Habits

Atomic Habits – James Clear

Atomic Habits – by James Clear
Date read: 11/4/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

The idea behind Atomic Habits is that by stacking tiny habits over time you can achieve compounding, remarkable results. Your outcomes, as Clear suggests, are the lagging measure of your habits. He offers great insight into nonlinear growth (breakthrough moments), identity, discipline, and environmental design, as it relates to behavior change. The models used throughout the book help make each concept relatable and are something I will come back to for years to come. The importance of playing the long game and building better systems is hard to undervalue. There’s room for everyone to improve in this capacity, and if nothing else it’s a refreshing reminder: “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?"

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

“To write a great book, you must first become the book.” Naval Ravikant

Automatic Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery

Self-improvement:

  • 1% better each day for one year = 37x better

  • “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement."

  • Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Knowledge is lagging measure of your learning habits. 

Nonlinearity:

  • Ice cube example warming from 26 degrees, one degree at a time, to 32 when it finally begins to melt. But no visible progress from 26-31.

  • Breakthrough moments = culmination of actions leading up to that point. 

  • Habits need to persist long enough to break through plateau where you don’t see tangible results or “success” as you’ve envisioned it. 

  • Sorites Paradox: Can one coin make someone rich? No, but as you keep adding/stacking coins (habits), at a certain point one coin makes the difference.

Goals vs. Systems:

  • Goals are good for setting direction, systems best for making progress.

  • “The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.” Refinement, improvement and commitment to the process.

  • Goal is not to read a book, it’s to become a reader. Not to learn an instrument, it’s to become a musician.

Identity and behavior change:

  • Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want? If it’s a person who could write a book, that means consistent, reliable, etc.

  • Decide the type of person you want to be and prove it to yourself with small wins.

  • “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?"

  • At a certain point, the identity itself becomes the reinforcer. Behavior becomes automatic because it’s who you are. 

Keep your identity small:

  • Tighter you cling to an identity, harder it is to grow beyond it and less capable you are of adapting when life challenges you.

  • “When you cling too tightly to one identity, you become brittle. Lose that one thing and you lose yourself.”

  • Redefine yourself so you keep important aspects of your identity even when your role changes. Instead of “I’m the CEO,” “I’m the type of person who builds and creates things."

  • Identity should work with changing circumstances, rather than against them. 

Discipline:

  • “It is only by making the fundamentals in life easier that you can create the mental space needed for free thinking and creativity."

  • “‘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."

  • Create a disciplined environment —> easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it often.

  • Environmental design: Remove friction, make doing the right thing as easy as possible. Inversion: add friction to make bad behaviors more difficult.

Clarity:

  • Don’t mistake lack of clarity for lack of motivation, make it obvious.

  • Be specific about what you want and how you will achieve it. When you’re vague about your dreams it’s easy to ignore the specifics you need to do to succeed.

Imitation:

  • Proximity has powerful effect on our behavior (both physical and social environments). Running against the grain requires extra effort.

  • Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself.

  • “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."

Motion vs. Action:

  • Motion = planning, strategizing, learning. Important, but don’t produce a result. Allows you to feel like you’re making progress without risk of failure. Ex) Making a list of 20 articles to write.

  • Action = behavior that will deliver an outcome. Ex) Actually sitting down to write an article.

  • Start with repetition, not perfection. Habits form based on frequency, not time.

Time inconsistency (hyperbolic discounting):

  • The way the brain evaluates rewards is inconsistent across time. From an evolutionary perspective, you naturally value present more than future

  • Costs of good habits are felt today. Costs of bad habits are felt in the future.

  • “Most people will spend all day chasing hits of quick satisfaction. The road less traveled is the road of delayed gratification. If you’re willing to wait for the rewards, you’ll face less competition and often get a bigger payoff. As the saying goes, the last mile is always the least crowded."

Consistency:

  • Always show up, even on your bad days. Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you.

  • $100 grows 50% to $150. Only takes a 33% loss to take you back to $100. Avoiding 33% loss just as valuable at 50% gain. 

