Atomic Habits by James Clear: Summary and Lessons

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”

Rating: 9/10

Related: The Power of Habit, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleSwitchSmarter Faster BetterThe Willpower Instinct

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Table of Contents

Atomic Habits Short Summary

Atomic Habits by James Clear is the definitive guide on habit change. Learn how to create good habits and break bad ones with a simple step-by-step framework based on the best techniques from behavioral science. Highly practical, a must-read if you’re looking to upgrade your behavior and make the best version of yourself.

Executive Summary

The holy grail of habit change is not a single 1% improvement, but a thousand of them. It’s a bunch of atomic habits stacking up, each one a fundamental unit of the overall system.

Awareness comes before desire.

A craving is created when you assign meaning to a cue. It can only occur after you have noticed an opportunity.

It is the idea of pleasure that we chase. Desire is pursued. Pleasure ensues from action.

With a big enough why you can overcome any how. If your motivation and desire are great enough, you’ll take action even when it is quite difficult. Great craving can power great action – even when friction is high.

Being motivated and curious counts for more than being smart because it leads to action. To do anything, you must first cultivate a desire for it.

Appealing to emotion is typically more powerful than appealing to reason. Our thoughts and actions are rooted in what we find attractive and not necessarily in what is logical.

Suffering drives progress. The source of all suffering is the desire for a change in state. This is also the source of all progress. The desire to change your state is what powers you to take action.

Your actions reveal your true motivations.

Our expectations determine our satisfaction. If the gap between expectations and outcomes is positive (surprise and delight), then we are more likely to repeat a behavior in the future. If the mismatch is negative (disappointment and frustration), then we are less likely to do so.

Feelings come both before and after the behavior. The craving (a feeling) motivates you to act. The reward teaches you to repeat the action in the future:

Cue > Craving (Feeling) > Response > Reward (Feeling)

How we feel influences how we act, and how we act influences how we feel. Desire initiates. Pleasure sustains. Wanting and liking are the two drivers of behavior. If it’s not desirable, you have no reason to do it. Desire and craving are what initiate a behavior. But if it’s not enjoyable, you have no reason to repeat it.

Pleasure and satisfaction are what sustain a behavior. Feeling motivated gets you to act. Feeling successful gets you to repeat.

How to Create a Good Habit

The 1st Law: Make It Obvious

  • Fill out the Habits Scorecard. Write down your current habits to become aware of them
  • Use implementation intentions: “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]”
  • Use habit stacking: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]”
  • Design your environment. Make the cues of good habits obvious and visible.

The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive

  • Use temptation bundling. Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do
  • Join a culture where your desired behavior is normal
  • Create a motivation ritual. Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit

The 3rd Law: Make It Easy

  • Reduce friction. Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits
  • Prime the environment. Prepare your environment to make future actions easier
  • Master the decisive moment. Optimize the small choices that deliver outsized impact
  • Use the Two-Minute Rule. Downscale your habits until they can be done in two minutes or less
  • Automate your habits. Invest in technology and one-time purchases that lock in future behavior

The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying

  • Use reinforcement. Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit
  • Make “doing nothing” enjoyable. When avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits
  • Use a habit tracker. Keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain”
  • Never miss twice. When you forget to do a habit, make sure you get back on track immediately

How to Break a Bad Habit

Inversion of the 1st Law: Make It Invisible

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

Inversion of the 2nd Law: Make It Unattractive

  • Reframe your mindset. Highlight the benefits of avoiding your bad habits

Inversion of the 3rd Law: Make It Difficult

  • Increase friction. Increase the number of steps between you and your bad habits
  • Use a commitment device. Restrict your future choices to the ones that benefit you

Inversion of the 4th Law: Make It Unsatisfying

  • Get an accountability partner. Ask someone to watch your behavior.
  • Create a habit contract. Make the costs of your bad habits public and painful

The Fundamentals: Why Tiny Changes Make a Big Difference

Chapter 1: The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits

A habit is a behavior performed regularly and, in many cases, automatically.

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

Success is the product of daily habits. Getting 1% better every day counts for a lot in the long-run. 

