Book Notes: Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits by James Clear

[Disclaimer:  This is not meant to be a book summary or book review. This is just stuff in the book that I found personally valuable or interesting at the time of reading. Most of these “notes” are actually highlights, i.e. directly copied lines from the book, but some notes are personal adaptations or added personal insights.]

– 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.

– You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.

– Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.

(page 21 Kindle)

The “Valley of Disappointment”: where people feel discouraged after putting in weeks or months [or years] of hard work without experiencing any [significant] results…

However, this work was not wasted. It was simply being stored. It is not until much later that the full value of previous efforts is revealed.

– Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.

If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.

In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.

– When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.

[ Personal note:

Your primary task is to figure out how to enjoy the tasks. That’s what the “process” is, a series of tasks.

Learn to enjoy your tasks and you will remain happy, rather than maybe become happy. Remember these three things to help yourself enjoy tasks:

Pay attention. Get creative. Stay grateful.

Pay full attention to what your doing. Creatively interact and explore variation. Be grateful for the opportunity to engage and grow, be grateful for having been granted a responsibility, and be grateful for being physically and mentally capable of executing the task. ]

– Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.

– The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity.

The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it.

– True behavior change is identity change.

You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity.

– The biggest barrier to positive change at any level — individual, team, society — is identity conflict.

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

– Your identity emerges out of your habits.

More precisely, your habits are how you embody your identity.

(When you train each day, you embody the identity of an athletic person.)

The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior.

– Whatever your identity is right now, you only believe it because you have proof of it.

The more evidence you have for a belief, the more strongly you will believe it.

I didn’t start out as a writer. I became one through my habits.

– 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. If nothing changes, nothing is going to change.

It is a simple two-step process:

1. Decide the type of person you want to be.

2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

– You have the power to change your beliefs about yourself. Your identity is not set in stone. You have a choice in every moment. You can choose the identity you want to reinforce today with the habits you choose today.

– Habits … are not about having something. They are about becoming someone.

– Habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity, so you can allocate your attention to other tasks.

– Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it.

In fact, the people who don’t have their habits handled are often the ones with the least amount of freedom.

Without good financial habits, you will always be struggling for the next dollar. Without good health habits, you will always seem to be short on energy.

– The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.
[ C C R R ]

– The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior. It is a bit of information that predicts a reward.

Cues are meaningless until they are interpreted. The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the observer are what transform a cue into a craving.

Cravings are the second step, and they are the motivational force behind every habit. Without some level of motivation or desire — without craving a change — we have no reason to act.

Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state.

The third step is the response. The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action.

If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than you are willing to expend, then you won’t do it. Your response also depends on your ability. It sounds simple, but a habit can occur only if you are capable of doing it.

Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward.

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.

– All behavior is driven by the desire to solve a problem. Sometimes the problem is that you notice something good and you want to obtain it. Sometimes the problem is that you are experiencing pain and you want to relieve it. Either way, the purpose of every habit is to solve the problems you face.

[ Personal note: “Problem” in this sense ultimately means “dis-regulations”, or potential disregulations. So “solve” would ultimately mean to prevent, reduce/mitigate, or eliminate disregulations.

Moreover, a “problem” as referenced here by the author often appears to be a functional problem on the surface but beneath it lies the underlying reason why we act on anything: to regulate our body-minds. Thus…

Our behaviors are ultimately driven by our regulatory needs, biological and/or psychological, short term or long term, real or perceived.

So all behavior is essentially attempting to prevent, eliminate, or reduce/mitigate disregulations or potential disregulations (aka problems) which in bio-psycho terms ultimately means we are acting to “solve” a present or potential dissatisfaction, discomfort, or pain of the body-mind. And this infers our ultimate goal of creating or sustaining (or eventually somehow experiencing) some type of satisfaction, comfort, or pleasure. ]

pg 53 Kindle

– Whenever you want to [establish a desired] behavior, you can simply ask yourself:

1. How can I make it obvious?
2. How can I make it attractive?
3. How can I make it easy?
4. How can I make it satisfying?

