Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits is a book about crafting tiny habits to make huge improvements. 1% improvements act like compound interest: unnoticeable at first but unignorable over time. Here are the main insights: 

Behavior Change is Identity Change

There are three levels of change. 

  1. Changing Your Outcomes
  2. Changing Your Process
  3. Changing Your Identity

Habits are easier to maintain if they are part of your identity. A person who considers themselves a reader or gym rat will try to fulfill those identities. However, behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last. If you never go to the gym, you’ll have a lot of trouble still believing yourself to be a gym rat. If you believe that you are bad at math, you may not take the actions needed to improve because “that’s not who I am.” We will find ways to avoid contradicting ourselves unless the evidence is overwhelming. 

The way we change our identity is not by proclamation. We do it through habits. If we train at the gym every day, it is evidence that we’re committed to fitness regardless of what we think. 

How to Start a New Habit

  • Cue > Make it Obvious
  • Craving > Make it Attractive
  • Response > Make it Easy
  • Reward > Make it Satisfying

Here’s an example of a possible habit before and after integrating every tip from the book. 

I want to do more pushups throughout the day. Let’s say 10 at lunch?

First, you need an extremely specific plan to start this new habit. For example, don’t say “I’ll do 10 pushups at lunch”, say “I’ll do 10 pushups when I close my laptop before lunch”. Otherwise, there’s ambiguity on whether you do it in the beginning, middle, or end of lunch. 

Lock yourself into this habit by putting it in your calendar. This way nothing else should interrupt it, and you get a reminder every day. 

This habit should be the smallest thing possible and take less than two minutes. This is so that it requires very little effort to get started and is easy to be consistent with. 10 pushups might be too many, and daunting to just do, so 3-5 may be easier. 

You need to create an environment that is conducive to doing pushups. If your cubicle has too much stuff, clean it up and section off space so that there’s enough space on the floor to do a pushup. If you have to clean up every time you do the pushups, it’s less likely that you’ll stick through. Make it obvious what the space is for. A little poster or print out of a guy doing pushups will always remind you what to do. 

Bundle the pushups with another activity; after the pushups, you can check Twitter for the first time in the day. Track this habit, and make it visible. Maybe have a total pushups counter and a calendar with a pushup streak. If you miss a day, just make sure you don’t miss two in a row. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. 

Finally, have a group or partner to do this with. If you and the group identify as people who do pushups at lunch, then there’s personal motivation to adhere to that identity as well as peer pressure to keep going. 

With some creativity, you can apply this set of examples to any number of activities. The most important thing is to make small steps forward. 1% deterioration requires greater than 1% improvement to return the equilibrium. For example, a 33% reduction in stock price requires a 50% increase to return to the starting point.