Atomic Habits white book cover and author headshot

Atomic Habits

Almost half of our actions on any given day are done out of habit. So forget about setting goals, and instead focus on the systems that are most likely to lead to those goals.

That’s from the popular 2018 productivity book from James Clear called “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.”

Clear’s book is full of tie backs to his newsletter and online courses, for which he has been criticized. Careerist as he comes across, the book is helpful, if only that central premise: “Habits are like the entrance ramp to a highway” of behavior, he coffers.

As he writes: “You do not rise the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

Below I share my notes for future reference.

My notes:

  • Naval Racikant: “To write a great book, you must first become the book.”
  • Cue, craving, response and reward
  • Inspired by BF Skinner: stimulus, response and reward, then popularized by Charles Duhigg (in his 2012 bestseller) as cue, routine, reward
  • “The aggregation of marginal gain” Dave Brailsford but also this footnote from the author on his controversy
  • Plateau of Latent Experience: See below author chart
  • Forget about goals, focus on systems: The entrepreneurs goal might be to build a million dollar business; the systems is to test and improve products that have impact.
  • “You do not rise the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
  • “Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.” They should flow down (change identity first not outcomes )
  • “Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last.”
  • Identity root words from Latin “essentitas identidem” effectively means “repeated beingness”
  • Decide the person you want to be; prove it to yourself with small wins
  • In 1898 Edward Thorndike is where modern modern understanding of habits come from
  • Jason Hreha: “Habits are simply reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment.”
  • Cue craving response and reward: See the below chart on creating a good habit or stopping a bad habit.
  • What do I want my identity to be? What kind of father? What kind of husband? What kind of friend? What kind of resident? What kind of journalist? What kind of business person? What kind of public persona?

Whenever you want to change your behavior, you can simply ask yourself:

  1. How can I make it obvious?
  2. How can I make it attractive?
  3. How can I make it easy?
  4. How can I make it satisfying?

  • The author references his website and newsletter throughout the book, like:
  • All habits are effective (that’s why they’re habits) so the question is whether this habit bring me closer to the person I want to be
  • Start by identifying the habits you already have and assess them
  • Implementation intention: write out “when x arises, I will do y; or I will BEHAVIOR at TIME in LOCATION”
  • “Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity”
  • Diderot effect of spiraling purchases
  • Habit stacking or BJ fogg calls it tiny habits recipe: add your new habit after an existing habit
  • Kurt Lewin: Behavior = person in environment
  • Atomic
  • Premacks Principle: more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.
  • We imitate the habits of (1) the close, (2) the many and (3) the powerful
  • To strengthen your desired habits, “join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior”  (117)
  • “Your habits are modern day solutions to ancient desires”
  • Jerry Uelsmann: University of Florida photography professor who split his students in two groups the quantity and the quality but it was the quantity group who produced the better photos
  • Hebb’s law: neurons that fire together, wire together (long term potentiation or habit formation)
  • Jared Diamond: the north-south orientation of Americas and Africa kept it from developing agriculture as widespread as East-west Eurasia (where weather patterns could be similar)
  • Two minute rule: to start a new habit, decide on the key action that takes less than two minutes and will set in motion all the behaviors of that habit (a “gateway habit”)
  • Cardinal rule of behavior change: “what is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.”
  • Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure”
  • Roger Fisher: make the president kill someone in front of him to get the nuclear codes to make it difficult
  • Swimmer Michael Phelps and runner Hicham El Guerrouj had bodies built for their sports but likely not the other (ie. tall and broad-shouldered, versus small and narrow)
  • Gabor Mate: “genes can predispose but they don’t predetermine”
  • To find the habit you’re predisposed to, consider what do you enjoy that others don’t for work? What comes easy to maximize gains? (Mine is clearly not growing audience)
  • Play a game that favors your strengths. If you can’t find one, create one.
  • Flow state: when you’re focused on a task just 4% above your ability (233)
  • Variable reward
  • Paul Graham: keep your identity small
  • Sorites paradox: when does one coin makes you rich
  • Nietzche: a man with a why can live in almost any how

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