Atomic Habits

James Clear



Oct 2, 2021

Read time

20 minutes


No matter your goals, Atomic Habits offers a proven framework for improving--every day. James Clear, one of the world's leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that will teach you exactly how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

The Fundamentals

Atomic: An extremely small amount of a thing; the single irreducible unit of a larger system

Habit: A routine or practice performed regularly; an automatic response to a specific situation

The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits

Why Tiny Changes Make a Big Difference

It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action.

Improving by just 1 percent every day isn’t particularly notable - but it can be far more meaningful in the long run. If you improve 1 percent every day, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better in one year’s time! (1.01^365 = 37.78)

You must be aware that this is also true for the opposite. If you get one percent worse every day, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or minor setback accumulates into something much more.

The difficulty is that small changes don’t seem to matter at the moment itself. If you save a little money now, you’re still not a millionaire. If you go to the gym three days in a row, you’re still out of shape, etc…

The same applies to shifting the route of an airplane by just a few degrees. A couple of degrees turn can completely change where you end up.

Your Habits Can Compound For You OR Against You

Positive Compounding

  • Productivity compounds

    One extra task completed every day can counts for a lot over an entire carreer

  • Knowledge compounds

    Learning new ideas won’t make you a genius, but lifelong learning can. Furthermore, each book you read not only teaches you something new but also opens up different ways of thinking about old ideas.

  • Relationships compound

    People reflect your behavior back to you. If you help more people, the more they want to help you.

Negative Compounding

  • Stress compounds

    When stress persists for years, it can lead to serious health issues

  • Negative thoughts compounds

    Everything you think of yourself will condition you to interpret life that way and you get trapped in a thought loop. The same is true for how you think about others.

  • Outrage compounds

    Riots and protests are rarely the result of a single event.

What Progress Is Really Like

If you find yourself struggling to build a good habit or break a bad one, it is not because you have lost your ability to improve. It is often because you have not yet crossed the “Plateau of Latent Potential”. And when you break through it, people will call it an overnight success. The outside world only sees the most dramatic event rather than all that preceded it.

Forget About Goals, Focus On Systems Instead

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.

  • As a musician, your goal is to learn to play a new piece, your system is how much you practice.
  • As an entrepreneur, your goal is to have a successful company, your system is how you test product ideas, hire employees, ...

“If you completely ignored your goal and only focused on your systems, would you still succeed?” I think you would. So are goals completely useless? Of course NOT. Goals are there for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. But there are some problems when you spend too much time thinking about your goals.

Problem #1: Winners and losers have the same goals.

Every olympian wants to win a gold medal, every candidate wants to get the job.

If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers. It is the system they use to get there.

Problem #2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.

If you set a goal to clean up your room and summon the energy to do it, you will have a clean room. But if you maintain the same sloppy habits that led to a messy room in the first place, soon you’ll be looking at a new pile of clothes.

We think we need to change our results, but we really need to change the systems that cause those results. Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.

Problem #3: Goals restrict your happiness.

The assumption behind almost every goal is: “If I achieve my goal THEN I will be happy”. This goal-first mentality is that you put your happiness off to the next milestone. A systems-first mentality provides the antidote. When you fall in love with the process, you can be satisfied anytime your system is running.

Problem #4: Goals are at odds with long-term progress.

A goal-oriented mindset can create a “yo-yo”-effect. Many runners work hard for months, but once they cross the finish line they stop training. And some may even revert to their old habits. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It’s about a cycle of endless refinements and continuous improvement.

How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)

Three Layers of Behavior Change

There are three layers where change can occur, you can imagine them like the layers of an onion.

  • Changing your outcomes

    Change your results: losing weight, winning a race, … (most of the goals)

  • Changing your process

    Change your habits and systems: new gymroutine, start meditating, … (most of the systems)

  • Changing your identity

  • Changing your beliefs: your worldview, self-image, judgements about yourself and others

Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.

An example of these two approaches goes as follows:

Two people are trying to resist a cigarette (because they want to break the habit of smoking). When offered a smoke, the outcome-based person answers with “No thanks, I’m trying to quit”. Sounds alright, but this person still believes he IS a smoker.

The Identity-based person declines by saying, “No thanks, I’m not a smoker (anymore)”. It’s a small difference but this statement signals a shift in identity.

Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are.

  • The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader
  • The is not to run a marathon but to become a runner
  • The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician

Many people blindly follow the norms attached to their identity: “Im not a morning person”, “Im always late”, “I’m bad at math”, “I’m bad at remembering names”, …

Two-step process to changing your identity

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins

How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

Habits are basically mental shortcuts learned from experience, how you previously solved a problem

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

  1. Cue: Triggers your brain to initiate a behavior (noticing)

  2. Craving: The motivational force behind every habit (wanting)

  3. Response: The actual habit you perform (trying to obtain)

  4. Reward: The end goal of every habit (receiving)

These steps loop that runs every moment you are alive. Without all four, a habit will not be repeated.

Cue & Craving can be classified into a “Problem”-phase and Response & Reward can be classified into a “Solution”- phase.


  1. Cue: You hit a stumbling on a project at work
  2. Craving: You want to relieve frustration
  3. Response: You pull out your phone and check social media
  4. Reward: You satisfied your craving

The Four Laws of Behavior Change

In the next chapters, you will see how to stages of cue, craving, response, and reward influence everything we do each day. Every previously described stage has its own law of behavior for creating good habits and breaking bad ones.

1st Law: Make It Obvious

Practice makes perfect

With enough practice, your brain will pick up on the cues that predict certain outcomes without consciously thinking about it.

Once our habits become automatic, we stop paying attention to what we are doing.

The process of behavior change always starts with awareness. You need to be aware of a habit before you can change them.

Pointing-and-Calling raises your level of awareness from a non-conscious habit to a more conscious level by verbalizing your actions

The Habits Scoreard is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behaviour:

  • Make a list of your daily habits
  • Mark every habit as good / normal / bad
  • Remove or replace the bad ones with better ones

The Best Way to Start a New Habit

Hundreds of studies have shown that implementation intentions are effective for sticking to our goals.

The format for creating an implementation intention is:


Example: I will exercise for one hour at 5pm in my local gym

You can also “force” people to create an implementation intention by saying: “What time are you planning to go?”. This way you make people think about HOW they would go, not IF they are going.

Habit Stacking

You can use the connectedness of behaviours to your advantage. Identify something you are already doing each day.



Example: After I come home and take of my shoes, I change into my workout clothing

The key is to tie your desired behaviour into something you already do. So can the reward from the first habit unconsciously trigger the other habit(s).

Motivation is overrated; Environment Matters More

If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment. Your environment often reminds us what to do. For example: If you want to drink more water, place water bottles around the house, place them everywhere you go. This way it will be more tempting to drink from it.

Context is cue

The cues that trigger a habit can start out very specific, but over time your habits become associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behavious. For example, many people drink more in social situations than they would even drink alone. The trigger is rarely a single cue, but rather the whole situation: hearing music, seeing the beers on tap, watching other peopel drink,...

The Secret to Self-Control

Once a habit has been encoded into the brain, the urge to act follows whenever the environmental cues reappear. This is one reason behavior change techniques can backfire. For example: if you show a smoker an image of black lungs can give them anxiety, which drives many of them to reach for a cigarette.

Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself.

A reliable approach is to cut bad habits off at the source. One of the most practical ways to eliminate a bad habit is to reduce expsure to the cue that causes it.


  • If you can’t seem to get any work done, leave your phone in another room
  • If you’re feeling that you’re not good enough, stop follwing social media accounts that trigger jealousy
  • If youre spending too much, quit reading reviews or looking up materialistic things

2nd Law: Make It Attractive

Make a good habit irresistible

The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.

This method of combining habits is called Temptation Bundling. You can combine temptation bundling with habit stacking to create a set of rules to guide your behavior

  1. After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. \
  2. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT]


  • After I get my morning coffee (CURRENT), I will meditate for 10 minutes (NEED), Then I will read the news (WANT)
  • After I pull out my phone (CURRENT), I will do ten burpees (NEED), Then I will check Instagram (WANT)

The Seductive Pull of Social Norms

Humands are herd animals. We want to fit in with others and earn respect of our peers. We didn’t choose our earliest habits, we imitated them from family, friends, school, etc. And this still happens, we imitate te people around us.

