Atomic Habits Summary

Atomic Habits Summary

This is a complete summary of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear.

Who Should Read Atomic Habits

The 17-year-old athlete looking to turn pro in college, the overworked 43-year-old who struggles to find time to exercise, and anyone who has never written a list of his habits.

James Clear’s Point Of View

James Clear has studied habits and decision making for several years. He made a name for himself as the author of one of the fastest-growing newsletters in history. This newsletter went from zero to 100,000 subscribers in just two years. Today, its newsletter has more than one million subscribers, and the articles on its website are consulted ten million times a year. His work appears always in publications such as The New York Times, Forbes, and Business Insider. His foremost book Atomic Habits, has sold over a million copies and has been translated into over fifty languages. He talks about large companies’ habits and continuous improvements like Cisco, Honda, Intel, and LinkedIn. He is a former athlete and employee of the Against Malaria Foundation.

Why You Should Read James Clear’s Book

One of the best notable speeches I have ever seen is Seth Godin’s presentation of his book Linchpin. In one of the slides, he shows a baseball bat flying through the stands, people crouching down and raising their arms in fear.

Although Seth uses the photo to refer to our irrational fears, those fears come true on rare occasions. James Clear was one of those cases. When he was in high school, a detached bat hit him in the face. Broken nose, a dangerous swelling of the brain, displaced eyes, broken bones, his recovery took months.

To resume his own baseball career, he had no choice but to rely on the power of small wins. He slowly picked up good habits in college and eventually managed to become one of 33 players on the US college team. Impressive!

Today, he is one of the most prevalent habit researchers, reaching millions of people through his blog at His 1st book, Atomic Habits, is today’s recognized guide to the subject and quickly became a New York Times bestseller! 


In Atomic Habits, James Clear declares that big goals should not be your major focus in life. Instead, use frequent, repetitive policies and systems to develop habits that stick.

The big changes you want to make in your life are due to little habits rather than big changes. For instance, let’s say you want to get in shape. Then it’s best to eat a little better, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. Instead of wasting your time setting unattainable goals with drastic changes, all you need to do is make one small change a day. This theme cuts across atomic habits. The quality of life relies on the quality of your habits. Some habits are as small as an atom. However, when these atomic habits stack up, they can have a significant impact on your life.

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So, in a simple sentence, Atomic Habits is the ultimate guide to breaking bad behavior and adopting good behavior in four easy steps, showing how small, incremental daily routines lead to significant, positive changes over time.

The Basics

Why Small Changes Make a Big Difference

What Habits Are

Habits are small, everyday behaviors that we automatically perform with little or no thought. Habits are also powerful. We are what we do every day. Habits shape our identity. So, if they are repeated daily, even the most minor steps have an apparent effect.

However, positive change requires patience. But you can be sure that good habits will keep you on track even if you don’t see results right away. Significant changes in your life through habits do not require significant upheavals. Instead, small changes in behavior are often enough to achieve the desired result.

Why Good Habits Are Difficult To Develop


Habits are built by conditioning. In fact, we tend to repeat good behavior until it becomes automatic. E.g, when you were a baby, you used to suck your thumb to calm yourself down. That reassuring feeling was the satisfying outcome that encouraged you to repeat the behavior. This is why bad habits are so difficult to break and replace with good ones.

Fortunately, you can also use conditioning to build good habits. For example, as adults, we can adopt habits like running in the morning because we get an endorphin buzz and feel more productive.

Small Improvements

We fail to develop good habits because people tend to convince themselves that great success requires massive action. It’s easy to underestimate the value of minor improvements, like a morning walk every day. But the benefits will increase if the habit is repeated daily.

Clear shows why incremental changes can have a big impact. He explains that 1% personal improvement every day means you’ll be 37 times better at the same time over the next year. Here’s the math: the effect from 1.01 to 365 days is 37.78 (37 times better). Thus, minor daily improvements become atomic habits that help you achieve your goals.

The downside is that bad habits can work this way too. Clearly shows how terrible it will be to get 1% worse every day for a year, as the effect from 0.99 to 365 is 0.03 (almost 0).

Compound Interest

Atomic habits are the compound interest in self-improvement. Just as money multiplies repeatedly to produce compound interest, the impacts of your habits multiply as you repeat them. But it also means that daily habits seem to make little to no difference. Yet, the impact they produce over months or years can be enormous.

Our goal is to develop a common interest in healthy habits. But bad habits also go hand in hand. For example, as mentioned earlier, it makes no difference to postpone a project until tomorrow. Nevertheless, if you repeat this 1% mistake persistently, these minor mistakes can lead to toxic results.

Success is the outcome of everyday habits that do not change once in a lifetime. You will not see immediate positive results from daily habits because results are always based on habits. In fact, habits often don’t seem to make a difference until you cross a threshold and unleash a new level of performance.

