The Best of James Clear: Big Ideas From His Last 3,000 Tweets

Dear Everybody,

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He tweets about self-improvement and shares wisdom in his 3-2-1 Newsletter.

I organized and distilled his last 3,000 tweets into a summary of his big ideas, in three parts:

  1. Self-Improvement, Writing, and Life Philosophy

  2. The Complete Collection of Lists — How to be Happy and Healthy

  3. Quotes on Habits and Human Behavior


PART ONE: SELF-IMPROVEMENT, WRITING, AND LIFE PHILOSOPHY


Be thoughtful, but get moving…

  • Start early

  • Start small

  • Start now 

  • (Taking action is more important than finding the best strategy)

  • (The path to the summit is not fully visible from base camp)

Aim to be great in 10 years…

  • Raise your ambitions

  • Think big when making plans

Optimize for tomorrow (as in one day from now)…

  • Think small when making progress

  • Do today what will benefit you later

  • Do the biggest small things you can do

Repeat each day…

  • Show up

  • Put in reps

  • Make each rep great

  • Control the next rep

  • Hammer away on what matters

  • (You have to show up before inspiration will)

  • (People need consistency more than they need intensity)

Make good habits the path of least resistance…

  • Act fast on things that compound

  • Apply fundamentals consistently and without distraction

  • (Habits will form whether you want them or not)

Give it time…

  • The most useful form of patience is persistence

  • Time is the most powerful force in the universe

  • Continue to work when things take longer than you expect

  • Small daily differences early on result in wide outcomes gaps over time

  • Small changes can accumulate to an incredible degree over months and years

Choose the right neighborhood…

  • Changing your habits often requires you to change your tribe

  • Surround yourself with people who have the same goals as you

  • Join a group where your desired behavior is the normal behavior

  • Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself

Optimize for a process that leads to great outcomes…

  • Find parts of the process to enjoy

  • Know the process goes on forever

  • Adopt processes that increase your winning percentage

  • If your outcomes aren’t improving, the process needs to change

Read, search, and research widely…

  • But select, refine, and apply carefully (broad funnel, tight filter)

  • Repeatedly bring your attention back to the same thing

  • Wild success requires aggressive elimination

Be great at saying no…

  • Ignore topics

  • Unfollow people 

  • Abandon projects

  • Decide what shouldn’t be done

  • Saying no is practice, not an event

  • Cut your number of commitments in half

  • Discover what you want by eliminating want you don’t 

Don’t try to be more right…

  • Try to be less wrong

  • Upgrade your addictions

  • Less wrong means more questions

  • Unforced errors are mistakes that you choose 

  • Less wrong means hard work on the right thing 

Take smart drugs…

  • Sleep 8+ hrs

  • Lift weights 3x wk

  • Go outside

  • Save 10% of your income

  • Read a few pages

  • Drink more water

  • Leave your phone in another room

  • Eat more vegetables

  • Don’t hang with toxic people

  • Work on projects you care about

Develop superpowers…

  • Long-term thinking is a superpower

  • Not taking things personally is a superpower

  • Recruiting the best people is a superpower

Accrue wealth…

  • Wealth is creativity

  • Wealth is free thinking 

  • Wealth is the power to say no

Plan for failure…

  • Have the safety net to fail 

  • Avoid repeated mistakes

  • Learn how to fail in public 

  • Treat failure like a scientist (failures guide the next experiment)

Be smarter tomorrow (i.e. read)…

  • Reading focuses the mind

  • Reading is food for the mind

  • Reading teaches you what others already know

  • Reading gives you a new way to interpret your past experiences 

Read a lot, and read old books…

  • Revisit the same ideas because it’s what you need:  to be reminded

  • Anytime you think your idea is unique, you just haven't read widely enough

  • Once you’ve read a lot, you can see that even the best arguments have limitations

  • A sign you haven’t done enough reading is if you find yourself agreeing with whatever book you read last

