If Books Could Kill

Atomic Habits

June 15, 2023
Show Notes Transcript

Peter: Michael? 

Michael: Peter.

Peter: What do you know about a book called Atomic Habits

Michael: So little that I've managed to hold on to my worst habit, waiting until the last minute to come up with a zinger for my podcast. 

[If Books Could Kill theme]

Peter: All right, Atomic Habits by James Clear. Now, I imagine you do not know who James Clear is. 

Michael: I know literally nothing about this book. All I know is that it's one of our most requested books, but I've never seen it in the wild.

Peter: James Clear is a guy who starts doing self-help blogging in like 2012. He doesn't have any formal education or training on the topic. I think he's just got an economics degree and maybe an MBA or something. 

Michael: Just a guy saying stuff. Just a guy on the internet saying stuff. We love those. 

Peter: He's prolific. He posts a few times a week very consistently, gains a big following, and he leverages that sort of niche popularity into this book, which has sold somewhere north of 15 million copies. 

Michael: How does this happen? It's so baffling to me. 

Peter: I don't know. It only came out a few years ago. 

Michael: It doesn't even have a great title. I feel like The World Is Flat or Rich Dad Poor Dad, you get what they're about. But Atomic Habits, I don't even know if it's about me ending my bad habits or me getting new good habits.

Peter: It's about both, ostensibly. The full title of the book is Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. When he says atomic habits, he means atomic in the more literal sense. Meaning like tiny habits. 

Michael: Oh.

Peter: Yeah. Going into it, I assumed it was more like habits that are going to nuke your stupid fucking life.

Michael: Yeah, like atomic bomb habits. 

Peter: Right. 

Michael: Not like atomic nuclei habits. Okay.

Peter: He says, "Habits are like the atoms of our lives. Each one is a fundamental unit that contributes to your overall improvement. At first, these tiny routines seem insignificant, but soon they build on each other and fuel bigger wins that multiply to a degree that far outweighs the cost of their initial investment." 

Michael: Okay, I'm with them so far. We all have little habits. They can be a force for good in our lives or a force for evil. Fair enough.

Peter: Look, I want to say going into this, I am, man, a person of ADHD, a PO ADHD. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: So, I went into it, eyes open, heart open, ready to absorb some knowledge. I will say there are some interesting things in this book. It's very easy to read, although also terribly written at the same time. He just has this gratingly repetitive style of writing. Again, he's like a blogger. I think, in fact, part of the book's origin story is that he started a blog in order to get into the habit of writing more, which makes sense because the chapters really do read like a string of blog posts. 

Michael: I like how you said blogger like it was a slur. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: "This guy, he is a blogger."

Peter: I think you're reading that correctly. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: I have disdain in my heart. 

Michael: Wait, what are your bad habits, Peter? What sorts of habits specifically were you trying to break? 

Peter: Yeah, we can build this around my terrible life. I would say I am messy.

Michael: Okay.

Peter: I lack structure. I'm a procrastinator. I went into this looking for little tips that would help with either of those.

Michael: So, we're starting with diagnosis, Peter. And then by the end of the episode, we'll have your whole arc, your character development where you are now as measured through whether you've put up the shelf, [Peter laughs] as measured through the shelf. The one proxy indicator we have on this podcast, how functioning is Peter-

Michael: Goddamn it.

Michael: -is the shelf up. 

Peter: I will never.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: No book can get me to put up the shelf. 


Michael: Listeners are so fucking invested in this that, there's no way you can put up the shelf now. 

Peter: This is the only reason that my wife listens to our podcast.

Michael: [laughs]

Peter: She's like, "Is he talking about the fucking shelf this time?"

Michael: It's like shelf updates. 


Peter: So, let's get into the book. He starts off by telling a pretty gruesome story about how in high school he was accidentally hit in the face with a baseball bat. 

Michael: Oh, God. 

Peter: He has a long recovery, including lots of hospital time and physical therapy. This story is, from what I can gather, substantively untethered from the rest of the book. It has no real connection to the substance of the book. I think I have a theory as to why it's in here. If you're like Malcolm Gladwell or a Cass Sunstein or whatever, you don't need to convince your audience that you're worth listening to. You're already established, you're published, you have a fancy degree, whatever it might be. But if you're just some blogger-

Michael: Blogger.

Peter: -you don't have any of that. So, right off the bat, you need to justify your book to the reader, "Here's why you're listening to me." I think that's what he's trying to do here. He's telling a story of this harrowing experience that he overcame in order to convey the image of someone who has something to say about the world.

Michael: Yeah, because it's not connected to any habit in particular, I guess. 

Peter: No, he recovers. He goes off to college to play baseball. In college, he was a baseball player. And then, it's in college where he starts saying, "I had good habits."

Michael: Okay. 

Peter: It also might just be the most interesting thing that's ever happened to him, and he was like, "Well, I'm going to put it in my book."

Michael: Yeah. As a person who very few interesting things have happened to and only has four anecdotes, [Peter laughs] I defend this practice, like here are my things. 

Peter: We then get to the first real chapter, and it kicks off with a story about the British cycling team.

Michael: Got to open with an anecdote. 

Peter: So, according to Clear, British cycling has long been a mediocre team. But in 2003, they hire a new performance director, Dave Brailsford. This guy has a new strategy which he calls the Aggregation of Marginal Gains. Meaning, making a large number of small improvements. 

Michael: Oh, he's Moneyballing. 

Peter: He's sort of Moneyballing. So, they upgrade the seats, they upgrade the uniforms, the team's pillows and mattresses, their recovery strategies. They emphasize proper hand washing so that team members get sick less often. There's all these little things. 

Michael: Happy birthday. 

Peter: In the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, they win more gold than anyone else, and British cycling is generally dominant in the sport for most of the next decade. 

Michael: Anytime you tell me that Britain is good at something, I get skeptical. [Peter laughs] I'm like, "I want to see receipts." I've seen their Eurovision entries. 

Peter: [laughs] You're still building up anticipation for our Eurovision-- [crosstalk] 

Michael: Yeah. This is what-- dropping little hints.

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I'm dropping hints.

Peter: To illustrate the idea of marginal gains, he includes this chart, which I am going to send to you. Now, one of the problems with trying to convey what this book is like to you is that it's very hard to explain to a listener how dumb these charts are. 