We imitate the habits of three groups in particular:

  1. The close: We pick up habits from the people around us, we copy the way our parents handle arguments, the way our coworkers/co-students get results, … This can work in your favor by joining a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior and you already have something in common with the group.

  2. The many: The human mind knows how to get long with others. Its wants to get along with others. This is our natural mode. BUT you can override it. You can stop caring what other people think - but it takes a lot of work/practice. Running against the grain of your culture requires extra effort.

  3. The powerful: Humans persue power, prestige and status. Once we fit in with a crowd, we try to stand out. This is one reason we care so much about the habits of highly effective people. We try to copy the behaviour of succssful people because we desire succses ourselves. If a behavior can get us approval, respect and praise, we find it attractive.

How To Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits

Underlying cravings with their habits:
  • Find love and reproduce -> using Tinder
  • Connect and bond with others -> browsing Facebook
  • Win social acceptance and approval -> posting on Instagram
  • Reduce uncertainty -> searching on Google
  • Achieve status and prestige -> play video games

= Modern-day solutions to ancient desires.

Your current habits are not necessarily the best way to solve problems you face; they are just the methods you learned to use

Every time you perceive a cue, your brain makes a prediction (based on past experience) about what to do in the next moment. These predictions lead to feelings which is how we typically describe a craving: feelings.

What you really want is not a cigarette or a bunch of likes, you want to feel different.

How to reprogram your brain to enjoy HARD habits

You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience. You just need a small mindset shift. This can be done just by changing one word: you don’t “have” to, you “get” to.

You get to wake up early, you get to cook dinner, you get to work out in the gym, ...

3rd Law: Make It Easy

Walk Slowly but NEVER Backward

We are so focused on figuring out the best approach to something, that we never get around to taking action.

The difference between being in motion and taking action

When you are in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are good things but they don’t produce a result.

Action is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome.

It’s easy to be in motion and convince yourself that you’re still making progress. Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really you’re just preparing to get something done.

The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning.

Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition. The amount of time you perform a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it.

How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule

Every day, there are a handful of moments that deliver an outsized impact: The moment you decide between starting your homework or grabbing the videogame controller or the moment you decide to order takeout or cooking dinner.

The difference between a good and a bad day is often a few productive and healthy choices made at decisive moments. These choices can stack up and can lead to very different outcomes.

The Two-Minute Rule

When you dream about making change, excitement inevitably takes over and you end up trying to do too much too soon.

When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do

Nearly every habit can be scaled down to a two-minute version:

  • “Read before bed each night” -> “Read one page”
  • “Study for class” -> “Open my notes”
  • “Fold the laundry” -> “Fold one pair of socks”
  • ...

A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minute should be easy.

The point is to master the habit of showing up. And later after the habit is established it can be improved

How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible

The inversion of the 3rd Law of Behaviour Change is “make it difficult”. If you find yourself struggling to follow through on your plans, you can make your BAD habits more difficult.


  • When losing weight, ask the waiter to pack half of your meal BEFORE the meal will be served.
  • Leave your wallet/money home so you are not tempted to buy snacks throughout the day.

Automate Habits and Never Think About It Again

Typically automating habits involve putting technology to work for you. Examples:

  • Rebalancing your investment portfolio
  • Meal-delivery services can do your groceries for you
  • Website-blockers can cut off unhealthy amounts of social media browsing

4th Law: Make It Satisfying

We are more likely to repeat a behaviour when de experience is satisfying

The Cardinal Rule of Behaviour Change

What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.

To get a habit to stick you need to feel immediately successful, even if it’s in a small way

Law 1-3 increases the odds that a behaviour will be performed. Law 4 increases the odds that a behaviour will be repeated

How to Stick With Good Habits Every Day + Benefits

A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit.

Examples of habit trackers:

  • On a calendar, cross off each day you did the habit (meditating, working out, ...)
  • Move a paperclip from one jar into another each time you make a sales call

A habit tracker will later evolve into a **chain **or streak of habits. Once you got this streak, you need to remember en stick with this mantra:

Don’t break the chain.

Don’t break the chain of workouts and you’ll get fit faster than you’d think.

Habit tracking is simultaneously obvious, **attractive **and satisfying.