– Every goal is doomed to fail if it goes against the grain of human nature.

– Our responses to cues are so deeply encoded that it may feel like the urge to act comes from nowhere. For this reason, we must begin the process of behavior change with awareness.

If a habit remains mindless, you can’t expect to improve it.

– There are no good habits or bad habits. There are only effective habits. That is, effective at solving problems. All habits serve you in some way — even the bad ones — which is why you repeat them.

– Generally speaking, good habits will have net positive outcomes. Bad habits have net negative outcomes.

If you’re still having trouble determining how to rate a particular habit, here is a question I like to use:

“Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?”

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

– The first step to changing bad habits is to be on the lookout for them.

The process of behavior change always starts with awareness.

– [ Personal note on why an Implementation Intention is so effective: it reduces the perception of effort.

So that’s typically what you need to do motivate yourself: reduce the perception of effort (or perhaps more specifically, reduce uncertainty surrounding potential effort).

Implementation Intentions, or basic step by step plans, help immensely with genuinely reducing the perception of dffort.

When you specifically identify the steps of positioning yourself to execute, you are significantly reducing your perception of potential effort involved and thus reducing any natural resistance to beginning the task. ]

– Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.

[ Our basic goal or desire may be very clear, but too often the tasks involved remain unclear. We tend to think we know what to do, when to do it, or how to do it, but if we’re not consistently engaging it with minimal effort and showing significant progress, then that’s a clear sign that we’re actually unclear about what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. ]

– Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.

Despite our unique personalities, certain behaviors tend to arise again and again under certain environmental conditions.

– The more obviously available a product or service is, the more likely you are to try it.

[Core, tried and true principle of advertising & marketing.]

– Visual cues are the greatest catalyst of our behavior.

As a result, you can imagine how important it is to live and work in environments that are filled with productive cues and devoid of unproductive ones.

– Environment design allows you to take back control and become the architect of your life.

Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it.

– [ Personal note: Utilize novel environments to help develop good habits and kick bad habits.

Any novel environment or situation you immerse yourself in is an incredible opportunity to facilitate a lasting positive change.

And remember: you can often re-design your current environments to become novel. ]

– “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.

– Yes, perseverance, grit, and willpower are essential to success, but the way to improve these qualities is not by wishing you were a more disciplined person [or by relying on psyching yourself up], but by creating a more disciplined environment.

The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least.

– Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one. You may be able to resist temptation once or twice, but it’s unlikely you can muster the willpower to override your desires every time.

Instead of summoning a new dose of willpower whenever you want to do the right thing, your energy would be better spent optimizing your environment.

– This is the secret to self-control.

Make the cues of your good habits obvious and the cues of your bad habits invisible.

– 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.

To put it bluntly, I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.

– Design your environment. Make the cues of good habits obvious and visible.

– It is the anticipation of a reward. — not the fulfillment of it — that gets us to take action.

We need to make our habits attractive because it is the expectation of a rewarding experience that motivates us to act in the first place.

– Behaviors are attractive when they help us fit in [or potentialy belong].

We imitate the habits of three groups in particular:

The close.
The many.
The powerful.

Imitating the Close. Proximity has a powerful effect on our behavior. Our friends and family provide a sort of invisible peer pressure that pulls us in their direction.

One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. [And this could be from afar, eg an online community, if you are consistently immersed in it]

Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe.

The human mind knows how to get along with others. It wants to get along with others. This is our natural mode. You can override it — you can choose to ignore the group or to stop caring what other people think — but it takes work.

Running against the grain of your culture requires extra effort.

Imitating the Powerful. We are drawn to behaviors that earn us respect, approval, admiration, and status. We want to be acknowledged, recognized, and praised. This tendency can seem vain, but overall, it’s a smart move. [Evolutionarily], a person with greater power and status has access to more resources, worries less about survival, and proves to be a more attractive mate.

– A craving is just a specific manifestation of a deeper underlying motive.