Michael: Oh, okay, here we go. I love dumb charts. 

Peter: Do your best to explain what you're seeing here. 

Michael: So, the up and down axis is results and the left and right axis is time. We're talking about getting good results over time. And then he's got a dotted line, and above the line is 1% improvement, and below the line is 1% decline. Oh, my fucking God. Okay, it's becoming clear to me. So, it says, "Figure one. The effects of small habits compound over time. For example, if you can get just 1% better each day, you'll end up with results that are nearly 37 times better after one year."

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: So, the chart is basically just like two arrows. One of them goes up and one of them goes down. 

Peter: This is just a chart of results over time where the arrow goes up. [laughs]

Michael: Yeah, it doesn't quantify results or time. It's just like if you get better at something every day, you'll be much better at it at the end of the year which, again, he could have just said in a sentence. This is not difficult to understand at all. 

Peter: So, what he's saying here is that if you get 1% better each day for one year, you will, due to math, end up 37 times better by the time you're done. But there's no skill that you can improve 1% every single day- 

Michael: I know. 

Peter: -for 365 days. It's a ridiculous concept. This is just taking the idea of compound interest and pretending that it applies to skills.

Michael: And applying it to something qualitative. Applying it to personal habits doesn't--

Peter: It just doesn't make any sense. 

Michael: I'm trying to cook at home more rather than eating out. At the end of the year, I'm cooking at home 37 times more. 

Peter: 37 times better. 

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: By the end of the year, you are a three-star Michelin chef. By the end of the next year, you are the greatest chef in human history by a wide margin. 

Michael: You're going to be the best procrastination avoider. 

Peter: Then, yeah, to prove his point, he throws in a chart so stupid, it looks like it's ripped from a multilevel marketing pitch or something. 

Michael: It really does.

Peter: It's just, "Arrow goes up."

Michael: Then, I guess, the takeaway from the chart, because the whole point of infographics like this is at a glance, to tell a story. 

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: The takeaway from this is like, "Improving is better than declining."

Peter: Yeah, this is a big complaint I have about this book, which is, there's a fine line between simplifying things for a general audience and treating me like I'm a fucking asshole, you know? 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: It's also worth noting that this idea of getting 1% better every day is a bastardization of the original concept. The cycling team's idea was that small improvements in various different areas will result in noticeable change in the aggregate. So, you improve your bikes a little bit, you improve your sleep a little, you improve the hygiene a little bit. But Clear is talking about a 1% improvement of the same skill every day, which is not the same thing nor is it realistic. So, I actually think there was this more useful and interesting idea that he just turns into something silly. 

Michael: Is the story about the British cyclists correct? 

Peter: Huh. Interesting instinct you have there, Michael. 

Michael: Oh, yeah. Okay. 

Peter: No, it's not. 


Michael: I'm too fucking pilled from reading these books. As soon as you hear a cute little story, you're like, "No, sorry, off to Wikipedia I go."

Peter: Exactly. As soon as I heard that story, I was like, "Mm." A cycling team with no history of success implements a bunch of small improvements and then becomes the most dominant team in the world by a wide margin. 

Michael: Yeah, and they're obvious improvements too. Like, "Let's do a little bit of everything," that's probably something all coaches are saying all the time. 

Peter: Again, the story that Clear tells is that this guy, Dave Brailsford, is made the Performance Director for British Cycling in 2003. He promotes this marginal gains concept, and they start winning a huge amount. What actually happened is that in the late 1990s, the government massively increased their funding. In 1994, the UK institutes the National Lottery, state-sponsored lottery. And in the following years, they start to apportion out proceeds across British sports. In the mid-1990s, the cycling team has barely any funding. By 1999, they're receiving £2.5 million annually. Clear mentions that when Brailsford arrived in 2003, British Cycling had only won one gold medal since 1908.

Michael: Oh, well.

Peter: What he doesn't mention is that gold medal was in the year 2000, right after the funding started pouring in. So, Brailsford is a widely respected cycling coach. I think his methods are widely respected within the sport from what I can gather. The team was very, very successful under him. So, I'm not saying that this is total bullshit that there's nothing to this or anything like that. But if you look at the marginal improvements he made, it's like better bikes, better mattresses, physician consultants. Those aren't philosophical changes as much as they're just costly resources that they could now afford.

Michael: I love that we're now so sick of the one weird trick books that we're getting every weird trick at once book, like do it all.

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I just don't know that weird tricks are really the way to solve problems. It's probably just bread and butter stuff of like, "Dedicate resources and hire staff." Although, to be fair, this does explain why Britain is so good at transphobia. Just like a bunch of little people saying little things at every level, little tweaks make everything a little more transphobic. Just get there, guys. 

Peter: In America, we're trying to increase our transphobia by 1% every day. But in Britain, they know the real trick is to improve across [Michael laughs] a broad array of phobias.

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: All right. So, he starts to talk about how changing your identity is fundamental to seeing lasting change. He says, "Research has shown that once a person believes in a particular aspect of their identity, they are more likely to act in alignment with that belief. Identity change is therefore the North Star of habit change." 

Michael: Okay.

Peter: Now, this does have some support in the scientific literature. There's research showing that people who use language that identifies themselves as a healthy eater, for example, are more likely to make healthy eating choices than people who say they want to make healthy eating choices. People who say that they are voters are more likely to vote than people who just say that voting is good. But then, the obvious question becomes, well, how do you change your identity? How do you change your identity in a way that makes you more likely to engage in certain habits? What Clear says is that regularly engaging in a certain behavior will make you identify with it. "The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior." 

Michael: So, you need to become a shelf putter upper to identify as a shelver. 

Peter: [laughs] Goddamn it.

Michael: I'm just going to keep doing this all episode. 

Peter: So, if you're following along with his formulation, the key to developing habits you want is to change your identity around those habits. You change your identity by developing the habits you want. 

Michael: Right. It's circular. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: He's saying if you want to eat more fiber, you need to identify as somebody who eats a lot of fiber. But then how do you identify that way? You need to start eating more fiber. So, basically, once you reduce the fraction, it's just, if you want to eat more fiber, you should eat more fiber. 

