Attitude

JackNotes: Atomic Habits

Self improvement and how-to motivation by James Clear.

Executive Summary

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

Awareness comes before desire.

A craving is created when you assign meaning to a cue. It can only occur after you have noticed an opportunity.

It is the idea of pleasure that we chase. Desire is pursued. Pleasure ensues from action.

With a big enough why you can overcome any how. If your motivation and desire are great enough, you’ll take action even when it is quite difficult. Great craving can power great action – even when friction is high.

Being motivated and curious counts for more than being smart because it leads to action. To do anything, you must first cultivate a desire for it.

Appealing to emotion is typically more powerful than appealing to reason. Our thoughts and actions are rooted in what we find attractive and not necessarily in what is logical.

Suffering drives progress. The source of all suffering is the desire for a change in state. This is also the source of all progress. The desire to change your state is what powers you to take action.

Your actions reveal your true motivations.

Our expectations determine our satisfaction. If the gap between expectations and outcomes is positive (surprise and delight), then we are more likely to repeat a behavior in the future. If the mismatch is negative (disappointment and frustration), then we are less likely to do so.

Feelings come both before and after the behavior. The craving (a feeling) motivates you to act. The reward teaches you to repeat the action in the future:

Cue > Craving (Feeling) > Response > Reward (Feeling)

How we feel influences how we act, and how we act influences how we feel. Desire initiates. Pleasure sustains. Wanting and liking are the two drivers of behavior. If it’s not desirable, you have no reason to do it. Desire and craving are what initiate a behavior. But if it’s not enjoyable, you have no reason to repeat it.

Pleasure and satisfaction are what sustain a behavior. Feeling motivated gets you to act. Feeling successful gets you to repeat.

How to Create a Good Habit

The 1st Law: 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.

The 2nd Law: 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 normal
  • Create a motivation ritual. Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit

The 3rd Law: 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 one-time purchases that lock in future behavior

The 4th Law: 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

Inversion of the 1st Law: Make It Invisible

  • Reduce exposure. Remove the cues of your bad habits from your environment

Inversion of the 2nd Law: Make It Unattractive

  • Reframe your mindset. Highlight the benefits of avoiding your bad habits

Inversion of the 3rd Law: 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

Inversion of the 4th Law: 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

The Three Layers of Behavior Change:

  1. Outcomes: changing your results, e.g. losing weight. Most of the goals you set are at this level
  2. Process: changing your habits and systems, e.g. developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits you build live at this level
  3. Identity: changing your beliefs, e.g. your worldview or self-image. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases you hold are associated with this level

The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.

Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop of four steps:

  1. Cue: what triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. The bit of information that predicts a reward
  2. Craving: the motivational force behind every habit. You don’t crave the habit itself, but the change in state it delivers (e.g. you do not crave smoking a cigarette, you crave the feeling of relief it provides)
  3. Response: the actual habit you perform, as a thought or action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and the amount of friction associated with the behavior
  4. Reward: the end goal of every habit. We chase rewards because they satisfy our cravings and teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future

If a behavior is insufficient in any of the four stages, it will not become a habit. Without the first three steps, a behavior will not occur. Without all four, a behavior will not be repeated.

The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits:

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

We can invert these laws to learn how to break a bad habit:

  1. Cue: make it invisible
  2. Craving: make it unattractive
  3. Response: make it difficult
  4. Reward: make it unsatisfying
  • Practice guitar more frequently? Place it in the middle of the living room
  • Drink more water? Fill up a few water bottles each morning and place them around the house
  • “If I see stairs, I will take them instead of the elevator.”
  • “When I serve myself, I will always put veggies on my plate first.”
  • Can’t get any work done? Leave your phone in another room for a few hours
  • Watch too much television? Move the TV out of the bedroom
  • Only listen to podcasts you love while exercising
  • Only watch your favorite show while ironing 
  • Exercise. Exercise can be associated with a challenging task that drains energy and wears you down. You can view it as a way to develop skills and strength. Instead of “I need to go run in the morning,” say “It’s time to build endurance and get fast”
  • Finance. Saving money is often associated with sacrifice. You can associate it with freedom as living below your current means increases your future means
  • Motion: outlining twenty ideas for articles. Action: sitting down and writing an article
  • Motion: search for a better diet plan and read a few books on the topic. Action: eat a healthy meal
  • Want to exercise? Set out your workout clothes, shoes, gym bag, and water bottle ahead of time
  • Want to improve your diet? Chop up a ton of fruits and vegetables and pack them in containers so you have easy access to healthy snacks

Find gateway habits that lead to your desired outcome by mapping your goals on a scale from “very easy” to “very hard.”

For example:

  • Running a marathon – very hard
  • Running a 5K – hard
  • Walking ten thousand steps – moderately difficult
  • Walking ten minutes – easy
  • Putting on your running shoes – very easy

Your goal might be to run a marathon, but your gateway habit is to put on your running shoes. 

The point is to master the habit of showing up. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist. Make it easy to start and the rest will follow.

The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: “What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.”

The Goldilocks Rule: “Humans 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.”

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