Don’t enter games you’re not willing to play:

  • Maximize your odds by choosing right field of competition. 

  • Think about where you achieve greater returns than the average person and the type of work that hurts you less than it hurts others. 

  • Flow = 4% beyond your current ability.

Checking progress/reflection:

  • Annual review, EOY: 1) What went well this year? 2) What didn’t go so well this year? 3) What did I learn? https://jamesclear.com/annual-review

  • Integrity report, mid-year: 1) What are the core values that are driving my life and work? How am I living and working with integrity right now? How can I set a higher standard for the future?

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

The War of Art – by Steven Pressfield
Date read: 4/15/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Worth the investment for any creative. It's a short read and a manifesto that many hold dear. Pressfield cuts through excuses which embody what he defines as Resistance. He offers blunt advice to eliminate distractions and get on with the work you should be doing. The only thing that matters is sitting down and putting in the effort, every single day. The more you're able to remove your ego from that equation, the less interference there will be. We've all struggled with Resistance in some form–procrastination, fear, low self-confidence, rationalization. The War of Art is a call to overcome that and move yourself into a higher sphere by dedicating uninterrupted time to your craft. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center.

How many of us have become drunks and drug addicts, developed tumors and neuroses, succumbed to painkillers, gossip, and compulsive cell-phone use, simply because we don't do the thing that our hearts, our inner genius, is calling us to?

Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity...will elicit Resistance.

The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Fear doesn't go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.

Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher.

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight.

Anything that draws attention to ourselves through pain-free or artificial means is a manifestation of Resistance. 

A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution out of one's experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat.

The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it. He is lucky. He was born in the right place...The fundamentalist cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. 

The truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery.

If you find yourself criticizing other people, you're probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.

The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

The professional takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself...the professional turns down roles that he's done before. He's not afraid of them anymore. Why waste his time?

Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They're the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.

Rationalization keeps us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.

The professional steels himself at the start of a project, reminding himself it is the Iditarod, not the sixty-yard dash. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. 

A pro views her work as craft, not art.

Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all compromise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understands, only in heaven.

The professional is prepared at a deeper level...His goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.

The ancient Spartans schooled themselves to regard the enemy, any enemy, as nameless and faceless. In other words, they believed that if they did their work, no force on earth could stand against them.

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

What I call Professionalism someone else might call the Artist's Code or the Warrior's Way. It's an attitude of egolessness and service.

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now." -Goethe

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.

An individual who defines himself by his place in a pecking order will:
-Seek to elevate his station by advancing against those above him
-Evaluate his happiness/success/achievement by his rank within the hierarchy
-Act towards others based upon their rank in the hierarchy

Qualities of a territory:
-A territory provides sustenance
-A territory can only be claimed alone
-A territory can only be claimed by work
-A territory returns exactly what you put in

When – Daniel H. Pink

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing – by Daniel H. Pink
Date read: 4/11/18. Recommendation: 6/10.

Easy read with a few interesting takeaways regarding the science of timing. You'll get most of the value this book has to offer within the first 50 pages. Pink details how everyone experiences the day in three stages–a peak, trough, and rebound (not necessarily in that order). Each has a unique impact on our cognitive abilities. The key is to develop a greater awareness of when we should perform certain tasks by identifying our own personal chronotype – individual biological clock that affects performance and mood. Anyone who's dialed in to their own mental and physical abilities has likely built a natural awareness and routine around this, but it's always worth the reminder.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

All of us experience the day in three stages–a peak, a trough, and a rebound. And about three-quarters of us (larks and third birds) experience it in that order.

Emotional balance (happiness, warmth towards others, enjoyment) rises in the morning, dips in the afternoon, and rises again in the evening.

Juror Experiment: Mental keenness, as shown by rationally evaluating evidence, was greater earlier in the day. And mental squishiness, as evidenced by resorting to stereotypes, increased as the day wore on.

3 key findings from studies on the effect of time of day on brain power:
-Cognitive abilities do not remain static over the course of a day.
-Daily fluctuations are more extreme than we realize (daily low point can be equivalent to the effect of drinking legal limit).
-How we do depends on what we're doing (best time to perform a particular task depends on the nature of that task).