Peter: It seems like he's implying that what you want to do is just start actively identifying as a person who does the stuff that you want to do, but he doesn't cite any research showing that that works. So, it seems like he's just fucking up the correlation and causation. The people who identify as voters are more likely to vote, Sure. But that's not necessarily because they're identifying as voters. It's the other way around, right?

Michael: Right. It could be, I identify as a voter because I vote every time. 

Peter: Exactly. 

Michael: It's just an accurate description of me. 

Peter: Right. It's just a feedback loop, and I'm trying to learn how to hop in there. Let me Double Dutch into that loop, but he's not really telling me how. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: So, there are some useful formulations in this book, and I will talk about them, but first I want to talk about how much noise there is. This is another book where there are a couple of useful concepts, but you could pack them into a few pages. To give you a general sense of how convoluted it is, I'm going to send you just a few of the ways that he describes habits- 

Michael: Hell, yeah.

Peter: -throughout the book.

Michael: He says, "Habits are how you embody your identity. Habits are the path to changing your identity. Habits are just a series of automatic solutions that solve the problems and stresses you face regularly. Habits are mental shortcuts learned from experience. Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. Habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires. Habits are automatic choices that influence the conscious decisions that follow. Habits contain multitudes."

Peter: [laughs] Habits are so many things when you think about it. That's before we get to the metaphorical descriptions of habits. Again, this is not an exhaustive list. "Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Habits are a double-edged sword. Habits are like the atoms of our lives. Habits are the backbone of any pursuit of excellence." All of this together is confusing. It creates the impression generally that he is rambling, that he's saying whatever comes to his mind. He's trying to turn what should be a Buzzfeed listicle-

Michael: Blogger.

Peter: -into a book. 

Michael: Maybe this is the river that you're leading me to. But he also seems to be using the word "habit" to refer to different things that like, if you bite your fingernails or something, that's compulsive behavior that you don't feel like you can control. Whereas something like voting is something you do very seldom, and it's a much more deliberate act. And then, you could also talk about habits in this very broad way of, "I have a habit of serial monogamy." But those are just parts of your personality at that point. They're not really small, repeated behaviors. 

Peter: They're part of your identity, Michael.

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] Because these things, all of these little definitions of habits could be true, but they're describing different things. Like, habits are how you embody your identity, okay, but I do actually bite my fingernails and I'm trying to stop. That's not really how I embody my identity. That's just compulsive behavior. 

Peter: I do think that one problem with the book is that he buckets habits of all different types together. It leads to dynamics where he describes things like voting, and smoking, and not cleaning your room all in the same breath, and you're like, "Is this really a framework that works for all of these things, and is that really the best framework for each of these things?" And because his work is rooted in behavioral psychology concepts, he ends up talking about habits and behavior as basically the same thing.

Michael: Another habit I'm trying to break is cursing genuinely, because feedback to both of my podcasts is that you curse too much and I can't listen with my kids. But I don't know that that's a modern-day solution to ancient desire. Maybe it is. I don't know. 

Peter: Well, you can bring your cursing down to zero. You're still with me, and I'm not working on that at all.

Michael: We have not discussed this.


Peter: Sorry that your kids are getting too cool by listening to our podcast.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: So, Clear describes what he calls the four stages of habit. Cue, craving, response, and reward. You have the cue, something that triggers a craving for a reward. You respond to the cue, and that gives you the reward.

Michael: Right. I see a Pamela Paul column, I get on a microphone with you, [Peter laughs] I shout about it. And before you know it, it's F bombs everywhere. 

Peter: So, over time, you learn to associate the que with the reward. This is your basic Pavlovian kind of thing. He uses this framework to provide his basic strategy for developing a habit. Make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. These four steps are the heart of the book. Each one has several chapters dedicated to it. I'm going to walk you through them with the caveat that he is meandering, and the concepts overlap quite a bit. So, at times, you may wonder which section of the book we're actually in, or what the overarching theme is, or why we're talking about a certain topic. I just want you to know that that's not my fault as a podcaster. [Michael laughs] That's actually his fault as an author.

Michael: The key to any podcast episode is to apologize for it being bad in advance, because then it doesn't count. 

Peter: That's right. 

Michael: We're going to give you a fucking tone poem of an episode. 

Peter: [laughs] So, step one, making it obvious. This is about clarifying in your mind the habit that you are trying to develop. He says that you should rely on what are called implementation intentions. Meaning, you plan out specifically where, when, and how you will implement a habit. So, you'd say like, "When I wake up, I will work out for 30 minutes," or whatever. The key is identifying the exact context where and when you'll engage in the habit, and that creates a situational cue for you to follow.

There is research on this. The majority of the work that I found about this is about eliminating rather than building habits, but this is a real concept. This is a real thing that could probably make your life better. You're clarifying to yourself in what context you will engage in a certain habit, a certain behavior.

He also talks about habit stacking, where you try to use this methodology to link the habits you want to one another. So, you say, when you wake up, you will work out for 30 minutes and then you will floss. So, the first habit becomes the cue for the second habit, and these two habits you want to cultivate become linked in your brain. 

Michael: I'm not going to bite my nails and I'm going to speak like a BBC anchor after that. [Peter laughs] I'm not going to say any curse words.

Peter: I make the Pavlov comparison, because I felt like it was apt, but also because it does feel throughout the book like you're being told to train yourself like a dog. A lot of the book is about building habits by creating associations in your brain which will, over time, make those habits feel second nature.

On one hand, it's interesting because you're making the machinations of the human mind work for you. And on the other, you're utilizing the same basic tactics we use to make a dog roll over. It's inherently degrading, perhaps, but also maybe the single most practically useful tidbit in this book. So, I don’t know. [chuckles] 

Michael: Well, also, I don't know that it would actually work though, because if you're doing it to yourself, the reward and punishment don't work when they're not external stimuli. Pavlov's dogs, the saliva at the bell was an involuntary response. You can't really give that to yourself in the same way. It's very similar to the Nudge thing, where they were like, "We're going to take your money and give it back to you if you stop smoking." But if it's my money, it's very different than someone paying me to not smoke. 