Your brain did not evolve with a desire to smoke cigarettes or to check Instagram or to play video games. At a deep level, you simply want to reduce uncertainty and relieve anxiety, to win social acceptance and approval, or to achieve status.

– Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires. New versions of old vices.

The underlying motives behind human behavior remain the same. The specific habits we perform differ based on the period of history.

Here’s the powerful part: there are many different ways to address the same underlying motive.

– [The brain is a Prediction Machine.] Every time you perceive a cue, your brain runs a simulation and makes a prediction about what to do in the next moment.

Cue: You notice that the stove is hot.
Prediction: If I touch it I’ll get burned, so I should avoid touching 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.

[ Huge point for understanding how our minds operate… this understanding primes us to be more conscious of PREDICTION ERROR which thus allows us to override reactive or unwanted behavior. ]

– The cause of your habits is actually the prediction that precedes them.

These predictions lead to feelings, which is how we typically describe a craving — a feeling, a desire, an urge. Feelings and emotions transform the cues we perceive and the predictions we make into a signal that we can apply. They help explain what we are currently sensing.

– Our feelings and emotions tell us whether to hold steady in our current state or to make a change. They help us decide the best course of action.

Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings, and we can use this insight to our advantage rather than to our detriment.

– Shift in Mindset: We can find evidence for whatever mindset we choose.

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.

Reframe your mindset. Vividly and repeatedly highlight to yourself the benefits of avoiding your bad habits.

– 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 desired habit into an attractive one.

– 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.

If I search for a better diet plan and read a few books on the topic, that’s motion. If I actually eat a healthy meal, that’s action.

– Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done.

When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to merely be planning. You want to be practicing.

– An important truth about behavior change: habits form based on frequency, not time [duration].

– It’s the frequency that makes the difference.

Your current habits have been internalized over the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions. New habits require the same level of frequency.

– Focus on taking action, not being in motion.

– Conventional wisdom holds that motivation is the key to habit change. Maybe if you really wanted it, you’d actually do it.

But the truth is, our real motivation is to be lazy and to do what is convenient.

– It is human nature to follow the Law of Least Effort, which states that when deciding between two similar options, people will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.

– Out of all the possible actions we could take, the one that is realized is the one that delivers the most value for the least effort. We are motivated to do what is easy.

– The less energy a habit requires, the more likely it is to occur.

[ This is why establishing a STRUCTURE and adhering to a ROUTINE works so well. When you have a framework in place that you know works for you, you don’t have to spend energy wondering about what to do or when to do it. ]

– In a sense, every habit is just an obstacle to getting what you really want. The greater the obstacle — that is, the more difficult the habit — the more friction there is between you and your desired end state.

This is why it is crucial to make your habits so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it. If you can make your good habits more convenient, you’ll be more likely to follow through on them.

– 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.

The less friction you face, the easier it is for your stronger self to emerge.

– The idea behind make it easy is not to only do easy things. The idea is to make it as easy as possible in the moment to do things that payoff in the long run.

[ Make ‘getting started’ easy. Make staying engaged easy. ]

– Rather than trying to overcome the friction in your life, you reduce it.

– One of the most effective ways to reduce the friction associated with your habits is to practice environment design.

– 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.

Much of the battle of building better habits comes down to finding ways to reduce the friction associated with our good habits and increase the friction associated with our bad ones.

– The greater the friction, the less likely the habit.

– It is remarkable how little friction is required to prevent unwanted behavior.

[ Often you only need a little barrier in place to stop you ]

– Redesign your life so the actions that matter most are also the actions that are easiest to do.

– The difference between a good day and a bad day is often a few productive and healthy choices made at decisive moments.

We are limited by where our habits lead us. This is why mastering the decisive moments throughout your day is so important.

– The point is to master the habit of showing up.

The truth is, a habit must be established before it can be improved.

If you can’t learn the basic skill of showing up, then you have little hope of mastering the finer details.

– Standardize before you optimize.

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.

