Atomic Habits by James Clear: Summary & Notes

Rated: 9/10

Available at: Amazon

ISBN: 0735211299

Related: The Power of Habit


Fantastic book.  Everything a good book should be: concise, clear, and actionable.

This is the best book on habit formation I have read, and will no doubt be a resource I continue to come back to.  James does an excellent job of providing all the required planning resources to go along with the book.

Recommend for everyone who is trying to change and build new habits (ie. pretty much everyone).


Chapter 1 - The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits

  • You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.
  • Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.
  • Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change.
  • If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t you. The problem is your system.
  • You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
  • If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.
  • You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Chapter 2 - How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)

  • True behaviour change is identity change.
  • The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader.
  • Your identity emerges out of your habits.
  • Each time you read a page, you are a reader.
  • Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.

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

  • Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it.
  • The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.
  • 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.
  • We can invert these laws to learn how to break a bad habit.
  • 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 5 - The Best Way to Start a New Habit

  • Broadly speaking, the format for creating an implementation intention is:
  • When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.
  • Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.
  • The habit stacking formula is:
  • After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].

Chapter 6 - Motivation is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More

  • Design your environment to motivate you to accomplish the things you want to.  Visual stimuli help.
  • New environments can help eliminate old bad habits, and establish new ones.

Chapter 7 - The Secret to Self-Control

  • Avoid temptations that trigger bad habits.  This is the only way to break bad habits.

Chapter 8 - How to Make a Habit Irresistible

  • The habit stacking + temptation bundling formula is:
  • After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED].
  • After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].

Chapter 9 - The Role of Family & Friends in Shaping Your Habits

  • 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 behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.

Chapter 10 - How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits

  • Change the language and frame of habits to make them positive.
  • Ex. I “get” to exercise today, instead of I “have” to exercise today.

Chapter 11 - Walk Slowly, but Never Backward

  • Habits form based on frequency, not time.
  • The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning.
  • Aim for action (ex: working out), not motion (ex: reading a book on exercise plans).

Chapter 12 - The Law of Least Effort

  • Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.
  • Conversely, use environment design to make the wrong thing as difficult as possible.

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

  • When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.
  • Ex: “Read before bed each night” becomes “read one page."
  • Master the art of showing up, then refine.

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

  • The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do. Increase the friction until you don’t even have the option to act.
  • Automate as much of your life as possible.
  • Use commitment devices - a choice you make in the present that locks in future behaviour - to guarantee future actions.

Chapter 15 - The Cardinal Rule of Behaviour Change

  • What is rewarded is repeated.  What is punished is avoided.
  • Add a small, immediate reward to good behaviours.
  • Ex: whenever you pass on a purchase, move that amount of money to a savings account for a future purchase.

Chapter 16 - How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day

  • Track your behaviour, ideally with something visual like a calendar.
  • Automate this tracking when possible.
  • The habit stacking + habit tracking formula is:
  • Whenever you miss a habit, don’t panic, just: never miss twice.

Chapter 17 - How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything

  • Create a habit contract with a painful penalty with one or two other people.
  • The social cost (+ whatever penalty) will make violation painful.

Chapter 18 - The Truth About Talent

  • Align your habits with your natural inclinations and abilities.
  • Experiment with many things at first, and then when you find something you’re good at, exploit it and test variations occasionally.
  • To maximize success, choose the right field of competition.
  • Combine abilities to create a narrow field in which you can dominate.

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

  • Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks right on the edge of their current abilities (roughly 4% beyond your current capabilities).
  • Aim for a flow state - the experience of being in the zone and fully immersed in an activity.

Chapter 20 - The Downside of Creating Good Habits

  • Once a skill is mastered, there can be a decline in performance over time.
  • Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery
  • Establish a system of reflection and review to avoid complacency.
  • Make sure to keep your identity flexible.
  • “Keep your identity small” - Paul Graham

Conclusion: The Secret to Results That Last

  • Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.
  • The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements.
  • It’s remarkable what you can build if you just don’t stop.
  • Small habits don’t add up. They compound.

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