Peter: There's a general sense I got throughout this book that it feels like he's taking the problem of, "I can't form this habit I want to form," and just kicking it one step down the road, where he's like, "Well, what you need to do is engage in this activity that creates a cue that your brain will associate with the habit over time," which makes sense in a vacuum. But if I had the discipline to do that, then I wouldn't have this problem to begin with.

Michael: Yeah, exactly. It requires the same amount of willpower. It's just willpower to do something different. A year ago, I downloaded one of those Chrome extensions that blocks certain websites so that I wouldn't be on Twitter all the time. I was like, "Okay, I don't have the willpower to do this. I'm going to download this thing that doesn't let me check Twitter between 9 and 5 or whatever." But then I would just turn off the blocking extension because it's one click. So, it's like, ultimately, I don't have the willpower to not go on Twitter. It's the same thing, I don't have the willpower to leave the block extension on. 

Peter: I'm trying to think of a way to give him a little bit of credit here. I do think that the habit stacking idea is interesting because, for example, a very simple one is like brushing your teeth and flossing, which I do back-to-back every single night.

Michael: Yeah, same. 

Peter: And I wouldn't think of that as being habit stacking, but it is, right? 

Michael: Right. I guess, yeah. 

Peter: I think there are ways in which it might be easier, once you are already doing something, to add a good habit onto that. And combining those two activities has made it something that I don't even think about. 

Michael: But then, I also wonder if there's a depletion of willpower problem here too if the habits aren't from the same category. Because if I go to the gym, I come home and I'm like, "Okay, I'm in good habit mode. I'm now going to floss my teeth." It's like, "Well, I already fucking did something today that I don't want to do." And then, I'm going to skimp on the habit thing, because I'm out of virtue. 

Peter: Yeah. Again, it feels like what he's saying is, "If you just get yourself to do it a little bit, it won't feel difficult for the rest of your life," which I think is fair enough. But that initial hurdle is what we're all trying to get over-- [crosstalk] 

Michael: Yeah, that's the hard part. Yeah.

Peter: He isn't quite as good at telling you how to get over that. Another part of making it obvious is changing your environment. I'm going to send you a little tale that you might be vaguely familiar with. 

Peter: It says, "Anne Thorndike, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, had a crazy idea. She believed she could improve the eating habits of thousands of hospital staff and visitors without changing their willpower or motivation in the slightest way. In fact, she didn't plan on talking to them at all. Thorndyke and her colleagues designed a six-month study to change the--" Oh, fuck off. 

"Thorndike and her colleagues designed a six-month study to alter the "choice architecture" of the hospital cafeteria. They started by changing how drinks were arranged in the room. Originally, the refrigerators located next to the cash registers in the cafeteria were filled with only soda. The researchers added water as an option to each one. Additionally, they placed baskets of bottled water next to the food stations throughout the room. Soda was still in the primary refrigerators, but water was now available at all drink locations.

Over the next three months, the number of soda sales at the hospital dropped by 11.4%. Meanwhile, sales of bottled water increased by 25.8%. They made similar adjustments and saw similar results with the food in the cafeteria."

Oh, man, we're back to nudges. We're back to cafeteria nudges. 

Peter: Part 3, baby. 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: Our listeners demanded for Part 3. "Keep going," they said. [laughs] 

Michael: It's very funny to me that those Nudge episodes were so fucking packed that we didn't even get to the fact that the guy who came up with this idea of choice architecture for food turned out to be a giant fraud, and me and Aubrey did an entire episode on him.

Peter: Wansink. Yeah.

Michael: We don't have time in the Nudge episodes. The father of this entire field is totally full of shit and has been utterly disgraced. But that's a footnote considering all the other bad shit we came across in that book. 

Peter: By the way, he also uses another Nudge favorite, the example of the little fly stickers in the urinals in airports.

Michael: Hell, yeah. 80% less spillage. 

Peter: That's right. 

Michael: A real statistic. A totally real statistic that people can measure.

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Real thing.

Peter: We've been mapping out the shared features of these self-help books, but this made me come up with a new theory, which is that maybe it's more than that. Maybe these books are so similar that we are moving toward a future where they share the same lessons, the same anecdotes, and eventually converging upon a single book. 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: One book to rule them all. One self-help book to govern human society. 

Michael: This has utterly ruined my social life, I will say, because as we're always saying, these books are oftentimes just fodder for little cocktail party chatter and fun facts. When you talk to people you don't know that well, you're at a dinner thing with a friend and they mention like, "Oh, yeah, I saw some study said that cafeteria choices go down when you move the things," that I'm like, "Do they though?"


Michael: "Am I going to go in on this or am I just going to leave it?"

Peter: The worst part is when someone knows that you do this podcast and someone else doesn't. The person who doesn't is like, "Hey, have you read Atomic Habits? I really like that." And then, the other person will be like, "Actually, Peter thinks you're dumb as hell." 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] "Here it comes. Give it to him, Peter." 

Peter: Denying me the opportunity to just be like, "Yeah, good book. Thanks."


Michael: Please let me back away from this social interaction quietly into the bushes.

Peter: Right. This whole section of the book is a really good example of how much the scientific support for the concepts that he mentions fluctuates. So, implementation intentions has real support in the literature, but then you have this cafeteria situation that's not even really a study. There's no control group. There's no effort to do research. They're just observing what happened in one cafeteria location. 

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: There's another story in this section about how homes with energy meters in prominent locations within the home were more likely to conserve energy. And the source for that is a book from 2015 where the author wrote that she was told the story at a conference in 1973. 

Michael: Oh, perfect. Perfect. [laughs] 

Peter: Like, "Oh, my God, bro, you've got to be kidding me with this."

Michael: I also love the weird Möbius strip of what is essentially a cocktail party anecdote, then ending up in one of these books, and then becoming a cocktail party anecdote again 40 years later. [laughs] 

Peter: Yeah. Right. [laughs] 

Michael: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Peter: The endless cycle of this story that probably isn't even real. 

Michael: It probably isn't true. Yeah. 

Peter: This is also a good time to mention that, again, he mentions these psychological concepts, and he'll sometimes provide some science to back those up. And yet, when it comes time to give you practical advice, it flops. He uses this choice architecture concept to give recommendations like, "If you want to remember to take your medication each night, put your pill bottle directly next to the faucet on the bathroom counter." If you want to drink more water, fill up a few water bottles each morning and place them in common locations across the house." Those are reasonable piece of advice. They're also super obvious. Like, "Oh, this is the inspiration I needed to finally stop putting my nightly medication under my bed."  It just feels like, when he actually needs to come up with some hot tip to give you, all he can do is say something that you've definitely read before or had already thought of. 

