Atomic Habits, James Clear (10/10)

A definitive guide to break bad habits and adopt good ones in four steps, showing you how small, incremental, everyday routines compound and add up to massive, positive change over time

Atomic Habits, James Clear (10/10)

Rating: 10/10
Read More on Goodreads

🚀 One Sentence Summary

A definitive guide to break bad habits and adopt good ones in four steps, showing you how small, incremental, everyday routines compound and add up to massive, positive change over time

🎨 Impressions

I really loved reading this book. It delves into the basic principles behind habits and the power of using habits into a very accessible, practical and inspiring way. I can see why the book is so popular and I'd really recommend it to anyone - there's something in there for everyone. No matter your goal, there's something in there for you to improve as a person and reach your goals. There's also useful stuff on identity change and goal setting too, which I thought was important to also include and happy it was included - otherwise you'd need a both book on this stuff too, but the author ties it all in very nicely and logically.

🔍 How I Discovered It

Recommended to me by various people, popular on Goodreads.

🥰 Who Would Like It?

Anyone looking to improve everyday.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

Helped me realise that habits shape every moment of your life and that all your behaviour is actually driven by your habits - hence the importance of recognising your habits, identifying which are serving you and the identity and person you want to become, and iteratively improving thereafter

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
  • Does this behaviour help me become the type of person I wish to be?
  • Say aloud the action you’re thinking of taking and what the outcome will be
  • It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfilment of it—that gets us to take action.

📒 Summary + Notes

Chapter 1: The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits

Habits are regularly performed routines or behaviours - automatic, in many cases.


Positive Compounding

  • Productivity. Accomplishing one extra task is a small feat on any given day, but counts for a lot over a lifetime. The effect of automating an old task or mastering a new skill can be even greater. The more tasks you can handle without thinking, the more your brain is free to focus on other areas.
  • Knowledge. Learning one new idea won’t make you a genius, but a commitment to lifelong learning can be transformative. Furthermore, each book you read not only teaches you something new but also opens up different ways of thinking about old ideas.
  • Relationships. People reflect your behaviour back to you. The more you help others, the more others want to help you. Being a little bit nicer in each interaction can result in a network of broad and strong connections over time.

Negative Compounding

  • Stress compounds. Traffic jams. Parenting responsibilities. Making ends meet. Slightly high blood pressure. By themselves, these common causes of stress are manageable. But when they persist for years, little stresses compound into serious health issues.
  • Negative thoughts compound. The more you think of yourself as worthless, stupid, or ugly, the more you condition yourself to interpret life that way. You get trapped in a thought loop. The same is true for how you think about others. Once you habitually see people as angry, unjust, or selfish, you see those kinds of people everywhere.
  • Outrage compounds. Riots, protests, and mass movements. These are rarely the result of a single event. Instead, long series of micro-aggressions and aggravations gradually multiply until one event tips the scales and outrage spreads like wildfire.

Chapter 1 Summary

  • Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Getting 1% better every day counts for a lot in the long-run.
  • Habits are a double-edged sword. They can work for or against you, which is why understanding the details is essential.
  • Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You must be patient.
  • Atomic habits are little habits part of a larger system - they are the building blocks of remarkable results.
  • If you want better results, forget about setting goals and focus on your system.

Chapter 2: How Your Habits Shape Your Identity

Who do you want to be? What do you want to stand for? What are your principles and values? These are big questions, and many people aren’t sure where to begin—but they do know what kind of results they want: e.g. get six-pack, feel less anxious, double their salary. That’s fine. Start there and work backwards.


  • Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?

For example:

  • “Who is the type of person who could write a book?” -> Someone who is consistent and reliable.

Now your focus shifts from writing a book (outcome-based) to being the type of person who is consistent and reliable (identity-based). This process can lead to beliefs like:

  • I’m the kind of teacher who stands up for her students.
  • I’m the kind of doctor who gives each patient the time and empathy they need.
  • I’m the kind of manager who advocates for her employees.