The important thing is whether your habits are putting you on the right path. Be concerned with your current trajectory and not with your current results.

“Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat.”

If you want better results, forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.

Goals vs Systems

  • Goals are the results you want to achieve. Systems are the processes that lead to those results
  • Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress
  • Achieving a goal is a momentary change. Systems solve a problem for good
  • Goals restrict happiness, e.g. “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy.” Systems make you fall in love with the process rather than the product so you don’t have to wait to permit yourself to be happy
  • Goals are at odds with long-term progress. Goals are about winning the game. Systems are about continuing to play the game

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Chapter 2: How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)

atomic habits james clear behavior change

The Three Layers of Behavior Change:

  1. Outcomes: changing your results, e.g. losing weight. Most of the goals you set are at this level
  2. Process: changing your habits and systems, e.g. developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits you build live at this level
  3. Identity: changing your beliefs, e.g. your worldview or self-image. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases you hold are associated with this level

The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. True behavior change is identity change. 

“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.”

Your identity emerges out of your habits. Repeating a behavior reinforces the identity associated with it.

Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.

“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.”

New identities require new evidence. If you keep casting the same votes you’ve always cast, you’re going to get the same results you’ve always had

How to change your identity:

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be: What are your principles and values? Who do you wish to become? Now ask yourself: “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?” For example, the type of person who could write a book is probably consistent and reliable. Now your focus shifts from writing a book (outcome-based) to being the type of person who is consistent and reliable (identity-based)
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins: once you have a handle on the type of person you want to be, you can begin taking small steps to reinforce your desired identity

“I have a friend who lost over 100 pounds by asking herself, “What would a healthy person do?” All day long, she would use this question as a guide. She figured if she acted like a healthy person long enough, eventually she would become that person. She was right.”

Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.

The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results (although they can do that), but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.

Quite literally, you become your habits.

Chapter 3: How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. Their ultimate purpose is solving problems as little energy and effort as possible.

Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop of four steps:

  1. Cue: what triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. The bit of information that predicts a reward
  2. Craving: the motivational force behind every habit. You don’t crave the habit itself, but the change in state it delivers (e.g. you do not crave smoking a cigarette, you crave the feeling of relief it provides)
  3. Response: the actual habit you perform, as a thought or action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and the amount of friction associated with the behavior
  4. Reward: the end goal of every habit. We chase rewards because they satisfy our cravings and teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future

If a behavior is insufficient in any of the four stages, it will not become a habit. Without the first three steps, a behavior will not occur. Without all four, a behavior will not be repeated.

atomic habits james clear habit loop

The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits:

  1. Cue: make it obvious
  2. Craving: make it attractive
  3. Response: make it easy
  4. Reward: make it satisfying

We can invert these laws to learn how to break a bad habit:

  1. Cue: make it invisible
  2. Craving: make it unattractive
  3. Response: make it difficult
  4. Reward: make it unsatisfying

The 1st Law: Make It Obvious

Chapter 4: The Man Who Didn’t Look Right

You don’t need to be aware of the cue for a habit to begin. With enough practice, your brain will pick up on the cues that predict certain outcomes without consciously thinking about it. Once our habits become automatic, we stop paying attention to what we are doing.

That’s why the process of behavior change always starts with awareness. You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them.

We need a “point-and-call” system for our personal lives. That’s the origin of the Habits Scorecard, which is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior.

How to create your Habit Scorecard:

  1. Make a list of your daily habits
  2. For each habit, ask yourself: “Is this a good, habit, or neutral habit?”
  3. If it is a good habit, write “+” next to it. For bad habits, write “–”. For neutral, write “=”

If you’re having trouble determining how to rate a particular habit, ask yourself: “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be?”

Habits that reinforce your desired identity are usually good. Habits that conflict with your desired identity are usually bad.

Chapter 5: The Best Way to Start a New Habit

The two most common cues that can trigger a habit are time and location

Implementation Intention: pairing a new habit with a specific time and location –  “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].”

For example: “I will exercise for one hour at 5 p.m. at my local gym.”

