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Elastic Habits Book Summary – Stephen Guise

What you will learn from reading Elastic Habits:

– How to set correct habit strategies so you will never miss a day again.

– How to create a wider net for habits so that multiple activities can further the same goal!

– How you can add levels to your habits to leave you more fulfilled and excited to do them.

Elastic Habits Book Summary:

Elastic Habits Book Summary is my new favourite book on creating lasting habits. Stephen Guise takes a contrarian approach to habits by building lateral and vertical depth to them. Having read and loved Atomic Habits by James Clear I found this book to be supplemental. By building habits that you can’t fail with by making the lowest level ‘mini’ you can make sure you build momentum by not missing any days.


If you’re interested in building positive habits that will last then check out this book summary!


Everyday is unique:

Not one person in the history of the world has ever lived the same day twice. If you live to be 70, that’s 25,550 unique, yet interconnected days. 

The hidden architecture of our day to day lives are our habits.  


Self-Discipline Vs Discipline:

Learn to separate the two ideas. Discipline is what authority figures do to us to keep us in check. Self-discipline is what we do for ourselves to gain control of our lives and become the people we desire to be.


Your mind is flexible, so be more flexible:

Rigid goals take a lot of energy and brute force to maintain. Flexible goals take much less energy because they always fit your life.

We set up harsh, rigid objectives as an attempt to simulate that external punishing force: I will do 100 push-ups every single day. Instead, we can have flexible goals.

The idea is not that we must consciously decide everything we do; it’s that we can give ourselves the option to shift a goal when circumstances call for it.

Replace, raising expectations and stakes: “I must do this, no matter what. No excuses.” To thinking that we can situationally adjust expectations and stakes.

With rigid goals we punish ourselves for noncompliance: If I don’t do this, I am a failure and should be ashamed of myself. Instead, we can encourage all progress and eliminate shame, which only weakens the self and one’s sense of freedom.


Are you a slave to your goals?

Even if a rigid system fits into your life for longer than two weeks, you will eventually rebel on principle and for the sake of freeing your powerful mind. 

You need to like and respect what you’re doing (and all it entails) if you want to keep doing it for weeks, months, and years. That means you can’t feel like a slave to your goals; you must feel like—and be—the master. What do slaves always want? Freedom from whatever enslaves them. 


Concept of Elasticity:

“All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.” ~ Bruce Lee

Diamond resists pressure by being the hardest natural substance on Earth and not giving in to it. Rubber resists pressure by giving into it and changing shape to “accommodate” the pressure, before ultimately springing back to its original shape. 

Elasticity is not only about increasing flexibility; it’s about increasing resilience to pressure. 

Those without flexibility depend on one root to do the job, whatever it may be. One root works great … until it dies. Multiple roots keep people and trees alike grounded, strong, and far more resilient to adversity. 


Consistency is the name of the game:

Consistent goal achievement is often thought to be a matter of powering through adversity, but it always starts with making consistency easy. 

To prioritise consistency means to set your marks low enough that you won’t ever miss. It means to make your minimum requirement “showing up” instead of “showing off.” 

Creating mini-habits, i.e. one push up a day allows you to have excellent lateral flexibility. Lateral flexibility means having a variety of ways to reach a goal, or even the option to change your goal on the fly.  


Motivation Changes as you pursue a Goal:

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” — Winston Churchill

The researchers at Stanford confirmed their hypothesis over four separate studies. They found different ideal motivational sources at different stages of goal pursuit. 

They proposed a general framework of small goals helping us act in the beginning of a pursuit, and goal value encouraging us to finish. 


Habit and Goal Motivational Sources:


This highlights attainability as a key factor in what motivates us to choose one action over another. 

Action value:

This highlights action value as another key factor in what motivates us to take action. Action value is determined by our perceived pain and/or reward from doing it. 

Peak attainability and maximum goal value represent two motivational “sweet spots.” 


Habit Design:

Good design facilitates the fixing of problems; great design solves problems before they happen.