This threshold is the plateau of latent potential. Because habits don’t give us the instant gratification that people dream of, we often give up. This moment marks our plateau of latent potential. The Latent Plateau shows us why habits can be hard to build. You just have to hold on long enough to break that plateau. Ordinary gratification takes time, so you must learn to be patient and have faith.

Why Systems Are Better Than Goals

“Forget About Goals; Focus On Systems”.

Goals are the results you want to accomplish. Systems are the processes that drive these results.

The focus should be on systems. If you adopt this way of thinking, the goal will take care of itself.

Clear lists a number of reasons why systems deal with goals:

  1. Winners and losers have similar goals. E.g., every Olympian wants to win a gold medal, and every entrepreneur wants to be successful. However, simply achieving this goal does not guarantee success. Else, we would have millions of gold medalists, and every entrepreneur would make their dream come true. So, it is the winning system that will help them be successful and achieve results.
  2. Reaching a goal is only a temporary change, so goals can actually limit your happiness. We believe that achieving goals brings instant happiness. But this approach to life makes us fail. For example, even after reaching our goal, we may still feel dissatisfied. And when we fail, we feel betrayed by chance for happiness.
  3. Goals don’t drive long-term progress, but systems do.

If you’re struggling to change your habits, you’re not the problem. The problem is your system. So, focus on the whole system and not on your individual goals. A central theme of Atomic Habits is that you will not achieve your goals. Instead, you fall back to the level of your system. It’s about the system, not the goals. 

Habit Loops

Habits are self-reinforcing. This means that doing the habit and getting the reward will increase your desire to do it again. You may use it to your advantage to change your behavior.

There’s a clear, step-by-step process that actions travel through to become a habit:

  1. The Cue prompts your brain to initiate a behavior because it predicts a reward.
  2. Once you get this first reward, you will be hungry. You’re not craving or desiring the habit itself but the inner change that it has brought about.
  3. Based on these cravings or desires, this behavior becomes part of your identity and becomes a habit that you carry out in your life.
  4. Eventually, this habitual or general behavior begins to offer long-term rewards.

James Clear gives the example of morning coffee becoming a habit:

  • Cue = waking up
  • Craving = feeling alert
  • Action = drinking coffee
  • Reward = feeling alert

The four stages of the usual loop together form a neurological feedback loop. This loop is:

Cue -> Craving -> Response -> Reward

In the end, this loop will allow you to create and strengthen automatic habits. The more you train this habit loop with a particular habit, the more automatic it becomes.

Four Laws That Describe How Habit Loops Are Built

Clear provides four laws that describe how habit loops are built.

1st Law – Be Clear

To use habit loops to create good habits, you want the cues or signals to be precise. Even if you have bad habits, you want to make the cues invisible or suppress them.

Let’s say you want to play the guitar better. In this case, you need a clear cue to remind you to play the guitar. For example, you can place the guitar in the middle of the living room to make your brain go that direction more often.

Another great way to introduce new clues is to develop a habit stack. Stacking habits is simply adding habits before and after another. Remember, your brain makes strong neurological connections to support normal habits. You can take advantage of these connections by tying a new habit to an established habit. This could mean putting on workout clothes right after taking off your work boots or meditating for a minute right after the first cup of coffee.

Secrets To Developing Good Habits

Certain stimuli can trigger normal behavior. Once you understand this, you can use this knowledge to develop good habits.

  • Promote better habits by changing your environment. Make cues or signals as obvious as possible, and you will likely respond to them. For example, let’s say you want to eat healthier snacks. You can leave these healthy snacks out on the shelf instead of hiding them in the salad drawer.
  • Use implementation intentions. Implementation intentions are specific time and place plans in which you implement your new habit. Don’t make vague statements like “I’ll eat better”. Instead, make a clear plan of action and decide when and where to implement the habit you want to cultivate.
  • Build temptation. People are motivated by the expectation of a reward. Our brains release dopamine (the feel-good hormone) not only when we do fun things but also when we anticipate them. Note that developing attractive habits will help you stick to them. Associate the habit you want to build (but not enjoy) with behavior that appeals to you. For example, allow yourself to watch programs of your favorite shows while cycling in the gym.
  • Make the habit as easy to take care of as possible. Endeavor to reduce friction for good habits and add more friction for bad habits.
  • Use the two-minute rule. Make a new activity manageable or achievable by spending just 2mins. Like that, you can easily create achievable habits that will lead you to more remarkable and extraordinary achievements. Getting started is the most important step.
  • Create immediately satisfying habits. Try to combine late return habits with instant gratification.

Ways Of Keeping Your Habits On Track

  • Habits Tracker

Habit trackers help you maintain the daily behaviors necessary to nurture a habit. For example, you can use a calendar or a diary to create a habit tracker. Check off each day that you know you have to stick to your good habit. Tracking habits is also an attractive and satisfying habit. This is why habit tracking is so helpful.

