The Book in Three Sentences
In this summary of Hello, Habits, Fumio Sasaki teaches you practices to learn habits and become a better version of yourself. While Sasaki’s previous book, Goodbye, Things was all about minimalism, this book focuses on habit formation. Hello, Habits features numerous references to science-based theories, as well as more practical techniques.
Hello, Habits Summary
Achievements have nothing to do with talent. To produce meaningful results, you need to develop good habits. The people who seem to do things effortlessly aren’t gifted, but they achieved that by their continuous efforts. Habits are something anyone can acquire.
Chapter 1: What Is Willpower?
Most people daydream about the things they’d do if they had more time, but there is such a thing as having too much free time. The freedom to do anything you want can be both a blessing and a curse. The pleasure of doing whatever you want wears off fast, so we need a sense of achievement in everyday life. We can do this through our habits.
Most people want to start similar habits: sleeping eight hours a day, exercising often, having an organized house, eating healthily, and studying. But what makes them so difficult to attain? Why do most New Year’s resolutions fail? The problem, the author says, is that there’s a contradiction between a reward now and a reward in the future. For instance, having a muscular body is a future reward. To achieve our goal of having a muscular body, we know the steps we need to take: we need to eat healthy food, exercise daily, and so on. But not taking these steps or doing the opposite (such as eating candy and not exercising) feels like a reward in itself. In other words, we don’t develop good habits because it’s easier not to do them and there are often rewards for not doing them along the way.
We tend to value present rewards (eating cake) instead of future rewards (having a great-looking body). Distant rewards seem less valuable and the same happens with punishments. In economics, this concept is known as “hyperbolic discounting” and it explains why developing good habits is so difficult.
But why does this happen? When humans were hunting and gathering, the most precious thing was food and since you didn’t know when the next time you were going to have access to food was going to be, you ate food as soon as you could. Nowadays though, most people have unlimited access to food. If anything, avoiding the temptation to eat unhealthy food and exercising food is what we need. This is but one example, but the idea is that modern society punishes those who look for instant rewards, but at the same time, we’re still wired to pursue them.
By restraining themselves, people who don’t accept rewards in front of them, show to have the capacity to get future rewards. This capacity for self-control is what we often refer to as willpower. Through a series of experiments, scientists found out that our willpower is limited, so the more tired we are, the more likely we are to make the “wrong” choices.
Emotions impact our willpower Our brains can be divided into two: emotional or hot thinking and rational or cool thinking. When we’re feeling stressed, the emotional side of our brain takes over and makes choices for us. This happens because stress was integral to our survival for millions of years. When in doubt, our brain told us to eat the food in front of us or told us to escape potential dangers. While controlling our response is difficult, what we can do though is control our emotions through rational thinking.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in our brain that gets released during a pleasurable experience. When we eat tasty food, when we get money, or when we have sex, we are rewarded with dopamine. But despite what most people believe, dopamine gets released during the sign of what to expect and not during the action itself. For instance, it isn’t social media that excites you, but the notification on your phone. It isn’t the act of drinking beer that makes you feel pleasure, but the sound of the bottle opening. Without dopamine, we wouldn’t eat food because we’d have no desire to do so, even if we had it in front of us. Dopamine simply exists to take action. To avoid doing something that’s bad for us, we need to use the cognitive power of our cool system to resist temptation.
We should also know that we can cheat the system too by telling ourselves stories. Maybe we want to lose weight, but we eat unhealthy food anyway to “celebrate” a milestone or to “reward” ourselves for all the hard work we’ve been doing.
Making bad decisions isn’t a matter of willpower, it’s simply a matter of being aware that doing so is a possibility and we think about it so many times, that eventually, we give in. But what habits encourage us to do is make decisions instinctively to the point that we’re barely thinking about them. In other words, habits don’t require us to call up our awareness.
Chapter 2: What Are Habits?
When a habit takes place, we barely even think about it. In a way, we do them unconsciously. When you first start an action, you have to be aware of it several times before it can become a habit. When we’re children, doing things we now take for granted, such as tying our shoes or washing our hands seems daunting. But the more we do them, the easier they get and it eventually gets to the point when we don’t think about them anymore.
So how do actions become habits? Habits have three elements. First, the trigger is the signal that tells you to go into autopilot mode. Then, the routine is the set of actions you do. Finally, the reward is something that feels good and this tells your brain if the habit in question is worth repeating in the future. Since it all starts with a trigger, we should create signals to start the habits we want. But it’s worth mentioning that there are also triggers for bad habits as well.