Habit Stacking: pairing a new habit with a current habit – “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”

For example: “After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute.”

atomic habits james clear habit stacking

The key is to tie your desired behavior into something you already do each day

You can develop general habit stacks for specific situations:

  • “If I see stairs, I will take them instead of the elevator.”
  • “When I serve myself, I will always put veggies on my plate first.”

The secret to creating a successful habit stack is selecting the right cue. Brainstorm a list of your current habits:

  1. In the first column, write the habits you do each day without fail
  2. In the second column, write everything that happens to you each day without fail
  3. Now find the best place to layer your new habit into your lifestyle

Make your cue highly specific and immediately actionable: “After I close the door”; “After I brush my teeth”. The more tightly bound your new habit is to a specific cue, the better the odds are that you will notice when the time comes to act.

Chapter 6: Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More

Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. Habits are context-dependent. Small changes in context can lead to large changes in behavior over time. 

Make the cues of good habits obvious in your environment:

  • Practice guitar more frequently? Place it in the middle of the living room
  • Drink more water? Fill up a few water bottles each morning and place them around the house

The most persistent behaviors usually have multiple cues. Habits become associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behavior. The context becomes the cue.

It is easier to build new habits in a new environment as you won’t fight old cues. Create new routines in new places, like a different coffee shop or a bench in the park.

If you can’t, rearrange your current one. Create a separate space for work, study, exercise, and entertainment. 

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. Every habit should have a home.”

A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is an environment where habits can easily form.

Inversion of the 1st Law: Make It Invisible

Chapter 7: The Secret to Self-Control

Once a habit has been formed, the urge to act follows whenever the environmental cues reappear. 

Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself. They foster the feelings they try to numb. You feel bad, so you eat junk food.

Researchers refer to this phenomenon as “cue-induced wanting”: an external trigger causes a compulsive craving to repeat a bad habit. Once you notice something, you begin to want it.

You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it. 

In the short-run, you can try to overpower temptation. In the long-run, you become a product of the environment that you live in. 

“I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.”

The best strategy to eliminate bad habits is to cut off at the source. Reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.

For example:

  • Can’t get any work done? Leave your phone in another room for a few hours
  • Watch too much television? Move the TV out of the bedroom

Rather than make it obvious, make it invisible. Remove a single cue and the entire habit often fades away. Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one.

People with high self-control tend to spend less time in tempting situations. It’s easier to avoid temptation than to resist it.

The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive

Chapter 8: How to Make a Habit Irresistible

The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming. 

Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. Every behavior that is highly habit-forming – taking drugs, eating junk food, browsing social media – is associated with higher levels of dopamine. Dopamine is released 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.

“Desire is the engine that drives behavior. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it. It is the craving that leads to the response.”

The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike.

Temptation Bundling: pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do

For example:

  • Only listen to podcasts you love while exercising
  • Only watch your favorite show while ironing 

How to build your temptation bundling strategy:

  1. In the first column, write the pleasures you enjoy and the temptations that you want to do
  2. In the second column, write the tasks you should be doing but often procrastinate on
  3. Browse your list and link one of your instantly gratifying “want” behaviors with something you “should” be doing

You can combine temptation bundling with habit stacking:  “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].”

For example:

  • You want to read the news but need to express more gratitude: “After I get my morning coffee, I will say one thing I’m grateful for that happened yesterday (need). After I say one thing I’m grateful for, I will read the news (want).”
  • You want to check Facebook but need to exercise more: “After I pull out my phone, I will do ten burpees (need). After I do ten burpees, I will check Facebook (want).”

Chapter 9: The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits

The culture we live in determines which behaviors are attractive to us. We tend to adopt habits that are praised and approved of by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong to the tribe.

We tend to imitate the habits of three social groups. Each group offers an opportunity to leverage the 2nd Law of Behavior Change and make our habits more attractive:

  1. Imitating the Close: we pick up habits from the people around us. To build better habits, join a culture where your desired behavior is normal behavior. If you are surrounded by fit people, you’re more likely to consider working out to be a common habit
  2. Imitating the Many: whenever we are unsure how to act, we look to the group to guide our behavior.  Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves
  3. Imitation the Powerful: we are drawn to behaviors that earn us respect, approval, admiration, and status. If a behavior can get us approval, respect, and praise, we find it attractive. We are also motivated to avoid behaviors that would lower our status

Inversion of the 2nd Law: Make It Unattractive

Chapter 10: How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits

Every behavior has a surface level craving and a deeper underlying motive.