– The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: Make it Satisfying / Unsatisfying

– Pleasure teaches your brain that a behavior is worth remembering and repeating.

[Displeasure makes our brain want to forget or avoid.]

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.

Positive emotions cultivate habits. Negative emotions destroy them.

– The costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future. [And they’re usually greater in the future.]

– As a general rule, the more immediate pleasure you get from an action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals.

Let’s update the Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.

– At some point, success in nearly every field requires you to ignore an immediate reward in favor of a delayed reward.

– 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.

– The vital thing in getting a habit to stick is to feel successful — even if it’s in a small way. The feeling of success is a signal that your habit paid off and that the work was worth the effort.

[The ‘Feeling of Capability’ leads to getting started and staying engaged.
The ‘Feeling of Accomplishment’ comes from completing the task.

Feeling capable + feeling accomplished leads to repeated behavior.

If the task is worthwhile and doable, you can almost always convince yourself that you’re capable if you simply take a few minutes to review your strengths and resources relative to the actual task, and subsequently come up with a basic step by step plan to get started. This quick process genuinely increases confidence and decreases uncertainty, which produces a genuine Feeling of Capability. ]

– [ Personal note:

Resisting temptation won’t cut it over the long term. You must: Remove the tempation (or significantly reduce its accessibility) AND Replace the temptation with something else that’s satisfying, accessible, and more sustainable. It doesn’t even need to be equally as satisfying, only ‘satisfying enough’ so long as it’s accessible. ]

– It is worth noting that 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.

The identity itself becomes the reinforcer. You do it because it’s who you are and it feels good to be you.

The more a habit becomes part of your life, the less you need outside encouragement to follow through.

Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.

– Habit tracking keeps you honest. Most of us have a distorted view of our own behavior. We think we act better than we do. Measurement offers one way to overcome our blindness to our own behavior and notice what’s really going on each day.

When the evidence is right in front of you, you’re less likely to lie to yourself.

– Habit tracking is satisfying.

This is the most crucial benefit of all. Tracking can become its own form of reward.

It is satisfying to cross an item off your to-do list, to complete an entry in your workout log, or to mark an X on the calendar. It feels good to watch your results grow — the size of your investment portfolio, the length of your book manuscript — and if it feels good, then you’re more likely to endure.

– The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows.

Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.

– Too often, we fall into an all-or-nothing cycle with our habits. 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.

You don’t realize how valuable it is to just show up on your bad days.

– Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you.

If you start with $ 100, then a 50 percent gain will take you to $ 150. But you only need a 33 percent loss to take you back to $ 100. In other words, avoiding a 33 percent loss is just as valuable as achieving a 50 percent gain.

This is why the “bad” workouts are often the most important ones…

Sluggish days and bad workouts maintain the compound gains you accrued from previous good days.

– Just as we are more likely to repeat an experience when the ending is satisfying, we are also more likely to avoid an experience when the ending is painful.

– 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.

If you’re going to rely on punishment to change behavior, then the [dissatisfaction] strength of the punishment must match the relative [satisfaction] strength of the behavior it is trying to correct.

[Speed of consequence is generally easier to establish and enhance than intensity of consequence…

Rather than trying to make it extremely dissatisfying, work on making it immediately dissatisfying.

For unwanted behavior, reinforce to yourself the instantaneous dissatisfaction that will follow. Focus in on that turnaround time element… how quickly the feeling will go from good to bad. ]

– Behavior only shifts if the punishment is painful enough and reliably enforced.

– The more global, intangible, vague, and delayed the consequence, the less likely it is to influence individual behavior.

– 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.

Knowing that someone is watching can be a powerful motivator.

You are less likely to procrastinate or give up because there is an immediate cost. If you don’t follow through, perhaps they’ll see you as untrustworthy or lazy.

“Advanced Tactics” (Going from Good to Great):

– The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition. This is just as true with habit change as it is with sports and business.

Habits are easier to perform, and more satisfying to stick with, when they align with your natural inclinations and abilities.

