I have been a fan of BJ Fogg's Tiny Habits methodology for breaking bad habits and learning good (often new) habits. BJ Fogg did not write this book. James Clear did, with methodologies that are strongly drawn from Fogg's work.
Fogg's new habit forming process is 1. start small (like, way smaller than you just thought for "small"), 2. piggyback on an existing routine, and 3. reward yourself immediately after doing the new habit. Fogg has shown much success at Stanford with this process, and I love it. It works very, very well for me.
Fogg does not have a book about this particular technique of developing good habits. With this book, James Clear does.
Atomic Habits is pretty much a long version of those three steps from BJ Fogg. Until Fogg writes a book on them, this is a fantastic substitute, interpretation of Fogg's work.
Much of the book is rah-rah, how-to-internalize-good-internal-chatter, "obvious," self-help rhetoric, which, let's face it, if you're picking up this book to learn good habits, you actually need. And, while I'm not a fan of the "habit journal" (you can draw lines on a notebook page for the same effect), I do appreciate the habit making guides in the book.
For anyone not a Fogg fan or even aware of BJ Fogg, I strongly recommend this book. If you don't have good habits, aren't the person you want to be, ignore the kabillion quotes I have from the book here, grab a copy and read it.
It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action.
Improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable—sometimes it isn’t even noticeable—but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run.
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.
In the words of three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh, “The score takes care of itself.” The same is true for other areas of life. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.
Goal setting suffers from a serious case of survivorship bias. We concentrate on the people who end up winning—the survivors—and mistakenly assume that ambitious goals led to their success while overlooking all of the people who had the same objective but didn’t succeed.
Behind every system of actions are a system of beliefs.
Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last.
It’s hard to change your habits if you never change the underlying beliefs that led to your past behavior.
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.
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.
Doing the right thing is easy. After all, when your behavior and your identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behavior change. You are simply acting like the type of person you already believe yourself to be.
Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity.
The more deeply a thought or action is tied to your identity, the more difficult it is to change it. It can feel comfortable to believe what your culture believes (group identity) or to do what upholds your self-image (personal identity), even if it’s wrong.
We do not change by snapping our fingers and deciding to be someone entirely new. We change bit by bit, day by day, habit by habit. We are continually undergoing microevolutions of the self.
First, decide who you want to be. This holds at any level—as an individual, as a team, as a community, as a nation. What do you want to stand for? What are your principles and values? Who do you wish to become?
Ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?”
But the true question is: “Are you becoming the type of person you want to become?” The first step is not what or how, but who. You need to know who you want to be.
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.
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.
This is the feedback loop behind all human behavior: try, fail, learn, try differently.
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.
The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.*
Because the cue is the first indication that we’re close to a reward, it naturally leads to 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. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers.
Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state.
The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action.
a habit can occur only if you are capable of doing it.
Finally, the response delivers a reward. 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. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us and (2) they teach us.
The first purpose of rewards is to satisfy your craving.
Your brain is a reward detector.
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.
How to Create a Good Habit The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious. The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive. The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy. The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
How to Break a Bad Habit Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible. Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive. Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult. Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying.
Whenever you want to change your behavior, you can simply ask yourself: How can I make it obvious? How can I make it attractive? How can I make it easy? How can I make it satisfying?
Every goal is doomed to fail if it goes against the grain of human nature.
Your habits are shaped by the systems in your life.
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 Laws 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.
Consider hunger. How do you know when you’re hungry? You don’t necessarily have to see a cookie on the counter to realize that it is time to eat. Appetite and hunger are governed nonconsciously.
As habits form, your actions come under the direction of your automatic and non-conscious mind. You fall into old patterns before you realize what’s happening. Unless someone points it out, you may not notice that you cover your mouth with your hand whenever you laugh, that you apologize before asking a question, or that you have a habit of finishing other people’s sentences.
If a habit remains mindless, you can’t expect to improve it. As the psychologist Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
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.
If you waste time online, notice that you are spending your life in a way that you do not want to.
Hearing your bad habits spoken aloud makes the consequences seem more real. It adds weight to the action rather than letting yourself mindlessly slip into an old routine.
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.
The sentence they filled out is what researchers refer to as an implementation intention, which is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. That is, how you intend to implement a particular habit.
Hundreds of studies have shown that implementation intentions are effective for sticking to our goals,
Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.
If you aren’t sure when to start your habit, try the first day of the week, month, or year. People are more likely to take action at those times because hope is usually higher. If we have hope, we have a reason to take action. A fresh start feels motivating.
Give your habits a time and a space to live in the world. The goal is to make the time and location so obvious that, with enough repetition, you get an urge to do the right thing at the right time, even if you can’t say why.
Social skills. When I walk into a party, I will introduce myself to someone I don’t know yet.
Finances. When I want to buy something over $ 100, I will wait twenty-four hours before purchasing.
One way to find the right trigger for your habit stack is by brainstorming a list of your current habits.
People often choose products not because of what they are, but because of where they are.
In 1936, psychologist Kurt Lewin wrote a simple equation that makes a powerful statement: Behavior is a function of the Person in their Environment, or B = f (P, E).
Given that we are more dependent on vision than on any other sense, it should come as no surprise that visual cues are the greatest catalyst of our behavior. For this reason, a small change in what you see can lead to a big shift in what you do. 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.
