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Books I've read

Atomic Habits (James Clear)

Book Summary (in 3 lines)

  • This book covers an approach to habits to help create and enforce new habits, and remove the effect of bad ones.
  • The premise of the book is the idea of “compound” habits – that it takes time to get good at something – to get there its important to practice habits every single day (as much as possible).
  • The perception when someone is good at a skill is that they have a natural talent – instead the “iceberg” of effort they’ve used to re-enforce that habit and practice that skill is often not seen.

How this book changed me?

This book helped me become more aware of my bad habits – and helping me develop and establish new good habits, something that is incredibly important now that we are all in lockdown and working from home. The biggest change I’ve made myself is to be aware of how much I pick up my phone – now installing a new app called “Forrest” to re-enforce new habits of concentrating and focusing on my work for extended periods of time.

It also changed the way I approach other routines, “stacking” habits in the morning so that they naturally follow one another – helping me to avoid falling into bad habit traps.

Should you read this book?

In one word, Yes. This book is relevant to anyone looking to improve themselves, whether you’ve been out of work due to the current situation, or have been fortunate enough to have been working from home during this period, this book will increase your awareness of both your bad and good habits – giving you a framework to improve yourself moving forward.

Top 3 Quotes

Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.

I think this is one the best call outs to make – and very similar to Stephen Covey’s 7 habits approach – focus on the person you want to become – not on the actions to get there. This is referenced in later chapters – particularly around being aware and creating your values.

Nuckols dialed in his cleaning habits by following a strategy he refers to as “resetting the room.”7 For instance, when he finishes watching television, he places the remote back on the TV stand, arranges the pillows on the couch, and folds the blanket. When he leaves his car, he throws any trash away. Whenever he takes a shower, he wipes down the toilet while the shower is warming up. (As he notes, the “perfect time to clean the toilet is right before you wash yourself in the shower anyway.”) The purpose of resetting each room is not simply to clean up after the last action, but to prepare for the next action.

This has always stuck with me as a good habit to build. Whenever I finish for the day now I try to “reset” my workspace so that its clean and tidy when I get back to it.

state of flow, a task must be roughly 4 percent beyond your current ability.

This stat has stuck with me since I finished the book – that to get into a state of flow there is an optimum amount of difficulty required for each task. Too hard, and you’ll give up early, too easy and you’ll get bored. 4% is the sweet spot you should look to hit.

Highlights And Notes

Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.

  • It’s important for your habits to be aligned and re-enforce your values – and to know how you want to be perceived.
    • This is similar to the 7 habits thinking of “how would I want people to describe me at my funeral”

Your habits shape your identity, and your identity shapes your habits. It’s a two-way street. The formation of all habits is a feedback loop (a concept we will explore in depth in the next chapter), but it’s important to let your values, principles, and identity drive the loop rather than your results. The focus should always be on becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome.

  • As above – consider values – the two must re-enforce each other.

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.

  • Creating a plan – an “implementation intention” makes you more likely to follow through on a plan or habit.

Similarly, one study found that the higher your best friend’s IQ at age eleven or twelve, the higher your IQ would be at age fifteen, even after controlling for natural levels of intelligence.

Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe.

  • It’s important to position yourself in the right groups to keep developing.

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 habits to make them more attractive and more likely to do.

If you want to take it a step further, you can create a motivation ritual. You simply practice associating your habits with something you enjoy, then you can use that cue whenever you need a bit of motivation. For instance, if you always play the same song before having sex, then you’ll begin to link the music with the act. Whenever you want to get in the mood, just press play. Ed Latimore, a boxer and writer from Pittsburgh, benefited from a similar strategy without knowing it.8 “Odd realization,” he wrote. “My focus and concentration goes up just by putting my headphones [on] while writing. I don’t even have to play any music.” Without realizing it, he was conditioning himself. In the beginning, he put his headphones on, played some music he enjoyed, and did focused work. After doing it five, ten, twenty times, putting his headphones on became a cue that he automatically associated with increased focus. The craving followed naturally.

  • Create rituals to train your brain – have certain places or actions that put you in specific moods to perform tasks.

Nuckols dialed in his cleaning habits by following a strategy he refers to as “resetting the room.”7 For instance, when he finishes watching television, he places the remote back on the TV stand, arranges the pillows on the couch, and folds the blanket. When he leaves his car, he throws any trash away. Whenever he takes a shower, he wipes down the toilet while the shower is warming up. (As he notes, the “perfect time to clean the toilet is right before you wash yourself in the shower anyway.”8) The purpose of resetting each room is not simply to clean up after the last action, but to prepare for the next action.

  • Resetting the room – a good habit to pick up that builds on this “compound” habit thinking

People often think it’s weird to get hyped about reading one page or meditating for one minute or making one sales call. But the point is not to do one thing. 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. Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis. You have to standardize before you can optimize.

  • It’s ok to start small – create a small habit that you build on over time.

This is precisely what research has shown. People who are better at delaying gratification have higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower likelihood of obesity, better responses to stress, and superior social skills.

  • It’s important to train patience and delay gratification.
  • I should also read the Marshmallow Test

This pitfall is evident in many areas of life. We focus on working long hours instead of getting meaningful work done. We care more about getting ten thousand steps than we do about being healthy. We teach for standardized tests instead of emphasizing learning, curiosity, and critical thinking. In short, we optimize for what we measure. When we choose the wrong measurement, we get the wrong behavior. This is sometimes referred to as Goodhart’s Law. Named after the economist Charles Goodhart, the principle states, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

  • A KPI or target can result in the wrong behaviours.
  • Be careful setting these – and focus on outcomes instead of targets

In summary, 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.

  • Don’t just align with values, but use any natural traits to your advantage also

state of flow, a task must be roughly 4 percent beyond your current ability.

  • Love this stat – target 4% harder tasks

I can guarantee that if you manage to start a habit and keep sticking to it, there will be days when you feel like quitting. When you start a business, there will be days when you don’t feel like showing up. When you’re at the gym, there will be sets that you don’t feel like finishing. When it’s time to write, there will be days that you don’t feel like typing. But stepping up when it’s annoying or painful or draining to do so, that’s what makes the difference between a professional and an amateur.

  • Success is not just being good at something, but dealing with doing it every day, even when its hard or boring.

There have been a lot of sets that I haven’t felt like finishing, but I’ve never regretted doing the workout. There have been a lot of articles I haven’t felt like writing, but I’ve never regretted publishing on schedule. There have been a lot of days I’ve felt like relaxing, but I’ve never regretted showing up and working on something that was important to me.

  • Consider an approach similar to Jeff Bezos – frame yourself to reduce regrets.

know of executives and investors who keep a “decision journal” in which they record the major decisions they make each week, why they made them, and what they expect the outcome to be. They review their choices at the end of each month or year to see where they were correct and where they went wrong.

  • I should explore the concept of a decision journal.

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