Atomic Habits – An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

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A practical, interesting and concise book on changing habits. I was surprised by how much I liked it and how profound it was. I am looking forward to implementing these strategies and keep refining habits.

Introduction: My Story

In the introduction Clear tells his story of being injured by a baseball bat, put in a medically induced coma and recovering by the power of small habits.

He states that he draws from multiple different fields and combines them to create something very actionable. His four step formula is central to the book.

The fundamentals: Why tiny changes make a big difference

Chapter 1: The surprising power of small habits

Chapter 1 Summary

Small changes compound being multiplied by each day.

Small changes precede big breakthroughs

We tend to focus often on the dramatic changes. All big breakthroughs are built upon small changes. Bamboo spends 80% of it’s time growing the root system until it shoots up.

There is an initial plateau in habit change

All results are lagging indicators. Weight, muscles, productivity all come later after habits are established for a bit.

Your outcome is determined by your system, not your goals.

”Goals” in common understanding provide growth. There are some problems with that though:

  • Winners and loosers have the same goals. Every athelete wants to win, only one does
  • What happens when Goals end? Often, when a goal is reached, people go back to their old habits. I go a month sugar-free and when I’m done I eat the same way as before

”The score will take care of itself”. Focus on the way your process goes: Your training, your coding, your eating rather than on the goals.

Chapter 2: How your habits shape your identity – and vice versa

Change at the level of identity is powerful

Chapter Summary

Outcomes (Results) ⬅️ Behaviour (Systems) ⬅️ Identity This is a simplified version of the Belief tree.

Our habits, behaviour, are shaped by our identity, concious or non-concious. It is much more powerful to work at an identity level. “I try not to smoke” vs “I am not a smoker”. Once behaviour is part of your identity, indentity integrity is involved.

This is a double edged sword too. “I am bad a t directions”, “I don’t remember people’s names”. Those things become engrained in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This connects to 3: Taking ‘every thought captive’ is by meditating on God, and by that our identity. It’s the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. That leads us to freedom mentally and also spiritually, we are free from the attacks of the enemy. 10: the Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness. What he does is constantly reminding us of our true identity.

Habits build who you become

Each behaviour is a vote for the person you want to become. Your habits flow out of your identity and your identity is built out of your habits. You are what you consistently do. So the key question is: Who do I want to become?

Chapter 3: How to build better habits in four simple steps

Habits are automatic solutions to problems

There was an experiment where cats where in a labyrinth. If they pull a loop, they will get let out and have some food. All cats started exploring and by accident pulled the loop. Repeating that over and over the time until the cat pulled the loop went lower and lower. The exploration process got cut short going directly to the solution. A habit is an automated behaviour that produces a specific solution.

The habit loop

  • Cue: A trigger for the habit, eg you walk home and smell donuts
  • Craving: You want a donut
  • Something: You have a donut
  • Reward: Your craving is satisfied and eating a donut becomes associated with walking home from work

The Four Laws of Habit Change

  • Cue: Make it obvious
  • Craving: Make it attractive
  • Something: Make it easy
  • Reward: Make it pleasurable

The First Law: Make it obvious

Chapter Summary

Cues, in our environment or internally, constantly start habit loops. We can start good habits by making cues to them surround us and break bad ones by obscuring their cues.


  • Be aware of cues: Habit scorecard
  • Build on existing habits: Habit chaining

Chapter 4: Make it obvious

  • Even non-concious cues start our actions. We don’t have to recognise the cue to follow the habit.
  • Habit change starts with awareness.
  • The Habit scorecard ( helps to build awareness of habits

Chapter 5: The best way to start a new habit

Implementation Intention: I will behaviour at time in location. Making it specific reduces friction.

New habits can be built unto existing ones

Habit stacking: After current habit, I will new habit.

Eg: “After brushing my teeth, I will floss”. Through that whole stacks of routines can be built: After I showered, I will get dressed. After I put on clothes, I will have breakfast. After having breakfast, I will plan my todos for the day.

Chapter 6: Motivation is overrated, environment often matters more

Habits get started by visible cues

Vision is the sense we humans most rely on. So when building habits, what we see is important. Our visual environment acts as a cue to habits kicking in. The more we want to build a habit, the bigger part in our environment the cue needs to have. If you want to drink more water, place water bottles around locations in your home or office.

The locational cue is strongest if the habit is the only thing you do there

It is easiest to associate a habit with a place when that is the only thing we do there. Everything you do in bed is sleeping, everything you do on the couch is relaxing. Mixed contexts also start mixed habits and usually the easiest one wins.

