When readers ask about habit formation, I always point them to James Clear's blog. Now I'll be pointing them to his book, Atomic Habits.
Atomic Habits Book Review
full disclosure: I was provided with an early release copy of this book. I strive to only post notes from books that are worth your time, but remember that I am subject to reciprocity bias. I did purchase my own copy on release day.
Through his blog, Clear has explored habits and the psychology behind them. Now he's turned what he's learned into a concise but dense book.
Habits control a majority of our actions. Understanding how to create and destroy habits is a super-skill that benefits your life greatly. James lays out how habits work and how to shape both environment and behavior to make them stick (or unstick). All of this in an easy to understand writing style, with helpful summaries and cheatsheets
If you're interested at all in directing your life in a positive direction, read this book.
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The following are rough notes I took while reading. These are mostly paraphrased or quoted directly from the book.
Why Small Habits Make a Big Difference
1% worse every day for one year. 0.99^365 = 00.03
1% better every day for one year. 1.01^365 = 37.78
Similarly, habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance.
FORGET ABOUT GOALS, FOCUS ON SYSTEMS INSTEAD
If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
Problems with goals:
- Problem #1: Winners and losers have the same goals.
- Problem #2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.
- Problem #3: Goals restrict your happiness.
- Problem #4: Goals are at odds with long-term progress.
If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system.
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
THREE LAYERS OF BEHAVIOR CHANGE
- The first layer is changing your outcomes.
- The second layer is changing your process.
- The third and deepest layer is changing your identity.
When you have repeated a story to yourself for years, it is easy to slide into these mental grooves and accept them as a fact.
The more deeply a thought or action is tied to your identity, the more difficult it is to change.
THE TWO-STEP PROCESS TO CHANGING YOUR IDENTITY
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do. Each time you write a page, you are a writer. Each time you practice the violin, you are a musician. Each time you start a workout, you are an athlete. Each time you encourage your employees, you are a leader.
Of course, it works the opposite way, too. Every time you choose to perform a bad habit, it’s a vote for that identity.
New identities require new evidence.
It is a simple two-step process:
- Decide the type of person you want to be.
- Prove it to yourself with small wins.
How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps
Whenever you face a problem repeatedly, your brain begins to automate the process of solving it.
As habits are created, the level of activity in the brain decreases.
Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it.
All habits proceed through four stages:
If a behavior is insufficient in any of the four stages, it will not become a habit.
THE FOUR LAWS OF BEHAVIOR CHANGE
How to Create a Good Habit
- The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
- The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
- The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
- The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
How to Break a Bad Habit
- Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible.
- Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive.
- Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult.
- Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying.
How can I make it obvious? How can I make it attractive? How can I make it easy? How can I make it satisfying?
THE 1ST LAW Make It Obvious
You don’t need to be aware of the cue for a habit to begin. You can notice an opportunity and take action without dedicating conscious attention to it. This is what makes habits useful. It’s also what makes them dangerous. As habits form, your actions come under the direction of your automatic and nonconscious mind.
Pointing-and-Calling reduces errors by up to 85 percent and cuts accidents by 30 percent.
Pointing-and-Calling is so effective because it raises the level of awareness from a nonconscious habit to a more conscious level.
One of our greatest challenges in changing habits is maintaining awareness of what we are actually doing.
We need a “point-and-call” system for our personal lives.
Try a Habits Scorecard, which is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior. To create your own, make a list of your daily habits.
Once you have a full list, look at each behavior, and ask yourself, “Is this a good habit, a bad habit, or a neutral habit?” If it is a good habit, write “+” next to it. If it is a bad habit, write “–”. If it is a neutral habit, write “=”.
For example, the list above might look like this:
- Wake up =
- Turn off alarm =
- Check my phone –
- Go to the bathroom =
- Weigh myself +
- Take a shower +
- Brush my teeth +
- Floss my teeth +
- Put on deodorant +
- Hang up towel to dry =
- Get dressed =
- Make a cup of tea +
As you create your Habits Scorecard, there is no need to change anything at first. The goal is to simply notice what is actually going on.
Observe your thoughts and actions without judgment or internal criticism.