The first question we ask is, “Can I actually accomplish this?” But once we see success as inevitable, why focus on small goals when we know we can get the big win? 

But within the question of “Can it be done?” is the question of “Can I actually get myself to do it?” And in terms of long-term goal pursuit and habit formation, it becomes, “Can I get myself to do it every day?” That question is a lot tougher than the one we started with. 

As your goal moves away from easy attainability, toward improbability, and into impossibility, your motivation to pursue it naturally decreases. The small goal motivational sweet spot lives where the goal is an easily attainable, slightly rewarding step forward. 


Adding Verticality to Habits: 

“Economists point out that the quality of any given option can not be assessed in isolation from its alternatives.” ― Barry Schwartz 

Elastic habit choices are not trivial. On a difficult day, your ability to choose an easier option keeps your streak alive and keeps you engaged. On a high-motivation day, the option to get the enticing big win helps you achieve more than you usually would. Elastic habits introduce choice into an area that desperately needs it.

With medium and large goals as active options alongside your mini goals / habits, you can look at their size and difficulty and see just how easy your mini habit is in comparison to them. Instead of looking at a mini habit as your “obligation for the day,” you will now see it as it is—a beyond-easy safety net to ensure you never have a losing day. 

But now, every time you pick the top level, you’ll know you’re choosing the hardest option for the greatest reward. That feels special because it is freaking special, and it’s made possible by the flexibility of three distinct options creating multiple anchor points for reference. 

By having multiple options, we can counteract whatever negative feeling we’re having as we experience it. Do you feel like you’re not doing enough? That’s a powerful push to do more and go for a big win. 


The Principles of Elastic Habits:

To put it succinctly, an elastic habit is just like a normal habit, except that you have several ways to win (each with their own advantages) instead of one. Here’s what you you need for a great Elastic Habit System:

1. Intelligent Tracking: 

Tracking your habits is the most important part of habit formation. It’s your accountability and your reward; as a streak lengthens, it deepens your commitment and motivation to continue. 

2. Simple and Lightweight Execution:

You need to minimise the time and number of actions required to keep a habit system going. So, once the Elastic Habits system is (quickly and easily) set up, every interaction you have with it will be short, fun, and rewarding (not tedious or time-intensive). 

3. Life-Aware Methodology: 

A smart system considers solutions for all possible situations. This one is based in the reality of a modern, busy, and stressful life, not idealist fantasy. Th elastic habit system and methodology are designed to automatically overcome these issues. For example, excuses are destroyed by the Mini level option (it’s too easy for excuses). 

4. Lateral Flexibility:

With elastic habits, you can make your exercise habit a daily affair because of lateral flexibility. If it’s a rest day, you can go for a walk or a light swim to meet your requirement. 

With a normal goal, an adaptation like this feels like you’ve failed (and by the structure of an all-or-nothing rigid goal, you have). See the difference? Find success every day, in one of many ways. Adapt and conquer! 

5. Vertical Flexibility: 

Vertical flexibility is just as important as lateral flexibility. An elastic habit can expand and contract, from spectacular highs to moderate middles to very easy lows. 

This is two-way leverage because you can reference the large option to make the small option seem easier, and reference the small option to make the large option more impressive. 


How to Track Elastic Habits:

After you complete a habit, use the colored sticker that corresponds to the level you did (green for Mini, silver for Plus, and gold for Elite).

You can compare your scores to see if you’re progressing, maintaining, or losing ground. Mini, Plus, and Elite wins are worth 1, 2, and 3 points, respectively.

Use colour-coded stickers for tracking your elastic habits because they are uniform in size and shape. They all look the same except for the colour nuance to indicate their rank, just as small pins, badges, stripes, or colour differences denote rank in armies. 


The Pillars of Elastic Habits:

The First Pillar: Elastic habits are to be done every day. This is a hard and unyielding key to success with this system. How and when you do them each day is flexible, but they must be done! 

