THE FUNDAMENTALS: Why Tiny Changes Make a Big Difference
- The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits
Why small habits make a big difference
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.
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.
Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.
Your habits can compound for you or against you
- Productivity compounds.
- Knowledge compounds.
- Relationships compound.
- Stress compounds.
- Negative thoughts compound.
- Outrage compounds.
Forget about goals, Focus on systems instead
Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
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.
The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.
A System Of Atomic Habits
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
- Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Getting 1 percent better every day counts for a lot in the long run
- Habits are a double-edged sword. They can work for you or against you, which is why understanding the details is essential.
- Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You need to be patient.
- An atomic habit is a little habit that is part of a larger system. Just as atoms are the building blocks of molecules, atomic habits are the building blocks of remarkable results.
- If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.
- You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
2. How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)
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.
The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.
The Two-Step Process To Changing Your Identity
Simple two-step process:
- Decide the type of person you want to be.
- Prove it to yourself with small wins.
The Real Reason Habits Matter
Ultimately, your habits matter because they help you become the type of person you wish to be. They are the channel through which you develop your deepest beliefs about yourself. Quite literally, you become your habits.
- There are three levels of change: outcome change, process change, and identity change.
- 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.
- Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
- 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.
3. How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps
The Science of How Habits Work
First, there is the cue.
Cravings are the second step.
The third step is the response.
Finally, the response delivers a reward.
The Habit Loop
- A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.
- The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible.
- Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop that involves four steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.
- The Four Law of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.
The 1st Law: Make It Obvious
4. The Man Who Didn’t Look Right
- 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.
- The process of behavior change always starts with awareness. You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them.
- Pointing-and-Calling raises your level of awareness from an unconscious habit to a more conscious level by verbalizing your actions.
- The Habits Scorecard is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior.
5. The Best Way to Start a New Habit
Habit Stacking: A Simple Plan to Overhaul Your Habits
Habit stacking is a special form of an implementation intention. Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit.
The habit stacking formula is: “After [Current Habit], I will [New Habit].”
Your morning routine habit stack might look like this :
- After I pour my morning cup of coffee, I will meditate for sixty seconds.
- After I meditate for sixty seconds, I will write my to-do list for the day.
- After I write my to-do list for the day, I will immediately begin my first task.
- The 1st Law of Behavior Change is make it obvious.
- The two most common cues are time and location.
- Creating an implementation intention is a strategy you can use to pair a new habit with a specific time and location.
- The implementation intention formula is: I will [Behavior] at [Time] in [Location].
- Habit stacking is a strategy you can use to pair a new habit with a current habit.
- The habit stacking formula is: After [Current Habit], I will [New Habit].
6. Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More
- Small changes in context can lead to large changes in behavior over time.
- Every habit is initiated by a cue. We are more likely to notice cues that stand out.
- Make the cues of good habits obvious in your environment.
- Gradually, your 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 because you are not fighting against old cues.
7. The Secret to Self-Control
- The inversion of the 1st Law of Behavior Change is make it invisible.
- Once a habit is formed, it is unlikely to be forgotten.
- People with high self-control tend to spend less time in tempting situations. It’s easier to avoid temptation than resist it.
- One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
- Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one.
The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive
8. How to Make a Habit Irresistible
The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.
The Dopamine-Driven Feedback Loop
Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. Every behavior that is highly habit-forming-taking drugs, eating junk food, playing video games, browsing social media- is associated with higher levels of dopamine. The same can be said for our most basic habitual behaviors like eating food, drinking water, having sex, and interacting socially.
When it comes to habits, the key takeaway is this: dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it.
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
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].
- 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).
- The 2nd Law of Behavior Change is make it attractive.
- The more attractive an opportunity is, the likely it is to become habit-forming.
- habits are a dopamine-drive feedback loop. When dopamine rises, so does our motivation to act.
- It is the anticipation of a reward- not the fulfillment of it – that gets us to take action. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike.
- temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
9. The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits
The Seductive Pull of Social Norms
- Imitating the Close
- Imitating the Many
- Imitating the Powerful
- 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: the close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (those with status and prestige).
- 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.
- The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
- If a behavior can get us approval, respect, and praise, we find it attractive.
10. How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits
How to Reprogram Your Brain to Enjoy Hard Habits
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.
Exercise. Many people associate exercise with being a challenging task that drains energy and wears you down.
Finance. Saving money is often associated with sacrifice.
Meditation. Anyone who has tried meditation for more than three seconds knows how frustrating it can be when the next distraction inevitably pops into your mind.
Pregame jitters. Many people feel anxious before delivering a big presentation or competing in an important event.
The key to finding and fixing the causes of your bad habits is to reframe the associations you have about them. It’s not easy, but if you can reprogram your predictions, you can transform a hard habit into an attractive one.
- The inversion of the 2nd Law of Behavior Change is make it unattractive.
- Every behavior has a surface level craving and a deeper underlying motive.
- Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires.
- The cause of your habits is actually the prediction that precedes them. The prediction leads to a feeling.
- Highlight the benefits of avoiding a bad habit to make it seem unattractive.
- Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings and unattractive when we associate them with negative feelings. Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.
The 3rd Law: Make It Easy
11. Walk Slowly, but Never Backward
How Long Does it Actually Take to From a New Habit?
All habits follow a similar trajectory from effortful practice to automatic behavior, a process known as automaticity. Automaticity is the ability to perform a behavior without thinking about each step, which occurs when the nonconscious mind takes over.
The Habit Line
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.
To build a habit, you need to practice it. And the most effective way to make practice happen is to adhere to the 3rd Law of Behavior Change: make it easy.
- The 3rd Law of Behavior Change is make it easy.
- The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning.
- Focus on taking action, not being in motion.
- Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.
- The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.