We do not desire to smoke cigarettes or check Instagram. At a deep level, we simply want to reduce uncertainty and relieve anxiety, win social acceptance and approval, or achieve status. 

Our habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires. Some reduce stress by smoking a cigarette while others go for a run.

Once you associate a solution with the problem you need to solve, you keep coming back to it. 

For example:

  • Cue: You notice that the stove is hot. Prediction: “If I touch it I’ll get burned, so I should avoid touching it.”
  • Cue: You see that the traffic light turned green. Prediction: “If I step on the gas, I’ll make it safely through the intersection, so I should step on the gas.”

Life feels reactive, but it is actually predictive.

The cause of your habits is actually the prediction that precedes them. The prediction leads to a feeling, which is how we normally describe a craving – a feeling, a desire, an urge. 

Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings and unattractive when we associate them with negative feelings.

To reprogram your brain to enjoy hard habits, make them more attractive by learning to associate them with a positive experience. Highlight the benefits of avoiding a bad habit to make it seem unattractive.

For example:

  • Exercise. Exercise can be associated with a challenging task that drains energy and wears you down. You can view it as a way to develop skills and strength. Instead of “I need to go run in the morning,” say “It’s time to build endurance and get fast”
  • Finance. Saving money is often associated with sacrifice. You can associate it with freedom as living below your current means increases your future means

Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.

The 3rd Law: Make It Easy

Chapter 11: Walk Slowly, but Never Backward

We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action.

“I refer to this as the difference between being in motion and taking action. The two ideas sound similar, but they’re not the same. 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.”

For example:

  • Motion: outlining twenty ideas for articles. Action: sitting down and writing an article
  • Motion: search for a better diet plan and read a few books on the topic. Action: eat a healthy meal

Motion can be useful, but it will never produce an outcome by itself.

Motion feels like making progress without running the risk of failure. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done.

The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning. Focus on taking action, not being in motion.

To master a habit, start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. Just practice it. Get your reps in.

Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition. 

atomic habits james clear habit line

The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it. What matters is the rate at which you perform the behavior. It’s the frequency that makes the difference.

Chapter 12: The Law of Least Effort

Human behavior follows the Law of Least Effort. We naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.

So it is crucial to make your habits so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it

Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible

Rather than trying to overcome friction, reduce the friction associated with good behaviors. When friction is low, habits are easy. 

Optimize your environment to make actions easier. To practice a new habit, choose a place that is already along the path of your daily routine. Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of your life. 

Another way is to prime your environment to make future actions easier

For example:

  • Want to exercise? Set out your workout clothes, shoes, gym bag, and water bottle ahead of time
  • Want to improve your diet? Chop up a ton of fruits and vegetables and pack them in containers so you have easy access to healthy snacks

To break bad habits, increase the friction associated with bad behaviors. When friction is high, habits are difficult. 

For example:

  • Watch too much television? Take the batteries out of the remote after each use so it takes an extra ten seconds to turn it back on
  • Check your phone too much? Leave it in another room so you must get up to check it

Chapter 13: How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule

Habits can be completed in a few seconds but continue to impact your behavior for minutes or hours afterward. It’s easier to continue what you are doing than start something different. 

Many habits occur at decisive moments – choices that are like a fork in the road – and either send you in the direction of a productive day or an unproductive one.

It’s easy to start too big. Excitement inevitably takes over and you end up trying to do too much too soon. To counteract it, use the Two-Minute Rule:

“When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”

Scale down habits into a two-minute version:

  • Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page
  • Do thirty minutes of yoga” becomes “Take out my yoga mat

The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. The actions that follow a new habit can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy. You need a “gateway habit”.

Find gateway habits that lead to your desired outcome by mapping your goals on a scale from “very easy” to “very hard.”