Michael: Right. This is the fundamental tension of all self-help books is that there is very little advice that you can give to everyone, and it's all been said before. Okay. You're trying not to drink soda, okay. Don't buy soda, so you don't have it in the house, so you're not tempted. Okay, that's decent advice, but it's really fucking obvious. Any listicle on the internet. I'm like, "I'm trying to stop drinking soda," that's going to be the first thing they tell you. 

Peter: Again, it's more like a little fact about human psychology than it is useful advice. Considering the cafeteria anecdote is talking about food, probably as good a place as any to note that Clear uses dieting and weight loss has examples of desirable habits throughout the book. 

Michael: Yeah, I was going to say probably. 

Peter: There's a carelessness with which he talks about this stuff that skims past a massive amount of pertinent science. At one point, he's talking about heightening your awareness of bad habits, and he says this. I'm going to send it to you. 

Michael: I knew this part of the book was coming. "If you eat a chocolate bar every morning, acknowledge it, almost as if you were watching someone else. If you binge-eat, simply notice that you are eating more calories than you should." Ah, finally, we're telling people who binge eat not to do that. It's not behavior that causes them any distress. 

Peter: Be aware of the calories you're eating. Come on, man. 

Michael: Have you tried feeling like a piece of shit? 

Peter: Yeah. I don't want to digress too much. But yeah, he just very flippantly talks about food and smoking, for example, in these offhand ways, as if they are interchangeable with every little habit, good or bad, that we might have. It's just shitty science and you know, not woke, I will say it.

Michael: [laughs] Politically incorrect. Just say what you hate about it, Peter. 

Peter: [laughs] All right, we are now on to step 2 of his four-part system, make it attractive. This section is mostly more dog whispering to yourself, more self-dogification. Clear talks about ways to link dopamine responses in your brain to good habits. Dopamine, of course, the chemical released by your brain that makes you feel good, and it gets released when you're doing stuff you enjoy. So, he's saying that you can associate things that give you dopamine with good habits. 

Michael: I'm not going to get that from not cursing.

Peter: He recommends what he calls temptation bundling, where you pair things you like with habits you want to build. So, I don't know, commit to giving yourself some sort of a little treat after you clean your room, right? Like, a literal fucking dog. 

Michael: But what if it's a chocolate bar, and then I'm obligated to feel like shit afterwards? [laughs] 

Peter: But maybe you deserve the chocolate bar because you have been a very good boy. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: This is a perfect example of how he gives you this concept, and you're like, "Oh, okay. Like, how?" And then, he gives you the worst fucking example you've ever heard in your life. He gives this example of an engineer who wrote a program so that Netflix would play when he was cycling on his stationary bike at a certain speed, but would stop if he dropped below it.

Michael: That's a fucking great idea. Holy shit. 


Peter: Speed 3: Sad Man on a Bike


Peter: Whatever works for you, you know?

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: I do have to say, this sounds to me like it would make Netflix miserable more than it would make exercise fun. I don't know.

Michael: Again, it would not work in the long term. It feels like a cute idea, but eventually you're just going to be like, "Oh, fuck it. I'm just going to disable this fucking stupid thing." 

Peter: I would rather be on the actual bus in Speed than be [Michael laughs] desperately trying to pedal hard at the end of my workout to catch the last two minutes of Great British Baking Show or something. 


Michael: I'm trying to think of other good habits. It's funny. In my own life, I can only think of bad habits that I'm trying to break.

Peter: I think that you're probably-- This is implicit and very occasionally explicit throughout the book that we have all sorts of good habits, but you're noticing them because they have become second nature to you. And therefore, what you're trying to achieve is shifting the habits that you don't have into that category of second nature habits that you don't even think about, you just do this thing.

Michael: I do actually go to the gym in the mornings. It's not hard for me to do that, because it's like I'm bursting with energy after drinking the whole fucking pot of coffee. 

Peter: [chuckles] But you also are probably, like I told you, I'm relatively messy, you're probably neater than me, but you might not think of that as a good habit you have, even though it is. 

Michael: Yeah, I just think I'm a normal level of messy. 

Peter: Well, that's also probably true. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: I'm still below you. 


Michael: All right. I've sent you something.

Michael: Okay. He says, "You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience. Sometimes, all you need is a slight mindset shift. For instance, we often talk about everything we have to do in a given day. You have to wake up early for work. You have to make another sales call for your business. You have to cook dinner for your family. Now, imagine changing just one word: You don’t ‘have’ to. You ‘get’ to. You get to wake up early for work. You get to make another sales call. You get to cook dinner for your family. By simply changing one word, you shift the way you view each event. You transition from seeing these behaviors as burdens and turn them into opportunities." Oh, this is like democratic consultant brain, [Peter laughs] where he thinks that the magical power of language, you can change one tiny thing and completely change the meanings that you attach to that term.

Peter: If this works for you, if you say, "Oh, I get to wake up early for work," and that convinces you that it's good, you have a docile brain.

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: I don't know how else to put it. If all you needed to compel yourself to do difficult things was to mentally be like, "This is good," then why do you need a book about it? 

Michael: Yeah. It's like, I hate doing my taxes. So, this year, I'm going to call it petting puppies, because I love to pet puppies. 

Peter: Yeah. [laughs] 

Michael: But ultimately, you still have to sit down for a whole Saturday and look at a bunch of receipts and pay TurboTax $100. It's the activity that people object to and avoid. It's not the term you use to refer to the activity. 

Peter: I think it's probably worth pointing out that his source for this is his college strength and conditioning coach. 

Michael: Okay. Oh, yeah. Hell yeah. 


Peter: Whatever. Okay. There is a chapter in this section dedicated to eliminating bad habits. This is, despite the fact that it's half the book title, the only chapter that is fully dedicated to eliminating bad habits, and it is one of the more pseudoscientific portions of the book. You recall the line about habits being the product of ancient desires?

Michael: Yes. 