Chapter 7: The secret to self-control

To break bad habits, remove the trigger

The inversion of the first law is to make it invisible. People with good self-control don’t resist more temptations, they structure their lives so that they would be faced with less temptations.

In the Vietnam War, a shocking number of American soldiers was addicted to heroine. However, when returning back to the States, few Veterans returned to the drug. The context changed, the cues for the habit were removed.

The Second Law: Make it attractive

Chapter Summary

Habits happen because we predict they will give us a pleasant outcome. Just the anticipation of the reward is powerful.

Build good habits by making them attractive and break bad ones by making them unattractive. This can just be a change of mindset.


  • Temptation bundling: Combine a habit you need to do with a habit you want to do
  • Join a culture where your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour

Chapter 8: How to make a habit irresistible

Dopamine is a powerful motivator. When receptors were blocked in rats, the rats didn’t want ro do anything and ultimately starved to death.

The anticipation of a reward releases more dopamine than the reward itself. This is “craving”.

Our civilization is filled with supernormal stimuli. Fat, sugar, salt were essential to survival ageons ago, now they’re overcharged versions. So is advertising, any unnatural food and so on.

Temptation bundling: connecting a habit to a reward we want. Eg. watching Netflix while working out. We can connect this to habit stacking: After I brushed my teeth, I can read in the evening. Over time brushing teeth, the habit, gets associated with the reward, reading. This way we can supercharge any habit with the reward of supernormal stimuli.

Chapter 9: The role of family and friends in shaping your habits

The culture around us shapes which habits are attractive to us

The culture we live in determines the habits that are attractive to us. There was a Ukranian man who was convinced that all it takes for a genius to be made is hard work. He raised his three children with chess all around them. Each of them broke records, becoming the youngest grandmasters of all time. In an environment where playing chess was normal, he habits of playing chess were formed.

There are three areas of social influences:

  • The close: The people around you shape your habits. Conciously or non-conciously. If one partner looses weight, so does the other usually.
  • The many: The group exerts a pull.
  • The powerful: People imitate the powerful to get what they want.

The application here is to be mindful of the influence of our social surrounding. Sometimes it is helpful and can be actively chosen. If I am around passionate Christians, I will become like them. Sometimes it is harmful and we must change circumstances or persevere.

Chapter 10: How to find and fix the causes of your bad habits

The Third Law: Make it easy

Chapter Summary

Humans default to the behaviour that needs the least effort. Make good habits effortless. Make bad habits full of friction.


  • Decrease the number of steps between you and your environment
  • Prime the environment to make good habits easier
  • Downscale habits until they can be done in 2 minutes or less
  • Invert the Third Law to make all other behaviour than the desired one full of friction

Chapter 11: Walk slowly, but never backwards

In Habit change, repetition is key

Quantity matters more than quality. In musicians, the Cerebellum is bigger than non-musicians. For taxi drivers the Hippocampus is bigger than average. It actually desized when the driver retired.

Chapter 12: The Law of least effort

Business is a neverending quest to deliver the same solutions in easier fashion.

We default to the easiest behaviour

By default, we are lazy. Humans everywhere default to the path of least resistance. And that is not a bad thing. Energy preservation is smart. Change is not a matter of willpower. Enough resistance and we will give up. Having a hard day and it is likely you won’t stick with you habit if it’s too hard

Make good habits frictionless and bad habits have resistance

The likelyhood of you following through on a behaviour is directly proportional to its friction. If you want to watch less TV, take the batteries out of the remote. Just a bit of friction makes a behaviour unappealing.

The reverse is also true: Want to send more cards? Keep pen, postcards and stamps on the counter.

Create an environment that makes good behaviour easy

What if you design your environment the way that good habits are reachable and easy; and bad habits stored away? This makes the right choice easy with minimal willpower.

Chapter 13: The 2 Minute Rule

Decisive moments into habit rituals should be ridiculously easy

Often throughout the day there are decisive moments: small decisions that put us on the highway in a certain direction. Habits should be the gateway. A tiny habit can put us into the direction we want to go.

Changing into workout gear moves us into working out. It is key to engineer that first habit. It shouldn’t take longer than two minutes and be incredibly easy. Once you started, you usually keep going. And even if you don’t, you showed up. You reinforced your indentity.