For example:

  • Running a marathon – very hard
  • Running a 5K – hard
  • Walking ten thousand steps – moderately difficult
  • Walking ten minutes – easy
  • Putting on your running shoes – very easy

Your goal might be to run a marathon, but your gateway habit is to put on your running shoes. 

The point is to master the habit of showing up. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist. Make it easy to start and the rest will follow.

The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely it becomes that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things. Standardize before you optimize.

The rule also reinforces the identity you want to build. You’re taking the smallest action that confirms the type of person you want to be. One minute of reading is better than never picking up a book. It’s better to do less than you hoped than to do nothing at all.

Once you’ve mastered showing up, scale your habit back up toward your ultimate goal with habit shaping.

For example, if you want to become an early rise:

  1. Be home by 10 p.m. every night
  2. Have all devices turned off by 10 p.m. every night
  3. Be in bed by 10 p.m. every night 
  4. Lights off by 10 p.m. every night
  5. Wake up at 6 a.m. every day

Inversion of the 3rd Law: Make It Difficult

Chapter 14: 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. 

Commitment Device: a choice you make in the present that locks in better behavior in the future

For example:

  • Overeating? Purchase food in individual packages instead of bulk size
  • Want to get in shape? Schedule a yoga session and pay ahead of time

Commitment devices are useful because they take advantage of good intentions before you can fall victim to temptation. They increase the odds that you’ll do the right thing in the future by making bad habits difficult in the present.

The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do.

The ultimate way to lock in future behavior is to automate your future habits. Onetime choices – like buying a better mattress or enrolling in an automatic savings plan – deliver increasing returns over time. 

Using technology to automate your habits is the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behavior.

“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. I had the entire weekend to enjoy what social media had to offer until Monday morning when she would do it again.”

For example: 

  • Cooking: meal-delivery services can do your grocery shopping
  • Productivity: social media browsing can be cut off with a website blocker

The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying

Chapter 15: The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change

Behavior is repeated when the experience is satisfying. For habits to stick, you need to feel immediately successful – even if it’s in a small way.

Habits produce outcomes across time that are often misaligned. The costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future.

The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: “What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.”

Add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long-run and immediate pain to ones that don’t.

In the beginning, make the ending of your habit satisfying so you stay on track. Use reinforcement with an immediate reward to increase the rate of the behavior.

Select short-term rewards that reinforce your identity rather than ones that conflict with it.

For example, rewarding exercise with ice cream is conflicting. Maybe reward yourself with a massage, which is both a luxury and a vote toward taking care of your body.

You can also make avoidance visible. Open a savings account for something you want – like a “Leather Jacket”. The immediate reward of seeing yourself save money toward the jacket feels better than being deprived. You are making it satisfying to do nothing.

Eventually, intrinsic rewards (better mood, more energy, etc.) kick in and you’ll be less concerned with chasing the secondary reward. You do it because it’s who you are. Identity sustains a habit.

Chapter 16: How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day

One of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress.

A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit—like marking an X on a calendar. Don’t break the chain.

Habit trackers and other visual forms of measurement can make your habits satisfying by providing clear evidence of your progress.

Whenever possible, automate measurement. Limit manual tracking to your most important habits. Record each measurement immediately after the habit occurs. 

The habit stacking + habit tracking formula is: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [TRACK MY HABIT].”

For example:

  • After I finish each set at the gym, I will record it in my workout journal
  • After I put my plate in the dishwasher, I will write down what I ate

Try to keep your habit streak alive. 

Life will interrupt you at some point. Remind yourself of a simple rule: never miss twice. If you miss one day, try to get back on track as quickly as possible

Show up on your bad (or busy) days. Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you. Doing something – ten squats or one push-up – is huge. Don’t put up a zero. Don’t let losses eat into your compounding.

Measurement is only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture, not when it consumes you. Each number is simply one piece of feedback in the overall system. Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing.

Inversion of the 4th Law: Make It Unsatisfying

Chapter 17: How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything

Behavior is avoided when the experience is painful or unsatisfying. Pain is an effective teacher. The more immediate the pain, the less likely the behavior.

