Book Summary: Atomic Habits

1 Aug 2021

What are Habits?

A habit is a behavior that is performed regularly and, in many cases, automatically. You don’t see immediate results, good or bad, the effects of habits compound over time. For example, learning one new idea won’t make you a genius, but a commitment to lifelong learning can be transformative.

Compound Graph

Progress is not always linear, you’ll feel like you’re getting worse but you will have to stick with it to be better.

Latent Potential

Why Habits?

You get a lot of freedom to focus on the important stuff if you automated/habitised a lot of your small tasks.

If you have a habit of reading 10 pages everyday at a certain time or place or during some activity, you take out a lot of agonising over the time/place to read and can focus on the actual content itself.

Why not goals?

  • Winners and losers have the same goals.
  • Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.
  • Goals restrict your happiness.
  • Goals are at odds with long-term progress.

Identity Change

To adopt a habit, we must first adopt an identity. All our behaviour is a reflection of our identity. Habits which are at odds with your identities will not stick, and which align with your self-image will be easier to follow. While this sounds trivial, this is perhaps the most crucial element in this entire process. For example,

The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader.

The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner.

The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician.

The Two Step Process to Changing your Identity

  • Decide the type of person you want to be.
  • Prove it to yourself with small wins.

To illustrate this process better,

I decided I want to be a ukulele player. I practice for 15 minutes daily.

Anything more and I get bored, this includes the time taken to tune the ukulele, so it’s 10 minutes of practice. It’s really easy to do 10 minutes daily and I get the added benefit of annoying my neighbours.

How do Habits Work?

How do Habits Work

  • Cue: I hear the WhatsApp notification sound
  • Craving: I want to see who sent the message and read it.
  • Response: I pick up my phone and read it.
  • Reward: The FOMO is gone

If a behavior is insufficient in any of the four stages, it will not become a habit. Eliminate the cue and your habit will never start. Reduce the craving and you won’t experience enough motivation to act. Make the behavior difficult and you won’t be able to do it. And if the reward fails to satisfy your desire, then you’ll have no reason to do it again in the future. Without the first three steps, a behavior will not occur. Without all four, a behavior will not be repeated.

How to create Desirable Habits?

  • Cue: Make it obvious.
  • Craving: Make it attractive.
  • Response: Make it easy.
  • Reward: Make it satisfying.

Make it Obvious

  • Try to use implementation intentions: “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”

I will [READ A PAGE] AT [8:00 PM] in [MY BEAN BAG]

  • If you’re like me and don’t have routine that is time bound, use habit stacking: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”

After [I BRUSH MY TEETH], I will [FLOSS]

  • Design your environment. Make the cues of good habits obvious and visible.

I set an alarm at 8:00 PM to read the book.

Make it Attractive

  • Use temptation bundling. Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.

I check my mail [WANT TO DO] before I check my daily TO-DO list [NEED TO DO].

  • Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.

Whenever I want to try out a new hobby, I try to find online communities centered around that hobby.

  • Create a motivation ritual. Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.

I go to a restaurant [THING I ENJOY] before sitting down to write a blog [DIFFICULT HABIT].

Make it Easy

  • Reduce friction. Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits.

I now sleep in my running clothes, so I can just get up and be out the door in 2 minutes.

  • Prime the environment. Prepare your environment to make future actions easier.

I lay my shoes next to my bed every night before sleeping, so it’s easy to lace up and run the next morning.

  • Master the decisive moment. Optimize the small choices that deliver outsized impact.

I try to go to a vegetarian restaurant to limit my consumption of animal products. The small choice of restaurant has made it easier for limiting my animal product consumption by eliminating the number of options available to me.

  • Use the Two-Minute Rule. Downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less. This is more of a hack to start a habit

My aim would be to read one page everyday, once I start to read a page, it will never stop with that one page.

  • Automate your habits. Invest in technology and onetime purchases that lock in future behavior.

I have Feedly to aggregate all the news sources, blogs I follow in a single place.

Make it Rewarding

  • Use reinforcement. Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit.

I share every run in a WhatsApp group with close friends.

  • Make “doing nothing” enjoyable. When avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits.

I deposit 500 rupees a day to a separate bank account for every day that I don’t consume animal products.

  • Use a habit tracker. Keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain.”

I use a printed paper to keep track of my habits.

  • Missing once is ok. Never miss twice. When you forget to do a habit, make sure you get back on track the next day.

How to break Undesirable Habits?

  • Cue: Make it invisible.
  • Craving: Make it unattractive.
  • Response: Make it difficult.
  • Reward: Make it unsatisfying.

Make it Invisible

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

I wanted to stop impulse buying. So, I uninstalled all the shopping apps from my phone.

Make it Unattractive

  • Reframe your mind-set. Highlight the benefits of avoiding your bad habits.

I have a poster outlining the benefits of a plant based diet in athletes in my room just above my bed.

Make it Difficult

  • Increase friction. Increase the number of steps between you and your bad habits.

The uninstallation of shopping apps made me go to my browser everytime I wanted to buy stuff.

  • Use a commitment device. Restrict your future choices to the ones that benefit you.

I haven’t implemented this yet but a good example would be a device that switches off your internet every night at 10, so you have no choice but to go to bed.

Make it Unsatisfying

  • Get an accountability partner. Ask someone to watch your behavior.

I have a friend who I send 100 rupees for everyday I don’t run and send proof.

  • Create a habit contract. Make the costs of your bad habits public and painful.

I have promised my teammates a treat if I don’t play the ukelele on my birthday.

Things to Note

  • Inspite of following all these hacks, you’ll feel bored of a habit after sometime. You have to power through it. That’s when the identity you created will help you.
  • Also, if you think something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing bad. I publish my newsletter every sunday whether I have quality content or not.