Edit your thinking (i.e. write)…

  • Writing is re-writing

  • Writing leads to stronger ideas

  • Writing is the antidote to confusion

  • Writing is trimming away the excess

Write to be useful…

  • Clarify key points

  • Simplify paragraphs

  • Double-check for typos

  • Write the article you wish you could read 

Make your writing easy on your readers…

  • Be impatient on their behalf

  • Know the mistakes they are likely to make 

  • Respect their time by only including what matters

  • Ruthlessly eliminate unnecessary information and needless words

The best writing is short, but potent…

  • The best writing resists compression

  • The best writing makes the illegible, legible

  • The best writing finds the signal in the noise

  • The best writing is the most information dense

The shape of genius is simplicity…

  • The highest level of mastery is simplicity

  • Simplicity after understanding complexity is genius

  • Simplicity before understanding complexity is ignorance

Learn a topic (i.e. teach)…

  • The person who learns the most in any classroom is the teacher

  • Exceptional teachers know why someone might misunderstand a topic

  • (Remember, your teaching ability is constrained by your writing ability)

Be the type of person who DOESN’T…

  • Miss workouts

  • Take it personally 

  • Chase a false summit

  • Write to sound smart

  • Abandon fundamentals

  • Care about trivial arguments

  • Wish for better opportunities 

  • Let a proxy become the target

  • Spend what you haven’t earned 

  • Optimize for the wrong outcome 

  • Optimize things should be left undone

Be the type of person who WILL…

  • Be kind

  • Compliment others more

  • Let the chips fall where they may

  • Do your best (and be at peace with it)

  • Be there when nobody knows what to say

  • Be there when the only thing people need to hear is your presence


PART TWO: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION OF LISTS — HOW TO BE HAPPY AND HEALTHY


Habits That Have a High Rate of Return in Life:

(The Ultimate List of Biohacks and Smart Drugs)

  • Sleep 8+ hours each day

  • Lift weights 3x week

  • Go for a walk each day

  • Save at least 10 percent of your income

  • Read a few pages every day

  • Drink more water and less of everything else

  • Leave your phone in another room while you work

  • Walk outside in the sun

  • Eat more vegetables and greens

  • Don’t hang out with toxic people

  • Work on projects you care about


How to 80/20 Your Life:

  1. Make a list of the 10 things you spend the most time on.

  2. Circle the two that truly drive your results. Do more of those.

  3. Look at the others. Eliminate ruthlessly. Automate or outsource what you can. Press pause on the rest.

  4. Repeat.


How to Win:

  1. Broad funnel. Research widely, explore unrelated areas for ideas, create a huge dataset of options.

  2. Tight filter. Eliminate nearly everything. Focus only on the best options. Prioritize asymmetric opportunities: limited downside, unlimited upside.

  3. Repeat.


How to Double Your Productivity:

  • Step 1: Stop reading articles on how to double your productivity.

  • Step 2: Start sleeping 8 hours a night.


How to prepare for bad luck:

  • Spend less than you earn

  • Build an emergency fund

  • Get fit before you need to

  • Be the friend you’ll need some day

  • Ask “How could X go wrong?” and plan for failure 

  • Build confidence by conquering small challenges when life is easy


How to generate great ideas as a team:

  1. Brainstorm privately. Any idea goes. Avoids groupthink.

  2. Compile ideas, but hide the sources. Avoids ""highest paid person"" winning.

  3. Discuss as a group to find the best answer.

  4. Reveal the winner so the right person gets credit.


How to be a better writer:

  • Write about what fascinates you

  • Make one point per sentence

  • Use stories to make your point

  • Cut extra words like “really” and “very”

  • Read the whole thing out loud

  • Post publicly (you’ll try harder when you know others will read it)


How to Handle Rejection:

  • Learn from the experience

  • Keep your ego in check

  • Say thank you

  • Try again


How to Handle Success:

  • Learn from the experience

  • Keep your ego in check

  • Say thank you

  • Try again


How to Be Unhappy:

  • Stay inside all day

  • Move as little as possible

  • Spend more than you earn

  • Take yourself (and life) too seriously

  • Look for reasons why things won’t work

  • Always consume, never contribute

  • Resent the lucky and successful

  • Never say hello first

  • Be unreliable


How to See Opportunities Others Miss:

  1. Study a totally different field, then return to the original problem. Apply insights from other domains.

  2. Invert the problem. Try to achieve the opposite.

  3. Find ways to engage with hyper-creative people. Their thinking will rub off.


2 Ways to Achieve Extraordinary Outcomes:

  1. Be lucky.

  2. Be obsessed.

Most people need some combination of both.