To prevent bad habits and eliminate unhealthy behaviors, add an instant cost to the action to reduce their odds. There can’t be a gap between the action and the consequences. As soon as actions incur an immediate consequence, behavior begins to change.

Habit Contract: 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. Find accountability partners that sign off on the contract with you

An accountability partner can create an immediate cost to inaction. Suddenly, you are not only failing to uphold your promises to yourself but also failing to uphold your promises to others.

A habit contract can be used to add a social cost to any behavior. It makes the costs of violating your promises public and painful. Knowing that someone else is watching you can be a powerful motivator.

Advanced Tactics: How to Go from Being Merely Good to Being Truly Great

Chapter 18: The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t)

To maximize your odds of success, choose the right field of competition.

Genes cannot be easily changed, which means they provide a powerful advantage in favorable circumstances and a serious disadvantage in unfavorable circumstances. 

Habits are easier when they align with your natural abilities.

Choose the habits that best suit you, not the most popular. Find the version of the habit that brings you satisfaction.

Pick the right habit and progress is easy. Pick the wrong habit and life is a struggle. 

At the beginning of a new activity, you want to explore. In relationships, it’s called dating. You want to try out many possibilities, research a broad range of ideas, and cast a wide net.

Then, shift focus to the best solution you’ve found—but keep experimenting occasionally. The proper balance depends on whether you’re winning or losing.

If you are currently winning, you exploit, exploit, exploit. If you are currently losing, you continue to explore, explore, explore.

In the long-run, work on the strategy that delivers the best results about 80 to 90% of the time and keep exploring the remaining 10 to 20% (as per the 80/20 rule).

To narrow in on the habits and areas that will be most satisfying to you, ask yourself as you explore: 

  • What feels like fun to me, but work to others?
  • Where do I get greater returns than the average person?
  • What comes naturally to me?

Play a game that favors your strengths. 

And if you can’t find a game that favors you, create one. Rewrite the rules. When you can’t win by being better, win by being different

A good player works hard to win the game everyone else is playing. A great player creates a new game that favors their strengths and avoids their weaknesses.

Genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. Once you realize your strengths, you know where to spend your time and energy.

Chapter 19 The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work

The human brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty.

The Goldilocks Rule: “Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.”

atomic habits goldilocks rule

The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. As habits become routine, they become less interesting and satisfying. We get bored. Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated. It’s the ability to keep going when work isn’t exciting that makes the difference. 

“What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else? 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.”

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

Chapter 20: The Downside of Creating Good Habits

The upside of habits is that we can do things without thinking. The downside is that we stop paying attention to little errors and feedback.

Habits alone aren’t sufficient for mastery. You need a combination of automatic habits and deliberate practice:

Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery

Mastery is the process of narrowing your focus to a tiny element of success, repeating it until you have internalized the skill, and then using this new habit as the foundation to advance to the next frontier of your development. Each habit unlocks the next level of performance. It’s an endless cycle. 

You must remain conscious of your performance over time so you can continue to refine and improve. Establish a system for reflection and review to ensure that you spend your time on the right things and make course corrections whenever necessary.

  • Annual Review

Each December, reflect on the previous year. Tally your habits and reflect on your progress by answering three questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn?
  • Integrity Report

Six months later, conduct a different review. Revisit your core values and question if you have been living in accordance with them. Answer three questions:

  1. What are the core values that drive my life and work?
  2. How am I living and working with integrity right now?
  3. How can I set a higher standard in the future?

Reflection and review is also the ideal time to revisit your identity.

In the beginning, repeating a habit is essential to build up evidence of your desired identity. As you latch on to that new identity, however, those same beliefs can hold you back from the next level of growth.

The tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it. Avoid making any single aspect of your identity an overwhelming portion of who you are. 

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 the CEO” translates to “I’m the type of person who builds and creates things.”

When chosen effectively, your identity works with the changing circumstances rather than against them.

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Hi, I'm Dan.

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Hi, I'm Dan.

I share ideas on productivity every Monday in my newsletter.

 

Strategies, tips, and hacks to work smarter in a short email.

19k productivity geeks read it. I’d love you to join.

Love your stuff

The only newsletter I subscribe to that I actually look forward to

I read your newsletter every week