The Second Pillar: Elastic habits have a limited number of lateral and vertical success points. I found that three levels of vertical success is dramatically better than four. It’s good to have more than one win condition. But it’s important to limit them too (3 lateral options x 3 vertical tiers = 9 win conditions). Structure and flexibility work together. 

The Third Pillar: Elastic habits need to be tracked. You can’t just do this in your head and expect to change. Tracking is as simple as placing three stickers on paper every day (if you use the official elastic habit tracker). The stickers are color coded to represent your earned tier of success. Having the option to get a massive, Elite win and claim that victory by marking it is super exciting (months into it, I can confirm this does not get old!). 

The Fourth Pillar: Have no more than three elastic habits at one time. If you want maximum success with this system, you’ll get it by focusing your efforts on important habits. 


Setting your Elastic Habits:

An elastic habit has complete lateral and vertical flexibility, letting you select the one activity and intensity that fits your situation today, right now. 

Choose (up to) three habits. Choose (about) three lateral options per habit. Choose (up to) three vertical targets for each lateral option. Choose your cues and commit. Display your habits. Track your habits. Score and evaluate your performance (optional). 

At three, you’ll have options, but it won’t be too hard to decide between them. This is a balance of focus and flexibility. Fewer options increases focus and decreases flexibility. More options decreases focus and increases flexibility. 


Setting the Correct habit Level:

Ask yourself, “What level of achievement would I be proud of the next day?” If you hit this level, you’re going to feel really good about what you did. 

If you set the Elite target extra high, then you’re likely going to get more “Plus” and “Mini” wins as your bread and butter. 

How to Set Your Plus Targets Plus is your mid-level target. The best way to think of this goal is something you’d deem “respectable.” 

Your Mini target needs to be something you can do every single day without exception. In other words, this net needs to be able to catch you every time, from any fall, from any height. This is absolutely crucial to your success with elastic habits. You should be able to do this action on the worst day of your life. 


Examples of Elastic Habits:

Being more Healthy:

A meal upgrade, means making one small aspect of your meal healthier than usual. 

Example: Say that you’re at a restaurant, and a burger, fries, and soda are what you’d typically get. You could do a lettuce wrap instead of the bun, coleslaw instead of fries, and water instead of soda. That’s three meal upgrades for an Elite win, or do one or two of them for a Mini or Plus win, respectively. 

Saving money: 

Mini: Make coffee at home Plus: Bring lunch to work Elite: Make dinner at home

Pushing yourself using sprints:

Here are a few sprint ideas … 

Elite sprint: See if you can go three days in a row with Elite wins in all of your habits. 

Perfect week: See if you can get seven Elite wins in a row for one of your habits. 

Power play: Try to get Plus or higher in all of your habits for an entire 15-day period.


Un-specific cues:

There are a lot of cases, people, and behaviors that will work better without a specific cue. I introduced this idea in the original Mini Habits book with the “any time before bed” option. 

The daily cue because it automatically selects your window(s) of free time as the cue. When you come to a point of free time in your day, think about your habits.  


How to Take Action:

“The people heard it, and approved the doctrine, and immediately practiced the contrary.” “Well done is better than well said.” ― Benjamin Franklin

In order to take action, you must first terminate deliberation. When we make decisions, first we deliberate (weigh our options), and then we implement (act). But before implementation is possible, we have to stop weighing our options. 

Ask yourself, “Am I still deliberating between options, or have I chosen one?” Until you can answer this question firmly with one action you’d like to take, you won’t be in a position to succeed. 

Resistance to action is first an issue of clarity: Have you chosen one objective you want to pursue right now? Then it becomes an issue of complexity: Have you simplified the action to a mechanical starting point that is both clearly defined and easy to do? 


Don’t break trust with yourself:

Trust is lost by breaking a commitment; it is gained by meeting a commitment. This is the case regardless of the size of the commitment. The greatest amplifier of trust is how consistently you fulfill commitments, not how big they are.