Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits offers practical advice on how to start new habits or get rid of bad habits. Here are some notes:

  • Don’t underestimate marginal gains, if you get 1% better every day, you become 37x better in a year
  • Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits: money (financial habits), weight (eating habits), knowledge (learning habits)
  • People reflect your behavior back to you. The more you help others, the more others help you.
  • Instead of setting goals, focus on having systems (goal: losing 10 pounds vs system: learning to eat well)
  • Identity based habits: Focus is on who you wish to become
    • read a book vs become a reader
    • run a marathon vs become a runner
    • learn an instrument vs become a musician
  • The habit loop consists of:
    • cue: signal reward (notice) -> make it obvious
    • craving: acting force (want) -> make it attractive
    • response: action (d0) -> make it easy
    • reward: result (get) -> make it satisfying
  • Be specific with your habits: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]
  • Habit stacking: Start a new habit by doing it before / after an existing habit
  • Environment matters: Drug addict soldiers stop their addiction when they return home from the war
  • Two groups were given different tasks: a) Only take high quality photos b) Only take as many photos as you can. Best photos came out of the quantity group
  • To visualize virtual progress, you can put physical objects things from one jar to another
  • Reframe cues: Exercise as building endurance, saving money as increasing your future means
  • To stop procrastination, scale down habits to their 2 minute version:
    • “Read before bed each night” becomes “Read one page.”
    • “Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”

Overall, it was one of the most actionable, well written and interesting books I’ve read recently, highly recommended!

May 26, 2019


The Untethered Soul

The Untethered Soul is a book on spirituality. A lot of the ideas in this book are an adaptation of Buddhist philosophy for a Western audience. It gave me a perspective on how to deal with my thoughts and emotions, and helped me understand what purpose meditation serves. I especially enjoyed the parts about happiness and death, they were good reminders. It’s interesting to note that the author, Michael A. Singer, was a software professional in medical industry. Here are some bits from the book that I want to remember:

  • The voice inside your head: You have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops. You’re not the voice of the mind – you’re the one who hears it. You are the one inside that notices the voice talking.
  • Removing your inner thorn: Let’s say you have a deep sense of inner loneliness. Loneliness is just like a thorn. If you’re lonely, you must avoid going to places where couples tend to be. The loneliness will run your entire life. You’ll marry the person who makes you feel less lonely. Should someone die or leave you, the loneliness would again disturb you. You will then start worrying about keeping your relationship with this person. Now you have the burden of worrying about the relationship. It all gets very complicated. You can simply remove the thorn and not focus your life around it. You are not the pain you feel, nor are you the part that periodically stresses out. You are the one who notices these things. Once you learn that it’s okay to feel inner disturbances, and that they can no longer disturb your seat of consciousness, you will be free.
  • Stealing freedom for your soul: The prerequisite to true freedom is to decide that you do not want to suffer anymore. You must decide that you want to enjoy your life and that there is no reason for stress, inner pain or fear. Your psyche is communicating through universal language: fear. Self-consciousness, jealousy, insecurity, anxiety – they are all fear. Most people try to fix their inner problems by getting better at the same external games they have always played. “If I could get thar promotion, I will be fine.” If you feel loneliness and insufficiency within your heart, it’s not because you haven’t found a special relationship. That didn’t cause the problem. The relationship is your attempt to solve the problem. The fact is, external changes are not going to solve your problem because they don’t address the root of your problem. The root problem is that you don’t feel whole and complete within yourself. You began with a problem inside yourself, and you tried to solve it by getting involved with somebody else. The relationship will have problems because your problems are what caused the relationship.
  • Pain, the price of freedom: If you are afraid of being rejected by someone and you approach that person with the intention of winning their acceptance, you are skating on thin ice. All they have to do is look at you sideways or say the wrong thing, and you will feel the pain of rejection. Your attempt to avoid pain has created layer upon layer of sensitivities that are all linked to the hidden pain. In order to avoid the pain of rejection, you work hard to maintain friendships. To succeed, you have to be sure everything you do is acceptable by others. This determines how you dress and how you act. At the core, there is the pain. In order to avoid the pain, you try to stay busy with friends and hide in their acceptance. This is the first layer out. Then, in order to assure your acceptance, you try to present yourself a certain way so that you can win friends and influence people. This is another layer. You first need to get some perspective. You are sitting on a planet spinning around in the middle of absolutely nowhere. One choice is the leave the pain inside and continue to struggle with the outside. The other choice is to decide you don’t want to spend your entire life avoiding the inner pain, you’d rather get rid of it. You must not be afraid of rejection. You must look inside yourself and determine that from now on pain is not a problem. It is just a thing in the universe. If you feel insecurity, it’s just a feeling. You can handle a feeling. If you feel embarrassed, it’s just a feeling. It’s just a part of creation. If you feel jealousy, just look at it objectively, it’s a thing in the universe that is passing through your system.
  • The path of unconditional happiness: 
    • You have to realize that you really only have one choice in this life, and it’s not about your career, whom you want to marry, or whether you want to seek God. In the end, you can throw it all away and just make one basic, underlying decision: Do you want to be happy, or do you not want to be happy? It’s really that simple.
    • Let’s say you’ve been lost and without food for days, and you finally find your way to a house. You really don’t care what they give you. It no longer has anything to do with your mental preferences. The same goes for question about happiness. The question is simply “Do you want to be happy?” If the answer is really yes, then say it without qualifying it. After all, what the question really means is “Do you want to be happy from this point forward for the rest of your life, regardless of what happens?” Now if you say yes, it might happen that your wife leaves you, or your husband dies, or the stock market crashes, or your car breaks down on an open highway at night. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It’s not a question of whether your happiness is under your control. Of course it’s under your control. Any condition you create will limit your happiness. You have to give an unconditional answer. You just have to really mean it when you say that you choose to be happy. And you have to mean it regardless of what happens. This is truly a spiritual path, and it is as direct and sure a path to awakening as could possibly exist.
    • The purpose of your life is to enjoy and learn from your experiences. You were not put on Earth to suffer. You’re not helping anybody by being miserable. Regardless of your beliefs, the fact remains that you were born and you are going to die. During the time in between, you get to choose whether or not you want to enjoy the experience. Events don’t determine whether or not you’re going to be happy. They’re just events. You determine whether or not you’re going to be happy. You can be happy just to be alive. In the end, enjoying life’s experiences is the only rational thing to do. You’re sitting on a planet spinning around in the middle of absolutely nowhere. You’re floating in empty space in a universe that goes on forever. If you have to be here, at least be happy and enjoy the experience. You gain nothing by being bothered by life’s events. It doesn’t change the world, you just suffer.
  • Contemplating death: Any time you’re having trouble with something, think of death.
    • Imagine if you knew you were going to die within a week or a month. How would you change things? You should be asking yourself why you aren’t living that way.
    • You’ve walked outside thousands of times, but how many times have you really appreciated it? Learn to live as though you are facing death at all times. Look how precious life becomes when you imagine you only have a week left. Death actually gives meaning to life. If you are living every experience fully, then death doesn’t take anything from you.
May 25, 2019


Decision making and system mindset

Safi Bahcall, in an interview, talks about how Garry Kasparov’s success could be attributed to his post-game analysis technique. After a game, rather than looking at a bad move and trying to correct it, he would analyze how he arrived at that decision and what could be improved with his decision making process. This requires a shift from having an outcome mindset to a system mindset.

Instead of analyzing the outcome, going one step above and looking at the meta-level, which is the decision making process. The advantage with this approach is that once you adjust your process, it applies to other situations as well, not just one particular case that failed before.

In business life, this would mean, after a product launch that didn’t go well, instead of just looking at why the product failed, going one step further, and asking questions like “How did we arrive at the decision to launch that product at that time?”, “Who was involved in that decision?”, “Did they have the right information?”, “What were people’s individual incentives?”, “How were they communicating?” etc. It’s also important to analyze good outcomes, because it could be due to pure luck or despite a bad decision making process.

The system mindset really reasonated with me and I’m excited to use it in my life!

May 23, 2019


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sarp centel

Sarp is a software developer. He writes about technology, books and software.
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"It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out. It's the pebble in your shoe." @sarp
books i've read recently
Digital Minimalism
The Art of Thinking Clearly
Atomic Habits
The Untethered Soul
The Happiness Project
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