If you eat a chocolate bar every morning, acknowledge it, almost as if you were watching someone else. Oh, how interesting that they would do such a thing.
The Best Way to Start a New Habit
The format for creating an implementation intention is: “When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.”
Hundreds of studies have shown that implementation intentions are effective for sticking to our goals,
Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.
The simple way to apply this strategy to your habits is to fill out this sentence: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
HABIT STACKING: A SIMPLE PLAN TO OVERHAUL YOUR HABITS
The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases.
Many human behaviors follow this cycle.
When it comes to building new habits, you can use the connectedness of behavior to your advantage. One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called habit stacking.
The habit stacking formula is: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
You can also insert new behaviors into the middle of your current routines.
Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More
In 1936, psychologist Kurt Lewin wrote a simple equation that makes a powerful statement: Behavior is a function of the Person in their Environment, or:
B = f (P,E)
HOW TO DESIGN YOUR ENVIRONMENT FOR SUCCESS
Here are a few ways you can redesign your environment and make the cues for your preferred habits more obvious: If you want to remember to take your medication each night, put your pill bottle directly next to the faucet on the bathroom counter. If you want to practice guitar more frequently, place your guitar stand in the middle of the living room.
If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment.
Most people live in a world others have created for them. But you can alter the spaces where you live and work to increase your exposure to positive cues and reduce your exposure to negative ones.
Stop thinking about your environment as filled with objects. Start thinking about it as filled with relationships. Think in terms of how you interact with the spaces around you.
The good news? You can train yourself to link a particular habit with a particular context. In one study, scientists instructed insomniacs to get into bed only when they were tired. If they couldn’t fall asleep, they were told to sit in a different room until they became sleepy. Over time, subjects began to associate the context of their bed with the action of sleeping, and it became easier to quickly fall asleep
It is easier to associate a new habit with a new context than to build a new habit in the face of competing cues.
One space, one use
The mantra I find useful is “One space, one use.” When I started my career as an entrepreneur, I would often work from my couch or at the kitchen table. In the evenings, I found it very difficult to stop working.
If your space is limited, divide your room into activity zones: a chair for reading, a desk for writing, a table for eating.
You can do the same with your digital spaces. I know a writer who uses his computer only for writing, his tablet only for reading, and his phone only for social media and texting.
The Secret to Self-Control
“Disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control.
Once a habit has been encoded, the urge to act follows whenever the environmental cues reappear.
Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself.
You feel bad, so you eat junk food. Because you eat junk food, you feel bad. It’s a downward spiral, a runaway train of bad habits.
“Cue-induced wanting”: an external trigger causes a compulsive craving to repeat a bad habit.
You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it.
In the short-run, you can choose to overpower temptation. In the long-run, we become a product of the environment that we live in.
One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
THE 2ND LAW Make It Attractive
How to Make a Habit Irresistible
Supernormal stimuli. Junk food
Society is filled with highly engineered versions of reality that are more attractive than the world our ancestors evolved in.
The trend is for rewards to become more concentrated and stimuli to become more enticing.
While it is not possible to transform every habit into a supernormal stimulus, we can make any habit more enticing. To do this, we must start by understanding what a craving is and how it works.
THE DOPAMINE-DRIVEN FEEDBACK LOOP
Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop.
Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it.
It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action.
Interestingly, the reward system that is activated in the brain when you receive a reward is the same system that is activated when you anticipate a reward.
THE DOPAMINE SPIKE
Before a habit is learned:
- (A), dopamine is released when the reward is experienced for the first time.
- (B), dopamine rises before taking action, immediately after a cue is recognized. This spike leads to a feeling of desire and a craving to take action whenever the cue is spotted. Once a habit is learned, dopamine will not rise when a reward is experienced because you already expect the reward. However, if you see a cue and expect a reward, but do not get one, then dopamine will drop in disappointment
- (C). The sensitivity of the dopamine response can clearly be seen when a reward is provided late
- (D). First, the cue is identified and dopamine rises as a craving builds. Next, a response is taken but the reward does not come as quickly as expected and dopamine begins to drop. Finally, when the reward comes a little later than you had hoped, dopamine spikes again. It is as if the brain is saying, “See! I knew I was right. Don’t forget to repeat this action next time.”
