Recoding Date and Time
March 20th 12:45 PM - 1:45 PM EST
Posting Date and Time
March 30th (+ April 13th)
Episode Description (plain text only)
In this episode, Leo and Erik talk about Atomic Habits by James Clear.
- 001 - A Sleepy Episode - Erik’s approach to getting a good night’s rest and a great start to the day is a good example of habit stacking
- 003 - Goals and Actions - One point we make is to pursue goals in small, actionable ways
- 004 - Power of Habit Review - obvi
- 005 - Making Quick Decisions - The 5-Second Rule is strikingly similar to the 2-Minute Rule outlined in Atomic Habits
- 009 - Working On Your Own - Environment design is very important to getting the most out of your work day when you’re a freelancer/solopreneur
- 010 - Time Wasters - Another exercise in environment design focused on removing bad habits that waste your time
- 011 - Year in Review - Habits aren’t enough, you also have to stop occasionally and consciously look at and re-evaluate what you’re doing
- 014 - Project Breakdown - Our process of breaking a big project down into actionable and measurable pieces is really similar to breaking a big goal or identity shift into atomic habits
- 015 - The One Big Thing - Leo and Erik both use habit tracking, writing things down, and environment design as the biggest boosts to their productivity
Show Notes (rtf with links)
Music by Max Sergeev from Fugue
Overall Impression (20-30 minutes recording / 10-20 minutes edited)
I have read many self-help books. I have never found a book so condensed with information. This is a book I found with many takeaways and lessons. I can tell this is a book James had been working on as a series of blog posts but had successfully made those blog posts into an actual book which each piece connected much better than the other. I compare this to Derek Sivers book on which felt much more disconnected. (It had great elements but there was as much cohesion as this book). This book is filled with so many lessons - many I practice without thinking (and I have talked about on the podcast) but this book explains them so clearly.
This book is phenomenal and I agree with Leo: it’s very nutrient dense. The information is organized in a hierarchical way that makes the high-level process easy to remember and serve as reminders for all of the little details as well. I also greatly appreciate the vast amount of short, practical analogies and examples. The examples weren’t all relatable, but they were short enough that I didn’t feel alienated by them.
The supplemental material offered with the book purchase is great, too. Cheat sheets, templates, Q&A, bonus chapters... I’ve never read a nonfiction book that got me so geeked to apply the lessons and use the extra tools. And while some of the concepts from the book tend to come more easily to me than what I see of some of my peers, I’m still eager to try the approach to both break a habit and adopt a new (good) one.
Chapter By Chapter Analysis
Introduction (a few minutes)
- James captures you right off the bat (no pun intended) with a great anecdote about a serious injury and how he slowly recovered from it through habits.
- Content warning: the introduction starts with a graphic description of bodily harm. If you may find this unsettling, skip the intro. It merely serves as a source of credibility and using the lessons described in the other chapters to overcome adversity.
1: Surprising Power of Atomic Habits
- Talk about the power of compound interest and melting ice
The overall thesis of the book is that small changes can compound themselves and how with time those small changes can lead to big outcomes.
This idea is best illustrated through the financial concept of compound interest.
Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.
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.
A one-degree shift, seemingly no different from the temperature increases before it, has unlocked a huge change.
In the early and middle stages of any quest, there is often a Valley of Disappointment. You expect to make progress in a linear fashion and it’s frustrating how ineffective changes can seem during the first days, weeks, and even months. It doesn’t feel like you are going anywhere. It’s a hallmark of any compounding process: the most powerful outcomes are delayed.
Complaining about not achieving success despite working hard is like complaining about an ice cube not melting when you heated it from twenty-five to thirty-one degrees.
- I like the analogy of melting ice. Sometimes change takes a long time. Sometimes change requires persistent effort. In both cases you either must trust that results will start to happen (i.e. don’t arbitrarily give up) or know at what point the scales will tip in your favor.