3 Primary Drivers of Results:

  1. Your luck (randomness)

  2. Your strategy (choices)

  3. Your actions (habits)

Only 2 of the 3 are under your control.


3 Zones of Learning:

  1. Zone of Automation: Habits you have mastered.

  2. Zone of Adaptation: Actions of just manageable difficulty.

  3. Zone of Aggravation: When the rate of change outpaces your ability to adapt.


3 Things In Life:

  1. Some things are not your fault, but they are your responsibility.

  2. Other things are not your responsibility, but they are your problem.

  3. Many things are neither your responsibility nor your problem, but they make the world better

Take action on all three.


3 Things that Resolve Many Stresses and Anxieties:

  • A glass of water

  • A 10-minute walk outside

  • A good night of sleep


3-Step Cycle of Developing an Extraordinary Mind:

  1. Explore widely. Follow many people, listen to tons of podcasts, read more books.

  2. Clean up your information feed. Subscribe to fewer newsletters, follow fewer people, re-read great books. All signal, no noise.

  3. Repeat


3 Crucial Questions to Ask When Considering a New Opportunity:

  1. Power: How can I find an advantage relative to others?

  2. Probability: How likely am I to succeed?

  3. Payoff: How large is the payoff if I succeed?

Great opportunities are favorable on all 3 dimensions.


3 Ways to Break a Bad Habit:

  1. Elimination - cut it off entirely.

  2. Reduction - drop to the desired level.

  3. Substitution - replace the bad habit with a good one.


3 Things That Help Habits Stick:

  1. Repetition. Habits form based on frequency, not time.

  2. Stable context. If the context is always changing, so is the behavior. You need a reliable environment.

  3. Positive emotions. If it feels good, you’ll want to repeat it.


3 Meta-Habits:

  1. Sleep - being well-rested improves performance on all other habits.

  2. Reading - you can learn how to improve any habit by reading.

  3. Questions - asking good questions continually provokes new insights for tweaking your habits.


3 Levels of Employees:

  • Level 1 — You do what you are asked to do.

  • Level 2 — Level 1 + You think ahead and solve problems before they happen.

  • Level 3 — Level 2 + You proactively look for areas of opportunity and growth in the business, and figure out how to tap into them


3 tips for getting started as a writer:

  1. Publish on a schedule. Consistency develops ability.

  2. Share your writing publicly. Writing is a magnet. It attracts like-minded people.

  3. Write about what fascinates you. You don't need to be an expert. Curiosity leads to expertise.


4 Types of Wealth:

  1. Financial wealth (money)

  2. Social wealth (status)

  3. Time wealth (freedom)

  4. Physical wealth (health)

Be wary of jobs that lure you in with 1 and 2, but rob you of 3 and 4


4 Things for Exceptional Results:

  1. Quantity: You take lots of shots.

  2. Quality: You take thoughtful shots.

  3. Consistency: You keep shooting for a long time.

  4. Luck: You get a few favorable bounces.


4 Abilities that Lead to Intelligence:

  1. The curiosity to experiment and explore.

  2. The honesty to observe the world as it is, not as you wish it to be.

  3. The humility to kill your favorite ideas when you learn something new.

  4. The consistency to repeat this cycle for life.


5 Things to Consider Removing Next Year:

  1. One toxic person

  2. One annoying customer

  3. One topic that robs your attention

  4. One belief that’s holding you back

  5. One commitment that isn’t worth the effort


The 10-10-10 Rule for making better decisions:

  • Consider each option

  • Ask, “What will the consequences be in 10 minutes?”

  • Ask, “What will the consequences be in 10 months?”

  • Ask, “What will the consequences be in 10 years?”


