Atomic Habits: Notes

Bharat Kalluri / 2021-02-03

Atomic Habits: Notes

The idea of the book is to emphasize on the importance of habits and deeply understand how habits are formed and maintained. The book gives out a lot of action-able advice on how to make good habits and how to break bad ones. The entire book is broken broadly into the four laws of habit formation. Make it obvious, Make it attractive, Make it easy, Make it satisfying. The author gives out lots on examples and pointers to research to explain how the conclusion was arrived upon. I personally felt the book could be more compact & dense, but the book definitely serves as a solid collection of very good advice for habit formation.

Notes

Habits don't add up, they compound. The book is about what makes habit stick and how we can optimize habit making.

  • Habit Scorecard/Habit journal: make a list of daily habits and classify them into good , bad and neutral.

  • Pointing and calling: Saying out loud helps reinforce logic to your own brain, Improves awareness. For example, If you want to order food online, you could say "Ordering junk food online will make me fat" out loud. This will reinforce the point more strongly and might push you towards making better decisions.

  • Implementation intention: time and location helps. Decide when and where for all habits. Instead of saying, I will go to gym. It is better to say "I will go to the gym on the next street at 9AM tomorrow".

  • Diderot effect: "obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things. As a result, we end up buying things that our previous selves never needed to feel happy or fulfilled".

  • Habit stacking: Tag a new habit with an existing habit. Since you will anyways perform the current habit, you can go on auto pilot and perform the new habit as well.

  • Environment matters a lot more than we like to agree. If a new habit is too hard to perform in the current environment, then the habit (most probably) will not be followed up on.

  • Make performing an habit as easy as possible.

  • Notice cues for bad habits and redesign environment to avoid those cues.

  • Habits are easier to change in a new environment with different cues.

  • Associate habits with context. For example, social media browsing will be only restricted to a laptop. So, when you are stuck in travel with your phone. You could do something else, maybe read a book or listen to a podcast.

  • People with self control spend less time in tempting situation.

  • Self control is a short term strategy, energy is better well spent on optimizing environmental cues for making bad habits invisible.

  • It is easier to avoid temptation than to resist it.

  • Super normal stimuli: This is probably one of the most interesting research quoted in the book. It looks like brains are wired to trigger a stimulus on a cue. For example, chicks of hearing gull peck at the red spot located on their parent's bill for food. From research it was found out that the chicks increase their pecking speed even if a large artificial red dot is placed in front of the chicks. This is to prove that the chicks just perceive the contrast and the stimuli increases with the size of the red dot. It is argued that humans also have the same Super normal stimuli. For example, junk food can be explained as an exaggerated stimulus to cravings for salt, sugar, and fats. You can read more at wikipedia

  • One more interesting research which was quoted, Dopamine inhibited rats die due to boredom. After dopamine inhibition, the rats lose the will to even eat and drink.

  • Temptation bundling: Find something you love to do and tag a new habit you want to create. If you enjoy a morning coffee everyday and want to start a daily journal. Then you can tag the morning coffee to the new habit.

  • We need belonging to tribe. Habits which make us a part of the tribe are more attractive. You will try to be fit if everyone around you is striving to be fit.

  • We imitate groups who are close, many and powerful (sorted by priority)

  • Friends are a huge impact factor for gaining or losing habits

  • Join a culture where your desired behavior is normal behavior

  • Normal behavior of the tribe overpowers the desired behavior of the individual

  • We desire power. Once we fit in, we try to stand out. We imitate the people we envy.

  • Actions are triggered by environment and predictions our brain makes

  • Conditioning: reframe associations. Condition yourself to trigger a feeling for an act and use it to your advantage.

  • Prioritize motion along with action. Motion without action feels good because we avoid failure and criticism.

  • We optimize for low energy actions. Habits need to be low energy

  • Decisive moments: moments which shape a significant chunk of a day. Decisions like going to gym or not, etc

  • The two minute rule: when you start a new habit, it should be less than 2 min at the start. One of the example from the book: If you want to start running, the first step is to wear the shoe at the same time everyday for a couple of days. Then start running for 2 minutes for a couple of days until the habit forms and then eventually increase duration.

  • Commitment device : a device in the present to make rules for the future. Ulysses pact

  • Take action when in the right mindset: Setup a system by which you take action when in the right mindset and also make it such that your actions locks you in for the future

  • Automate habits: Try to automate habits using technology, try to make it impossible to do a bad habit and easy to do a good habit. For example, switch off internet post 10pm to enforce sleep schedule

  • Some one time actions are very helpful for habits: Some actions have a compounding effect. For example, buying a high quality mattress can improve sleep for a long time

  • Measure: Measure and quantify and extrapolate. If you are using reddit for one hour, that means you are spending 30 hours per month. Think if this trade off is worth the happiness it gives

  • Brain always prioritizes rewards based on instant gratification

  • "Almost always happens that if immediate consequences are favorable, later consequences are disastrous and vice versa" - Frédéric Bastiat

  • Ending of a behavior/habit needs to be satisfying, so that we leave with a good taste

  • Add some immediate satisfaction. Read paper clip strategy. Also, habit trackers, and tracking behavior in general is a good strategy.

  • "Never miss twice"

  • Do some amount of work instead of skipping habits. It is better to just run 250m for a day than to skip a day of running.

  • Understand what is the right metric for habit, since we tend to optimize for the metric we measure

  • "Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes." - Goodhearts law

  • Prevent unhealthy habits by adding immediate cost/punishment

  • Habit contract: If a habit is missed, have a heavy cost associated with this failure. For example, if you miss gym voluntarily for two consecutive days. Donate 10$.

  • Having an accountability partner helps.

  • To maximize your chances of success, pick the right field

  • Read about big five personality traits. Choose habits that suits you and pick the habits you would enjoy.

  • Explore/exploit tradeoff: Try out many possibilities until the success rate is high. Start explotiing once the success rate is high.

  • Work hard on the thing that comes easy to you

  • Work on challenges which are in your optimal level of difficulty. The challenge should be hard enough such that you should have hope and see the success at the end. If there is no hope, there is no incentive.

  • Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. - Goldilocks rule

  • Greatest threat of successful habits is boredom

  • "Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly" - Machiavelli

  • Once a habit is stabilized, we go on auto pilot. The downside is that we do not search better ways or optimize this anymore. We settle for what works as of now.

  • Establish a system for reflection and review

  • CBE: career best efforts, small incremental improvements compound

  • Always decouple identity from habits. Daily habits define identity strongly. It is important to review habits transparently.

  • Don't cling too tightly to one identity. If for some reason you lose the one factor that you define yourself by, you will have an identity crisis.

  • Always move 1% consistently, just dont stop working

  • Habits dont add up, they compound

  • Again, the four rules of habit making

    • Make it obvious
    • Make it attractive
    • Make it easy
    • Make it satisfying
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