Triggers come in different forms, but we can divide them into:
- Location and time
- Emotional state
- Other people
- Preceding event
Routines are a series of actions that are connected with each other. A routine starts with a trigger and this trigger leads to a habit that becomes a trigger of its own for the next habit and so on. Examples include morning rituals: the alarm wakes you up, you change into your clothes, go to the bathroom, take a shower, have breakfast, read a book, and so on. Routines have the ability to change your mood too.
The third element of habits is the reward. This is what we hope we get from our actions. Rewards come in many forms, such as money, the sense of euphoria we get from exercising, or getting good grades.
Chapter 3: 50 Steps for Acquiring New Habits
Step 1: Sever ties with vicious circles
Giving in to negative emotions destroys our willpower. As a consequence, you’ll take the easiest reward you have access to, such as unhealthy food or wasting your time with your phone. This results in more stress and the cycle continues. Most people convince themselves that certain bad habits are necessary, but that’s not the case.
Step 2: First, decide that you’re going to quit
Before you can start new habits, you must quit old ones. To determine if a habit is worth keeping, ask yourself if you’d like your kid to have it. Also, quit habits that don’t teach you anything or things that leave you with regret.
Step 3: Leverage turning points
Turning points (defining moments in your life, such as an illness, having a baby, or moving) are useful when it comes to quitting bad habits. Willpower isn’t enough sometimes, but certain turning points are opportunities to test the waters and see how you do without something. For example, by moving to the countryside, you can use your bicycle and walk places.
Step 4: Quit completely – it’s easier
For most of us, certain habits we can’t indulge in momentarily. Some people are unable to use social media for a few minutes or drink just one glass of wine. In those extreme cases, just quit cold turkey. Ideally, we would never create exceptions to our rules. Such as, “I’ll only drink during special occasions”. If you’re not careful, you might celebrate often just so that you can drink. When you do quit, think about the pain it causes rather than what you miss out on.
Step 5: Now that you always have to pay the price
There’s a price to pay for both breaking and acquiring habits. In other words, it isn’t all positive. Quitting drinking, for example, will bring numerous benefits, but a lot of people might pressure you into doing it again or might feel offended when you decline their invitations.
Step 6: Examine the triggers and rewards for your habits
When attempting to break a habit, first identify its trigger. Is it related to place, time, a psychological state, people, or previous actions? Then, what rewards do you get out of your actions? Try to reduce them one by one until you get to the real one. Once you do so, you’ll be able to find a way to get the reward without performing the action that’s bad for you.
Step 7: Become a detective who looks for the real criminal
Some habits, you can’t seem to develop. When this happens, try to find the real reason by asking yourself why repeatedly. Let’s say that, like the author, you might have trouble waking up early. Why? Because you keep hitting the snooze button. Why? Because you went to bed late? Why? Because you watched Netflix in bed. Why? Because you were anxious. Essentially, this simple exercise involves asking yourself the same question until you get to the bottom of the problem.
Step 8: Don’t make identity an excuse
You don’t have to be a certain way just because you’re in a specific line of work. For instance, you don’t need a disorganized desk just because you’re a journalist. Likewise, you don’t have to wait for inspiration to do your job. Having a routine will help you start work when it’s time to do so. Regardless of what occupation you have, you can change your identity.
Step 9: Start with keystone habits
Keystone habits are those that start a domino effect. For instance, cleaning up will lead to taking care of your possessions and organizing other aspects of your life. Whenever possible, start with these first.
Step 10: Keep a diary to record observations about yourself
Starting good habits is a process of trial-and-error and keeping a diary can help you record that process. Additionally, a journal can help you overcome obstacles or pay attention to your environment. Records are great because they’re usually objective so you’re forced to confront the truth. When writing in your diary, focus on writing facts, not well-written essays.
Step 11: Meditate to enhance your cognitive ability
Meditating trains your cool system. Having awareness will help you see things objectively rather than emotionally.
Step 12: Realize that enthusiasm won’t occur before you do something
When we struggle to do something, we expect motivation to come naturally. But motivation is the result of action, not the other way around. Once you develop a good habit, you won’t regret it. In fact, what we regret is when we don’t perform a habit, not when we do.
Step 13: Whatever you do, lower your hurdles.
To start a habit, remove the obstacles that prevent you from doing it. Usually, the hardest part about a habit is starting and once you do, inertia takes over and you don’t have to force yourself to continue. Similarly, we often engage in bad habits because they’re easy and friction-free, such as buying alcohol, playing games, or using social media. To acquire good habits, the top obstacles to remove are time and distance (the closer you are to the gym, the more likely you are to go), procedure (these are all the small things you have to do to start a given habit), and psychological (such as asking yourself “what will people think of me if they see me jog?”).