Your brain has far more neural circuitry allocated for wanting rewards than for liking them.
Desire is the engine that drives behavior. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it.
HOW TO USE TEMPTATION BUNDLING TO MAKE YOUR HABITS MORE ATTRACTIVE
The habit stacking + temptation bundling formula is:
After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].
The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits
THE SEDUCTIVE PULL OF SOCIAL NORMS
We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them. We follow the script handed down by our friends and family, our church or school, our local community and society at large.
We imitate the habits of three groups in particular: The close. The many. The powerful.
One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
There is tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group.
Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves. Running against the grain of your culture requires extra effort.
How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits
WHERE CRAVINGS COME FROM
Every behavior has a surface level craving and a deeper, underlying motive.
Some of our underlying motives include:
- Conserve energy
- Obtain food and water
- Find love and reproduce
- Connect and bond with others
- Win social acceptance and approval
- Reduce uncertainty
- Achieve status and prestige
Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires.
- Find love and reproduce = using Tinder
- Connect and bond with others = browsing Facebook
- Win social acceptance and approval = posting on Instagram
- Reduce uncertainty = searching on Google
- Achieve status and prestige = playing video games
Your current habits are not necessarily the best way to solve the problems you face; they are just the methods you learned to use. Once you associate a solution with the problem you need to solve, you keep coming back to it.
Life feels reactive, but it is actually predictive. All day long, you are making your best guess of how to act given what you’ve just seen and what has worked for you in the past. You are endlessly predicting what will happen in the next moment.
When you binge-eat or light up or browse social media, what you really want is not a potato chip or a cigarette or a bunch of likes. What you really want is to feel different.
HOW TO REPROGRAM YOUR BRAIN TO ENJOY HARD HABITS
Now, imagine changing just one word: You don’t “have” to. You “get” to.
Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive.
Try a motivation ritual.
“My focus and concentration goes up just by putting my headphones [on] while writing. I don’t even have to play any music.” -- Ed Latimore, boxer and author
You can adapt this strategy for nearly any purpose. Say you want to feel happier in general. Find something that makes you truly happy—like petting your dog or taking a bubble bath—and then create a short routine that you perform every time before you do the thing you love. Maybe you take three deep breaths and smile. Three deep breaths. Smile. Pet the dog. Repeat. Eventually, you’ll begin to associate this breathe-and-smile routine with being in a good mood.
THE 3RD LAW Make It Easy
Walk Slowly, but Never Backward
It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change:
“The best is the enemy of the good.” -- Voltaire
There is a difference between being in motion and taking action.
When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome.
Sometimes motion is useful, but it will never produce an outcome by itself.
More often than not, we do it because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure.
If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.
The first takeaway of the 3rd Law:
you just need to get your reps in.
HOW LONG DOES IT ACTUALLY TAKE TO FORM A NEW HABIT?
There is nothing magical about time passing with regard to habit formation. It doesn’t matter if it’s been twenty-one days or thirty days or three hundred days. What matters is the rate at which you perform the behavior.
In practice, it doesn’t really matter how long it takes for a habit to become automatic. What matters is that you take the actions you need to take to make progress.
The Law of Least Effort
THE SHAPE OF HUMAN BEHAVIOR
Conventional wisdom holds that motivation is the key to habit change.
But the truth is, our real motivation is to be lazy and to do what is convenient.
despite what the latest productivity best seller will tell you, laziness is a smart strategy, not a dumb one. Energy is precious, and the brain is wired to conserve it whenever possible.
Habits like scrolling on our phones, checking email, and watching television steal so much of our time because they can be performed almost without effort.
Certainly, you are capable of doing very hard things. The problem is that some days you feel like doing the hard work and some days you feel like giving in. On the tough days, it’s crucial to have as many things working in your favor as possible so that you can overcome the challenges life naturally throws your way.
Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of your life.
The Japanese companies looked for every point of friction in the manufacturing process and eliminated it.
Business is a never-ending quest to deliver the same result in an easier fashion.
The central idea is to create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.
