Atomic Anti Habits

James Clear made millions of people aware of the idea that stacking tiny wins every day can make a huge difference.

1% better every day equals a 31x improvement over the course of a year.

My problem with this idea is that it’s insanely hard to improve even by 1% day after day.

Sure, if you can increase your networth by 1% every day you’ll have a ton of money at the end of year.

But who is able to do that? And how?

Definitely not by putting the same amount of money into your bank account every day.

That’s the whole crux of the how the math works.

The money you’re adding has to be 1% more every single day.

Wwhile a 1% increase sounds kind of reasonable, it’s actually an impossible challenge.

If you start with, say, $10k, you will have to add $100 on the first day to hit your 1% goal.

In the unlikely case you can hit your 1% goal for 300 days straight your networth will be $10,000*1.01^300 = $197,885. Nice!

But at this stage, your 1% goal means you have to add $1978 on a single day.

The whole 1% math makes an insanely difficult challenge look easy.

But it of course does not actually make it any easier.

It’s inspiring but useless.

And the exact same thing is true in any other area of your life, not just for money.

You cannot expect to keep growing by 1% by doing the same thing over and over again.

Saving $100 every day will not give you 31x returns. You have to save more money day after day. This requires earning more and more money which is never possible in a smooth, gradual way.

To 31x your income you will have to take wild risks and accept earning less in the short term for the chance of earning significantly more in the future.

Doing the same gym routine for a year will not turn you into Chris Bumstead. You will have to keep adding weights and sets, experiment with different approaches to break through the plateaus you will inevitably encounter.

Realistically the journey to 31x returns is never a smooth curve. It’s always full of missteps and plateaus. Modeling by a smooth upwards curse is incredibly misleading.

But there is a variant of the 1% idea that is actually useful.

A 1% decrease day after day will mean you will be left with only 2.6% of what you started with.

This is a far more realistic scenario.

If you have a networth of $10k it will decrease by 1% if you overspend be $100.

Unlike in the upwards scenario it’s easily possible to keep this run going.

The next day you only have to overspend by $99 to decrease your networth by another 1%. After 300 days, you will even just have to overspend by $5 to hit your 1% goal.

The same is true, for example, when it comes to your health.

The more junk you eat, the bigger you appetite for junk will get.

The more time you spend on the couch, the easier it will be to spend even more time there.

This is why it’s more important to focus on not being stupid instead of trying to optimize yourself to the moon.

Your optimization journey will fail inevitably.

But you have a real chance at succeeding if you try to not be stupid.

This is why I’m focusing on anti-habits.

What stupid things should I avoid?

Overeating, eating junk, frying my brain by mindlessly scrolling on social media, smoking, thinking and talking badly about other people, drinking alcohol, spending more than I earn.

These kind of things.

If I can manage to stick to my anti-habits, my year will be a good one.

Written on January 8, 2024

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