Step 14: Realize that hurdles are more powerful than rewards
The quickest and easiest it is, the more likely you are to stick to a given habit. When possible, make healthy habits the default option so that not doing them is harder than doing them.
Step 15: Raise the hurdle for habits that you want to quit
When you want to quit a habit, introduce obstacles. For example, instead of keeping ice cream at home, keep healthy snacks only.
Step 16: Spend Money on your initial investment
When we decide to start a new hobby and need special equipment, we often go for the cheapest option. Whenever possible, take the opposite approach and choose expensive equipment so that quitting is a punishment. Higher-quality equipment also encourages us to use it more often. When starting a habit, put quality first.
Step 17: “Chunk down”
When you want to start a new activity, regardless of how complex it is, break it down into small, manageable parts. So take all the necessary steps in a given process and they’ll go from being a hassle to more manageable.
Step 18: make your targets ridiculously small
When something becomes unbearably difficult, you want to quit. Similarly, when you want to start something, lower the difficulty so that it’s more sustainable over time. In other words, make your goals ridiculously small. A positive side-effect of small goals is that you won’t experience self-doubt.
Step 19: Start today
Instead of choosing an arbitrary date to start a habit, do it today. The more you put off a habit, the less likely you are of doing it.
Step 20: Do it every day (it’s easier)
It’s easier to do a habit every day than it is to do it every week. This happens because the act of doing it has been decided already. Also, when you do something daily, it soon becomes second nature, so you don’t have to think about it. We think about our future selves as someone that’s full of energy, but that’s rarely the case.
Step 21: Don’t make up “exceptions” as you go
When we start a daily habit, things come up unexpectedly. By allowing these exceptions, our habits deteriorate and before we know it, we stop doing them altogether. Occasional exceptions are a good way to spice up your routine though and to not take the rewards for granted.
Step 22: Enjoy it because you aren’t good at it.
It’s never too late to start. While starting earlier has its advantages, the sense of satisfaction never changes. A lot of people refuse to start something because it’s difficult and they might be bad at it, but that struggle is what makes it fun in the first place. In other words, the journey is more important than the destination.
Step 23: Set triggers
When you start a habit, use a pre-established one as a trigger. Soon, you’ll be able to tie habits together and build a chain.
Step 24: Create an adult timetable
Time is one of the most common triggers. It may come in the form of an alarm or a bell. You can use a timetable to trigger habits, so there’s no reason not to use an alarm to let you know when to go to bed or have lunch, for instance. Time gives us discipline, so use it wisely. Timetables let you prioritize your most important projects too.
Step 25: Realize that no one has the power to concentrate
It’s hard to focus your attention for long periods of time. Concentrating can be challenging, so work for a while and take breaks regularly.
Step 26: Take action according to the date
Set aside a specific day to do chores. It can be housekeeping, organizing files on your computer, taking pictures of important documents, and so on.
Step 27: Set up a temporary reward
When you do certain habits, you don’t see results for a long time. In those cases, you can set up temporary rewards. For example, prepare a breakfast you love as a reward for getting up early. Never reward yourself with things that contradict the habits you’re trying to maintain though. So don’t have a cupcake after exercising, for instance. Also, while temporary rewards work well for a while, don’t make them into a habit of their own.
Step 28: Make good use of people’s attention
Ignore other people’s opinions when it comes to your habits. When you start doing something, people will naturally judge you. We value others’ opinions because humans are social creatures. Thousands of years ago, being expelled from our group meant death, so we evolved to care about what our peers thought of us. Being part of a positive team makes you more likely to succeed in your habits, so surround yourself with people who support you. Nowadays, we can use social media to receive such encouragement or we can always find an accountability partner.
Step 29: Make an advanced declaration
As a way to motivate yourself, you can tell other people what you’ll do before actually doing it. Inevitably, you’ll want to make your declaration a reality as a way to avoid being perceived as a liar. You can also commit to paying some money as a penalty if you don’t achieve your goals.
Step 30: Think from a third-party perspective
The author uses a framework where he sees himself from someone else’s point of view. You can ask yourself what your future self will think about the decisions you’re taking now or what someone else (such as someone you idolize or someone who cares about you) would say.
Step 31: Quit in the middle of something
Sometimes it’s better to stop doing something even if you’re enjoying it rather than continue and test your limits. When you do this, doing the habit feels fin and you want to come back to it often. If, on the other hand, it feels painful, you won’t want to do it again.
Step 32: Don’t quit completely
While taking a break is great and even necessary from time to time, never quit completely. When you stop, the thing you used to do effortlessly will seem daunting and frightening when you want to start doing it again.