Where not learning the fundamentals will put you at a severe disadvantage:

  • Reading

  • Writing

  • Math

  • Exercise

  • Nutrition

  • Personal Finance

  • Habit Formation


Real wealth is:

  • Not having to go to meetings

  • Not having to spend time with jerks

  • Not being locked into status games

  • Not feeling like you have to say “yes”

  • Not worrying about others claiming your time and energy


Real wealth is about freedom

  • Your 1st blog post will be bad, but your 1000th will be great.

  • Your 1st workout will be weak, but your 1000th will be strong.

  • Your 1st meditation will be scattered, but your 1000th will be focused.


The Paradox of Freedom:

  • The way to expand your freedom is to narrow your focus.

  • Stay focused on saving to achieve financial freedom.

  • Stay focused on training to achieve physical freedom.

  • Stay focused on learning to achieve intellectual freedom.

  • The disciplined become the free.


Invert for Happiness:

  • Get outside each day

  • Move: walk, exercise, dance

  • Spend less than you earn

  • View life as play

  • Be the one who looks for solutions

  • Develop a bias to contribute and create

  • Learn from the lucky and successful

  • Be the first to say hello

  • Be reliable


Effective networking strategy:

1) Do interesting things.

2) Share them publicly.

Like-minded people will come to you.


Negotiation Tips:

  • You want leverage.

  • The person who creates more value has leverage.

  • The person who can walk away has leverage.

  • The person who is irreplaceable has leverage.

  • The person who has a second option has leverage.

  • The person who knows the numbers has leverage.


The Morning Routine of Successful People:

  • They get up

  • They show up

  • At some point, they do work that matters


The Cycle of Improvement:

  1. Awareness - identify what you need to improve.

  2. Deliberate practice - focus your conscious effort on the specific area you want to improve.

  3. Habit - with practice, the effortful becomes automatic.

  4. Repeat - begin the cycle anew.


Major drivers of human behavior:

  • Self-interest: How does it serve the person?

  • Status: How does it improve their standing?

  • Convenience: What is the path of least resistance?

  • Signaling: What does it signal to others?

  • Social norms: How does it help them fit in?


Asymmetric Advice: Advice from Someone Who Can’t Use It.

  • A rich person saying “Money isn’t everything.”

  • A fit person saying “Beauty is on the inside.”

  • A powerful person saying “Stop caring what others think of you.”

It’s easy to give advice when you don’t face the downside.


Books that are Quick and Easy to Read, but Contain a Tremendous Amount of Wisdom

The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Manual for Living by Epictetus

A Calendar of Wisdom by Leo Tolstoy


Douglas Adams’ 3 Rules of Tech

  1. Anything in the world when you’re born is normal, ordinary, and natural

  2. Anything invented between when you’re 15 and 35 is new, exciting, and revolutionary

  3. Anything invented after you’re 35 is against the natural order of things


PART THREE: QUOTES ON HABITS AND HUMAN BEHAVIOR


The effects of compounding even moderate returns over many years are compelling, if not downright mind-boggling.

-Billionaire investor Seth Klarman, on small, but consistent growth

Most people will solve problems that they know how to solve. Roughly speaking, they will solve B+ problems instead of A+ problems. A+ problems are high impact problems for your company but they are difficult... so you procrastinate.

-Keith Rabois

Spend as little time as possible talking about how other people are wrong.

-Tyler Cowen

Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth.

-Machiavelli

I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten;

even so, they have made me.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

You should take the approach that you, the entrepreneur, are wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong.

-Elon Musk, on building a company

An ancient story:

  • Plato caught a child playing cobnuts. It was a game children played without money, but it was seen as an introduction to gambling.

  • Plato reprimanded the boy.

  • The child complained, “You scold me for a small matter.”

  • Plato replied, “Habit is no small matter.”


The thing that I tell young writers—and a young writer can be any age—is anything you do can be fixed. What you cannot fix is the perfection of a blank page... cause there’s nothing there to fix.

-Neil Gaiman

There are three things you cannot buy.

Fitness: You have to keep fit, whether you’re rich or not.

Diet: You cannot pay someone to be on a diet for you.

Then, looking after your soul. No one can possibly treat your soul but you yourself.

-Brunello Cucinelli

Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.