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

To eradicate temptation to a thing, increase friction

Instead of writing his novel, Victor Hugo spend all summer on his other projects and socializing. His publisher got so frustrated, they set a short six months deadline. Hugo employed an unusal tactic: He asked his assistant to lock away all his clothes in a big chest. Being left only with a shawl, he didn’t have clothes to go outside. So he stayed inside and wrote his novel over the winter. Two weeks before planned, The Hunchback of Notre Dame got released.

Automation takes away the decision in a habit

By increasing the friction to do anything else so high, we can steer ourselves to do the desired behaviour. We can make decisions upfront, for the router to turn off at a certain time for example, that take away the temptation in the moment.

Automation is especially powerful. It does the job for us, allowing us to focus on different things. Automated savings accounts, website blockers – they take away the decision.

Technology sucks us in by making decisions effortless

One of the tactics of YouTube, Netflix and co is autoplay: It is more effortful to stop watching than to keep binging.

The Fourth Law: Make it satisfying

Chapter Summary

What gets immediately rewarded, is repeated. What gets immediately punished, is avoided.


  • Create a formal habit contract with someone else
  • Add something pleasurable to the end of a habit that is challenging to implement

Chapter 15: The Cardinal Rule of Behaviour Change

What is immediately rewarded, gets repeated

We evolved in an environment that rewarded immediate gratification. Finding food now, avoiding that lion.

Now, our civilization rewards delayed gratification. Almost always, an action is either pleasurable now and catastrophic later or vice versa.

Still, our brains want immediate reward. We do what is pleasurable in the moment, delaying gratification takes willpower.

To make a habit pleasurable, add a reward at its end

Like habit stacking, we can do reward stacking: After you did your habit, give yourself an immediate reward. You want to cook more at home? Each time you don’t eat out, transfer 50$ to a vacation fund.

The important thing is that the reward needs to be aligned with your identity. Eating an ice cream after working out is conflicting. Getting a massage reinforces the identity.

Immediate rewards are helpful to start a habit off. After repeating it often enough, it becomes part of your identity.

Chapter 16: How to stick with good habits every day

Habit tracking makes habits satisfying

Visually recording a completion of a habit is

  • Obvious: a visual reminder
  • Attractive: it is fun to cross of
  • Easy: it shows progress simply
  • Satisfying: it feels really good.

Every cross is a vote cast for the identity I want to strengthen.

To stick with habit tracking, make it part of your habit: After habit, I will cross it off.

The right thing needs to be tracked

Once a metric becomes the target, it ceases to be a helpful metric. If your weight on a scale becomes the metric, that’s what you optimise for. If your quarterly earnings are your metric, that’s what you optimise for.

Choose a metric that is visible and encouraging. Weight loss is a lagging indicator, having completed a workout an immediate one.

Better to do the habit poorly then to miss it twice

This is all about reinforcing your identity. We can become so perfectionist that we think it’s better to do the habit not at all than poorly. This is what makes us stop.

Never skip a habit twice. Always rebound. Rather do one pushup than none. Be someone who shows up.

Chapter 17: How an accountability partner can change everything

The inversion of the fourth law is to make a habit painful

If a behaviour gets immediately punished, we are less likely to repeat it.

A habit contract or accountability partner can cement habits

A habit contract is a signed document with specific habits and painful consequences on not doing them. The effort of doing the habit and the pain needs to be equal.

Through a contact and or accountability partner we don’t just have to live up to ourselves but also keep our word to others.

Advanced Tactics: How to go from being merely good to being truly great

Chapter 18: The truth about talent: When genes matter and when they don’t

Work on what comes easy to you. What do you like to do that others regard as work?

The Big Five Personality Traits are determined by genes.

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

There is the most motivation when we work right at the edge of our capacity: When there is a challenge.

We need to have variation to enjoy sticking with things. When a coach was asked what trait makes succesful atheletes, he mentioned the capacity for boredom. Even when something is boring, to stick with the habit.

Chapter 20 - The Downside of Creating Good Habits

The downside of habits is to get into a rud without continuing to reflect and improve.

James Clear’s annual review

  • What went well this year?
  • What didn’t go well this year?
  • What did I learn this year?

Conclusion: The Secret to Results That Last

Can one coin make you rich? Slowly accumulating good habits works in your favour over time.

There is no finish line but constant improvement. Always getting 1% better. The secret is to not stop growing.

Practical applications for me

  • Automate transfer into a savings account / ETF
  • Let the router turn off automatically at 22:00h.
  • Annual review
    • Check at some time how my goals went:
      • Newsletters sent out
      • Words written/Notes created
      • Books read
      • Hours spent coding