Step 33: Keep records of your habits
Keeping records of your habits makes you aware of them to the point that you’ll unconsciously get better at them. For this purpose, we can use apps, calendars, or lists. Without records, we might think we’re doing great, but in reality, we might be struggling.
Step 34: Take necessary breaks to conserve your strength
When you start new habits, you need to be aware of how long it’ll take you to recover. If you can’t, you won’t be able to keep going. So first, cover all of the basics (sleep well, eat well, and rest) and you can then use the remaining time for additional tasks.
Step 35: Nap (the effects of a power nap are enormous)
Power naps are short naps that last twenty minutes long. Naps improve your brain’s cognitive abilities, it refreshes you physically and mentally.
Step 36: Rest aggressively
There are different ways to rest. One of the most effective ways to do it is by getting in touch with nature, taking walks, going to the movies, or traveling.
Step 37: Cherish the things that you aren’t making into a habit
While it’s great to follow a schedule and take care of the important things first, you should also plan unstructured time to watch movies, play games, or do things that you like. The best time to do this is in the evenings when your intellectual energy is low.
Step 38: Don’t mix up your “objectives” and your “targets”
Your main goal should be constant and not a one-time event.
Step 39: Look only at the targets in front of you
When considering habits, try to ignore the ultimate goal and focus on the immediate target. Instead of looking at someone fluent in the target language you want to learn, focus on memorizing a few words to make progress, for example.
Step 40: Experience failures – they are indispensable for your habits
Acquiring habits requires you to experience failure. Since habit formation is a process of trial and error, succeeding involves failing repeatedly. Failure is part of the process and each time you fail, you’re one step closer to success.
Step 41: Stop worrying about how long it will take for something to become a habit
We shouldn’t assess habits using numbers. Just keep repeating habits until you’ve acquired them. You can tell when you’ve acquired a habit when not doing it feels “wrong”. Fully acquired habits are those you have trouble quitting.
Step 42: Do it; it’s better than not doing it
When given a choice, most of us would choose not to do something rather than do it. If we don’t though, we’ll soon regret it, especially when it comes to habits.
Step 43: Gradually increase the level of difficulty
Some habits become boring the more we do them. This is a sign that you should increase their difficulty to make them more challenging. Do this gradually.
Step 44: Overcome each challenge along the way
Don’t set your goals too high when you’re not in the mood to do something. It’s best not to lose momentum than to stop completely. Likewise, there are moments of stagnation, but this is normal and while you seem unchanged, you’re still making progress.
Step 45: Keep at it and increase your self-efficacy
Self-efficacy is the belief that you can do something. Once you overcome a challenge, future challenges suddenly become attainable as well. If you see giving up as a possibility, future challenges will seem almost impossible to tackle.
Step 46: Create a chain reaction
When you acquire a healthy habit, you’ll soon start seeing some positive side effects as well. For example, by taking up running, walking is easier and effortless in comparison.
Step 47: Adapt your habits as needed
There are habits for everything, including health, money, and relationships. Make adjustments for those habits in a way that makes sense for your lifestyle. You can make up your own triggers or get arbitrary dates.
Step 48: Create habits that are unique to you
We all have our unique values, regrets, and past experiences. Create your own habits and identify difficulties to avoid them in the future.
Step 49: Make peace with the knowledge that your habits will eventually collapse
Regardless of how hard you work on your habits, they’re fragile. It’s important to rebuild them when this happens. Also, your life might change drastically and your habits might suffer, but again, rebuild them and adapt.
Step 50: Know that there is no end to habits
There’s no end to the development of habits in the same way that there’s no end to minimalism. This is a never-ending journey and one that changes often. In a way, habit formation is, in itself, a habit.
Chapter 4: We’re Made of Habits
It seems that habits take effort on our part. But most habits, we do because we want to, and when choice is involved, the process is tolerable. For our efforts, we get rewards along the way too.
Talent is the result of a consistent continuation of habits. The author makes a distinction between “knack” and “talent”. Knack is a natural ability for a given skill and talent are the skills you pick up as you continue to do something.
You may do everything right and still get undesirable results. When this happens, just accept it and move on. These are your limits.
Are people the result of genetics or their environment? Both. That shouldn’t limit you though since developing the right habits can help you become a better person.
When in doubt, we should follow the habits of our ancestors, mainly because of their simplicity, so move, work, exercise, spend time in nature, learn, have fun, and socialize. Of course, it’s easy to avoid most of these activities in the modern world, but you’d be depriving yourself of joy. Also, we should cultivate our opportunities for development. We’re inclined to find joy in what’s new and learning encourages us to find excitement in the mundane.
Our life is full of habits. Whenever possible prioritize the habits of gratitude, kindness, and thought.
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