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!
Great strategies are scalable to all levels.
Although we may have the desire to see something through, if we dont have the belief that we can actually do it, we are unlikely to succeed.
By creating an environment that restricts our options to only good ones and ones that benefit our goals and allow us to become the person we want to be.
Part One: Death to Rigidity, Long Live Freedom
This strategy is engineered to work with your thought patterns, whether they’re positive, negative, or neutral.
Your habits need to be adaptable to not only your environment but your state of mind as well.
Although there are consistent patterns that emerge in our lives, there are many times when life is unpredictable and surprising. This calls for us to be able to thrive in a fluid, ever-changing environment.
“For too long, we have set rigid goals, trying to do the exact same action, regardless of the conditions we face. We do it in the name of grit, in the name of consistency and habit formation, or in the name of being courageous or persistent.”
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.
“We’ve assumed that we must find the Goldilocks spot for our Habits and goals, the one spot that isn’t too easy or too hard, and just rewarding enough. But that spot moves every day.”
Discipline is what authority figures do to guide us or to keep us in check, however, this may include imposing external demands that do not necessarily suit our circumstances (state of mind or environment). Some people are able to internalize discipline into self-discipline, thus taking the freedom of choice away from authority and instead using it to take control of their lives and become the kind of person they desire to be.
By feeling like we have control, we are much more likely to make decisions that are in our best interest. No one knows ourselves better than we do.
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.
However, a lot of us don’t know what to do with freedom, instead, we resort to comforts and indulgences which end up becoming bad habits, but by practicing using this freedom we can hone our ability to use it to our benefit.
Part Two: Elasticity and Flexibility
Elasticity (n): the quality or state of being elastic: such as the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation RESILIENCE is the quality of being adaptable. One of the best synonyms for elastic is resilient.
Elasticity is not only about increasing flexibility; it’s about increasing resilience to pressure.
Four reasons why flexibility can provide strength and resilience:
- Multiple roots are better than one – 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.
- Flexibility enables improvisation – By embracing flexibility, you will find more ways to succeed through improvisation. The more you’re able to improvise, the more proactive and resilient you will be.
- Flexibility opens your eyes to opportunities – If you have flexibility in your arsenal from the start, you will gain a wider field of vision to better anticipate incoming threats and opportunities in your life.
- Flexibility lets you allocate resources more efficiently and boosts your sense of freedom – You can flex and bend your goals to whatever suits you best on that day.
A New Dimension of Flexibility
To prioritize 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.”
Adding flexibility will make your daily goals even more resilient, with higher upside potential in the short and long term.
Without flexibility, your goal’s strength will merely be situational dependent.
The mini habits premise is to try and get the easy wins as soon as possible.
Lateral flexibility means having a variety of ways to reach a goal or even the option to change your goal at the moment.
Hybrid mini habits are habits with an either/or win condition—either walk two blocks or do one pull-up to fulfil your exercise habit.
Vertical flexibility means having different-sized goals. This allows us to intuitively choose the goal we’re most motivated to do today, right now, meaning we don’t need to know the exact timing of motivational stages in goal pursuit.
These different-sized goals correspond to different strengths and weaknesses.
- For example: take the goal of 100 push-ups. Setting a sub-goal of 10 push-ups at a time (instead of the full 100 push-ups) has been shown to be more effective at motivating people to action at the beginning because it increased their sense of attainability. But later on, once people believed they are within reach of the bigger goal, like when they’ve already done 75 of 100 push-ups, the sub-goal is less motivating than the bigger goal. When they get within striking distance of the bigger picture goal, their strongest source of motivation changes from attainability to the value of completing the bigger goal.
The Goal Strengths Pie
- Small: Very easy to start, not intimidating, suitable for remarkable consistency (and building Habits), powerful momentum builder.
- Medium: Not overly intimidating or difficult to start and moderately satisfying if completed, well-balanced effort/reward ratio.
- Large: Can motivate us to “rise to the challenge,” aligns with our dreams, is impressive and very satisfying if completed, and is exciting to think about and do.
The Goal Weaknesses Pie
- Small: Unimpressive to the point of seeming worthless as individual accomplishments, potentially weak sense of progression if kept small.
- Medium: Fails to get the super-easy starts and consistency benefits of small goals, not as inspiring and satisfying as larger goal wins, seemingly muted benefits compared to the other two sizes.
- Large: Often intimidating to the point of paralysis, very difficult to be consistent with, and demoralizing when you fail or burn out.
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.
Part Three: Motivation: Unlocked Through Choice
The Three Motivational Sweet Spots: Attainability, Respectability, Greatness
Attainability is a key factor in what motivates us to choose one action over another.
Action value is another key factor in what motivates us to take action. Action value is determined by our perceived pain and/or reward from doing it.
As your goal moves away from easy attainability, toward improbability, and into impossibility, your motivation to pursue it naturally decreases.
Instead of relying on willpower to do the heavy lifting, when using elastic habits, we can choose goals that hit the motivational sweet spot of these two factors.
Maximum Attainability (Small Wins) is motivated by the thought “I can definitely do that.”Small goals should withstand practically any deterioration in conditions (whether internal or external). They act as a safety net to catch you on a down day.
Moderate Attainability Meets Respectability (Medium Wins) is motivated by the thought: “This is a respectable accomplishment.” These can help build up to attempting larger wins.
Greatness (Large Wins) is motivated by the thought “This is a significant victory and an exciting step forward in my quest for greatness!” These habits are the most rewarding and desirable but least consistently attainable.
When you’re having a down day, you’re going to climb into the arms of attainability. When you’re frustrated with mediocrity, you’re going to respond by fighting hard for a large and valuable win.
Goal Anchoring for Two-Way Leverage
Mini habits need to be anchored in a value, however, to establish their value they need to be compared to something else. A larger version perhaps.
Elastic habits leverage an up-and-down two-way system by being able to compare the small and large versions of the same habit to one another.
A lack of comparison complicates the perception of how easy these behaviours are to do. When we have a medium and large option alongside our mini option, we can look at their size and difficulty and see just how easy the mini habit is in comparison.
From a top-down perspective, the larger versions of the habit can be compared to the small and medium versions, therefore making them seem more impressive.
Small habits are tempting, easy and reward merely showing up, while the larger versions are empowering, with the middle version acting as a compromise between the two.
Having these three options means our choice can be based on our context rather than the rigidness of the habit.
- Do you feel like you’re not doing enough? That’s a powerful push to do more and go for a big win.
- Do you feel like you’re getting burnt out and running yourself ragged? That’s a great reason to rest a bit and go for the easier win.
- Do you feel somewhere in the middle? Then push yourself a little, but not too much—a perfect situation for a midrange goal.
These three levels are terms: Mini, Plus, and Elite for small, medium, and large, respectively.
The idea is to make your baseline a win by always being able to achieve the mini-habit, with anything above that being considered a plus.
Part Four: Smarter Strategy, Superior Results
You should not feel guilty when surprises interfere with your plans. All you need to do is pivot your activity so that you can keep your winning streak alive.
Over time you can start to strategically move your targets up, down, and sideways while still maintaining that winning streak.
Goals Inform Strategy, Strategy Informs Tactics
“Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.”
Essentially you want to adapt to the context by deriving an appropriate strategy which will inform what tactics you use to achieve success.
If you want to mimic someone, look beyond their tactics (what they do) and into their strategy (why they do what they do in those specific contexts).
The Ramifications of Choice
The Four Pillars of Elastic Habits (Structure)
- The First Pillar: Elastic Habits are to be done every day.
- The Second Pillar: Elastic Habits have a limited number of lateral and vertical success points. There’s a point where increased flexibility does more harm than good.
- The Third Pillar: Elastic Habits need to be tracked.
- The Fourth Pillar: Have no more than three elastic Habits at one time. Having too many at one time will divide your energy and focus among them.
Dealing with the Paradox of Choice
Creating multiple targets introduces extra choices into your life, something we usually don’t want or need. It brings up two potential issues called choice paralysis and decision fatigue.
Choice Paralysis: A Consequence of Trivial Excess
- For example 175+ different salad dressings.19 “With a lot of salad dressings to choose from, if you buy one and it’s not perfect—and what salad dressing is?—it’s easy to imagine that you could have made a different choice that would have been better. And what happens is, this imagined alternative induces you to regret the decision you made and this regret subtracts from the satisfaction you get out of the decision you made, even if it was a good decision.”
There are two sub-issues with choice in the modern world—triviality and lack of restraint.
- Trivial choices, like seeing 20 different varieties of ketchup, frustrate us because we know they usually aren’t worth the time and energy it takes to make them.
- Unrestrained choices overwhelm the mind because it heightens our awareness of the fact that we probably won’t pick the best option. Just keep in mind, even if you pick the worst salad dressing option, if you like it, you still made a good decision!
- Every decision carries an energy cost. The cost is determined by how difficult the decision is. When your goal is rigid, the assumed decision to do the behaviour can wind up being more difficult than the decision you make with a flexible goal.
Elastic habits account for choice paralysis and decision fatigue by smartly limiting the number of choices to three and making the habits intuitive and easy to perform.
Although too many options can cause choice paralysis and decision fatigue, we also desire variability as it keeps us interested and engaged. Thankfully the elastic habits system is able to introduce daily variability into the habit-building process, therefore giving us a sense of freedom while also ensuring we show up consistently and generate powerful results.
Part Five: Elastic Habits: Fully Applied
The seven steps for shaping your behaviour with elastic habits are as follows.
Step 1: Choose Up to Three Habits
Choose a habit that is as broad as possible (e.g. exercise, gardening, or piano) and which connects with your values so you care more about doing it. The specific actions will be revealed when the habit stretches in step two.
Step 2: Choose (about) Three Lateral Options Per Habit.
Some habits may have multiple possible behaviours, you do not have to utilise them all. Instead, choose the lateral options that fit best with your goals.
Three options are ideal. Fewer options increase focus and decrease flexibility while more options do the opposite.
Time is the universal lateral option. It works for almost any habit—spend X minutes doing a behaviour, however, time is not always the best measurement of progress, and may be too vague of a starting point.
Step 3: Choose (up to) Three Vertical Targets for Each Lateral Option.
How to Set Your Elite Targets
- Set it to a height that is challenging but not too elite that you are likely to feel discouraged and resort to plus and mini habits all the time.
How to Set Your Plus Targets
- Think of this goal as “respectable.” Too small and it will swallow up your mini goal, too large and it will compete with your elite goal.
How to Set Your Mini Targets
- One minute of activity is the recommended baseline for a mini habit. You need to be able to do it every single day without exception, even on your worst days.
If your Mini is one minute, your Plus should be something like 10 or 15 minutes. Plus goals should be somewhere around 3–20 times more difficult than a Mini goal. Elite goals are usually 2–4 times more difficult than the Plus goal.
This system has 15-day checkpoints, a good time to adjust your goals or keep them the same and try to do better in the next 15 days.
The Beauty of Self-correcting Goals
- By analyzing your progress (or lack thereof), you can precisely tune your targets.
- If you miss any days, it means your Mini goals are too big and too difficult. If you only get Mini wins, make your Plus goal smaller. If you get no Plus wins, but many Elite wins, it could mean that your Elite goal isn’t hard enough and/or is too close to your Plus win condition. If you get, on average, a Plus win each day, your system is well-balanced.
Step 4: Choose Your Cues and Commit.
Real-life habits can have more than one cue. Although a habit with a single cue can be clear, simple, and streamlined—single specific cues can also feel restricting, robotic, and awkward.
- For example: If you aim to meditate at 5:00 PM and you miss that cue for whatever reason, what happens next? You’ve missed your one and only cue.
Some habits are better suited for different types of cues:
- The Daily Cue (No Cue): This is where you aim to complete your habits any time before you sleep. These lend to improvisation and flexibility, as you don’t need to remember when and where you need to do each habit, just that it needs to be done.
- Morning Plan Cue: Every morning, set your elastic habit plans for the day. Choose a lateral option for each habit, and optionally choose what level of success to achieve.
- Window Cues: Do the behaviour in a specific window of time. (Archery between 3:00 and 5:00 PM.)
- Time-based Cues: Do the behaviour at the same time every day. (Garden at 3:30 PM.)
- Action-based Cues: Do the behaviour immediately following another behaviour. (Exercise after getting out of bed in the morning.)
Begin with the daily cue, but if that fails, try the window cue, and If that fails, try a specific time or action cue. Only reduce it if you find that you need more structure to get it done.
Essentially by choosing the cues for your habit, you have freedom in how, when and in what capacity you do your habit.
Step 5: Display Your Habits
You need to make sure that you can see your elastic habits and habit tracker in plain sight. This will not only make it easier to track but will also act as a means of motivation.
Step 6: Track Your Habits
We have three levels of success, meaning we need three different kinds of notation.
I recommend using colour-coded stickers Green for Mini, silver for Plus, and gold for Elite, as using numerical values such as “1, 2, and 3,” can give the Mini level an inferior appearance when in reality it is the most important.
Step 7: Score and Evaluate Your Performance
The Tracking Calendar’s last page contains a scoring sheet, where you can compare month-to-month scores overall and by individual habit.
Mini, Plus, and Elite wins are worth 1, 2, and 3 points, respectively.
Bonuses can encourage and reward you for overachievement.
- Double Down (1 Point): Meet the Elite requirement twice over in one day for one habit
- Perfect Day (2 Points): Any day with all Elite wins
- Hot Streak (3 Points): Any streak of 3+ consecutive Elite wins for one habit
- Unfreakinbelievable (5 Points): Any streak of 7+ consecutive Elite wins for one habit
15-Day Period Bonuses
- Specialist (3 Points): 10+ Elite wins for one habit this period
- Big Hitter (3 Points): 15+ total Elite wins this period
- Juggernaut (10 Points): 23+ total Elite wins this period
- Habit Master (20 Points): Zero misses this period (may use patch)
Whenever you encounter a 31st day, it’s free. By standardizing each month’s tracking at 30 days (two 15-day periods).
Advanced Strategies and Tactics
A modular habit is where the Elite level of the habit includes all three actions, and therefore the higher-level actions shouldn’t be as difficult as usual. For example, 1 push-up (Mini) + 20 push-ups (Plus) + 50 push-ups (Elite) = 71 push-ups.
Modular Habits are done in order. Interchangeable Habits are done in any order.
These are pools of roughly six modular options that when completed each represents a level. For example, 15 pull-ups, 20 push-ups, 30 jumping jacks, 30 bodyweight squats, one-mile run/walk/jog, and 10 minutes of stretching. Do any one for Mini, any two for Plus, any three for Elite!
These are superior to standard routines because you can vary your intensity by the day. For example, if you don’t have much time in the morning, you can quickly do the Mini routine.
Changing your targets should only be done for two reasons:
- The number is way off what it needs to be.
- The end of a 15-day period or month has arrived.
How to Choose Intensity
If you don’t know what level to choose, use the following guideline:
- First, rate yourself in these three areas.
- Energy 1–10
- Free time 1–10
- Desire/Motivation to do the habit 1–10
- Once you have a rating for all three, add up the numbers. If you get a score of 20+, go for Elite. If you get a score of 14+, go for Plus. For anything less, go for Mini.
Overcome Resistance at Any Time
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?
Finally, it’s a matter of continuing: When you take the first step, you’re in motion. Once in motion, you will find your efforts more successful than they were before motion.
The Key to Commitment
You need self-trust to sustain a commitment, but real self-trust can only be earned by fulfilling commitments, creating a closed loop.
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 fulfil commitments, not how big they are.
The Three Phases of Elastic Habits
Phase 1: Building a Foundation (Months 1 and 2): First, go for consistency. Once you have shown you can “show up” then you can think about tweaking your behaviours or scaling up in phase 2.
Phase 2: Stability and Refinement (Months 2–6): You’ll begin to notice patterns in your behaviour. You might notice that Sundays are worse than Tuesdays for your Habits. You’ll also have gained enhanced stability since your neural pathways will have changed in some way and you’ll have built a good foundation of self-trust. At this point, you’ll stop worrying about showing up every day and can instead start focusing on making more strategic changes to your targets.
Phase 3: Mastery (Months 6–12 and beyond): Here, you can, if desired or necessary, begin to shift your goals to a new aim of mastering one or more of your elastic Habits. If you reach this phase, you should be getting Elite level wins with regularity (about 50–75% of the time, depending on the nature of the habit). Although you may be tempted to increase your Mini requirement, only do this if your baseline proficiency has increased, not to push yourself.
Reactivity and Proactivity with Elastic Habits
Reactivity is responding to stimuli in your environment. If you’re reactive, it’s assumed that you will be passive until something gives you a reason to act in response to it. This can become a problem if it becomes the primary driving for in your life.
Proactivity means you cause things to happen with no external input necessary. It means that you’re the stimulus in your environment.
To maximize your potential each day, you need to be both reactive and proactive. The Elastic Habits system gives you the perfect way to utilize both of these concepts.