  • Contract

Develop a habitual contract that will have negative consequences if you don’t stay on track. Try to involve others. Just knowing that someone is inspecting can be a powerful incentive to keep going.

2nd Law – Make It Attractive

In order to create a habit, you must regularly receive positive feedback from the habit. An effective way to develop this positive feedback is temptation bundling. Temptation bundling is based on unpleasant activities that are made fun of because of their association with your favorite hobbies, such as watching TV and exercising. Hence, you are more probably to find the behavior attractive if you can do one of your favorite things concurrently.

The second way of making craving more attractive is to start or join a culture where your craved behavior is normalized. For example, if you want to continue your education, you can join a book club. Joining this club makes you responsible, and you will probably enjoy reading more than doing it alone.

Likewise, if you want to avoid bad habits, you want to join a culture that can’t stand your bad habits. You also want to exit cultures where your bad habits have normalized. For example, suppose you want to quit smoking. In this case, it may be appropriate to stop dealing with people who smoke regularly.

3rd Law – Make It Easy As Possible

Common wisdom believes that motivation is the basis or key to changing a habit. If we want to change enough, we will change. However, the relationship between motivation and changing habits is a bit more complicated. More specifically, human behavior follows the law of least effort. Therefore, we are naturally drawn to the alternative which requires the most minor work. You can take advantage of this by creating an environment where it’s as easy as possible to do the right thing.

To create that environment, you need to reduce the friction that comes with positive behavior. For example, if you want to get in shape, you can join a gym on your way to work. You can also be organized and make ready your sports bag the day before.

In case of unhealthy behavior, you need to increase the friction. For example, if you need to watch less TV, don’t turn it on until you are sure you can say the name of the show you want to watch out loud. This brings about friction and prevents mindless looking and switching amongst channels to see what is going on.

4th Law – Make It Satisfactory

Habits often do not provide immediate satisfaction with the results. Therefore, it can be difficult for us to develop new habits. We characterize the start of a new habit as a sacrifice without reward. For example, if you go to the gym several times a week, nothing changes physically at first. Instead, it takes months to discover real results. So, to stick with your new habit, find a way to reward yourself immediately.

One technique you can adopt when the reward is long-term is to create a loyalty system for yourself. For example, imagine that you want to give up alcohol. In itself, there is no satisfaction in abstaining. But let’s say you put $25 into your vacation account weekly if you don’t drink alcohol. In that way, you reward yourself immediately for your new habit.

Advanced Tactics

The 3 Levels Of Behavior Change

To really understand how we can change our behavior, Clear presents the three levels of behavior change: Outcomes, Processes, and Identity. The Outcomes, the outermost layer, are the results of an action or a group of actions. Processes are what you do to get those results. After all, your identity, the deepest layer, is about what you believe in. When people want to improve, they think about the outcome, which is the result first, then the process of achieving the result.

But changing your habits is difficult if you don’t change the underlying beliefs (or identities) that led to your previous behavior. By increasing motivation, you can develop a habit. But ultimately, you won’t keep this habit unless it becomes part of who you are.

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Every action you take is a voice for the type of person you want to be. No single act will change your belief overnight. Instead, the evidence of your new identity grows as your positive actions increase.

Simple Two-Step Process For The Change

  1. Be the kind of person you want to be.
  2. Prove your identity with little wins and little atomic habits.

3 Revealing Lessons For You

  1. Each time we make a habit, we perform a four-step pattern: cue, craving, response, reward.
  2. If we want to learn new habits, we have to make them noticeable, attractive, simple, and satisfying.
  3. You can use a habit tracker to measure your progress and ensure you don’t fall out of your cart.

Final Analysis Of Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits challenges the idea that setting multiple goals is the key to success. Instead, James Clear recommends developing systems to help you develop habits that will increase your chances of success. The easiest system to implement is the one that earns you 1% more daily. Make it clear that you can get 1% better by:

  • Breaking your bad habits and sticking to the good ones.
  • Avoiding the common mistakes most people make when changing their habits.
  • Overcoming the lack of motivation and willpower.
  • Developing a stronger identity and believing in who you are.
  • Making time for new habits.
  • Designing your environment to facilitate success easily.
  • Making small, simple changes that produce great results.
  • Getting back on track if you get lost.
  • Learning how to make these ideas a reality.

Additionally, you can create habits by applying Clear’s four laws:

* Make it Obvious

* Make it Attractive

* Make it Easy

* Make it Satisfying

Atomic Habits Summary
Atomic Habits by James Clear


When it comes to changing our habits, we all need to figure out what works for us. However, there are several scientifically proven strategies that we should all try first. Atomic Habits is a comprehensive, fun, engaging, and easy-to-understand collection of these strategies. I highly recommend making this your topmost if you want to learn more about quitting bad habits and creating new ones.

We’re just scratching the surface here. If you don’t already have the original book, “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear,” order it here now on Amazon to learn the juicy details.

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