Identity (chapters 2 and 4)
2: How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)
- This chapter is where the book really hooked me. I loooooove the notion of Identity-based Habits, which is the idea of using your identity or reframing your identity to acquire better habits. For example, think “I am vegetarian” instead of “I want to eat less meat” to lock those habits in your mindset and transition to the person you really want to be.
- One challenge that I think wasn’t thoroughly covered is that other people project their images of our identity onto us. I can see it being difficult to reframe something such as “I am a confident person” after years of nourishing an identity that we are anxious, shakeable, and easily give into peer pressure (as an example).
- I think the overall point here is communicating to yourself and others that you are changing. Declare who you are and let the people who care about you know it too so they can better support your new habits.
4:The Man Who Didn’t Look Right
“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?”
3: How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps
- make it obvious,
- make it attractive,
- make it easy,
- make it satisfying
- Simple does not mean easy, and that’s where the templates, strategies, and examples become really useful.
- I like the big-picture thinking here: use habits to make your behavior automatic so you get lots of small rewards to keep you going and then you get the big, long-term intrinsically motivated pay-offs as well.
- Habits do not make life dull - they make the arduous process of thinking about doing things we don’t want to do gone. Additionally in the long term we learn to enjoy them
The argument goes like this: “Will habits make my life dull? I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into a lifestyle I don’t enjoy. Doesn’t so much routine take away the vibrancy and spontaneity of life?”
.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 questions to make good habits fun:
How can I make it obvious? How can I make it attractive? How can I make it easy? How can I make it satisfying?
How does this compare with Power of Habit
Motivation, Motion, and Action
5:The Best Way To Start a New Habit
Specificity is important (see Episode 3 Actions and Tasks)
people who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through. Too many people try to change their habits without these basic details figure...
6: Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More
- YES! Being aware of your motivation at the times you need it is hard and is difficult to use in practice to get the results you want. It makes a lot more sense to identify your motivation and build a system around it so that you don’t have to remind yourself of your motivation. This is especially true when you are attempting to transform your identity to build better habits.
- I am also a fan of the inversion of these rules as ways to kick out bad habits. In this case, the opposite of make it obvious is make it invisible. I think it’s worth using this approach to the extreme to break your worst habits: uninstall social media apps, hide the remote, throw away the sugary processed foods, and so on.
10:How to Find and Fix Causes of Your Bad Habits
Finding alternative ways to reduce stress as opposed to trying to remove the stress.
One person might learn to reduce stress by smoking a cigarette. Another person learns to ease their anxiety by going for a run.
Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight...
These little mind-set shifts aren’t magic, but they can help change the feelings you associate with a particular habit or situation.
- I really want to go through the exercise of listing my habits and marking them bad, good, or neutral. It was hard not to do it while reading this book. Who’s with me?
11: Walk Slowly, but Never Backward
Sometimes motion is useful, but it will never produce an outcome by itself. It doesn’t matter how many times you go talk to the personal trainer, that motion will never get you in shape. Only the action of working out will get the result you’re looking to achieve. 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 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.
If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.
It’s the frequency that makes the difference.
The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning. Focus on taking action, not being in motion.
Repetition is more important than getting it right the first time. Preparation rarely reduces failure
- This reminds me of the melting ice example. You have to know that adding heat will eventually cause the ice to melt. You have to pick habits that are not busy-work — they have to eventually lead to results. I like the idea of the next chapter (Law of Least Effort) for deciding what to try.
- My 6 year old daughter shared a great example with me recently: actually melting ice! It’s early March in Michigan and her class went outside to try and melt ice. Do you breath on it? Clench it in your hand? Her solution: take turns with friends putting it in your mouth.
Easy and Fun
12: The Law of Least Effort
I actually practice this. :)
You are more likely to go to the gym if it is on your way to work because stopping doesn’t add much friction to your lifestyle. By comparison, if the gym is off the path of your normal commute—even by just a few blocks—now you’re going “out of your way” to get there.