Peter: He says that your cravings are manifestations of deeper underlying motives. "Look at nearly any product that is habit forming and you'll see that it does not create a new motivation, but rather latches onto the underlying motives of human nature." So, he's saying, for example, that you might have a craving for junk food, but deep down, that is the product of ancient desire to avoid starvation. 

Michael: I mean, yes, sure.

Peter: Maybe.

Michael: On some level, I don't know. 

Peter: Some of the other examples he gives are that the habit of browsing social media is driven by the underlying motivation of connecting and bonding with others.

Michael: True. 

Peter: And the habit of playing videogames is driven by the underlying motivation of achieving status and prestige. 

Michael: No, my playing videogames is my hatred of Bokoblins and Moblins. 

Peter: No, my ancient brain wants to be a 5'2" Italian plumber with a 9ft vertical. 

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: I say it's pseudoscientific, because I don't have any particular problem believing that this is true to some degree but there is no science that he cites to back it up. What he cites is a tweet. 

Michael: Oh, really? 

Peter: It is one of several citations to tweets.

Michael: What's the tweet? [laughs] 

Peter: The tweet is literally like the middle of a tweet thread about other stuff.

Michael: Yeah, because at that point, you might as well just not cite it. If you're citing a fucking tweet, it's like citing Wikipedia or something. It makes you look worse than just not having a footnote there. 

Peter: There are citations to tweets and Reddit posts throughout the book. 

Michael: No way. 

Peter: It's bizarre. 

Michael: Also, you can't really debunk these things because it's not clear that they're true or untrue. It's just like a way of looking at something. 

Peter: I say it's so pseudoscientific because it feels different than the times when he stretches the science. He's just speculating in a way where you're like, "Yeah, maybe that's right. I don't know."

Michael: Yeah. Ooh, sure. 

Peter: It feels like, yes, okay, our craving for certain types of food is almost certainly a chemical thing that evolved from way back when. I get that, but you're just saying it. You know what I mean? Where's the science? What's the explanation and what does this do for me? 

Michael: This is also another dinner party thing, where if somebody was telling me this like, "Oh, I started thinking of my junk food addiction as part of my primal self or something and that helped me stop eating junk food," I'd be like, "Great." I don't need to take that away from anybody. If that's an understanding and analysis that helps you, that's fine. But it's not in any way scientific or generalizable. 

Peter: Right. Step 3, make it easy. This is, of course, about how you can make it easier to do the habits that you want to do. He talks about how when you do something repeatedly, you activate the neural circuit associated with that activity so it becomes easier over time. So, the key to creating lasting habits is to do them repeatedly, which is now the second time in the book where his primary advice for habit formation is to just do the habit over and over again. 

Michael: Yeah, that's true. I think you should keep flossing. 

Peter: If you floss a thousand times, the next thousand will be easier, I suppose, is the tip. 

Michael: Yeah. It's still hard to do flossing the first thousand times, but okay. 

Peter: I'm going to send you another chart. 

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Peter: By the way, I'm sending you the best charts, because there are multiple charts again where you'll look at them and have-- Even having read the chapter, you'd be like, "What is he saying?" I can send you some of those too, just for fun, but this is-- I'm trying to send you the charts that are legible in some way. 

Michael: We're trying to be fair. This is a fair show. 

Peter: People say that we're just being mean and dunking, but I'm actually being nice. 

Michael: Okay. Oh, my God. Okay. So, it's another line graph with the up and down is automaticity and the left and right line is repetitions. God, it's really hard to describe charts. This is a very simple chart, [laughs] but it's basically an upward sloping line that is like, "The more you repeat something, the more automatic it becomes," I guess. 

Peter: Yeah, that's right.

Michael: Nothing is labeled, and there's an arbitrary line where a habit goes over the habit line.

Peter: The style of his chart is hand drawn on a napkin, which I guess, he's just doing to be cute. But also, just because they're also so unscientific to begin with, it just reinforces the general impression that it's bullshit. 

Michael: Right. It's also very funny, because the line is not straight. He's basically saying that as you do something more, it becomes more automatic for you. But rather than just having a straight 45-degree line, he has this sine curve or log curve thing, where it goes up quickly and then it begins to taper off. So, it looks more scientific, but he's also just drawn this. 

Peter: There's no data. And it doesn't help you do it more like, I need step one. I need the step one. 

Michael: Okay. Tell me if I'm projecting. But this whole book reminds me of my best friend in college who was a very lovely guy, but just kind of a jock and cheerleader type guy. A lot of things in his life had come easy to him. I remember in college, I was telling him about I had had feelings for this guy, and he wasn't into me, and I was trying to talk to him about like, "Okay, what have you done in the past when you develop feelings for somebody, and they don't like you back?" And he was like, "What do you mean?" 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: It became clear that this had never happened to him, and he was confused.

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: He's like, "Oh, you have feelings for someone and then you tell them and they like you back, and then you date for--?"

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: He just couldn't compute. I feel like a lot of these, especially motivational, rise and grind ass books, are written by people who are just very high functioning. Someone with a lot of energy, super extroverted, love planning things, love having everything neat and in order. I think people like this go through the world with the same kind of confusion and they're like, "Well, why don't you just do what I'm doing?" 

Peter: Yeah. No, I get the general sense that he's just a high functioning kind of guy. In his own telling, there's no phase of his life where he's disorganized or has bad habits or anything. The adversity he overcame was getting smacked in the face with a baseball bat, that's not related to habits. He just then transitions into like, "I was good with habits in college." It's like, yeah, if you were good, if you were organized, generally speaking, in college, then you're just naturally predisposed to organization. 

Michael: Right. You're probably just someone who gets a lot of satisfaction from planning ahead and being organized. That's all totally fine. But those are the worst people to give advice. There's a tendency, I think, a human tendency to chalk this up to like, "Oh, I'm productive because of my system." But actually, this is basically a function of their personality. That's what they enjoy dedicating themselves to. It's like, you can't tell other people to, you should enjoy doing the dishes immediately when you're done eating. I don't enjoy doing that. I fucking hate doing the dishes. Some people like doing that. 

