Book Summaries

Becoming Superhuman by Habit (Tynan)

Physical Book | Audio

Becoming Superhuman by Habit Summary + Notes

  • “A habit is an action that you take on a repeated basis with little or no required effort or thought.“ The power of habits lie in the latter part of that statement, implying that habits require an upfront expenditure of energy to get installed, after which they require little effort for maintenance.
  • Don’t just spend your willpower. Start to invest it. The way we invest our willpower is to use it in developing habits that once in place, require little to no willpower to maintain. The more habits we build, the less willpower will be required to execute them on a daily basis and that results in more of our willpower being available to tackle the really hard things.
  • Tynan identifies two phases in habit building: the loading phase where a lot of effort and willpower is required to build momentum and the maintenance phase where minimal effort is required to just sustain the habit. The purpose of the loading phase is to disrupt entrenched habits and to completely remove all associations with the old habit. This requires hardcore adherence to your habit commitment and no room for flexibility. In the maintenance phase is where you can allow a little room for flexibility and some indulgence.
  • How you know that an action has crossed the threshold from loading to maintenance is that it becomes something you consciously do, rather than something you must consciously think about doing. Also, “honestly ask yourself what would happen if you dropped the habit entirely. If you think that you’d immediately go back to your old ways, keep loading. If you think that you would either slowly slide back to your old ways over a period of months or years, or if you think you’d remain in statis, switch to a maintenance habit.”
  • Consistency is everything when it comes to building habits. So rather than take on too much at the beginning and then quit; start small, be consistent and build from there. When you are tempted to skip a day, realize that what’s at stake isn’t just a minor bit of progress, but rather all the benefits that could have been yours by establishing the habit. “Missing two days of a habit is habit suicide.”
  • “Start small, become consistent, and increase at a manageable pace. That’s how you optimize for the finish line, rather than the starting line.”
  • “Never break a habit unless it is a premeditated and conscious decision. This is the difference between giving up on a habit and losing its benefits, and simply putting it on pause because there are other factors that have a higher value at that time.”
  • In habit building, it’s important to remember that progress lags behind action. “When evaluating your progress in building habits, use your adherence to process, not your actual results. So if you’re trying to lose weight, evaluate yourself based on how well you stick to your plan rather than the number on the scale, especially in the short term.”
  • There are various ways to choose the next habit to work on: you could choose a habit that currently extends its negative influence to other areas of your life (e.g. smoking, eating unhealthy food) or take a bottom up approach by tackling smaller habits to build confidence and momentum and then tackle bigger ones. “Ultimately, the best habit to tackle first is the one you can succeed at, which paves the way for a lifetime of building habits.”
  • “Over the years I have had the good fortune of coming face to face with many of those people who seemed to be superhuman. I’ve been friends with some of the most successful musicians of my generation, some of the most successful socializers, and some of the most successful businesspeople. In every single case I’ve been awed by one thing- how normal they were. I came to understand that people we think of as exceptional aren’t that way because of who they are, but because of what they do. In every single case, they has a set of habits that led them to the top of their fields.”
  • As with everything that requires sustained effort, there must be some goal that you keep in front of you to keep you motivated. The same is true of habit building: “Habits should always follow an actual concrete goal, rather than just exist for the sake of having a habit.” In other words, don’t pick a habit simply because it sounds nice, pick it because it would help you achieve a clear and pre-defined goal you want. Also, doing so allows you to tailor your habits to fit the demands of your goal. For example, if you’re planning to run a marathon, you would most likely commit to running more miles than if you were just building a running habit to stay healthy.
  • You have to be honest about your motivation for building a new habit and whether it is enough to sustain you because as Tynan says, “In most areas of life, it’s better to try and fail than to not try at all. In habits it’s far better to succeed at an easier habit (that you are motivated about), and then build up from there.”
  • When choosing a schedule for your habits, lean towards habits that require daily execution. This protects you against the danger of what Tynan calls “reasonable reschedule” that makes pushing the task to another time seem reasonable, and doesn’t allow it become obvious that what I am really doing is skipping a habit I already committed to – the very foundation of failed habits. Also, daily habits are easier to remember and usually require minimal effort. For example, a daily habit of cleaning your desk space after work requires less time than clearing it out at the end of each week when a lot of mess has built up.
  • “Without a proper trigger, a habit is just something you sometimes do.” In other words, every habit has a trigger (waking up, getting home from work or school, waiting in line or for a bus, boredom, stress, receiving bad news etc.) that it’s already attached to which makes it a subconscious response once the trigger is activated. Therefore, whenever you begin a new habit, you should think about what its trigger is going to be, and to commit to that. The effective way to change negative habits is by taking a honest and introspective look at when you most exhibit them to uncover “triggers primed for reprogramming.” And since you can only have one action most strongly linked to any given trigger, all you need is to change the existing negative habit associated with a trigger to a positive one and you’ll be killing two birds with one stone.
  • One way to ensure you stay on track with your new habit building is to ask friends to keep you accountable. But the author advices that you use this only when needed. Learn to build self reliance but if there’s serious concern you may not stick with the new habit, that’s when to engage external accountability.
