page title icon Book Summary Review: Atomic Habits By James Clear

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Human beings are creatures of habit. Despite how small they may look, habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. They may not seem like much in a given day, however, over the months and years, their effects accumulate to an incredible degree. In his book Atomic Habits, published in 2018, James Clear explains the incredible effects of small, consistent incremental habits/routines. What is an atomic habit? According to Clear, atomic habits refer to consistent practices or routines that are small and easy to follow but result in incredible power. 

Creating big goals should not be the main focus if you want to make significant changes in your life. On the contrary, people should invest in small, positive, repetitive, and incremental habits/routines. For example, suppose you want to get in shape; the goal should not be spending 5 hours in the gym. Atomic habits: including eating healthy foods, going for a 30-minute walk, and getting enough sleep, among others, may work. Small habits are like atoms, they accumulate over time and significantly impact your life.

In section 1 of the book, “The Fundamentals: Why Tiny Changes Make a Big Difference,” Clear explains why atomic habits are key to attaining life goals. Success requires a long-term investment in improvements and growth, and the payoff is never realized immediately. How do we then attain our goals? According to Clear, creating good systems that support positive incremental habits becomes the best way to attain one’s goals. What is the difference between a goal and a system? According to the book, goals focus on the results you desire, while systems are the processes that lead to such results. While goals set the direction, systems are best for making improvements. To attain better results in life, forget goal setting and concentrate on systems. 

The second section, “Four Laws of Behavior Change,” explains the factors that facilitate behavioral change. Anytime you want to change a behavior, you should always look for ways to make the process easier. Clear shared the laws for behavior change, including making a behavior obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. How can I make a habit obvious? As per Clear, behavior change should start with the awareness of one’s habits (the good and the bad). 

Various strategies, including habit stacking and implementation of intentions, are some of the practical ways to develop obvious cues for habits and design a clear plan for when and where to act. Making a habit obvious also involves redesigning cues, making them easy to spot. If you want to journal every day, having a book and a pen on your table will make it convenient. 

The second component is making the habit more attractive. According to Clear, the human brain responds to punishment, rewards, and work. How do I make a habit attractive? Habits become attractive when linked with positive feelings, and unappealing when related to negative feelings. If you associate working out with muscle pains, you are unlikely to stick to it. On the other hand, you will likely get hooked if you associate cannabis abuse with a euphoric feeling. To make a good habit attractive, create a motivational ritual by doing something you enjoy before engaging in a challenging habit. You can also use temptation bundling to make a habit more attractive. Temptation bundling involves a combination of an action desired with an action needed. 

The third law of behavior change is making it easy. Humans are likely to choose a habit requiring the least amount of work. In this case, to create an environment where habits are easily developed, you should reduce the friction linked to positive behaviors. When friction is less, habit forming becomes easy. You should also intensify the friction linked with the bad behaviors. When friction is heightened, habits become difficult. Another way of making a habit more attractive is by joining a group or a culture where the desired behavior is celebrated. For example, if you want to reduce weight and keep fit, you can join a nearby health club. Such a club will hold you accountable and may make working out more fun than exercising alone. The more the environment triggers positive habits, the more automatic and easier change becomes. 

The last law of habit forming is making it more satisfying. Human beings are likely to repeat a behavior that triggers satisfaction. In this case, new habits may not be enjoyable since most do not give instant gratification. On the contrary, most new habits are characterized by a sacrifice without a reward. For example, going to the gym for one week is linked with muscle cramps, tiredness, and soreness. It is associated with delayed gratification since you may not notice physical changes in your first week. If you have been running for 30 minutes daily, it is hard to physically see the results in a week. It may take a few weeks to see results. According to Clear, if you want to make the new habit satisfying, figure out a way to realize an immediate reward. A great way to do this includes creating a personal loyalty system. In addition, making the habit enjoyable may also involve setting short-term goals. Achieving short-term goals will lead to reaching long-term goals. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Small habits compound over time and make significant changes.
  2. Focus on systems and not the goal–build a winning system rather than setting goals.
  3. To change a habit, create a new identity–tiny habits vote for the new identity.
  4. New habits have four key parts: a cue (alert your system to attend to a new habit with a reward), craving ( cue’s interpretation), response (the core of an actual habit), and reward.
  5. Success is a product of small day-to-day habits, and not a once-in-a-lifetime transformation.
  6. There are three levels in which changes occur including process, identity, and outcomes.
  7. Habits are behaviors repeated multiple times to become automatic.
  8. Be more aware of your habits and create a habit scorecard.
  9. The primary practical way to get rid of bad habits is to reduce their exposure to the cue. For example, to avoid phone distraction while working, leave it in another room
  10.  Long term success is the product of daily atomic habits.

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