Peter: You need to program Netflix so that when you're doing the dishes, it's playing. 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: That's the key. Yeah. No, I think that's right. There are just people who are going to be a lot better at this stuff. And unfortunately, they have nothing to say to us, the filth that clogs the bottom of society's drains. My challenge to them, my challenge to the people who are rock climbing twice a day, try podcasting twice a week. 

Michael: [laughs] Two podcasts. 

Peter: That's right. 

Michael: Plus bonus episodes. 

Peter: He talks about reducing the friction around good habits. Like, if you want to work out more, you leave your workout stuff out and accessible. For example, if you want to eat certain foods, prep them. Another little tidbit in this chapter is the two-minute rule. If there's something you want to do that takes less than two minutes, do it right now. I said I wanted to include all the things that I thought were helpful tips. As a dedicated ADHD or a PO ADHD, I do think that it would be useful to keep something like that in mind for me. 

Michael: Also, people always say the food prep thing. On Sunday nights, make meals for the week. I'm a guy that loves to cook. I fucking hate cooking a million meals in advance, and I hate eating the same fucking thing five days in a row. 

Peter: It sounds so easy. 

Michael: It sounds so easy, and it's not. 

Peter: It's not. It absolutely sucks. The whole week sucks. And then, you have to do it the next week too.

Michael: And then, you're doing it again. If I liked doing that, I would already be doing it. 

Peter: I don't know. There's also something dreary about it where it's like, "You know, how Sunday nights are a moment you have to yourself? What if you started the week early?" 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: "What if your weekend ended late Sunday afternoon?" 

Michael: Yeah, you're in productivity mode. The whole point of Sundays for me is not to be in productivity mode. I just want to watch fucking Twitch streams and pottery YouTubers. I don't want to make [Peter laughs] three quarts of chili that I'm then going to tediously eat for lunch every day this week.

Peter: [laughs] All right. The final key to habit formation, according to James Clear, is to make the habit satisfying. Now, this one is a doozy. He leads off, as always, with an anecdote. This anecdote is about the slums of Karachi, Pakistan. Now, he talks about a researcher, Stephen Luby, who went to Karachi with the goal of promoting the use of hand soap, which, of course, reduces the spread of all sorts of viruses and infections that are particularly common in dense, impoverished areas. What Clear says is that, "Although these people already used soap, the soap the researchers offered foamed very easily and smelled nice, which made it more pleasurable to use." In other words, it made the habit of hand washing more satisfying. And as a result, diarrhea rates dropped by 52%, pneumonia by 48%. Impetigo, a skin infection, drops by 35%. This is all great news. However, this is not the real story. 

Michael: Yeah, there's no fucking way this would ever be the real story. This is me at a dinner party just closing my eyes as somebody tells a story and I'm like, "I'm not going to respond. I'm not going to ruin this evening for everybody."

Peter: The real story is that Steven Luby wanted to research the impact of proper hand washing in these settings. He gets a grant from Procter & Gamble who wanted to test the relative efficacy of some generic soaps versus antibacterial soaps or something like that. They were just testing out their products. The researchers provided soap to the residents as well as instruction on the benefits of hand washing and best hand washing practices.

Michael: Oh.

Peter: That includes weekly interventions where they would return to these people's homes to be like, "So, how's it going? Are you using the soap? Are you using it properly?" Sort of persistently educating them about how to use soap and why soap is so effective. There is nothing in the study about the soap being more satisfying to use than what they were used to. Clear makes it seem like that was the only obstacle. He says, "The problem wasn't knowledge, but the core of the study was that these field workers were conducting neighborhood meetings, and these weekly household visits to educate residents about these hand washing practices and explain why it's important."

Michael: Right. They're also giving people the soap for free in a poor area. So, it's like saying we want people to eat more fruits and vegetables. We showed up at their house every week with a basket of apples and bananas, [Peter laughs] and then everyone started eating more fruit. And then at the end you're like, "They just love eating bananas. Peeling bananas is like a really satisfying thing for them." It's like, well, maybe people like that, but you're giving people something for free and telling them that it's important. 

Peter: Yeah. So, the study said that soap was relatively affordable in these communities, but they are drastically increasing their access to soap in the course of the study. It does feel access to soap matters here, or at least might matter, right? 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: So, Clear cites an email exchange he had with Stephen Luby. And I was like, "Okay, they must have talked about this or something. There's something else going on here to make him believe that the satisfyingness of the soap is at play." So, I reached out to Steven Luby, and I did confirm that anecdotally the researchers thought that the quality of the soap played a role. So, okay, it's not totally made up, right? [chuckles] 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: But again, Clear makes it seem like it was the decisive factor. But he expressly dismisses the role that education played, even though the research was built around persistently educating people about the use and efficacy of hand soap. And not to mention again that they had just given these people a large amount of free soap that they might not have already had. It's fitting that we end the book more or less on this anecdote, because it is akin to the British cycling anecdote, where he takes this one bit that aligns with his framework, and then he acts as if that were the magic bullet that solved the problem. 

Michael: Also, it's a bullet that's so magic that it wasn't mentioned in the original study. 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: I'm sure that it was a factor, but it's weird to look at a study that doesn't mention how great the soaps were and then be like, "Look how great the soaps were." That's the most important factor. 

Peter: I agree. The whole thing feels odd. I have to say it feels extra weird when what we're talking about is disease in slums. There's something extra unsettling about pretending that there are simple solutions to the problems that are associated with severe poverty. Once again, we are down to resources. Like, yeah, you got to give them stuff. You need to educate-

Michael: Yeah, hire staff. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: Yeah.

Peter: You're going to need to dedicate resources to the problem. Sorry. 

Michael: At the end of the study, all the people in it did a Eurovision song and it whipped ass.

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: Dedicate the resources.

Peter: Every episode, a Eurovision teaser from Mike. 

Michael: It's also not even clear what implication this has for people. I guess the idea is that if you want to start-- We should buy fancier dental floss if we want to start dental flossing. 

Peter: This is a very confusing chapter because I don't really know what you're supposed to take from it. When he tries to explain it, it's very convoluted. He talks about habit tracking, recording days when you do or do not achieve your habit goals, and that can create a sense of satisfaction. He talks about a guy who had two different things of paperclips, one empty, one full of paperclips. Every time he accomplished a task, he would move a paperclip over, and the visual of the things that you're accomplishing was satisfying. So, there are these little tips he includes. But yeah, you read that anecdote and it's like, "Okay, I guess there's something here, even if it is true," which is not.

