14. How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible

Hugo concocted a strange plan to beat his procrastination. He collected all of his clothes and asked an assistant to lock them away in a large chest. He was left with nothing to wear except a large shawl. Lacking any suitable clothing to go outdoors, he remained in his study and wrote furiously during the fall and winter of 1830. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was published two weeks early on January 14, 1831.

As another example, my friend and fellow habits expert Nir Eyal purchased an outlet timer, which is an adapter that he plugged in between his internet router and the power outlet. At 10 p.m. each night, the outlet timer cuts off the power to the router. When the internet goes off, everyone knows it is time to go to bed.

Commitment devices are useful because they enable you to take advantage of good intentions before you can fall victim to temptation. Whenever I’m looking to cut calories, for example, I will ask the waiter to split my meal and box half of it to go before the meal is served. If I waited until the meal came out and told myself “I’ll just eat half,” it would never work.

The key is to change the task such that it requires more work to get out of the good habit than to get started on it.


In the mid-1800s, employee theft was a common problem. Receipts were kept in an open drawer and could easily be altered or discarded. There were no video cameras to review behavior and no software to track transactions.

The machine automatically locked the cash and receipts inside after each transaction. Patterson bought two for fifty dollars each.
Patterson was so impressed with the machine that he changed businesses. He bought the rights to Ritty’s invention and opened the National Cash Register Company.
Ten years later, National Cash Register had over one thousand employees and was on its way to becoming one of the most successful businesses of its time.

The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do. Increase the friction until you don’t even have the option to act.
The brilliance of the cash register was that it automated ethical behavior by making stealing practically impossible.

Some actions—like installing a cash register—pay off again and again. These onetime choices require a little bit of effort up front but create increasing value over time. I’m fascinated by the idea that a single choice can deliver returns again and again.






General Health


When you automate as much of your life as possible, you can spend your effort on the tasks machines cannot do yet.

“Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.”

-- Alfred North Whitehead

Once my bad habit became impossible, I discovered that I did actually have the motivation to work on more meaningful tasks. After I removed the mental candy from my environment, it became much easier to eat the healthy stuff.

Chapter Summary


The 1st Law: Make It Obvious

The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive

The 3rd Law: Make It Easy


Inversion of the 1st Law: Make It Invisible

Inversion of the 2nd Law: Make It Unattractive

Inversion of the 3rd Law: Make It Difficult

THE 4TH LAW: Make It Satisfying

15. The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change

Everyone said handwashing was important, but few people made a habit out of it. The problem wasn’t knowledge. The problem was consistency.Everyone said handwashing was important, but few people made a habit out of it. The problem wasn’t knowledge. The problem was consistency.

What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.


Plains in Africa: immediate-return environment: your actions instantly deliver clear and immediate outcomes.

Modern society live in what scientists call a delayed-return environment because you can work for years before your actions deliver the intended payoff.

The human brain did not evolve for life in a delayed-return environment.

It is only recently—during the last five hundred years or so—that society has shifted to a predominantly delayed-return environment.

After thousands of generations in an immediate-return environment, our brains evolved to prefer quick payoffs to long-term ones.

You value the present more than the future. Usually, this tendency serves us well. A reward that is certain right now is typically worth more than one that is merely possible in the future. But occasionally, our bias toward instant gratification causes problems.

Why would someone smoke if they know it increases the risk of lung cancer? Why would someone overeat when they know it increases their risk of obesity? Why would someone have unsafe sex if they know it can result in sexually transmitted disease? Once you understand how the brain prioritizes rewards, the answers become clear: the consequences of bad habits are delayed while the rewards are immediate.

With good habits, it is the reverse: the immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good.

“It almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. . . . Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits.”

-- Frédéric Bastiat

Put another way, the costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future.

When you make a plan—to lose weight, write a book, or learn a language—you are actually making plans for your future self.

We all want better lives for our future selves. However, when the moment of decision arrives, instant gratification usually wins.

As a general rule, the more immediate pleasure you get from an action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals.

What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.

because of how we are wired, most people will spend all day chasing quick hits of satisfaction. The road less traveled is the road of delayed gratification.
If you’re willing to wait for the rewards, you’ll face less competition and often get a bigger payoff. As the saying goes, the last mile is always the least crowded.

At some point, success in nearly every field requires you to ignore an immediate reward in favor of a delayed reward.

Here’s the problem: most people know that delaying gratification is the wise approach. They want the benefits of good habits: to be healthy, productive, at peace. But these outcomes are seldom top-of-mind at the decisive moment.

you need to work with the grain of human nature, not against it. The best way to do this is to add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long-run and a little bit of immediate pain to ones that don’t.


The vital thing in getting a habit to stick is to feel successful—even if it’s in a small way.

In the beginning, you need a reason to stay on track. This is why immediate rewards are essential. They keep you excited while the delayed rewards accumulate in the background.

The ending of any experience is vital because we tend to remember it more than other phases.

They labeled their savings account “Trip to Europe.” Whenever they skipped going out to eat, they transferred $50 into the account. At the end of the year, they put the money toward the vacation.

if your reward for exercising is eating a bowl of ice cream, then you’re casting votes for conflicting identities.
Instead, maybe your reward is a massage.

Eventually, as intrinsic rewards like a better mood, more energy, and reduced stress kick in, you’ll become less concerned with chasing the secondary reward. The identity itself becomes the reinforcer. You do it because it’s who you are and it feels good to be you.
The more a habit becomes part of your life, the less you need outside encouragement to follow through.

Chapter Summary