When we wake up, our body temperature slowly rises. That rising temperature gradually boosts our energy level and alertness–and that, in turn, enhances our executive functioning, our ability to concentrate, and our powers of deduction. For most of us, those sharp-minded analytic capacities peak in the late morning or around noon. 

Danish standardized tests:
-Four years of results for two million schoolchildren showed a direct correlation between hours tests were administered and performance. Each hour later in the day, scores fell a little more. Students scored much higher in mornings.

Human beings don't all experience a day in precisely the same way. Each of us has a "chronotype" – a personal pattern of circadian rhythms that influences our physiology and psychology. 

Larks (early risers) = 14% of population.
Third birds = 65% of population.
Owls (late risers) = 21% of population.

Chronotypes are influenced by multiple factors:
-Genetics accounts for at least half of the variability...larks and owls are born, not made.
-Age also plays an important factor...young children are generally larks, puberty transitions to owls, return to lark as grow older.

Biological clocks affect our performance, mood, and wakefulness. 

Corporate, government, and education cultures are configured for the 75 or 80 percent of people who are larks or third birds.

Figure out your chronotype, understand your task, and then select the appropriate time.

Whatever you do, do not let mundane tasks creep into your peak period.
*If you're a lark or a third bird and happen to have a free hour in the morning, don't fritter it away on email. Spend those sixty minutes doing your most important work.

Wait to drink that first cup of coffee an hour or ninety minutes after waking up, once our cortisol production has peaked and the caffeine can do its magic. If you're looking for an afternoon boost, head to the coffee shop between about 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., when cortisol levels dip again.

Typical worker reaches the most unproductive moment of the day at 2:55 p.m.

Judges were more likely to issue a favorable ruling in the morning (65%) than the afternoon (almost zero). But also after they took short breaks.

Breaks: Short breaks are effective and deliver considerable bang for their limited buck...Regular short walking breaks in the workplace also increase motivation and concentration and enhance creativity...Tech-free breaks increase vigor and reduce emotional exhaustion.

Beginnings
Long-term negative impact of graduating from college in a bad year often took the unlucky graduates two decades to catch up to the lucky ones who graduated in robust times. Total cost, in inflation-adjusted terms, of graduating in a bad year rather than a good year averaged about $100,000.
*Negative impact on students who graduated during 2010 and 2011 was double. Those who begin careers during such weak market may see permanent negative effects on their wages. 

"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood." -Margaret Atwood

Midpoints
Wellbeing seems to slump in midlife. Why does this midpoint deflate us?
-Disappointment of unrealized expectations
-Learn that we're lousy forecasters, in youth our expectations are too high.
-Biological? See same trends in apes.

"Punctuated equilibrium" – evolution's path wasn't a smooth upward climb. The true trajectory was less linear: periods of dull stability punctuated by swift explosions of change.

Analysis of 18,000 NBA games and 46,000 NCAA games over fifteen years showed teams that were ahead at halftime won more games than teams that were behind. However, the only exception to this rule was that teams that were behind by just one at halftime were more likely to win. Being down one was more advantageous than being up one (encouraged team behind to exert more effort). 

Endings
Every Pixar movie has its protagonist achieving the goal he wants only to realize it is not what the protagonist needs. Such emotional complexity turns out to be central to the most elevated endings. 

One reason we overlook poignancy is that it operates by an upside-down form of emotional physics. Adding a small component of sadness to an otherwise happy moment elevates that moment rather than diminishes it. 

The best endings don't leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer–a small rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we've gotten what we need. 

Nostalgia, research shows, can foster positive mood, protect against anxiety and stress, and boost creativity.

Like poignancy, nostalgia is a "bittersweet but predominantly positive and fundamentally social emotion." Thinking in the past tense offers a "window into the intrinsic self," a portal to who we really are. It makes the present meaningful.

Writing is an act of discovering what you think and what you believe.

I used to believe in ignoring the waves of the day. Now I believe in surfing them.