PRIME THE ENVIRONMENT FOR FUTURE USE
Nuckols dialed in his cleaning habits by following a strategy he refers to as “resetting the room.” For instance, when he finishes watching television, he places the remote back on the TV stand, arranges the pillows on the couch, and folds the blanket. When he leaves his car, he throws any trash away. Whenever he takes a shower, he wipes down the toilet while the shower is warming up. (As he notes, the “perfect time to clean the toilet is right before you wash yourself in the shower anyway.”) The purpose of resetting each room is not simply to clean up after the last action, but to prepare for the next action.
Nuckols says, "People think I work hard but I’m actually really lazy. I’m just proactively lazy."
You can also invert this principle and prime the environment to make bad behaviors difficult.
Whenever possible, I leave my phone in a different room until lunch.
Imagine the cumulative impact of making dozens of these changes and living in an environment designed to make the good behaviors easier and the bad behaviors harder.
Redesign your life so the actions that matter most are also the actions that are easiest to do.
How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule
Researchers estimate that 40 to 50 percent of our actions on any given day are done out of habit.
Habits are like the entrance ramp to a highway. They lead you down a path and, before you know it, you’re speeding toward the next behavior.
Every day, there are a handful of moments that deliver an outsized impact. I refer to these little choices as decisive moments.
Each day is made up of many moments, but it is really a few habitual choices that determine the path you take.
THE TWO-MINUTE RULE
the Two-Minute Rule, which states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy.
What you want is a “gateway habit” that naturally leads you down a more productive path.
The point is not to do one thing. The point is to master the habit of showing up.
If the Two-Minute Rule feels forced, try this: do it for two minutes and then stop.
The secret is to always stay below the point where it feels like work.
Ernest Hemingway believed in similar advice for any kind of writing. “The best way is to always stop when you are going good,” he said.
At some point, once you’ve established the habit and you’re showing up each day, you can combine the Two-Minute Rule with a technique we call habit shaping to scale your habit back up toward your ultimate goal.
Then, advance to an intermediate step and repeat the process—focusing on just the first two minutes and mastering that stage before moving on to the next level.
How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible
Sometimes success is less about making good habits easy and more about making bad habits hard.
A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future.
The key is to change the task such that it requires more work to get out of the good habit than to get started on it. If you’re feeling motivated to get in shape, schedule a yoga session and pay ahead of time.
When the time comes to act, the only way to bail is to cancel the meeting, which requires effort and may cost money.
HOW TO AUTOMATE A HABIT AND NEVER THINK ABOUT IT AGAIN
The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do. Increase the friction until you don’t even have the option to act.
Some actions—like installing a cash register—pay off again and again. These onetime choices require a little bit of effort up front but create increasing value over time.
ONETIME ACTIONS THAT LOCK IN GOOD HABITS
- Buy a water filter to clean your drinking water.
- Use smaller plates to reduce caloric intake.
- Buy a good mattress.
- Get blackout curtains.
- Remove your television from your bedroom.
- Unsubscribe from emails.
- Turn off notifications and mute group chats.
- Set your phone to silent.
- Use email filters to clear up your inbox.
- Delete games and social media apps on your phone.
- Get a dog.
- Move to a friendly, social neighborhood.
- General Health
- Get vaccinated.
- Buy good shoes to avoid back pain.
- Buy a supportive chair or standing desk.
- Enroll in an automatic savings plan.
- Set up automatic bill pay.
- Cut cable service.
- Ask service providers to lower your bills.
Technology is particularly useful for behaviors that happen too infrequently to become habitual. Things you have to do monthly or yearly
When you automate as much of your life as possible, you can spend your effort on the tasks machines cannot do yet.
Each habit that we hand over to the authority of technology frees up time and energy to pour into the next stage of growth.
“Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.” -- Alfred North Whitehead
During the year I was writing this book, I experimented with a new time management strategy. Every Monday, my assistant would reset the passwords on all my social media accounts, which logged me out on each device. All week I worked without distraction. On Friday, she would send me the new passwords.
One of the biggest surprises was how quickly I adapted. Within the first week of locking myself out of social media, I realized that I didn’t need to check it nearly as often as I had been, and I certainly didn’t need it each day.
THE 4TH LAW Make It Satisfying
The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.
We are not looking for just any type of satisfaction. We are looking for immediate satisfaction.