But also one of the most out-of-pocket anecdotes in this whole book, there was a guy in, I think, the late 1970s, might have been the early 1980s who proposed that in order for a President to launch a nuke, there would be a little capsule that would be implanted near the heart of an aide, and that capsule would have the nuclear codes or something along those lines. The President would have to murder by hand the guy [Michael laughs] to get the codes with the idea being that there should be some major awful obstacle to launching the nukes. 

Michael: I'm into anecdotes now. That's a fucking great anecdote. [laughs] 

Peter: I think they escalated to the Pentagon and they were like, "No, that would make basically dissuade the use of nukes too much. We don't want a President chickening out from the murder." But he was using that as an inversion of making it satisfying. What's the opposite of making a habit satisfying? Making the habit of launching nukes unsatisfying by associating it with murder.

Michael: Yeah, that's the Friedman shit where he just found a good anecdote. [laughs] 

Peter: Yeah. 

Michael: I was like, "Yeah, let's make it a metaphor even though it doesn't really fit." 

Peter: I was like, "What am I learning from this?"

Michael: Oh, no. 


Michael: The Pentagon did that thing where they were going to gas people and make them gay and like, "That's how you should stop biting your nails." It's like, "No, that's just a cool Wikipedia entry that you read."

Peter: It's a cool idea. I love the idea of Donald Trump having to murder a man.

Michael: Just with his bare hands reaching into his chest. [laughs] 

Peter: Trump is like, "Can we nuke the hurricane?" They're like, "Sure, just kill that guy right there."

Michael: Just do the Temple of Doom. Yeah.

Peter: [laughs] All right. So, that's the portion of the book where he's discussing the central premise. The rest of the book is a section called Advanced Tactics. 

Michael: Oh.

Peter: That's really just a wandering series of thoughts vaguely related to habits.

Michael: Goddamn it, blogger.

Peter: There's a chapter about the role of genetics, which is actually slightly less problematic than it sounds. [chuckles] 

Michael: Oh, okay. 

Peter: There's a chapter called The Goldilocks Rule, where he talks about how you need to find challenges for yourself that are not so easy that you become bored, but also not so difficult that you consistently fail, which seems, in a vacuum, decent enough advice. But it's also weird because one of the four keystones of its process is to make it easy. The final chapter is called The Downside of Creating Good Habits, which is about how once you establish habits, you can fall into the rut of not improving those habits, which inhibits your ability to "achieve elite levels of performance."

Michael: Yeah. What if I stop cursing and nobody wants to listen to the show anymore? Because that's the only reason they were listening, was the cursing. 

Peter: Yeah, I don't know. He starts talking about challenging yourself and achieving elite levels of performance, and it's like, "I'm trying to clear my laundry pile not make it to the Olympics. So, let's fucking relax."

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: That is the whole book. He wraps on these meandering thoughts and that's that. There's a great paradox to this book in that it pitches itself as a way to organize your life. And yet, the book itself is disorganized. It's chaotic. It's rambling. So, you can pick up these little pieces of potentially useful advice, and I hope that over the course of the episode, I honestly conveyed the pieces that I found interesting. But you can only get that after sifting through a bunch of unnecessary anecdotes, and unsourced scientific claims, and contradictions, and fabrications. Reading it was an experience similar to using modern social media, like being on Twitter all day. At the end of it, I was very tired, and I had a headache. But I also learned two new facts, and it was unequivocally not worth it.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: That was the experience. 

Michael: Well, how's your laundry pile, Peter? 

Peter: It's the same. 

Michael: Okay. 

Peter: The real problem is, okay, I thought about that habit stacking concept. Okay, what am I doing consistently now that I don't even view as a habit? I just come up short with what exactly I want to do, but I am going to try to do this a little more. I wouldn't say that this stuff doesn't work. I think that it probably works very well for some set of people, and a little bit for others, and not at all for others still. 

Michael: Yeah. I think on some level, the authors have to know this, that it's ultimately entertainment in a way. It's too bad because, I don't know, there's such a need for this kind of thing in society. I don't know, a lot of people are really suffering. But the only thing that is available is this kind of generic "take the stairs instead of the elevator" style advice. The core problem of these things is that you cannot meaningfully help people unless you understand the specifics of their situation. These books, by definition, can't. All they can do is broadcast these messages into the ether. The only thing that is broadcastable is this, like it's almost like thinspo. It is like, "Yeah, make food for the whole week." But that's not really useful for basically anybody. 

Peter: Every time I ran into something, I was like, "That's a good little piece of advice. That is in the episode." There's nothing that I encountered that I thought was really good advice that I left out, because I wanted to be fair, because there's a real risk with a book like this of it just being pure, "This is fucking dumb." Pure dunk. But there's shit in here. I don't know, you could take something out of this. 

Michael: It's funny that basically you trying to be fastidiously as fair to this book as possible still ends up being a dunk fest. [laughs] 

Peter: It's such a dunkable book. It's just so unserious. 

Michael: Also, it's not clear to me that books like this are all that harmful societally. I find them annoying. But they're not harmful the way that Nudge was or Clash of Civilizations or even The Secret on the curve on which we're grading the fucking books on this show. It's like, "Yeah, this is giving people asinine advice," but it's not like the Muslims are the problem with globalization. Terrible shit. 

Peter: Yeah. The overall impact of Atomic Habits on the culture is not particularly bad. It's just a book for shitty productivity YouTubers to be like, "This book changed how I do the dishes."

Michael: It's part of the general, I think, dumbening of American society. But yeah, the harm of that is fairly diffuse and it's very hard to lay the blame for that on any one book, basically. 

Peter: Yeah. We're at a point of diminishing returns with any given self-help book.

Michael: Yeah, exactly. These books are almost designed to be repackaged and resold to you every year or two.

Peter: I'm going to put out mine, and the cover is going to be me looking pensively at the camera, and the title is going to be called Putting Up the Shelf

Michael: [laughs] I was going to say it's just a photo of the shelf. No words. Everyone understands what the book is about. 

Peter: New York Times bestseller 2027. 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: That'll be the year after I put it out.

Michael: [laughs] 


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