– If you want to dunk a basketball, being seven feet tall is very useful. If you want to perform a gymnastics routine, being seven feet tall is a great hindrance…

Our environment determines the suitability of our genes and the utility of our natural talents. When our environment changes, so do the qualities that determine success.

This is true not just for physical characteristics but for mental ones as well. I’m smart if you ask me about habits and human behavior; not so much when it comes to knitting, rocket propulsion, or guitar chords. 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 key is to direct your effort toward areas that both excite you and match your natural skills, to align your ambition with your ability.

– The takeaway is that you should build habits that work for your personality.

– There is a version of every habit that can bring you joy and satisfaction. Find it.

– Learning to play a game where the odds are in your favor is critical for maintaining motivation and feeling successful.

In theory, you can enjoy almost anything. In practice, you are more likely to enjoy the things that come easily to you.

– In the beginning of a new activity, there should be a period of exploration. … In business, it’s called split testing. The goal is to try out many possibilities, research a broad range of ideas, and cast a wide net.

After this initial period of exploration, shift your 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 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.

– 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?

The mark of whether you are made for a task is not whether you love it but whether you can handle the pain of the task easier than most people.


• When are you enjoying yourself while other people are complaining?

The work that hurts you less than it hurts others is the work you were made to do.

• What makes me lose track of time?

It is nearly impossible to experience a flow state and not find the task satisfying at least to some degree.

• Where do I get greater returns than the average person?

[What do you do with relatively low effort that produces great (better than just good) results?

I.e. What would likely require a lot more time and energy for most of your peers to consistently produce at the same level as you?

What comes naturally to me?

[ Eg in business: Managing people? Managing situations and processes? Negotiation? Organization? Physical labor? Research & Analysis? Etc. ]

Ignore what others expect of you. Look inside yourself and ask, “What feels natural to me? When have I felt alive? When have I felt like the real me?” No internal judgments or people-pleasing. No second-guessing or self-criticism. Just feelings of engagement and enjoyment.

Whenever you feel authentic and genuine, you are headed in the right direction.

[ Relatedly…

What do I do that requires relatively little study, instruction, guidance, or sustained practice for me to get into flow? AND that I also enjoy AND also produce consistently high-quality results? Whatever it is, this is what you can potetentially MASTER if you dedicate yourself to it!

Or conversely, perhaps a better question…

What do I do that requires MORE study, more preparation & practice, and ultimately more effort and less satisfaction than my cohorts and that still only tends to produce average-to-good results? ] Whatever it is, start to phase it out!

[ Also ask yourself…

When you have an “off” day personally, and you really don’t want to do anything at all professionally yet you have a few of your regular tasks to do and you HAVE to at least do one of them, which one do you choose most often and lest often?

– Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind Dilbert, says, “Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.”

– 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.

– The more you master a specific skill, the harder it becomes for others to compete with you.

Many bodybuilders are stronger than the average arm wrestler, but even a massive bodybuilder may lose at arm wrestling because the arm wrestling champ has very specific strength.

– Even if you’re not the most naturally gifted, you can often win by being the best in a very narrow category.

– Our genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on.

Once we realize our strengths, we know where to spend our time and energy. We know which types of opportunities to look for and which types of challenges to avoid.

The better we understand our nature, the better our strategy can be.

– It’s more productive to focus on whether you are fulfilling your own potential than comparing yourself to someone else.

– The fact that you have a natural limit to any specific ability has nothing to do with whether you are reaching the ceiling of your capabilities.

People get so caught up in the fact that they have limits that they rarely exert the effort required to get close to them.

– One of the best ways 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.

– One of the most consistent findings is that 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. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.

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Maximum motivation occurs when facing a challenge of just manageable difficulty. In psychology research this is known as the Yerkes–Dodson law, which describes the optimal level of arousal as the midpoint between boredom and anxiety.

– When you’re starting a new habit, it’s important to keep the behavior as easy as possible so you can stick with it even when conditions aren’t perfect.