  • If you have started working on a habit only to start having second thoughts, realize that the worst time for you to quit on a habit is when you feel like quitting. It’s hard to make a judgment call when you are in the loading phase of a habit and are yet to see any tangible benefits. Tynan recommends erring on the side of not quitting habits. That’s how you would prevent the negative spiral of starting and quitting habits that weaken your resolve to follow through. Wait until you no longer want to quit, and then re-evaluate if quitting is really the right thing to do. Of course, if the habit in question is clearly putting you in obvious danger, then quit immediately. But be careful about giving in to your “pesky lazy brain’s” pressure to quit.
  • Your environment is an important part of staying on track with your habit building commitment. Always look for ways to create an environment that is conducive to you taking the action you have committed to.
  • For ideas of some habits to start working on, section 3 of the book focuses on some practical analysis of various habits he’s worked on building, sharing his thoughts on why he thinks they are helpful and how he would recommend going about it. This is a helpful reference if you are looking for inspiration or ideas on how to go about building any of the habits discussed.
  • Positivity habits. Building this habit is crucial if you want to be the kind of person that takes control of their happiness. Two key areas of building a habit of positivity is in how I interpret situations and also how I interpret the behavior of others. No matter how bad the situation, train yourself to look for one positive aspect of every negative situation or thought that comes into your mind and before long, you’ll find that you are able to do this effortlessly. In dealing with people, here’s a quote from the book: “Remember that everyone is just doing their best and trying to be happy, just like you.” Also, remind yourself that the other person is a real human with various things going on in their lives and our interaction is just a tiny slice of their life. These thoughts would help you be more patient and compassionate.
  • Health habits such as eating healthy food, good sleep, meditation, working out and a few others that Tynan considers helpful like drinking tea daily and taking Vitamin D.
  • Expansion habits such as traveling to unusual countries, writing daily to help you become a more precise thinker and communicator, seeking out masterpieces that inspire you to do great work, and constantly pushing your comfort zone by embracing challenges that I think I might enjoy but I’ve been putting off because of fear.
  • Organization habits such as adopting daily imperfect cleaning as opposed to waiting for the perfect time to do deep cleaning (which almost never happens), using the starred function on my email account to separate emails that require some kind of action so I can come back to them. That way, I can quickly stay on top of emails and keep my box clear. Another habit is using my calendar to log every thing I plan to do so I can relieve myself of the mental load. Lastly, getting rid of stuff I haven’t used in 6-12 months to prevent clutter.
  • Social habits like always being on time and also applying what Tynan calls “delete or contact”. What this implies is “Once a month, scroll through your entire phone book. For each person you haven’t contacted in the past month, or since the last check, force yourself to either delete them from your phone or send them a message or make a call.” Not only will you become one of those people who seem magically good at keeping in touch, you’ll also be more conscious about getting people’s contact who you don’t plan to keep in touch with.
  • Productivity habits like “Twice, the quit”, “Eliminate starting procrastination”, “plan when stuck” and rating your day.
  • Here’s what Twice, then Quit is about: “When you want to quit working for the first time, don’t. Push through and work some more. The second time you want to quit, also don’t quit. Push through again. The third time you want to quit, go ahead and quit. This habit is deceptively simple, but is very effective. It allows us to push through while simultaneously taking pressure off because we know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that we won’t drive ourselves to complete exhaustion.” This would help ensure that you are not giving in to your lazy brain but only quitting when you are really exhausted, rather than because you hit a stumbling block. And when you quit, you know you had given it your best shot and can truly enjoy your time off.
  • Eliminate starting procrastination involves identifying the top thing you want to get done every single day and then each day, track what time you started that activity. This doesn’t look like much but Tynan explains that doing this would start to train my subconscious to recognize when I start that task and then value starting early. “Without doing anything else, your schedule will gradually shift up until you’re doing high value tasks first thing in the morning. This habit works on the principle of “what gets measured gets managed.”
  • Plan when Stuck helps deal with one of the forms of procrastination – not knowing what to do next. You can attach this habit to the trigger of procrastination. When you find yourself procrastinating, ask yourself if you can clearly state what you should be working on. No? Then set a clock for thirty minutes, and start planning. Write out the goal you are working on and work your way back, brainstorming all the various paths towards your goal. This should help uncover what seems like the next best step to take.
  • Rating your day: “Every night, before you go to bed, rate your day on a scale from one to ten. I recommend that you rate yourself on how little time you wasted, rather than on raw productivity or output…The benefit is gained primarily because you’ll want to be able to give yourself a good rating at the end of the day, so you’ll waste less time trying to earn the rating.”
  • Building habits requires making an upfront investment of time and effort over a sustained period of time until the habit is installed after which little or no effort is required for maintenance. Let your goals dictate the habits you choose. Consistency is required for habits building to work so let the process you choose be gradual enough that it helps you develop the strength and conviction to stay on course and learn to focus on process over results.
  • “Increasing willpower is a worthy goal, but progress is slow even under the best of conditions. To truly exceed our normal capabilities, we must learn to use that willpower as efficiently as possible. To do that, we habitualize as much as possible, taking actions that previously consumed willpower and making them automatic.”

If you enjoyed my summary of ‘Becoming Superhuman by Habit’, then please check out some of my other book summary articles below

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *