Atomic Habits: Make It Obvious

This is the discussion thread for the second section of Atomic Habits: “Make It Obvious”!

Book club index here.

1 Like

The “make it obvious (invisible)” principle sounds really effective but I am finding it tricky to implement at times.

It’s hard to make a true habits scorecard; not every day is the same. What counts as a habit on that scorecard? Anything that I do 100 % of my days? 80 %? 95 % of all weekdays? Interested to hear what your definitions are.

And for some habits it’s really hard to find out what the cues are. Somehow I started scratching my head when working on my laptop but also just at random times during the day. And I can’t really find the cue. But I guess I just have to search a bit harder.

1 Like

Habit stacking sounds very much like trigger-action plans, which I’ve ever heard dreev mention around here before. Has anyone come up with a method for using Beeminder to enforce a trigger-action plan? The best thing I’ve come up with (but haven’t tried) is to set a goal for rehearsing the TAP while you are installing the behavior.

This is a reiteration of a point made earlier, but worth calling out again:

There are no good habits or bad habits. There are only effective habits. That is, effective at solving problems. All habits serve you in some way— even the bad ones—which is why you repeat them.

I suspect this is something I don’t spend enough time doing when I think about behaviors I’d like to change. I need to not just block the “bad” behavior, but replace it with something that more effectively satisfies the same need, with fewer negative consequences.

The chapter on designing your environment to prompt your habits reminded me of Jack Cheng’s article “Habit Fields” in A List Apart, where he writes about the way objects trigger our memories of what we do with them:

The desk, the computer on top of it, the chair you sit in, and the space they comprise are all repositories for memory. But these things don’t just store our memories; they store our behaviors too. The sum of these stored behaviors is an object’s habit field, and merely being around it compels our bodies and minds to act in certain ways.


I have a head-scratching habit I’m beeminding to do less, and also am having difficulty in determining its cues. I know it’s not a medical scalp issue, and when I was temporarily bald (chemo) I didn’t do it, and didn’t substitute another habit for it despite the stress of the treatment. I do it when my brain is focused on reading a book, stuff on the web, things that use passive conscious focus. I’ve tried substituting various fidget devices, but without knowing the cue I’m basically keeping things in my hand to keep it off my head.


Sometimes I manage to use the zeno reminders as a trigger to refocus on working on my priorities. In the same way that a TagTime ping can make it more conscious what I’m doing right now.


I’m a big fan of physical reminders in the environment.

Recently I’ve got into the habit of playing iPad games when I get into bed instead of, say, sleeping. Have tackled this both ways: the iPad now lives on a shelf on the other side of the room, rather than on the bedside table (invisible). I put a book that I want to read on my pillow (obvious).

But the physical thing in your environment has to be treated like a trigger, or it becomes just part of the environment. I’m perfectly capable of ignoring a fruit bowl, and that guitar that you don’t actually practice will become just another thing that you step around… in short, I need what David called a trigger-action plan. Otherwise I’ll just get really good at putting a book on my pillow when I make my bed, and moving it to the bedside table when I get in…

One of my consulting gigs was with a failing partnership where it turned out that the three partners had never sorted out their relationships: best friends, business partners, lovers, etc. Part of the solution was to use spaces: when we’re in the office around the board table, we will trust that we’ve all got our director hats on and speak only with those voices. If we need to have a friend-type of conversation, we will do that in the coffee shop across the street…


Success with (opposite of) “make it obvious”: I have moved the charging station for my phone from me desk and put it in another room. It has helped with my phone addiction. :slight_smile:

Selected quotes

“Observe your thoughts and actions without judgment or internal criticism. Don’t blame yourself for your faults. Don’t praise yourself for your successes.”

“The most powerful of all human sensory abilities, however, is vision. The human body has about eleven million sensory receptors.7 Approximately ten million of those are dedicated to sight. Some experts estimate that half of the brain’s resources are used on vision.8 Given that we are more dependent on vision than on any other sense, it should come as no surprise that visual cues are the greatest catalyst of our behavior. For this reason, a small change in what you see can lead to a big shift in what you do. As a result, you can imagine how important it is to live and work in environments that…


I’m doing the same (phone charging at the other side of the room at least). Had been doing this earlier but then I started tracking my sleep with an Android app. However, the risk of shortening sleep or prolonging time in bed in the morning is just too big with the phone nearby. Maybe I should get a fitbit for the sleep tracking instead.


Maybe I should get a fitbit for the sleep tracking instead.

For tracking start/end times of sleep my Fitbit Flex 2 is working very well. Much better than my Garmin Vivoactive 3 which has supposedly more sophisticated hardware (also tracking deep sleep and REM states)

It’s unclear to me how the influence of family and friends fits in the ‘make it obvious’ section, but I really like the framing of our imitating:

  • the close
  • the many
  • the powerful

Online communities are no different, of course. Which is why we all hang out here on the Beeminder forum…


My first post, sorry if this is not the place or correct forum (i’m brand new to beeminder).
Does anyone know what research he’s talking about when he says, “recent research shows”…paraphrasing: when scientists analyzed people who appeared to have tremendous self-control it turns out those individuals weren’t that different than everyone else, they just structured there life in a way that required less self-discipline". What research is he referring to?
[Reference chapter 7: The Secret to Self-Control]

I had questions with this one also. Having a hard time recognizing my habits (habit tracking), what counts as a habit, very often they aren’t very clear. Anyone have any tips out here to help recognize all our habits? Thanks! [Reference Chapter 4; The Habit Scorecard]

1 Like

I guess you can count as a habit any recurring action that you (with positive or negative effect). You usually practice a habit without much thinking.

The reference from the book

“5 “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives: Wilhelm Hofmann et al., “Everyday Temptations: An Experience Sampling Study on How People Control Their Desires,” PsycEXTRA Dataset 102, no. 6 (2012), doi:10.1037/e634112013–146”

Awesome thank you! I’m listening to the Audiobook so either haven’t gotten to the footnotes, or didn’t notice this. Exactly what i was looking for, thank you!

1 Like

Thanks for the feeback. Yes, I think I should be less specific when I think of habits. I was tying to observe my day, and notice the things i did habitually - which is interesting and helpful, but now I’m also thinking more broadly and noting things like “getting more work done”, and listing that as a habit I want to develop.