12. The Law of Least Effort
- Human behavior follows the Law of Least Effort. We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.
- Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.
- Reduce the friction associated with good behaviors. When friction is low, habits are easy.
- Increase the friction associated with bad behaviors. When friction is high, habits are difficult.
- Prime your environment to make future actions easier.
13. How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule
The Two-Minute Rule
The most effective way I know to counteract this tendency is to use the Two-Minute Rule, which states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start.
- Habits can be completed in a few seconds but continue to impact your behavior for minutes or hours afterward.
- 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.
- The Two-Minute Rule states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
- 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. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.
14. How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible
- The inversion of the 3rd Law of Behavior Change is make it difficult.
- A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that locks in better behavior in the future.
- The ultimate way to lock in future behavior is to automate your habits.
- Onetime choices – like buying a better mattress or enrolling in an automatic savings plan – are single actions that automate your future habits and deliver increasing returns over time.
- Using technology to automate your habits is the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behavior.
The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying
15. The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change
Stories like these are evidence of the Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided. You learn what to do in the future based on what you were rewarded for doing (or punished for doing) in the past.
The Mismatch Between Immediate and Delayed Rewards
With a fuller understanding of what causes our brain to repeat some behaviors and avoid others, let’s update the Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.
How to Turn Instant Gratification to Your Advantage
You want the ending of your habit to be satisfying. The best approach is to use reinforcement, which refers to the process of using an immediate reward to increase the rate of a behavior.
Immediate reinforcement can be especially helpful when dealing with habits of avoidance, which are behaviors you want to stop doing.
In summary, a habit needs to be enjoyable for it to last. Simple bits of reinforcement – like soap that smells great or toothpaste that has a refreshing mint flavor or seeing $50 hit your saving account – can offer the immediate pleasure you need to enjoy a habit. And change is easy when it is enjoyable.
- The 4th Law of Behavior Change is make it satisfying.
- We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying.
- The human brain evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards.
- The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.
- To get a habit to stick you need to feel immediately successful – even if it’s in a small way.
- The first three laws of behavior change – make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy – increase the odds that a behavior will be performed this time. The fourth law of behavior change – make it satisfying – increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated next time.
16. How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day
How to Keep Your Habits on Track
Benefit #1: Habit tracking is obvious.
Benefit #2: Habit tracking is attractive.
Benefit #3: Habit tracking is satisfying.
The habit stacking + habit tracking formula is:
After [Current Habit], I will [Track my Habit]
No matter how you measure your improvement, habit tracking offers a simple way to make your habits more satisfying. Each measurement provides a little bit of evidence that you’re moving in the right direction and a brief moment of immediate pleasure for a job well done.
- One of the most satisfying feeling is the feeling of making progress.
- A habit tracker is simple way to measure whether you did a habit-like marking an X on a calendar.
- Habit trackers and other visual forms of measurement can make your habits satisfying by providing clear evidence of your progress.
- Don’t break the chain. Try to keep your habit streak alive.
- Never miss twice. If you miss one day, try to get back on track as quickly as possible.
- Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing.
17. How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything
The more immediate the pain, the less likely the behavior. If you want to prevent bad habits and eliminate unhealthy behaviors, then adding an instant cost to the action is a great way to reduce their odds.
- The inversion of the 4th Law of Behavior Change is make it unsatisfying.
- We are less likely to repeat a bad habit if it is painful or unsatisfying.
- An accountability partner can create an immediate cost to inaction. We care deeply about what others think of us, and we do not want others to have a lesser opinion of us.
- 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
18. The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t)
The most proven scientific analysis of personality traits is known as the “Big Five,” which breaks them down into five spectrums of behavior.
- Openness to experience: from curious and inventive on one end to cautious and consistent on the other.
- Conscientiousness: organized and efficient to easygoing and spontaneous.
- Extroversion: outgoing and energetic to solitary and reserved (you likely know them as extroverts vs. introverts).
- Agreeableness: friendly and compassionate to challenging and detached.
- Neuroticism: anxious and sensitive to confident, calm, and stable.
How to Find a Game Where the Odds are in Your Favor
As you explore different options, there are a series of questions you can ask yourself to continually narrow in on the habits and areas that will be most satisfying to you:
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?
How to Get the Most out of Your Genes
In summary, one of the best way to ensure your habits remain satisfying over the long-run is to pick behaviors that align with your personality and skills. Work hard on the things that come easy.
- The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition.
- Pick the right habit and progress is easy. Pick the wrong habit and life is a struggle.
- 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.
- Play a game that favors your strengths. If you can’t find a game that favors you, create one.
- Genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on.
19. The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work
- The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities.
- The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.
- As habits become routine, they become less interesting and less 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.
- Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way.
20. The Downside of Creating Good Habits
Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery
- The upside of habits is that we can do things without thinking. The downside is that we stop paying attention to little errors.
- Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery
- Reflection and review is a process that allows you to remain conscious of your performance over time.
- The tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it.
Conclusion: The Secret to Results That Last
This is a continuous process. There is no finish line. There is no permanent solution. Whenever you’re looking to improve, you can rotate through the Four Laws of Behavior Change until you find the next bottleneck. Make it obvious. Make it attractive. Mait it easy. Make it satisfying. Round and round. Always looking for the next way to get 1 percent better.
The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements. It’s remarkable what you can build if you just don’t stop. It’s remarkable the business you can build if you don’t stop working. It’s remarkable the body you can build if you don’t stop training. It’s remarkable the knowledge you can build if you don’t stop learning. It’s remarkable the fortune you can build if you don’t stop saving. It’s remarkable the friendships you can build if you don’t stop caring. Small habits don’t add up. They compound.
That’s the power of atomic habits. Tiny changes. Remarkable results.