I can say with confidence that this book explains habits in the most concise and clear manner, from the ones I’ve read. James does a clear job of abstracting the core principles from all the information out there. I had read most of the ideas elsewhere before though. But if you only have time to read one book on habits, this one is not a bad choice. I’ll share with you the lessons I most liked.
Your habits shape your identity
You are what you repeatedly do is the premise of this chapter. The logical next step is to ask, “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?” Then work back from that answer. If for instance, the person you mentally picture would do X, then start integrating X into your daily routine. If you want to be fit, you picture a fit person, like an athlete. A great athlete works out every day and pays attention to food. And there you have your starting point.
Willpower is overrated, hack your environment
Willpower is great and you can train it, but people with great habits don’t necessarily have more willpower. How are they able to sustain their habit? By hacking their environment or what I called Optimizing the Defaults in another post.
When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.Atomic Habits
Choose your social circle
It is common knowledge that the people closest to us shape who we are.
One groundbreaking study tracked twelve thousand people for thirty-two years and found that “a person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57 percent if he or she had a friend who became obese.” It works the other way, too. Another study found that if one person in a relationship lost weight, the other partner would also slim down aboutAtomic Habits
one thirdof the time. Our friends and family provide a sort of invisible peer pressure that pulls us in their direction.
One of the best things you can do is to join a culture that is how you’d like to be. If the group of people you hang out has a normal behavior you like, then chances are if you spend a lot of time with those people will transfer their culture to you.
Sadly, the same thing happens with negative characteristics too as one study showed.
… one study found that when a chimpanzee learns an effective way to crack nuts open as a member of one group and then switches to a new group that uses a less effective strategy, it will avoid using the superior nut cracking method just to blend in with the rest of the chimps.Atomic Habits
Don’t overthink, just act
“The best is the enemy of the good.”Voltaire
How often do I not take action just because I think I have to work out a better way. As GaryVee says, perfection is just a type of laziness, an excuse.
When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something.Atomic Habits
The best you can do is to just start doing something without overthinking it. I learned this principle in Software Engineering. There is a place for creating a mental model of what I’m going to build but sometimes the sooner I start doing, the faster I can make progress. It is better to have feedback ASAP. As Elon Musk can tell you, feedback is important. Arnold Schwarzenegger will tell you that it is all about the reps.
The Law of Least Effort
This is an interesting one. Turns out we like to do something easy. Like scrolling on social media on our phone. If you put the damn thing on the charger in another room, suddenly you free yourself from that impulse because getting up to get your phone feels too much hassle for scrolling on something you know will be pretty pointless If you’ve already done it recently.
The idea is, rise the friction of habits you want to stop doing. And reduce friction of the things you want to do more. It could be relocating your exercise equipment to the room next to yours. Sometimes you just have to subtract a lot of stuff. The Japanese optimized their entire industry by eliminating points of friction from their manufacturing process. If you remove stuff that distracts you, you will automatically have more time and energy for more important things.
Stop over judging
The title is different than the words James used in the book but the idea is the same. Too often we want things to be perfect. If we fail once at our exercise routine we become discouraged and give up entirely. This is bad because it is inevitable that we will have to make adjustments. Life is not perfectly linear and predictable, why do we think we have to be? Here are some quotes from the book which I think are important to reflect upon.
The breaking of a habit doesn’t matter if the reclaiming of it is fast.
The problem is not slipping up; the problem is thinking that if you can’t do something perfectly, then you shouldn’t do it at all.
The dark side of tracking a particular behavior is that we become driven by the number rather than the purpose behind it.
In short, we optimize for what we measure. When we choose the wrong measurement, we get the wrong behavior.
Measurement is only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture, not when it consumes you.
But just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing. And just because you can’t measure something doesn’t mean it’s not important at all.Atomic Habits
Align your habits with your talents
The last part is about self-awareness. Habits become easier and more satisfying if they align with our strengths and abilities. It is true that we can become good at almost anything, but if you want to become an elite basketball player, you better are tall enough.
“Genes can predispose, but they don’t predetermine.” The areas where you are genetically predisposed to success are the areas where habits are more likely to be satisfying.Atomic Habits
What comes naturally to you? Focus on that. Obviously we all benefit from certain basic healthy habits like exercise. But you know what I mean, if you want your habits to help you professionally for instance. You will save yourself a lot of time if you practice enough self-awareness to reverse engineer your strengths and focus on them.
You can get the book here.