Atomic Habits – James Clear

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. You don’t see the impact every day, but when you look back after two, five, or ten years you will. 

Need to be focused on the trajectory your current habits are putting you on, not your current results. 

Breakthroughs are the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash major change. Habits can appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance. 

The outside world will only see the final action that pushes something over the edge, not everything that has happened to get it to that stage. Ex. a stonecutter. 

Focus on systems, not goals. Systems – building and refining processes that should lead to results. 

Outcomes are what you get. Processes are what you do. Identity is what you believe.

For lasting change, focus on changing your identity first. Change the underlying beliefs to support and facilitate the change of the actual habit.  

Your behaviors are a reflection of your identity. Important to check your current behavior and see what it tells you about who you really are. 

Next, see if your current identity is what you want – if it isn’t decide what you want to be and work backwards to create the habits to get you there. 

Your identity shapes your habits, and your habits in turn begin to reinforce your identity. You become your habits. 

Breaking an old identity can be challenging since there is pressure to maintain your self-image and behave in a consistent way / avoid contradiction. Identity conflict is the biggest challenge to positive change at any level. 

This is why it’s key to not get too attached to any one version of your identity. 

Human behavior feedback loop – try, fail, learn, try differently. With practice, the useless movements fade away and the useful actions get reinforced. 

Your brain always wants to automate the process of solving problems. Habits are simply, reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment. Mental shortcuts learned from experience. 

Habits are based on the following events – a cue, which leads to a craving, which leads to your response, in order to obtain a reward. The reward satisfies the craving and becomes associated with the cue. All of this becomes hard-wired into your brain over time. The habitual activity is only done to get whatever reward you are ultimately after. Ex – have a drink to feel relaxed. 

Human brain is a prediction machine. Constantly taking in stimuli and processing, determining what’s going on and what needs to be done. 

We take for granted how many habits we have that are completely sub-conscience, we are on autopilot. Hair grows, blood is pumped through your body, digestion, etc. 

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

Become aware of your habits. Rate them in terms of their effectiveness – do they help solve a problem. And also the trajectory they put you on as it relates to your desired identity. Are they helping you become the type of person you want to be? 

For new habits, come up with a concrete plan – time, date, location. People who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through. 

You also need to have specific actions versus leaving your desires vague. Avoid generalities like I am going to work out more. When, where, and how are you going to work out more? Get specific. 

No behavior happens in isolation. We decide what to do next based on what we have just finished doing. Take advantage of this by tying your desired behavior to something that you already do. 

Many of the actions we take are shaped not by our purposeful drive and choice but rather by the most obvious option. 

Our perception is directed by the sensory nervous system. We perceive the world through sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Vision is the most powerful sensory ability we have, so it’s no surprise that what we see is the greatest catalyst for our behavior. 

Therefore the visual environments we create can have a significant impact on our behaviors. If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment. 

You can train yourself to link a particular habit with a particular context. Usually easier to build a habit in a new environment versus trying to overcome the cues that exist in places you already are familiar with. 

Instead of trying to improve self-control, focus more on avoiding situations where you are forced to exercise a lot of self-control. Focus on changing your environment / context. 

That is, it might be easier to run away from bad habits than trying to change your reactions / behaviors. Once a habit has been encoded, the urge to act follows whenever the environmental cues reappear. 

In the long run we become a product of the environment that we live in. 

You can break a bad habit, but it’s unlikely that you will ever forget it. Eliminate bad habits by reducing exposure to the cues that cause it. 

Habits are dopamine-driven feedback loops. Dopamine is not only released when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate that pleasure. 

When dopamine rises, so too does your desire to act. The anticipation of a reward – not the fulfillment of it – gets us to take action. The brain allocates much of its resources towards craving and desire, especially when compared to liking /receiving. 

Whatever habits are normal in your culture are among the most attractive behaviors you’ll find. One of the deepest human desires is to belong, which has a powerful influence on our modern behavior. 

We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them. Social norms are the invisible rules that guide your behavior each day. 

We pick up habits from the people around us. We soak up the qualities and practices of those around us. Takeaway – choose who you spend your time with very carefully!

Important to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. Even better if you already have something in common with the group. Group identity will soon follow. 

Whenever we are unsure how to act, we look to a larger group around us to help guide us. Downside – the normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. 

There is tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group. Most would rather be wrong with the crowd than right by themselves. 

Once we fit in, we start to look for ways to stand-out. We start to emulate those we admire, ie people with wealth, power, and prestige. 

Some of our major underlying motives, which ultimately drive all of our actions. Habits are modern day solutions to ancient desires.

