Chapter 1 lays the ground for the power of habits.
Idea 1: incremental growth
The problem with habits is that they’re small. The impact seems negligible compared to the work involved. This applies to good habits – hard to create – and bad habits – hard to stop.
But the power of habits isn’t in a day’s execution. The power of habits is in the daily execution.
Habits can compound. They build on each other. And that’s the secret sauce.
A 1% daily improvement for a year nets you a 37x return. A 1% daily decline leaves you with .03 at the end of a year.
Idea 2: lagging indicators
The results of our habits are poor indicators. The book’s example is that you’ll still be out of shape if you go to the gym 3 days in a row.
The immediate results are abysmal. But what if you went to the gym 3 times a week for a year. I bet those results would be shocking (in a good way).
We cannot judge our plan based on the results – especially not the immediate results. (Reminds me of Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. I’ll be reviewing that book for sure.)
Idea 3: time
Time magnifies the margin between success and failure.
Time is the leveraged resource for all compounding investments. Mastery is not achieved overnight.
Idea 4: an effective threshold
It’s hard to see growth in some habits like skills.
If you’re looking at an investment portfolio, you can see the growth. You know exactly how much you’ve gained.
But a skill with a pass/fail type of measurement doesn’t work like that. You fail fail fail. And then fail some more. Eventually, you’ve practiced enough that your skill has reached an effective level and you have some success.
Habits relating to this type of habit requires more patience.
Idea 5: systems > goals
Goals are required. You have to know what you’re trying to achieve. But “every Olympian wants to win a gold medal.”
Chasing a goal is a daily pass/fail evaluation. That sounds miserable. It can lead to shortcuts that get you that win.
But that kind of victory is short term. I could not smoke for a day to say that I quit smoking. But until I create a new system of habits, I’d soon fall back into the old system.
To paraphrase the book: A goal is focused on winning the game. Systems are focused on winning this game and the next game and the next.
You do not rise to the level of our goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
Key takeaways and implementation
I like systems. That’s how I think. If you’re a checklist or systems person, I bet this stuff resonates with you.
This chapter doesn’t get into execution so there isn’t much to implement. The best thing you can do at this point is to start identifying your existing systems. You don’t have to sit down with a notebook and try to figure it out. Just keep your eyes peeled. Which events or actions consistently lead to the same reaction. When I X, the next thing I do is Y. Noticing them gets easier with practice.