9. The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits

His mantra was “A genius is not born, but is educated and trained.”

Laszlo believed in this idea so strongly that he wanted to test it with his own children

Susan, the oldest, began playing chess when she was four years old. Within six months, she was defeating adults.

Sofia, the middle child, did even better. By fourteen, she was a world champion, and a few years later, she became a grandmaster.

Judit, the youngest, was the best of all. By age five, she could beat her father. At twelve, she was the youngest player ever listed among the top one hundred chess players in the world. At fifteen years and four months old, she became the youngest grandmaster of all time—younger than Bobby Fischer, the previous record holder. For twenty-seven years, she was the number-one-ranked female chess player in the world.


Humans are herd animals. We want to fit in, to bond with others, and to earn the respect and approval of our peers.

“The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”

one of the deepest human desires is to belong. And this ancient preference exerts a powerful influence on our modern behavior.

We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them. We follow the script handed down by our friends and family, our church or school, our local community and society at large.

“The customs and practices of life in society sweep us along.”
Michel de Montaigne.

We imitate the habits of three groups in particular:

1. Imitating the Close

Proximity has a powerful effect on our behavior.

a person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57 percent if he or she had a friend who became obese.

One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself.

Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe. It transforms a personal quest into a shared one.
When you join a book club or a band or a cycling group, your identity becomes linked to those around you. Growth and change is no longer an individual pursuit.

It’s friendship and community that embed a new identity and help behaviors last over the long run.

2. Imitating the Many

Whenever we are unsure how to act, we look to the group to guide our behavior. We are constantly scanning our environment and wondering, “What is everyone else doing?” We check reviews on Amazon or Yelp or TripAdvisor because we want to imitate the “best” buying, eating, and travel habits. It’s usually a smart strategy. There is evidence in numbers.
But there can be a downside.

The chimpanzee will avoid using the superior nut cracking method just to blend in with the rest of the chimps.
There is tremendous internal pressure to comply with the norms of the group. The reward of being accepted is often greater than the reward of winning an argument, looking smart, or finding truth.

3. Imitating the Powerful

We are drawn to behaviors that earn us respect, approval, admiration, and status.
This is one reason we care so much about the habits of highly effective people. We try to copy the behavior of successful people because we desire success ourselves. Many of our daily habits are imitations of people we admire.
We imitate people we envy.

When our mother comes to visit, we clean up the house because we don’t want to be judged.

The sisters practiced chess for many hours each day and continued this remarkable effort for decades. But these habits and behaviors maintained their attractiveness, in part, because they were valued by their culture.

Chapter Summary

10. How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits

Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking:
By the time you get to the end of the book, smoking seems like the most ridiculous thing in the world to do. And if you no longer expect smoking to bring you any benefits, you have no reason to smoke. It is an inversion of the 2nd Law of Behavior Change: make it unattractive.


Some of our underlying motives include:

A craving is just a specific manifestation of a deeper underlying motive. Your brain did not evolve with a desire to smoke cigarettes or to check Instagram or to play video games.
At a deep level, you simply want to reduce uncertainty and relieve anxiety, to win social acceptance and approval, or to achieve status.

Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires. New versions of old vices.
The underlying motives behind human behavior remain the same. The specific habits we perform differ based on the period of history.

One person might learn to reduce stress by smoking a cigarette. Another person learns to ease their anxiety by going for a run. Your current habits are not necessarily the best way to solve the problems you face;

Two people can look at the same cigarette, and one feels the urge to smoke while the other is repulsed by the smell. The same cue can spark a good habit or a bad habit depending on your prediction. The cause of your habits is actually the prediction that precedes them.

Desire is the difference between where you are now and where you want to be in the future.
Even the tiniest action is tinged with the motivation to feel differently than you do in the moment.

Neurologists have discovered that when emotions and feelings are impaired, we actually lose the ability to make decisions. We have no signal of what to pursue and what to avoid.
“It is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad, or indifferent.”


I’m not confined to my wheelchair—I am liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.” This shift in perspective completely transformed how he lived each day.

Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive.

how frustrating it can be when the next distraction inevitably pops into your mind. You can transform frustration into delight when you realize that each interruption gives you a chance to practice returning to your breath.

You can reframe “I am nervous” to “I am excited and I’m getting an adrenaline rush to help me concentrate.

In the beginning, he put his headphones on, played some music he enjoyed, and did focused work. After doing it five, ten, twenty times, putting his headphones on became a cue that he automatically associated with increased focus.

Athletes use similar strategies to get themselves in the mind-set to perform.
I began to associate my pregame ritual with feeling competitive and focused. Even if I wasn’t motivated beforehand, by the time I was done with my ritual, I was in “game mode

create a short routine that you perform every time before you do the thing you love. Maybe you take three deep breaths and smile. Three deep breaths. Smile. Pet the dog. Repeat.

Chapter Summary


The 1st Law: Make It Obvious

The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive


Inversion of the 1st Law: Make It Invisible

Inversion of the 2nd Law: Make It Unattractive