Atomic Habits Chapter 9

This chapter focuses on 1 idea: social norms. And it’s incredibly powerful.

Idea 1: normal is normal

Newborns know nothing, not even language. How do they learn? They learn through imitation.

We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them.

We simply do what we see. And this, the most basic form of education, continues throughout our lives.

Let’s look at the 3 groups we imitate.

The close

We imitate the people we’re around. It happens on the small scale. Our body language reflects the people we’re speaking with at that moment.

Jim Rohn famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

The many

Social pressure is real. Social proof is a key marketing tool. That’s why reviews and testimonials are so powerful.

Robert Cialdini lists social proof as a “weapon of influence” in his amazing book Influence and he only lists 6 of them. (Now that I think about it, I bet this is also linked to consistency – another weapon of influence from Cialdini.)

When in doubt, we default to whatever the group thinks. And when we’re not in doubt, the group’s beliefs can still override the individual’s beliefs and conclusions.

It’s scary.

The book cites a study from the 1950s. A group is presented with an easy-to-solve problem. The answer is obvious. The trick is that only 1 person is being evaluated. The rest of the group is going to deliberately give the same wrong answer. What happens? About 75% of the individuals cave-in and change their answer from the obviously correct answer to the group’s incorrect answer.

And the larger the group, the more powerful the groupthink.

The powerful

We copy the habits of the powerful and avoid the habits that make us look like a less desirable member of society. Attractive behaviors are the behaviors that “get us approval, respect, and praise.”

I don’t think this section was explored thoroughly enough. I don’t agree with all the examples. And the conclusions feel simplistic.

Yes, we don’t want to look like “the slob of the neighborhood”. That’s a power positioning issue.

But other examples are based on favorites. “You make a recipe from your favorite baker. You borrow the storytelling strategies of your favorite writer.” Being somebody’s favorite doesn’t make them powerful or popular with the group. They’re not necessarily “high-status people”.

Maybe this should have been a 4th group. If you like something or someone you give them more attention. More attention = more influence? More impact?

And if they’re your favorite, you probably trust them. What exactly is the role of trust in this?

Or does this belong in this section because we want approval from our favorites even if only subconsciously?

Key takeaways and implementation

These are double-edged swords.

Peer pressure can make us do the wrong thing. But a group with the traits, habits, beliefs, and norms that we desire can make those things easier to develop in ourselves.

Copying a successful person’s habits could help us be more successful. But we could be copying something that’s irrelevant. Or we only absorb the visible aspects of a habit and incorrectly implement the habit rendering it ineffective or useless.

What can we do?

  1. Craft your social environment as carefully as you craft your work environment. It isn’t easy to train your elephant so take advantage of this opportunity.
  2. Be brave. If you’re zigging when everyone else is zagging, don’t assume that you’re wrong but don’t assume the group is either. Take some time. Try to find a way to evaluate your decision as objectively as possible.
  3. Don’t copy everyone. When you feel yourself being influenced by a powerful persona, dig deeper and ask some questions:
    1. Is this person truly successful?
    2. Is this person successful in the way I want to be successful?
    3. Do I truly understand what this person did/is doing to be successful?
    4. Am I willing to pay the same price this person paid?

Additional thoughts

James says we’re herd animals. And then he ends the paragraph with a quote saying we’re pack animals. It’s curious that we have aspects of both. I don’t know that there’s anything to do with that information. But it’s something to think about.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
Author: James Clear
Amazon rating: 4.8
Amazon price: $14.99
Amazon data gathered on 1Oct2020
Review status: In progress

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