Benefit #1: Habit tracking is obvious

Habit tracking builds a series of visual clues. When you see your streak, you’ll be reminded to act again.

Benefit #2: Habit tracking is attractive

The most effective form of motivation is progress. Each small win or step in the right direction feeds your desire. Habit tracking gives you progress in visual form.

Benefit #3: Habit tracking is satisfying

Tracking can become its own form of reward. It is satisfying to cross an item off your to-do list.

To summarize the benefits in one paragraph: Habit tracking (1) creates a visual cue that can remind you to act, (2) it is motivating because you can see the progress you are making and don’t want to lose it and (3) it feels satisfying whenever you record another successful instance of your habit.

Tracking isn’t for everyone, and there is no need to measure your entire life. But nearly anyone can benefit from it in some form. Even if it’s only temporary. To make tracking easier, measurements should be automated. For example: your credit card statement tracks how often you eat out, you fitbit registers how many steps you take and how long you sleep,…


No matter how consistent you are with your habits, it is inevitable that life will interrupt you at some point. Perfection is NOT possible. There is just a simple rule to remind for yourself:


If you miss one day, you **need **to try to get back into it as quickly as possible.

The dark side of habit tracking is that we become driven by the number rather than the purpose behind it. The human mind wants to “win” whatever game is being played.

This pitfall is evident in many areas of life. We focus on long hours instead of getting meaningful work done. We care more about a thousand steps than we do about being healthy, etc.

Just because you measure something, doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing

How To Go From Being Good To Great

The Truth About Talent

The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition. Habits are easier to perform and more satisfying to stick with if they align with your natural inclinations and abilities. Embracing this strategy requires the acceptance of the simple truth that people are born with different abilities. This does not mean some people are born for success and others are doomed for failure. But this is a shortsighted view of the influence of genes on behavior.

Genes do not determine your destiny, but they determine your areas of opportunity.


The “Big Five” personality traits that influence your behavior:

  • Openness to experience (curious, inventive, cautious, consistent)
  • Conscientiousness (organised, efficient, easygoing, spontaneous)
  • Extroversion (extrovert vs introvert)
  • Agreeableness (friendly, compassionate)
  • Neuroticism (confident, calm, stable <-> anxious


With the four laws of behavioural change in mind, there is an effective way to manage your time so you don’t have to try every college degree, every job, every instrument, … It is called the explore/exploit trade-off.

In de beginning of a new activity, there should be a period of exploration. In a relationship this is called the dating-period. The goal is to try out as many possibilities and research a lot of ideas. After the exploration, shift your focus to the best solution you’ve found-but keep experimenting occasionally. The proper balance is whether you are winning or losing. If you are winning you keep exploiting, if you are losing you keep exploring.

Exploration questions:

  • What feels like fun to me, but feels like work to others?
  • What makes me lose track of time?
  • Where do I get greater returns then the average person?
  • What comes naturally to me?

How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work

The Goldilocks Rule: Maximum motivation occurs when facing a challenge of just manageable difficulty and challenges that keep you engaged

Mastery requires practice. The most successful people feel the same boredom, they also lose motivation. But the difference is that they still find a way to show up despite feeling this way.

The greatest treat to success is not failure but boredom

The Downside of Creating Good Habits

The downside to good habits is that we stop paying attention to little errors in the habit. Over time this can cause a drop in performance of the habit.


Reflection and review is a process that allows you to remain conscious of your performance over time. This can be done by journaling your habits.


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 a CEO” becomes “I am the type of person who builds and creates things”
  • “I’m an athlete” becomes “I am mentally tough and love a physical challenge”
  • “I’m a good soldier” becomes “I am disciplined and great in a team”


One coin won't make you rich, one positive change like meditating for one minute or reading on epage each day is unlikely to deliver a noticeable difference.

Gradually, though, as you cintinue to layer small changes on top of one other, the scales of life start to move. Each improvement is like adding a grain of sand to the positive side of the scale, slowly tilting things in your favor. Eventually, if you stick with it, you hit a tipping point.

This is a continuous process. There is no finish line or permanent solution. Whenever you're looking to improve, you can rotate through the Four Laws of Behaviour Change until you find the next bottleneck. Make it obvious, attractive, easy & satisfying. Always look for the next way to get 1 percent better. Never stop improving.