Once a habit has been established, however, it’s important to continue to advance in small ways. These little improvements and new challenges keep you engaged. And if you hit the Goldilocks Zone just right, you can achieve a flow state.

– A flow state is the experience of being “in the zone” and fully immersed in an activity.

[ When you’re fully engaged on a task, continuously operating at full attention, to the point where time doesn’t matter / When you don’t want to avail your energy & attention elsewhere until you absolutely have to ]

– “What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else?” I asked. “What do the really successful people do that most don’t?” He mentioned the factors you might expect: genetics, luck, talent. But then he said something I wasn’t expecting:

“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.”

This coach was saying that really successful people feel the same lack of motivation as everyone else. The difference is that they still find a way to show up despite the feelings of boredom.

[ “Hard work”, as so often referred to as being a key to success, is perhaps best defined as consistently embracing the tedium of necessary tasks.

In this sense, hard work is developed and mastered largely due to the development and mastery of one’s attention. That is, the capacity to direct one’s attention at will, and keep re-directing one’s attention, on the task at hand regardless of any feelings of boredom or tedium.

The successful do not dwell on having to engage tedium. They do not ruminate about how tedious and boring their necessary tasks are. Instead they focus their attention, and continually re-focus their attention on doing the task. They fully accept the tedium, which actually makes the tedium feel less tedious.

In other words, for successful people who effectively utilize their attention, the tedium doesn’t even register with them as tedious or boring. Instead their attention is occupied on doing.

Less successful people resist the tedium. They avoid and procrastinate tasks. They hurry and take short cuts. They ultimately settle for less.

Successful people do not resist the tedium. ]

– At some point, everyone faces the same challenge on the journey of self-improvement: you have to fall in love with boredom.

– When a habit is truly important to you, you have to be willing to stick to it in any mood.

Professionals take action even when the mood isn’t right. They might not enjoy it, but they find a way to put the reps in.

– Habits are necessary, but not sufficient for mastery.

What you need is a combination of automatic habits and deliberate practice.

Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery

But after one habit has been mastered, you have to return to the effortful part of the work and begin building the next habit.

– 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.

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.

– [How to avoid complacency] Establish a system for reflection and review.

Without reflection, we can make excuses, create rationalizations, and lie to ourselves. We have no process for determining whether we are performing better or worse compared to yesterday.

[ Don’t just assume you’re a lot better than you used to be just because you’re still doing it. You need to evaluate your performace and progress based on an objective metric. To simply think, “I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better” is not enough. You need to review exactly HOW you’ve gotten better. ]

– The tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it.

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 more you let a single belief define you, the less capable you are of adapting when life challenges you.

– When chosen effectively, an identity can be flexible rather than brittle. Like water flowing around an obstacle, your identity works with the changing circumstances rather than against them.

– Can one coin make a person rich? If you give a person a pile of ten coins, you wouldn’t claim that he or she is rich. But what if you add another? And another? And another? At some point, you will have to admit that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him or her so.

We can say the same about atomic habits. Can one tiny change transform your life? It’s unlikely you would say so. But what if you made another? And another? And another? At some point, you will have to admit that your life was transformed by one small change.

As you continue to layer small changes on top of one another, the scales of life start to move. Each improvement is like adding a grain of sand to the positive side of the scale, slowly tilting things in your favor. Eventually, if you stick with it, you hit a tipping point. Suddenly, it feels easier to stick with good habits.

– Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.

– With the Four Laws of Behavior Change, you have a set of tools and strategies that you can use to build better systems and shape better habits.

Sometimes a habit will be hard to remember and you’ll need to make it obvious.

Other times you won’t feel like starting and you’ll need to make it attractive.

In many cases, you may find that a habit will be too difficult and you’ll need to make it easy.

And sometimes, you won’t feel like sticking with it and you’ll need to make it satisfying.

– Make it obvious. Make it attractive. Make it easy. Make it satisfying. Round and round.

– It’s remarkable what you can build if you just don’t stop.

Clear, James. Atomic Habits. Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.