
‘Read before bed each night’ becomes, ‘Read one page’.
‘Do 30 minutes of Yoga’ becomes, ‘Take out my yoga mat’
‘Study for Class’ becomes ‘Open my Notes’
‘Fold the laundry’ becomes ‘Fold one pair of socks’
‘Run 3 miles’ becomes ‘Tie my running shoes’
The idea is to make your habit as easy to start, as possible. Once you have started doing the right thing it is much easier to continue.
doableAction If the 2 minute rule seems like a trick to doing more, also try limiting it to 2 minutes and then no more. Habit formation will still work. The secret is to stay below a point where it feels like work.
If you have tried to do journalling or write creatively, set a target to write only for 2 minutes and no more. Do it for a few days so the writing-for-2-minutes does not seem strange any more. Then see where it takes you ..
Strategies like these work for another reason too. They reinforce the identity you want to build for yourself.
Remember process trumps goals. You want to become the person who does not miss writing appointments. You are not worried about writing that book.
Once the habit is in place, then you do habit shaping gradually to bring your habit to desired levels of outcome.
How to make good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible
Victor Hugo wrote ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ under strange circumstances in 1830.
He had already wasted an year in partying and entertaining, now with only six months to the publisher’s deadline remaining.
Victor collected all his clothes and made his assistant lock them away in a chest. He only remained with a shawl. Now he had no option to socialise and by extension the only choice was to sit and write.
doableAction Create a Commitment Device for yourself.
To give up a bad habit, make it difficult by redesigning your environment. Make a choice in the present that controls your future for some time after that.
Reduce over consumption by purchasing food in single packs and liquor in quarters
Get added voluntarily to banned lists on casinos and online poker sites
Leave the wallet (and cards) home, when you go to the mall
Commitment devices are useful because they allow you to actionize good intentions before you fall to temptation.
doableAction Review these one-time action that forever lock in good habits. Also see how you can creatively extend.
Drink water from bigger glasses.
Use smaller plates to reduce your calorie intake. Ditto for small spoons.
Buy a good mattress. Buy black-out curtains.
Remove your TV from the bedroom
Unsubscribe from Emails. Use Email filters.
Turn off notifications and mute group chats.
Delete games and social media apps from your phone
Get a dog
Move to a friendly neighbourhood
Buy good shoes to avoid back pain
Buy a supportive chair or a standing desk
Cut DTH / Cable Service
The ultimate way to lock in future behaviour is to automate your habits. Explore using technology to see how it can help you automate.
Make it Satisfying - The 4th Law
The cardinal rule of behaviour change
60% of Karachi City was a sewage cesspool in rainy season, when Stephen Luby arrived there from the US in late 1990s.
A bustling commercial hub, Karachi had grown unplanned and vast majority lived in slums. No sewage. No drinking water. Appalling Sanitation. Water borne diseases were rampant.
People knew the important of cleanliness and hygiene but it was on no one’s habit charts. They washed hands haphazardly or simply forgot.
Stephen worked with Proctor and Gamble to deliver Safeguard Soap to the slum localities. First for free. Using this soap was more pleasurable than regular soap. Soap foamed easily. Smelled so nice. Instantly hand washing became slightly more pleasurable.
It made the difference to the health of the children in the neighbourhood. Diarrhoea fell by 52%. Pneumonia by 48%. Long term effects were even better. Over 95% of the households continued to use the soap even after 5 years and even when it had to be purchased. Simply because it had now become a habit. A pleasurable habit.
The adoption and subsequent success of toothpaste (cleanliness feeling from astringent action) and chewing gum (strong mint and juicy fruit after-flavours) has had similar trajectories.
This is the Law of Satisfaction at work.
doableAction As Habit Designers - design your habits to the maxim, ‘What is rewarded is repeated, What is punished, is avoided’.
The satisfaction completes the habit loop, ensuring its long term success.
The brain is wired to respond to immediate rewards. We may know intellectually that brushing teeth and washing hands is useful, but it is not going to prompt us into action because the rewards will take way too long to be felt’.
Ditto for smoking, over-eating and unsafe sex. For bad habits, one could say, ’Sweeter the first fruits of the habit, the more bitter are its later fruits’.
Research has shown that those who are able to delay gratification, succeed more (google for Stanford Marshmellow Experiment, if curious)
It is not easy to wait. To delay gratification. You can not rely only on good intentions. You have to design in, some immediate rewards upon completion of your habit - in the here and now.
doableAction Add Reinforcers to the end of your habit. Especially for encouraging Habits of Avoidance.
You want the ending of your habit to be satisfying because that is what you will remember. When you are trying to avoid something, there is no satisfaction in successfully avoiding.