- This works really well for me in a lot of situations. The first that comes to mind is taking care of my body: home gym, body weight exercises, and stretching have been a lot easier to stick with than going to a gym or yoga studio.
- An example that I think doesn’t fit so well: studying. My free time is severely limited during the day and the natural time to take a deep dive into a new subject is at the end of the day. Most of the time this requires lots of effort because I’m very tired. And if I pick a different time of day, I have to put even more effort because I have to reschedule, make time, and do something that doesn’t fit into my daily flow. Sometimes if it’s important, it’s worth some extra effort, though. Not to mention that the effort can be reduced and simplified with environment design.
15: The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change
- Hint: make the good stuff feel great right away and make the bad stuff feel bad
- Linking extrinsic motivation (immediate reward) of the habit with the intrinsic motivation (your goal) makes a lot of sense!
- “It’s possible to train yourself to delay gratification but you have to work with the grain of human nature, not against it.”
- I connect with identity-based habits so much in this book. I love the idea of making avoidance habits visible and looking holistically at your identity to find the right ways to immediately reward yourself so that they don’t conflict with your other habits (e.g. choosing a massage instead of a big bowl of ice cream to align with your healthy lifestyle).
Drawbacks of Good Habits
16: How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day
- The most important thing I learned in this chapter is that tracking habits is good, but it’s important to measure the right thing and apply all of the habit rules to measuring (make it obvious, easy, etc). Beware of vanity metrics and if a measure plateaus, pick a different one to keep you from stalling out on your habit.
20: The Downside of Creating Good Habits
- Very humbling! Developing good habits won’t get you to mastery of a skill, it will only get you good enough. To keep getting better and to reach mastery you need dedicated practice and regular revising of your habits.
- Reflection and review make sure your habits continue to help you grow.
- It’s important that you don’t cling to your identity and reframe it in ways that can be changed, because it can and will.
Conclusion: The Secrets to Results That Last
- Keep working at your habits
- Something else I realized: track your habits at all levels: day-to-day tracking, aggregate up and measure over time as well.
Little Lessons from the Four Laws
One of the biggest productivity issues people have is the lack of ability to say no and be honest with themselves.
If you keep saying something is a priority but you never act on it, then you don’t really want it. It’s time to have an honest conversation with yourself. Your actions reveal your true motivations.
Finding healthy ways to relieve or subdue that temptation is important (i.e distraction)
This makes self-control ineffective because inhibiting our desires does not usually resolve them. Resisting temptation does not satisfy your craving; it just ignores it. It creates space for the craving to pass. Self-control requires you to release a desire rather than satisfy it.
The importance of making little changes.
it took me three months to get one thousand subscribers. When I hit that milestone, I told my parents and my girlfriend. We celebrated. I felt excited and motivated. A few years later, I realized that one thousand people were signing up each day. And yet I didn’t even think to tell anyone. It felt normal. I was getting results ninety times faster than before but experiencing little pleasure over it. It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized how absurd it was that I wasn’t celebrating something that would have seemed like a pipe dream just a few years before.
Conclusion Discussion (5 minutes recording / 0-5 minutes edited)
- This is what I want all “self help” books to be like: short, well-organized, easy to summarize, cheat sheets, templates, and lots of actionable information, and loads of supplemental material that continues to release after your purchase and is given in formats that will always be yours.
- When I rate books, I reserve 5 stars for anything that I find myself thinking about time and again after I’ve put the book down. This usually means my initial impression is always to give something a 4-star rating if I’m really happy with what I got out of it, and then I later revise my rating months later (on Goodreads or elsewhere) to 5-stars when I realize I’m still thinking about it. I already know I’ll be putting lots of thought into this James Clear’s approach well after putting my thoughts on the air.
- I am really eager to start using the concepts in the book. Leo, do you want to run some habit experiments with me?