THE MISMATCH BETWEEN IMMEDIATE AND DELAYED REWARDS
You live in what scientists call a delayed-return environment
The human brain did not evolve for life in a delayed-return environment.
Is only recently—during the last five hundred years or so—that society has shifted to a predominantly delayed-return environment.
Time inconsistency: the way your brain evaluates rewards is inconsistent across time.
The consequences of bad habits are delayed while the rewards are immediate.
When the moment of decision arrives, instant gratification usually wins.
Let’s update the Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.
Because of how we are wired, most people will spend all day chasing quick hits of satisfaction.
Here’s the problem: most people know that delaying gratification is the wise approach.
Thankfully, it’s possible to train yourself to delay gratification—but you need to work with the grain of human nature, not against it.
The best way to do this is to add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long-run and a little bit of immediate pain to ones that don’t.
HOW TO TURN INSTANT GRATIFICATION TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
You want the ending of your habit to be satisfying.
It can be challenging to stick with habits like “no frivolous purchases” or “no alcohol this month” because nothing happens when you skip happy hour drinks or don’t buy that pair of shoes.
You want to make avoidance visible. Open a savings account and label it for something you want—maybe “Leather Jacket.” Whenever you pass on a purchase, put the same amount of money in the account. Skip your morning latte? Transfer $5. Pass on another month of Netflix? Move $10 over. It’s like creating a loyalty program for yourself.
It is important to select short-term rewards that reinforce your identity rather than ones that conflict with it.
Eventually, as intrinsic rewards like a better mood, more energy, and reduced stress kick in, you’ll become less concerned with chasing the secondary reward.
How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day
Paper Clip Strategy. Making progress is satisfying, and visual measures—like moving paper clips or hairpins or marbles—provide clear evidence of your progress.
Perhaps the best way to measure your progress is with a habit tracker.
The most basic format is to get a calendar and cross off each day you stick with your routine.
“Don’t break the chain” is a powerful mantra.
(1) creates a visual cue that can remind you to act, (2) is inherently motivating because you see the progress you are making and don’t want to lose it, and (3) feels satisfying whenever you record another successful instance of your habit.
JS: Check out Ultrawork's Lights Spreadsheet
What can we do to make tracking easier? First, whenever possible, measurement should be automated.
Second, manual tracking should be limited to your most important habits.
The habit stacking + habit tracking formula is: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [TRACK MY HABIT].
HOW TO RECOVER QUICKLY WHEN YOUR HABITS BREAK DOWN
No matter how consistent you are with your habits, it is inevitable that life will interrupt you at some point.
Try to remind myself of a simple rule: never miss twice.
Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.
You don’t realize how valuable it is to just show up on your bad (or busy) days. Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you.
This is why the “bad” workouts are often the most important ones.
It’s not always about what happens during the workout.
It’s about being the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.
KNOWING WHEN (AND WHEN NOT) TO TRACK A HABIT
The dark side of tracking a particular behavior is that we become driven by the number rather than the purpose behind it.
Goodhart’s Law. Named after the economist Charles Goodhart, the principle states, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything
We repeat bad habits because they serve us in some way, and that makes them hard to abandon. The best way I know to overcome this predicament is to increase the speed of the punishment associated with the behavior.
There can’t be a gap between the action and the consequences.
Straightforward way to add an immediate cost to any bad habit: create a habit contract.
THE HABIT CONTRACT
A habit contract is a verbal or written agreement in which you state your commitment to a particular habit and the punishment that will occur if you don’t follow through.
Then you find one or two people to act as your accountability partners and sign off on the contract with you.
Even if you don’t want to create a full-blown habit contract, simply having an accountability partner is useful.
JS: If you need someone to keep you on task for an hour, check out Focusmate
The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t)
The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition.
Embracing this strategy requires the acceptance of the simple truth that people are born with different abilities.
Competence is highly dependent on context.
The people at the top of any competitive field are not only well trained, they are also well suited to the task. And this is why, if you want to be truly great, selecting the right place to focus is crucial.
The obvious question is, “How do I figure out where the odds are in my favor? How do I identify the opportunities and habits that are right for me?”
The first place we will look for an answer is by understanding your personality.