Conserve energy

Obtain food and water

Find love and reproduce

Connect and bond with others

Win social acceptance and approval

Reduce uncertainty

Achieve status and prestige

Habits are all about associations. Therefore, our behavior is heavily dependent on how we interpret events, not necessarily the objective reality of the events themselves. 

Feelings and emotions tell us whether to hold steady in our current state or to make a change. They help us decide the best course of action. 

Work on shifting your mindset to change habits. Instead of saying you “have’ to do something, say you “get” to do something. The connotation immediately changes from negative to positive. 

The best is the enemy of the good – Voltaire. Arguing for a bias towards taking action.

Action –  a type of behavior that will deliver an outcome. People procrastinate taking action mainly because they are scared and want to delay potential failure. 

When choosing between two similar options, people will naturally gravitate towards the option that requires the least amount of work. 

Every action requires energy. The more energy required, the less likely it is to occur. Focus on eliminating friction to make things easier to do. Reduce the number of choices to make doing the right thing as easy as possible. 

Always think – how can I design a world where it’s easy to do what’s right. Redesign your life so the actions that matter most are also the actions that are the easiest to do. 

40 to 50 percent of our actions on a given day are done out of habit. 

Two-minute rule – when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do. Make your new habits as easy and undaunting as possible to start. Master the art of showing up first. 

Commitment devices – enable you to take advantage of good intentions before you can fall victim to temptation. Best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do. Make the preferred behavior automatic. 

What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided. 

To increase the odds of repeating an action, look to create an immediate satisfying impulse. Delayed satisfaction will not work nearly as well. 

Bad habits – the consequences are delayed but the satisfaction is immediate. Ex – smoking, eating junk food. The opposite holds true for good habits. Ex. -saving money for the future, exercise. 

Eventually intrinsic rewards will take over, but you might need to create / use an immediate reward to get you over the top. Incentives can start a habit, but identity is what sustains it. 

Habit tracking – the most effective tool in behavior change. What is measured can be managed. Tips to make it work for people who aren’t naturally inclined this way:

  1. Automate the measurement to the greatest extent possible. 
  2. Manual tracking should be limited to your most important habits
  3. Record the data as close as possible to the event ending. 
  4. Dangers – tracking the wrong things, and we can become too driven by a particular metric.

Goodhardt Law – when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. 

Measurement is only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture, not when it consumes you. 

When you break a habit, relapse, etc. – the key is to correct before you lose too much ground. Never miss twice rule. 

The first rule of compounding: Never interrupt unnecessarily – Charlie Munger

To make bad habits unsatisfying, your best option is to make them painful in the moment. 

Accountability partner – makes you less likely to skip or procrastinate because there is an immediate cost (shame, financial, etc). We always want to put our best face forward to the outside world, this tendency can be leveraged to make you a better version of yourself at the same time. 

Habits are easier to perform, and more satisfying to stick with, when they align with our natural inclinations and abilities. 

Genes – don’t determine your destiny, but they do determine your areas of opportunity. Genes can dispose, but they don’t predetermine. – Dr. Gabor Mate. 

When you can’t win by being better, you can still win by being different. Match your efforts against your unique dispositions and abilities. Create a new game that favors your strengths and avoids your weaknesses. 

Goldilocks Rule – humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. 

The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over. You have to fall in love with boredom. 

The more sacred an idea is, the more it is directly tied to our identity. Solution – avoid making any one aspect of your identity from becoming an overwhelming portion of who you are. 

When you cling too closely to one identity, you become brittle. 

Happiness is the absence of desire, not the achievement of pleasure. Happiness is the state you enter when you no longer want to change your state. 

Happiness is the space between when a desire is fulfilled and another new desire forming. 

Peace occurs when we do not turn our observations into problems. If you do not desire to act on what you observe you are at peace. Craving is about wanting to fix everything. 

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. Friederich Nietzche

We are only rational and logical after we have been emotional. The primary mode of the brain is to feel, the secondary mode is to think. System 1 – feeling and rapid judgement. System 2 – rational analysis. 

Our responses are tuned against emotions, not rational thoughts. Two people can read the same set of facts very differently since they pass through an emotional filter first. 

Suffering drives all progress. Suffering triggers a desire to change your state, which leads to action and subsequently progress. 

Expectations determine our satisfaction. The gap between our training and rewards determines how satisfied we feel after taking action. 

Being poor is not having too little, it is wanting more. Senecca

Hope declines with experience and is replaced with acceptance. First time, expectation is based on promise, 100% anticipation of what is possible. In subsequent times, expectation is more tethered to previous experience, more grounded to reality, more accurate. 

Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope. Aristotle. 

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