Chapter 2 Summary

  • There are three levels of change: outcome change, process change, and identity change.
  • The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but who you wish to become.
  • Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
  • Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.
  • The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results, but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.

Chapter 3: How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

The habit building process can be divided into four simple steps:

  1. Cue - triggers your brain to initiate a behaviour - information that predicts a reward.
  2. Craving - you crave the change in state the habit delivers. Any piece of information could deliver a craving.
  3. Response - it’s the habit. If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than you’re willing to expend, you won’t do it.
  4. Reward - the cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. Rewards: 1) satisfy us, 2) teach us.

If a behaviour is insufficient in any of the four stages, it won’t become a habit.

The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. These four steps form a neurological feedback loop that allows you to create automatic habits. This cycle is known as the habit loop.

This four-step process is not something that happens occasionally, but rather an endless feedback loop running every moment you are alive—even now. The brain is continually scanning the environment, predicting what will happen next, trying out different responses, and learning from the results.

We can split these four steps into two phases: problem and solution. The problem phase is realising something must change. The solution phase is taking action and achieving the change you desire.

Problem phase

  1. Cue
  2. Craving

Solution phase

  1. Response
  2. Reward

All behaviour is driven by the desire to solve a problem. Sometimes this is noticing something good that you want to obtain. Sometimes it’s experiencing pain you want to relieve.


How to Create a Good Habit

  • The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious
  • The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive
  • The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy
  • The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying

How to Break a Bad Habit

  • Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible
  • Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive
  • Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult
  • Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying

Chapter 3 Summary

  • A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.
  • The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible.
  • Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop that involves four steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.
  • The Four Laws of Behaviour Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.

Chapter 4: The Man Who Didn’t Look Right

If you have trouble determining how to rate a habit, consider:

  • Does this behaviour help me become the type of person I wish to be?
  • Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?

The first step to changing bad habits is to be on the lookout for them. Try Pointing-and-Calling. Say aloud the action you’re thinking of taking and what the outcome will be. This helps make the consequences seem more real. It adds weight to the action rather than letting yourself mindlessly slip into an old routine.

  • If you want to cut back on your junk food habit but notice yourself grabbing another cookie, say out loud: “I’m about to eat this cookie, but I don’t need it. Eating it will cause me to gain weight and hurt my health.”

This approach acknowledges the need for action, which can make all the difference. It is useful even in remembering a task on your to-do list:

  • “Tomorrow, I need to go to the post office after lunch,” increases the odds that you’ll actually do it.

Chapter 4 Summary

  • With enough practice, your brain will pick up cues that predict certain outcomes without consciously thinking.
  • Once habits become automatic, we stop paying attention to what we are doing.
  • The behaviour change process always starts with awareness. You must be aware of your habits before you can change them.
  • Pointing-and-Calling helps develop your awareness of unconscious habits by verbalizing your actions.
  • The Habits Scorecard is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behaviour.

Chapter 5: The Best Way to Start a New Habit

Habit stacking ties your desired behaviour into something you already do each day. Once you have mastered this basic structure, you can begin to create larger stacks by chaining small habits together.

The habit stacking formula is: “After [current habit], I will [new habit].” For example:

  • Meditation. After I pour my cup of coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute.
  • Exercise. After I take off my work shoes, I will immediately change into workout clothes.
  • Gratitude. After I sit for dinner, I will say one thing I’m grateful for that happened today.
  • Marriage. After I get into bed at night, I will give my partner a kiss.
  • Safety. After I put on my running shoes, I will text a friend or family member where I am running and how long it will take.

Habit stacking helps create a set of simple rules to guide your future behaviour.

  • Exercise. When I see a set of stairs, I will take them instead of using the elevator.
  • Social skills. When I walk into a party, I will introduce myself to someone I don’t know yet.
  • Finances. When I want to buy something over $100, I will wait twenty-four hours before purchasing.
  • Healthy eating. When I serve myself a meal, I will always put veggies on my plate first.
  • Minimalism. When I buy a new item, I will give something away. (“One in, one out.”)
  • Mood. When the phone rings, I will take a deep breath and smile before answering.
  • Forgetfulness. When I leave a public place, I will check the table and chairs to make sure I don’t leave anything behind.