HOW YOUR PERSONALITY INFLUENCES YOUR HABITS
The most proven scientific analysis of personality traits is known as the “Big Five”
- Openness to experience
All five characteristics have biological underpinnings.
Our habits are not solely determined by our personalities, but there is no doubt that our genes nudge us in a certain direction.
The takeaway is that you should build habits that work for your personality.
You don’t have to build the habits everyone tells you to build. Choose the habit that best suits you, not the one that is most popular.
HOW TO FIND A GAME WHERE THE ODDS ARE IN YOUR FAVOR
The most common approach is trial and error. Of course, there’s a problem with this strategy: life is short.
In the beginning of a new activity, there should be a period of exploration. After this initial period of exploration, shift your focus to the best solution you’ve found—but keep experimenting occasionally.
If you are currently winning, you exploit, exploit, exploit. If you are currently losing, you continue to explore, explore, explore.
In the long-run it is probably most effective to work on the strategy that seems to deliver the best results about 80 to 90 percent of the time and keep exploring with the remaining 10 to 20 percent.
- What feels like fun to me, but work to others?
- What makes me lose track of time?
- Where do I get greater returns than the average person?
- What comes naturally to me?
When you can’t win by being better, you can win by being different. By combining your skills, you reduce the level of competition, which makes it easier to stand out.
Specialization is a powerful way to overcome the “accident” of bad genetics.
Even if you’re not the most naturally gifted, you can often win by being the best in a very narrow category.
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR GENES
Our genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on.
People get so caught up in the fact that they have limits that they rarely exert the effort required to get close to them.
genes can’t make you successful if you’re not doing the work.
The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work
The way to maintain motivation and achieve peak levels of desire is to work on tasks of “just manageable difficulty.”
The human brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty.
The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities.
And if you hit the Goldilocks Zone just right, you can achieve a flow state.
HOW TO STAY FOCUSED WHEN YOU GET BORED WORKING ON YOUR GOALS
“At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.”
The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.
Machiavelli noted, “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.”
Variable rewards: The sweet spot of desire occurs at a 50/50 split between success and failure.
Variable rewards or not, no habit will stay interesting forever.
Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way.
When a habit is truly important to you, you have to be willing to stick to it in any mood.
The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over. You have to fall in love with boredom.
The Downside of Creating Good Habits
HABITS CREATE THE FOUNDATION FOR MASTERY.
But the benefits of habits come at a cost.
When you can do it “good enough” on autopilot, you stop thinking about how to do it better.
The downside of habits is that you get used to doing things a certain way and stop paying attention to little errors.
Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery
Although habits are powerful, what you need is a way to remain conscious of your performance over time, so you can continue to refine and improve.
It is precisely at the moment when you begin to feel like you have mastered a skill—right when things are starting to feel automatic and you are becoming comfortable—that you must avoid slipping into the trap of complacency. The solution? Establish a system for reflection and review.
Improvement is not just about learning habits, it’s also about fine-tuning them.
Personally, I employ two primary modes of reflection and review. Each December, I perform an Annual Review, in which I reflect on the previous year.
- What went well this year?
- What didn’t go so well this year?
- What did I learn?
Six months later, when summer rolls around, I conduct an Integrity Report.
- What are the core values that drive my life and work?
- How am I living and working with integrity right now?
- How can I set a higher standard in the future?
These two reports don’t take very long—just a few hours per year—but they are crucial periods of refinement.
Our identity can hold us back from making change
One solution is to avoid making any single aspect of your identity an overwhelming portion of who you are. In the words of investor Paul Graham, “keep your identity small.”
The key to mitigating these losses of identity is to redefine yourself such that you get to keep important aspects of your identity even if your particular role changes.
“I’m an athlete” becomes “I’m the type of person who is mentally tough and loves a physical challenge.”
“I’m a great soldier” transforms into “I’m the type of person who is disciplined, reliable, and great on a team.”
When chosen effectively, an identity can be flexible rather than brittle.
The Secret to Results That Last
Can one tiny change transform your life?
The holy grail of habit change is not a single 1 percent improvement, but a thousand of them.
Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.
The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements.
That’s the power of atomic habits. Tiny changes. Remarkable results.