Fourth Law: Make it Satisfying

Apr 05 2019

Reading through Atomic Habits

This is it! The fourth, last law of behavior change in Atomic Habits, as corresponding to the stages of habit change.

Cue : Make it Obvious Craving : Make it Attractive Response : Make it Easy Reward : Make it Satisfying

Chapters in this Section


Section Overview

Satisfaction can be difficult to put your finger on. It’s a blend of feelings: pride, relief, pleasure, somethings the result of effort and sometimes the result of an enjoyable status quo. Clear relates this law of behavior change to the reward, but ties it more closely to the timing of the reward.

A lot has been written about social media and instant gratification, in that it has whittled away our willpower, discipline, etc.  Sure.  It’s a little more complicated than that, but there’s a sense of logic behind that idea that the more we are accustomed to getting things immediately, the less likely we are to wait.  Clear distinguishes between these as living in an immediate-return environment vs. a delayed-return environment.  In the former, Clear relates the immediate-return to animal survival instincts—each choices plays an immediate and vital role in avoiding predators and your group’s survival. In the delayed-return environment, Clear refers to the delay in doing work for the day but not being paid until weeks later, or saving money for later retirement.  The reward isn’t immediate.  In this way, Clear invokes the idea of time inconsistency, in which we “value the present more than the future.

Using these concepts, Clear updates his Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: “What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.”

It takes thought to make something previously unpleasant become pleasant. In doing so, however, Clear argues that including a pleasurable, satisfying reward is what will turn an act you do once into a habit you will do repeatedly.  Applying this to the inverse, Clear rightfully points out that it is much harder to reward yourself for not doing something.  Avoiding impulse purchases or small expenses may be a habit you want to build, but how do you reward yourself? Clear suggests taking whatever that action might have cost you financially, and moving it into a fund for a reward.  You can also reward yourself with a massage, a fun book, etc.

Visualizing Your Success

Similar to that immediate reward, it’s easier to sustain a habit if you are able to immediately see your progress.  Clear uses the story of Trent Dyrsmid moving paper clips from a full jar to an empty one to hit a quota of sales calls for the day, then moves on to Jerry Seinfeld’s infamous “Don’t break the chain!” Having an action that records your successful completion of that act will help reinforce your sense of progress and desire for consistency.  One tool he recommends is a habit tracker.  You’ll often see it recommended or included in bullet journal spreads, but it’s simply a way to record that you completed the desired action that day.  These can span from brushing your teeth, to packing a lunch for work, exercising, or taking medication.  It can really apply to anything, but perhaps not everything.

Building Accountability

The other aspect of sustaining the habit is including an aspect of accountability.  As a self-confessed obliger, external accountability is necessary for me.  While the habit tracker provides a visual account of success, Clear also advocates for an accountability partner, and even a contract if necessary.  Of course, he mentions, we adhere to a social and legal contract most of the time, whether it’s agreeing to wear a seat belt due to state legislation or staying quiet in those designated areas of the library.  Throughout all of this, Clear takes a very ‘do what you need’ approach.

Atomic Habits Read-Through