Chapter 5 Summary

  • The 1st Law of Behavior Change is to make it obvious.
  • The two most common cues are time and location.
  • Creating an implementation intention is a strategy you can use to pair a new habit with a specific time and location.
  • The implementation intention formula is: I will [behaviour] at [time] in [location].
  • Habit stacking is a strategy you can use to pair a new habit with a current habit.
  • The habit stacking formula is: After [current habit], I will [new habit].

Chapter 6: Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More

  • Small changes in context can lead to large changes in behaviour over time.
  • Every habit is initiated by a cue. We are more likely to notice cues that stand out.
  • Make the cues of good habits obvious in your environment.
  • Gradually, your habits become associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behaviour. The context becomes the cue.
  • It's easier to build new habits in a new environment because you are not fighting against old cues.

Chapter 7: The Secret to Self-Control

  • The inversion of the 1st Law of Behavior Change is making it invisible.
  • Once a habit is formed, it is unlikely to be forgotten.
  • People with high self-control tend to spend less time in tempting situations. It’s easier to avoid temptation than resist it.
  • One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
  • Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one.

Chapter 8: How to Make a Habit Irresistible

If you want to watch sports, but need to make sales calls:

  1. After I get back from my lunch break, I will call three potential clients (need).
  2. After I call three potential clients, I will check ESPN (want).

If you want to check Facebook, but need to exercise more:

  1. After I pull out my phone, I will do ten burpees (need).
  2. After I do ten burpees, I will check Facebook (want).

Chapter 8 Summary

  • The 2nd Law of Behavior Change is making it attractive.
  • The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.
  • Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. When dopamine rises, so does our motivation to act.
  • It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfilment of it—that gets us to take action. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike.
  • Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits more attractive. The strategy is to pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.

Chapter 9: The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits

  • The culture we live in determines which behaviours are attractive to us.
  • We tend to adopt habits that are praised and approved of by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong to the tribe.
  • We tend to imitate the habits of three social groups: the close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (those with status and prestige).
  • One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where (1) your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
  • The normal behaviour of the tribe often overpowers the desired behaviour of the individual. Most days, we’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
  • If a behaviour can get us approval, respect, and praise, we find it attractive.

Chapter 10: How to Fund and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits

  • The inversion of the 2nd Law of Behavior Change is making it unattractive.
  • Every behaviour has a surface level craving and a deeper underlying motive.
  • Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires.
  • The cause of your habits is actually the prediction that precedes them. The prediction leads to a feeling.
  • Highlight the benefits of avoiding a bad habit to make it seem unattractive.
  • Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings and unattractive when we associate them with negative feelings. Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.

Chapter 11: Walk Slowly, but Never Backward

  • The 3rd Law of Behavior Change is making it easy.
  • The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning.
  • Focus on taking action, not being in motion.
  • Habit formation is the process by which a behaviour becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.
  • The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.

Chapter 12: The Law of Least Effort

  • Human behaviour follows the Law of Least Effort. We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.
  • Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.
  • Reduce the friction associated with good behaviour. Low friction makes habits easy.
  • Increase the friction associated with bad behaviour. High friction makes habits hard.
  • Prime your environment to make future actions easier.

Chapter 13: How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule

Nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two-minute version:

  • Read before bed each night -> Read one page
  • Do thirty minutes of yoga -> Take out my yoga mat
  • Study for class -> Open my notes
  • Fold the laundry -> Fold one pair of socks
  • Run three miles -> Tie my running shoes

The point is to master the habit of showing up. Habits must be established before they can be improved. If you can’t learn the basic skill of showing up, you have little hope of mastering the finer details.