-Rumi

It is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterwards.

-Balthasar Gracian

We acquire virtues by first having put them into action... We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage.

-Aristotle

Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works. We’re all biased to our own personal history.

-Morgan Housel

I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1000 things.

-Steve Jobs

The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

-Warren Buffett

You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.

-John C. Maxwell

There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.

-Norman Douglas

It's often the small things that no one sees that result in the big things that everyone wants.

-Craig Groeschel

Most things are not obtained simply because they are not attempted.

-Balthasar Gracian

The best people always seem to be building stuff and hanging around smart people.

-Sam Altman

He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.

-Jean-Luc Godard

Almost everybody can stay excited for 2 or 3 months. A few people can stay excited for 2 or 3 years, but a winner will stay excited for 30 years or however long it takes to win.

-Art Williams

Watch your actions; they become habit.

Watch your habits; they become character.

Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

-Lao Tzu

If you have an income without working hard, then someone worked hard without receiving an income.

-Maimonides

It almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa... Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits.

-Frédéric Bastiat

The dead outnumber the living fourteen to one, and we ignore the accumulated experience of such a huge majority of mankind at our peril.

-Niall Ferguson

Loving someone means helping them to be more themselves, which can be different from being what you'd like them to be, although often they turn out the same.

-Merle Shain

Surprise and delight your customers. There is nothing like that in business. If you delight your customers, you’re a long way home.

-Warren Buffett

When one teaches, two learn.

-Robert Heinlein

Limitations stimulate creativity.

-Henry Mintzberg

When people speak in a very elaborate and sophisticated way, they either want to tell a lie, or to admire themselves. You should not believe such people. Good speech is always clear, clever, and understood by all.

-Leo Tolstoy

If you’re going to live a long time, you have to keep learning. What you formerly knew is not enough. If you don’t adapt, you’re like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

-Charlie Munger

Less, but better.

-Dieter Rams

The master is content to serve as an example and not to impose her will.

-Tao Te Ching

First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit is persistence in practice.

-Octavia Butler

The heaviest weight at the gym is the front door.

-Ed Latimore

You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over with now.

-Annie Dillard

Havin' money's not everything, not havin' it is.

-Kanye West

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

-Carl Sagan

People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.

-F.M. Alexander

The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it.

-Chinese Proverb

If you want to be successful, find out what the price is and then pay it.

-Scott Adams

If you don't get what you want, it's a sign either that you did not seriously want it, or that you tried to bargain over the price.

-Rudyard Kipling

I saw that it was the artificial needs of life that made me a slave; the real needs of life were few.

-William James Dawson, The Quest of the Simple Life

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

-John Wooden

If you desire many things, many things will seem few.

-Benjamin Franklin

Wealth, in fact, is what you don’t see. It’s the cars not purchased. The diamonds not bought. The renovations postponed, the clothes forgone and the first-class upgrade declined. It’s assets in the bank that haven’t yet been converted into the stuff you see.

-Morgan Housel

You could beat any grandmaster at chess if you could move twice every time he moved once. Speed gives you the edge.

-Peep Laja

The safest way to try and get what you want is to try and deserve what you want. It’s such a simple idea. It’s the golden rule so to speak. You want to deliver to the world what you would buy if you were on the other end.

-Charlie Munger

If you want to look good in front of thousands, you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody.

-Damian Lillard

Take a simple idea and take it seriously.

-Charlie Munger

A man who cannot climb a tree will boast of never having fallen out of one.

-Ludwig Klages (1872)

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.

-Charles Dickens, in 1849, on the relationship between money and happiness

When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.

-Lao Tzu

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

-Henry David Thoreau

We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.

-Greek poet Archilochus

For the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits.

For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you.

-Hindu saying

This saying was reportedly a favorite of Steve Jobs, who sent it out to friends on invitations to his 30th birthday party.


Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

-Buddhaghosa

I don't like that man. I must get to know him better.

-Abraham Lincoln

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

-Jim Rohn

-Charlie Munger, on how to avoid falling victim to intense ideology and unclear thinking

Robert Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance

This one took a bit!  

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Sincerely, 

Justin