Every habit is initiated by a cue, and we are more likely to notice cues that stand out.
Making a better decision is easy and natural when the cues for good habits are right in front of you.
Environment design is powerful not only because it influences how we engage with the world but also because we rarely do it. Most people live in a world others have created for them.
Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it.
Stop thinking about your environment as filled with objects. Start thinking about it as filled with relationships. Think in terms of how you interact with the spaces around you.
The power of context also reveals an important strategy: habits can be easier to change in a new environment. It helps to escape the subtle triggers and cues that nudge you toward your current habits.
Habits thrive under predictable circumstances like these. Focus comes automatically when you are sitting at your work desk. Relaxation is easier when you are in a space designed for that purpose.
Robins revealed that addictions could spontaneously dissolve if there was a radical change in the environment.
The Vietnam studies ran counter to many of our cultural beliefs about bad habits because it challenged the conventional association of unhealthy behavior as a moral weakness.
The idea that a little bit of discipline would solve all our problems is deeply embedded in our culture.
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.
The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least. It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often.
Here’s the punch line: You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it. Once the mental grooves of habit have been carved into your brain, they are nearly impossible to remove entirely—even if they go unused for quite a while. And that means that simply resisting temptation is an ineffective strategy.
One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
This practice is an inversion of the 1st Law of Behavior Change. Rather than make it obvious, you can make it invisible.
Make the cues of your good habits obvious and the cues of your bad habits invisible.
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 1st Law: Make It Obvious 1.1: Fill out the Habits Scorecard. Write down your current habits to become aware of them. 1.2: Use implementation intentions: “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].” 1.3: Use habit stacking: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].” 1.4: Design your environment. Make the cues of good habits obvious and visible.
Inversion of the 1st Law: Make It Invisible 1.5: Reduce exposure. Remove the cues of your bad habits from your environment.
A supernormal stimulus is a heightened version of reality—like a beak with three red dots or an egg the size of a volleyball—and it elicits a stronger response than usual.
The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming. Look around. Society is filled with highly engineered versions of reality that are more attractive than the world our ancestors evolved in.
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. This is one reason the anticipation of an experience can often feel better than the attainment of it.
Your brain has far more neural circuitry allocated for wanting rewards than for liking them.
Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
You’re more likely to find a behavior attractive if you get to do one of your favorite things at the same time.
Temptation bundling is one way to apply a psychology theory known as Premack’s Principle. Named after the work of professor David Premack, the principle states that “more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.”
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
We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them.
Often, you follow the habits of your culture without thinking, without questioning, and sometimes without remembering.
We imitate the habits of three groups in particular: The close. The many. The powerful.
Proximity has a powerful effect on our behavior.
We pick up habits from the people around us. We
As a general rule, the closer we are to someone, the more likely we are to imitate some of their habits.
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. New habits seem achievable when you see others doing them every day.
Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself. You’ll rise together.
Join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe.
This is why remaining part of a group after achieving a goal is crucial to maintaining your habits. It’s friendship and community that embed a new identity and help behaviors last over the long run.
Whenever we are unsure how to act, we look to the group to guide our behavior. We are constantly scanning our environment and wondering, “What is everyone else doing?”
The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual.
There is tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group. The reward of being accepted is often greater than the reward of winning an argument, looking smart, or finding truth. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
When changing your habits means challenging the tribe, change is unattractive. When changing your habits means fitting in with the tribe, change is very attractive.
Humans everywhere pursue power, prestige, and status.
Every behavior has a surface level craving and a deeper, underlying motive.
Look at nearly any product that is habit-forming and you’ll see that it does not create a new motivation, but rather latches onto the underlying motives of human nature.
Your current habits are not necessarily the best way to solve the problems you face; they are just the methods you learned to use. Once you associate a solution with the problem you need to solve, you keep coming back to it.
Habits are all about associations. These associations determine whether we predict a habit to be worth repeating or not. As we
our behavior is heavily dependent on how we interpret the events that happen to us, not necessarily the objective reality of the events themselves.
You have been sensing the cues the entire time, but it is only when you predict that you would be better off in a different state that you take action.
A craving is the sense that something is missing. It is the desire to change your internal state.
You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience.
You simply practice associating your habits with something you enjoy, then you can use that cue whenever you need a bit of motivation.
It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change:
We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action.
If motion doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it? Sometimes we do it because we actually need to plan or learn more. But more often than not, we do it because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure. Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism. It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen. And that’s the biggest reason why you slip into motion rather than taking action: you want to delay failure.
If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it.
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.
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. And despite what the latest productivity best seller will tell you, this is a smart strategy, not a dumb one. Energy is precious, and the brain is wired to conserve it whenever possible.
You don’t actually want the habit itself. What you really want is the outcome the habit delivers. The greater the obstacle—that is, the more difficult the habit—the more friction there is between you and your desired end state.
Certainly, you are capable of doing very hard things. The problem is that some days you feel like doing the hard work and some days you feel like giving in. 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.
For example, when deciding where to practice a new habit, it is best to 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.
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.
As you master the art of showing up, the first two minutes simply become a ritual at the beginning of a larger routine.
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.
It’s better to do less than you hoped than to do nothing at all.
Standardize before you optimize. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.