Chapter 13 Summary

  • Habits can be completed in a few seconds but continue to impact your behaviour for minutes or hours after.
  • Many habits occur at decisive moments—choices like a fork in the road—and either send you in the direction of a productive day or an unproductive one.
  • The Two-Minute Rule states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
  • The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely it becomes that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things.
  • Standardize before you optimize. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.

Chapter 14: How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible



  • Buy a water filter to clean your drinking water
  • Use smaller plates to reduce caloric intake


  • Buy a good mattress
  • Get blackout curtains
  • Remove TV from bedroom


  • Unsubscribe from emails
  • Turn off notifications and mute group chats
  • Set phone to silent
  • Use email filters to clear inbox
  • Delete games and social media apps


  • Get a dog
  • Move to a friendly, social neighbourhood

General Health

  • Get vaccinated
  • Buy good shoes to avoid back pain
  • Buy a supportive chair or standing desk


  • Enrol in an automatic savings plan
  • Set up automatic bill pay
  • Cut cable service
  • Ask service providers to lower your bills

Chapter 14 Summary

  • The inversion of the 3rd Law of Behavior Change is making it difficult.
  • A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that locks in better behaviour in the future.
  • The ultimate way to lock in future behaviour is to automate your habits.
  • Onetime choices are single actions that automate your future habits and deliver increasing returns over time.
  • Using technology to automate your habits is the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behaviour.

Chapter 15: The Cardinal Rule of Behaviour Change

  • The 4th Law of Behavior Change is making it satisfying.
  • We are more likely to repeat a behaviour when the experience is satisfying.
  • The human brain evolved to prioritize immediate rewards over delayed rewards.
  • The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.
  • To get a habit to stick you must feel immediately successful—even in a small way.
  • The first three laws of behaviour change—make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy—increase the odds that a behaviour will be performed this time. The fourth law of behaviour change—make it satisfying—increases the odds that a behaviour will be repeated next time.

Chapter 16: How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day


A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit. The most basic format is to get a calendar and cross off each day you stick with your routine. For example, if you meditate on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, each of those dates gets an X. As time rolls by, the calendar becomes a record of your habit streak.

Countless people have tracked their habits, but perhaps the most famous was Benjamin Franklin. Beginning at 20, Franklin carried a small booklet everywhere he went and used it to track thirteen personal virtues. This list included: “Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful” and “Avoid trifling conversation.” At the end of each day, Franklin would open his booklet and record his progress.

This is sometimes referred to as Goodhart’s Law, which states “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Measurement is only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture, not when it consumes you. Each number is simply one piece of feedback in the overall system.

Chapter 16 Summary

  • One of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress.
  • A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit—like marking an X on a calendar.
  • Habit trackers and other visual forms of measurement can make your habits satisfying by providing clear evidence of your progress.
  • Don’t break the chain. Try to keep your habit streak alive.
  • Never miss twice. If you miss one day, try to get back on track as quickly as possible.
  • Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing.

Chapter 17: How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything

The more immediate the pain, the less likely the behaviour. If you want to prevent bad habits and eliminate unhealthy behaviours, then adding an instant cost to the action is a great way to reduce their odds.

Chapter 17 Summary

  • The inversion of the 4th Law of Behavior Change is making it unsatisfying.
  • We are less likely to repeat a bad habit if it is painful or unsatisfying.
  • An accountability partner can create an immediate cost to inaction. We care deeply about what others think of us, and we do not want others to have a lesser opinion of us.
  • A habit contract can be used to add a social cost to any behaviour. It makes the costs of violating your promises public and painful.
  • Knowing that someone else is watching you can be a powerful motivator.

Chapter 18: The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t)

Your genes are operating beneath the surface of every habit and of every behaviour. “It is now at the point where we have stopped testing to see if traits have a genetic component because we literally can’t find a single one that isn’t influenced by our genes.”