A binge shopper opened a ‘Leather Jacket Account’. Every time she passed up on an impulse to buy, she transferred the unspent amount to her ‘Leather Jacket Account’ - which is how she would reward herself later. This is like a loyalty program to yourself.
It is important to select rewards that reinforce your intended identity rather than ones that conflict with it. The Leather Jacket - for example - would reinforce being outdoors in a particular way.
How to stick with good habits every day
Trent was a rookie stockbroker, working out of a Vancouver suburb. Not much was expected from him as most business deals were done in the city itself.
Trent had 2 jars on his desk with 120 paper clips in one of them. Every morning, as soon as finished making a phone call to a prospect, he would transfer a paper clip to the other jar. His daily goal was the transfer all paper clips to the other jar.
An year and half later, he had brought in $5 million business to his firm and was making equivalent of $125000 today.
doableAction Find Visual Reinforcers for your habit
Shift a hairpin from one container to another, after writing one page of the book.
Move a marble from one bin to another, after one set of push ups.
Make tick-marks on a wall calendar, after every day’s meditation.
doableAction Use a Habit Tracker
Benjamin Franklin carried a small booklet with him and every night tracked himself on 13 personal virtues.
Jerry Seinfeld uses a habit tracker to write jokes. His goal is to ‘never break the chain’ of writing a joke every day.
doableAction The key is to not break the chain and if at all you do, then to rebound back immediately by having a rule ‘Never break the chain, twice in succession’.
The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.
Habit tracking is powerful because it leverages multiple laws of behaviour change.
doableAction Evaluate the Pros and Cons of doing habit tracking and use it accordingly as a Habit Designer for yourself.
Pros of Habit Tracking -
Fulfils 1st Law - Makes it Obvious. Tracking builds a series of visual cues.
Keeps you honest - because your progress in based on actual data points
Fulfils 2nd Law - Makes it Attractive. The desire to get tick mark attracts. On a bad day, your unbroken streak motivates.
Fulfils 4th Law - Makes it Satisfying. The unbroken streak satisfies. Unrelenting focus helps you get to the results quickly that then becomes the very reason to continue.
Cons of Habit Tracking -
Forces you to keep two habits. The actual one and the measuring of the habit
Measures can become a goal by itself and make you lose relevance to the big picture. Goodhart’s Law states when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.
How an accountability partner can change everything
doableAction Create a Habit Contract and add an immediate cost to any bad habit
To make bad habits unsatisfying you best bet is to make them painful in the moment.
The natural choice is to reach to friends and significant others. Sometimes it helps if you are both mutually accountable to each other for useful things because it feels less like nagging over time.
You can even automate the process. Thomas Frank an entrepreneur has programmed an automated tweet that goes out at 6:10 AM every morning, inviting the first respondent to claim $5 from him, over PayPal. His task every morning is to be up by then and turn off this tweet in time :)
The secret to maximising your odds of success is to chose the right field of competition. This is as true for habit change as is for business and sports. Habits are easier to perform and more satisfying to stick with, when they align to your natural inclinations and abilities.
doableAction - Understand your personality. Give yourself a test such as MBTI or Big 5 to get started. Seek feedback from others. Reflect and Introspect.
doableAction - Pick the right habit. Step back and yourself, why you are picking the habit. Explore answers on what other different habits could get you the same results. Chose the easiest one from amongst.
doableAction - To pick the right habit - ask yourself what seems like fun to me but is work to others? what makes me lose track of time? where do I get greater returns than the average person? what comes naturally to me?
The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.
Improvement requires a delicate balance between finding newer challenges and finding satisfaction from current successes.
doableAction Search for newer challenges without straying too far away from where you are building critical mass and already finding success.
Handling the boredom of a unvarying practice routine, day after day, differentiates best athletes from mere good ones. Mastery requires practice. But the more you practice something, the more boring and routine it becomes. The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.
doableAction Explore ‘Variable Rewards’ for your unvarying routines.
Slot machines vary the pace of and amount of rewards to the gambler. The unpredictability actually leads to greatest spikes of dopamine. The sweet spot is approximately if half the time you get what you want and half the time, you don’t.
doableAction Eventually, you have to fall in love with boredom. Get used to it!
The upside of habits is that we can do things without thinking. The downside is that we stop paying attention too little errors.
Habits do not automatically lead to Mastery. In fact - Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery
doableAction Periodic reflection and review of your habit
It paves the path to mastery by helping you make course corrections and identify bottlenecks that require habit tweaks.
A lack of self-awareness is poison. Reflection and review is the antidote.
A habit that reinforces our desired identity is easy to pursue. This has a flip side too. The tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes, to grow beyond it.
doableAction Build habits but over time, be ready to change them to reflect your new current reality
The key is to redefine yourself such that you get to keep the important aspects of your identity even if your particular role changes.