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Atomic Habits – James Clear

I thought this was an excellent book. I loved how applicable each of his points were. I also liked that the points were organised into a framework. It keeps things coherent and easier to remember.

Here are my key takeaways.

Make good habits easy to do, bad habits hard to do. You can’t rely on willpower. Design your environment so that bad habits are hard to start (unplug tv, hide chocolate, disable websites with sport) and that good habits are easy to start (fruit bowl, gym clothes already packed in bag, journal out)

Habit stacking: doing habits one after another. Effective way to get into doing a habit – schedule it after another one. Morning routine is a great example of this.

Best way to change a habit is to change your identity. If you want to run, see yourself as a runner. If you see yourself as a gym person, it helps a lot with getting to the gym. Notice the difference between two smokers refusing a cigarette: one saying “I don’t smoke” and the other saying “I’m trying to quit smoking”.

Good habits aren’t rewarding in the present but are in the future. Every bad habit is rewarding in the present (otherwise they wouldn’t have started) but in the future is detrimental. Good habits should be made as rewarding as possible so you have everything going for you to not break them.

Thinking about the length of time for a habit to form is the wrong way of thinking about it. Rather it’s a question of reps. How many reps does it take for a habit to become easier? Better question.

Use commitment contracts. They are a great way to keep yourself accountable. A good tip here was to write out the contract on some paper and sign it. Then hang it up on a wall. I liked that angle on it.

Aim for 1% better. If you commit to searching for all the areas in your life and making each 1% better, it’s going to add up to something really great. It’s something I’m trying to do a lot.

Don’t break the chain, or if you do, make sure you only have 1 off day. Don’t let yourself slip for multiple days at once. It’s much harder to get started again.

It’s amazing the gains you make if you don’t break habits. It’s like compound interest. Rule one is to not break the compounding process if you can help it. Rule two is that gains take time.

There are certain key actions that have a huge impact on your life. These are the gateway actions to good habits or to bad habits. These actions don’t cause any goodness or badness by themselves. Instead they lead to further actions. Examples: bringing gym bag to work leads to a workout. Saying “I’ll watch one youtube video” leads to a youtube binge. Watching sports highlights for one game leads to highlights for many games. If you have a recurrent bad habit, identify the gateway action. Then take steps to prevent it.

It takes a long time to show results, but the results are powerful. Think putting pebbles in a jar. The jar takes time to become heavy. It’s not the last pebble that makes the jar heavy, it’s every one coming up to it. I like the idea of buying a jar and physically doing this for a habit.

Results tend to be non-linear. Or: nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing HUGE IMPROVEMENT. But the HUGE IMPROVEMENT isn’t possible without all the nothing’s beforehand.

Keeping a visible indicator of habit progress is satisfying. Paperclips in a jar. Crosses on a page. I had the deep work tracker going well for a while.

A lot of the good habits you are trying to form don’t have an end date. You’ll want to keep doing them for the rest of your life.

On that note, it’s essential to focus on systems and not goals. Goals pay too much attention on results, have an endpoint and often aren’t completely determined by you. They also encourage burnout. Goals are a natural result of having the right systems in place. Don’t fall into this trap!

Make it easy. Keep habits as easy as possible when you start out. One rule: if it takes more than 2 minutes, you’re not allowed to do it.

Each action you take is a vote for the kind of person you want to become. Powerful stuff.

Before you do something you know is a bad habit, be explicit about it. Say out loud what you are doing. “I am about to eat this chocolate. I know chocolate is detrimental to my health and wellbeing. Furthermore I know that eating chocolate counteracts my fitness goals.” Or perhaps “I am about to watch youtube. I am aware that this will likely lead to watching other youtube videos. This will be a waste of time and I will dislike myself after”

A useful question to ask yourself: what would X do? X is someone you look up to. It can even be an ideal, a hero, or even a fictional character.

“Do I want to become the kind of person who does this?” There are a lot of identity-based tricks that you can use to mold your identity.

A way to increase compliance is to state where and when you will perform the habit. Planned habits are much more likely to come around that something that will happen “sometime”. For example: I will go to the gym on Thursday lunchtime. Tomorrow morning I will read.

Set up your environment for success. Leave stuff out where you’ll make use of it. Put away bad things.

Falling back into your old bad habits is very easy. Your brain knows exactly what’s going on. It has strong neural pathways.

There’s always a cue to a bad habit. To stop the habit, remove the cue, or associate the cue with something else.

Habit bundling – putting rewards after you do a good habit. Chocolate is a good one for this. Or going for a walk, I like that.

You want a reward more than you enjoy the reward. Our brains are wired to like the anticipation of a reward tremendously much. More so than the actual reward, in fact.

Group conformity can work for you. Choose groups that reinforce the behaviours you like. Soccer groups get you playing soccer. Language groups get you speaking. Kaggle teams get you doing kaggle. High performance work teams push you to work at a high level.

Reframing is really powerful. Use it to reframe stuff you don’t want to do. “I get to overcome my fears today by talking to that stranger. Look how good you will feel!”

Associate urges with another behaviour. When you want to go watch Youtube, put on your shoes and go for a walk. Or pick up a book.

A principle: quantity of something is better than quality of something. This is true for artistic endeavours. Might not be for gym. Or other areas.

Big life changes are hard to maintain. Keep it small at first. Then build up.

Small habits take a while to make a difference. During this period of unsatisfaction you’ll be likely to quit. Make small habits feel successful to make you more likely to continue.

When you measure something, you optimise for that variable. This can miss things that can’t really be measured. Be very careful if you optimise for something. Analogy: reinforcement learning agents blindly optimising for the variable and finding stupid ways to solve the problem.

Habits you are naturally good at you are more likely to keep going.

Eventually, a habit will get boring. The ability to keep going when you get bored will differentiate you from the rest. That is the difference between amateurs and professionals.

There’s a cool quote: “Men who are doing well crave change just as much as men doing poorly”. We are biased towards exploration over exploitation; while computers are good at exploiting, we are not.

Many top performers keep a performance journal. This records their practice sessions and their thoughts.


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