The most proven scientific analysis of personality traits is known as the “Big Five”:

  • Openness to experience: curious & inventive <—> cautious & consistent
  • Conscientiousness: organized & efficient <—> easygoing & spontaneous
  • Extroversion: outgoing & energetic <—> solitary & reserved
  • Agreeableness: friendly & compassionate <—> challenging & detached
  • Neuroticism: anxious & sensitive <—> confident, calm, & stable

The work that hurts you less than it hurts others is the work you were made to do.

  • What makes me lose track of time? Flow is the mental state you enter when you are so focused on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away. This blend of happiness and peak performance is what athletes and performers experience when they are “in the zone.”
  • Where do I get greater returns than the average person? We are continually comparing ourselves to those around us, and a behaviour is more likely to be satisfying when the comparison is in our favour.

What comes naturally to me?

Ignore what you have been taught. Ignore what society has told you. Ignore what others expect of you. Ask, “What feels natural to me? When have I felt alive? When have I felt like the real me?” No internal judgments or people-pleasing. No second-guessing or self-criticism. Just feelings of engagement and enjoyment. Whenever you feel authentic and genuine, you are headed in the right direction.

Chapter 18 Summary

  • The secret to maximising your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition.
  • Pick the right habit and progress is easy. Pick the wrong habit and life is a struggle.
  • Genes cannot be easily changed, which means they provide a powerful advantage in favourable circumstances and serious disadvantage in unfavourable circumstances.
  • Habits are easier when they align with your natural abilities. Choose the habits that best suit you.
  • Play a game that favours your strengths. If you can’t find a game that favours you, create one.
  • Genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on.

Chapter 19: The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work

  • The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities.
  • The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.
  • As habits become routine, they become less interesting and less satisfying. We get bored.
  • Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated. It’s the ability to keep going when work isn’t exciting that makes the difference.
  • Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way.

Chapter 20: The Downside of Creating Good Habits

I know of executives and investors who keep a “decision journal” in which they record the major decisions they make each week, why they made them, and what they expect the outcome to be. They review their choices at the end of each month or year to see where they were correct and where they went wrong.

Personally, I employ two primary modes of reflection and review. Each December, I perform an Annual Review, in which I reflect on the previous year. I tally my habits for the year by counting up how many articles I published, how many workouts I put in, how many new places I visited, and more. Then, I reflect on my progress (or lack thereof) by answering:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn?

Six months later, I conduct an Integrity Report. Like everyone, I make a lot of mistakes. My Integrity Report helps me realize where I went wrong and motivates me to get back on course. I use it as a time to revisit my core values and consider whether I have been living in accordance with them. This is when I reflect on my identity and how I can work toward being the type of person I wish to become. My yearly Integrity Report answers three questions:

  1. What are the core values that drive my life and work?
  2. How am I living and working with integrity right now?
  3. How can I set a higher standard in the future?

The key to mitigating these losses of identity is to redefine yourself such that you get to keep important aspects of your identity even if your particular role changes.

  • “I’m an athlete” --> “I’m the type of person who is mentally tough and loves a physical challenge.”
  • “I’m a great soldier” --> “I’m the type of person who is disciplined, reliable, and great on a team.”
  • “I’m the CEO” --> “I’m the type of person who builds and creates things.”

When chosen effectively, an identity can be flexible rather than brittle. Your identity works with the changing circumstances rather than against them.

The following quote from the Tao Te Ching encapsulates the ideas perfectly:

Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.

Habits deliver numerous benefits, but the downside is they can lock us into our previous patterns of thinking and acting—even when the world is shifting around us. Everything is impermanent. Life is constantly changing, so you need to periodically check-in to see if your old habits and beliefs are still serving you.

A lack of self-awareness is poison. Reflection and review is the antidote.

Chapter 20 Summary

  • The upside of habits is that we can do things without thinking. The downside is that we stop paying attention to little errors
  • Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery
  • Reflection and review is a process that allows you to remain conscious of your performance over time
  • The tighter we cling to an identity, the harder it becomes to grow beyond it