The book in 4 sentences
- Focus on the process and not the goal, a good process can manifest positive outcomes in many different ways
- Real change starts from the inside, Identify who you want to become first
- Every action is a vote for the type of person you want to become. Our actions have a compounding effect that can be good or bad
- The environment is the visible hand that shapes human behavior
Who is this book for?
This book is for everyone.
How the book changed me
- I always loved the idea of being a person that runs and exercises regularly but I struggled to do it consistently. Using the "identity Approach" from this book, I started to think of myself as a runner. Honestly thinking of myself as a runner, adding “Avid Runner” to my Twitter bio really worked. Now I need to live up to who I am, I say I’m a runner and what do runners do? They wake up and run. On days I don’t feel like it, I still turn up, because I’m a runner.
- I have bad eating habits and I struggled with portion control. I could abstain and fast but during the hours when I eat, I find that I still overeat. I learned to track and plan my meals ahead of time.
- Tracking macronutrients and knowing the number of calories I eat each day made me become more intentional about controlling the amount of food I eat. I know that eating 3 packs of 70g of noodles is about 1100kcal and my daily goal is less than 2390kcal. I just stick with two so I can maintain my goal.
- Planning ahead makes it easy for me to stick to a particular routine and don’t overeat. I know what I will be eating every day for the whole week, and the ease of not having to think about what I will eat every day helps me just stick to the same meal and routine.
Summary and Notes
How to build a good habit;
There are four laws of behavioral change that we can use to build good habits. These laws are based on the principle of Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward.
- Make it Obvious - You cannot change what you don’t know. The first step to changing a behavior or a habit is making it obvious.
- Using a habit scorecard, you can write down every action you take daily
- Make the cues of good habits obvious in your environment
- Make it Attractive - To turn an action into a habit, you need to perform it consistently and the best way to do something consistently is to make it attractive.
- Bundle habits to make it more attractive - I see people watch movies while on the treadmill. You can do what you want to do after you have done what you need to do, or simply pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do
- Join a tribe of people that your desired behavior is normal behavior and that you already have something in common with. In other to fit in, performing that action will become attractive to you
- Make it Easy - If you can make the good habits you want more convenient, you’ll be more likely to follow through on them. Human behavior follows the law of least effort, we will naturally gravitate towards the option that requires the least amount of work.
- Prime your environment to make future actions easier
- Standardize before you optimize, you can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist
- By preparing and planning my meals for the week, I make it easy for me to stick to the same diet and maintain my 2390kcal daily goal
- Make it Satisfying - We repeat actions that give us immediate reward. The problem with good habits is that the reward is always in the future, while in bad habits the rewards are instant.
- You can make good habits satisfying by tracking it
- You can reward yourself when you keep up with a habit
- I try to keep track of the days that I maintained my 2390kcal goal and looking at my 10 days streak gives me satisfaction to keep at it.
The first three laws of behavior change - Make it obvious, Make it attractive, and Make it easy - Increases the odds that a behavior will be performed. The fourth law of behavior change increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated next time.
Focus on the process and not the goal
The thing about goals and desires is that we all have them, but not all of us achieve them. Everyone desires to be successful but not everyone becomes successful.
When we have goals and desires, we should not focus on that goal or that desire. Rather focus on the process of achieving that goal.
So If I want to become more articulative with my thoughts and opinions, my focus should be on what people that are articulative do daily to become that good. The answer to this question can be writing for 10 minutes every day. So my focus should be on writing every day.
To be able to write daily, I can apply the four laws this way
- I will write for 5 minutes before I start working on the computer every day (using the habit stacking technique to make the habit of writing obviously)
- I will follow people that are articulative on Twitter, so I will be inspired and encouraged daily to keep at it so I can be like them (using the tribe to make it attractive)
- I will start with just writing for 5 minutes every day to make it easy for me (using the 2-minute rule, I will not write for more than 5 minutes)
- I will use a habit tracker to mark the days that I wrote so I will be satisfied with the efforts that I’m making daily (using the visual tracker to make it satisfying)
Another goal of mine is to complete a marathon, instead of focusing on running a marathon. I focus on working out 5x per week and running at least 160km every month. If I can do this I will increase my chances of being able to complete a marathon someday
Creating a process involves looking at people that have done what you’re trying to do or achieve to learn their daily activities and processes that helped them achieve that goal.
Another way to go about this is to ask yourself what you need to do daily to become a person that can achieve the goal you want to achieve. So instead of saying I want to run marathons, it is better to say that I will run for 30 minutes every day and build an identity as someone that runs every day.
Let’s say you want to be a web developer, the focus should be on making sure you write code every day. Solve a technical problem every day and build the mental muscle and experience required to build things. Doing this consistently you will find that without actually thinking about the goal after a while you have achieved the goal.
Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions. It is not the one thing that we did at a point that gave us the result or outcome we desired, it is usually a summation of previous actions that compound into the actual outcome that we desire.
The concept of identity and taking actions (instead of motion) are all important and apply here.
Focus on the system and processes that make you a productive person, a good process can manifest success in many different forms.
Your habits can compound for you or against you. Remember this popular maths equation about tiny habits
1^365 = 1
1.01^365 = 37.8
Every day is an opportunity for us to cast a vote for the success or person that we desire to become. If you do 1.01 good things every day for a year. It will compound into a bigger good result for you in 2 - 3 years.
If you do 1.01 of something that is bad for you every day for a year. It will compound into a bigger bad result for you in 2 - 3 years.
Positive outcomes are a net sum, you might not always make positive actions every day but strive to ensure that your positive actions are way greater than your negative actions so your net sum is always positive.
Know your Identity
Your life today is a summation of all your choices/decisions from yesterday up till today and what your live will be tomorrow will be a summation of all your choices/decisions from today till tomorrow.
What I have learned when it comes to changing habits is following the identity-based approach. This approach allows you to question your daily actions against who you identify as or who you want to be.
So for example; I want to run often. I want to make running a part of my daily life. To run consistently and build the habit of doing it constantly requires a lot of willpower and discipline. A good approach that will help me get my mind to wanting to do it every day is to identify as a runner. I need to first of all start seeing myself as a runner. I need to be affirmative and openly refer to myself as a runner.
What this does is that it changes my approach to running and exercising every day. I don’t have to run again. Running is not something I have to do. It is something I do, and this I have found makes a huge difference in my approach to running consistently.
I don’t need to think too much about running again. I wake up and I run because that is who I am and what I do, I’m a runner so I just run. I don’t have to run, I just run.
This is applicable to all the things we want to do, if you want to be a developer instead of saying that I have to write code or that I have work to do. Start identifying yourself as a developer, when you start seeing yourself as a developer, you will start doing what developers do - which is write code every day. When you write code every day you become good at writing code. So you don’t have to wake up and write code anymore. You wake up and write code because that is who you are. This approach removes the friction of relying on your willpower to perform an action and just doing the action.
Understand that environment matters
Your habits and choices are often triggered by what is obvious or available to you in your current environment. The same options can be placed in front of you in different environments and your choices will be different. For example, If you’re supposed to prepare a meal when you come back from work, you’re more likely going to cook that meal if you come back to a clean kitchen than when you come back to a dirty kitchen. When our room is clean we’re more productive, we’re more likely to perform productive tasks as suppose to when our room is not clean.
The habits that we perform daily are greatly affected by the environment that we find ourselves in, for example, if you’re trying to eat healthily, you’re more likely going to eat healthy foods if you take away all unhealthy foods from your fridge and cabinets. If you don’t want to watch Netflix or waste time on social media, it is better to delete these apps from your phone than to leave them on the phone.
The idea is to make performing the actions that you don’t want to perform hard by creating an environment where it is difficult to perform that action. For the actions that you want to perform, create an environment where performing that action is easier.
If you check the basic Habit loop - Cue → Craving → Response → Reward. You see it all starts from the Cue. We get cues from our sensory organs and these sense organs are actively getting feedback from our environment.
The point is that our environment feeds our sense organ which creates cues that start our habits. When we say that we have an urge for a certain food or that we’re craving a certain meal, we don’t pay attention to the cue that made us have those cravings. We're ignorant of the cues that start our habit process but to be able to change your habits and build good habits you need to pay attention and observe the cues that create those cravings.
When you start seeing the cues, you can start tweaking your environment to be able to change the cues. Here is an example of an action I do a lot that I’m trying to change. When I try to take a break from work or rest. I usually just open my phone and go straight to Twitter, but Twitter is not a place to rest or take breaks. If anything, scrolling Twitter for a few minutes increases my stress level as opposed to reducing stress. I have automated this task in my head that it took me a while to identify the cue that is making me open Twitter when I’m trying to rest.
Guess what I did? Yes, I just deleted Twitter and removed the cue from my environment so now when I want to take a break and open my phone - I don’t have to worry about opening Twitter because it is not there anymore. I only check Twitter when I’m on my computer at specific hours.
I have also realized Twitter is a lot better on the computer but that is not the point here.
Atomic habit is a great read I can't recommend it enough. What I try to do when I read a book like this is to pick one or two ideas that I resonate with the most and practice them. You can’t magically change all of your habits by just reading this book. What you can do is pick a very obvious and not-so-serious habit that you want to change and apply the four laws to it and observe over time to see if it improves.
This way you have a better understanding of the principles in this book and can easily apply them to other areas of your life.
This is not just a book to read one time, the principles I have learned from this book will live with me for life. I believe every day that we’re alive is an opportunity to grow and be better. This book just gives us principles to keep growing and becoming better human beings.