Drawing of man’s face. His head is filled with changing habits.

Book Summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear

By James Razko

In this summary of Atomic Habits you will find that habits are the unseen gears moving us through our conscious and nonconscious experience. From birth, we build upon and continuously update an inconceivably vast and interconnected habit library. Each Habit works like a hotkey, executing functions designed to conserve energy, free cognitive space and save time in critical moments. Habits, when considered can be unboundedly beautiful, nuanced and frightening. They are the building blocks of genius, addiction and everything in-between.

Atomic Habits offers brilliantly simple strategies to transform the reader’s life from the inside out with tools to methodically update our habit library. Like atomic energy, Atomic Habits has the potential to unleash great power.

In this Summary of Atomic Habits you will learn:

  • How habits form
  • Typical roadblocks
  • How to change habits
  • Why identity and environment  are important
  • Practical tips to make habit change easy

Book Summary:

Atomic Habits by James Clear


What’s a Habit?

A habit is any automated behavior we have acquired through repetition.

Habits are formed in the following sequence.

  1. Cue- (anything that induces craving)
  2. Craving- (desire for something)
  3. Response- (action taken)
  4. Reward- (dopamine spike)

Road Blocks

Developing new habits can be frustrating because we often see only tiny improvements in the beginning.

However, If you persist there will be a tipping point, after which you will experience a breakthrough. It’s essential to push past what James calls the valley of disappointment.

Embrace The Power of Marginal Improvements

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

Achieving a 1% gain every day for a year will provide an improvement of 37x! A 1% deficit will bring you from 100% to .03% in one year!

Focus on Systems Not Goals

Focus on building systems instead of setting goals. How many new years resolutions fail? A system is a set of habits that will work towards your goal. These habits will compound over time and will keep working indefinitely.

Dig deeper with Scott Adams’ new Book or blog post, Goals vs. Systems

The goldilocks rule:

It is best to work on a challenge that is not too hard and not too easy. It should be just manageable.

  • Too hard- you’ll quit.
  • Too easy- you’ll get bored.

Flow states are more easily accessed when you are 4-5 percent beyond your ability.

How to change Habits

Clear’s, four laws of behavior change

James has developed four laws that make habit cracking easier.

  1. Make it (the cue) obvious. Tip: put the cue where you can see it.
  1. Make it (the craving)  attractive. Tip: try to exaggerate it’s appealing qualities.
  2. Make it (the response) easy. Tip: when starting, it should take less than two minutes.
  3. Make it (the reward) satisfying. Tip: the reward should be as immediate as possible.

To break a bad habit invert the four laws.

The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.

Identity Change

Focus on identity change rather than goals. Look to be the kind of person who performs a particular habit.

By embodying this new identity, you will be more likely to make (nonconscious and conscious) decisions that work towards your goal.

Habits and identity create a feedback loop. Habits create identity and identity reinforces habits.

Ditch old identities that do not serve you.

Example: Want to run more? By merely calling yourself a runner, you will be likely to run more often.

The Three Layers of Behavior Change

Clear points out to be more successful we need to restructure our habit (thinking pattern) of thinking about habits.

The usual and less effective order of behavior change:

  1. Identify what you want – outcome
  2. Make a plan to get that – process
  3. Identity change

It should be:

  1. Change your Identity
  2. Make a plan – process
  3. Receive Outcome


Our environment shapes who we are by giving and taking options. In essence, we are the sum of who and what is around us. Be creative and design your environment to optimize James’s Four Laws Of Behavior Change.

Example: If you want to drink less coffee, throw out your xl drip machine and get a small single serve French press.

Willpower Mythology

People who display the most self-control are actually better at designing their lives to avoid unfavorable situations. Surprisingly, They have the same amount of willpower as anyone else.


Implementation Intention

Writing down your intentions ( called an implementation intention) will increase the odds of it happening. The author created a simple formula to use for any new habit: I will [behavior] at [time] in [location].

Commitment Devices

Use commitment devices to control and limit future choices.

Agreeing to a contract, destroying credit cards and purchasing a gym membership are all forms of commitment devices.

Make It Visual

Mark your progress visually, it’s satisfying and reinforces good behavior. Be creative, don’t limit yourself to crossing off lists and calendar dates.

Habit Stacking

Adding a new desired habit before or after an already existing one will help it stick.

Example: Meditate before drinking your morning coffee. Because your brain links meditating with the reward and habit of drinking coffee, you will be more likely to continue your meditation practice.

Don’t Break The Chain

Doing less can be doing more. If you have the choice between not doing a wanted habit and only doing, say a small version of that habit, it’s always better to choose the second option as that will reinforce your identity.

Go With the Flow

Genes contribute a lot to what you will be naturally good at, and habits are no exception. Choose to build what suits you.

Boiling water will soften a potato but harden an egg. You can’t control whether you’re a potato or an egg, but you can decide to play a game where it’s better to be hard or soft.


Try to automate any part of your habit inside the habit chain, cue, desire, response reward. Use technology and commitment devices to automate your habits.

Habits & Mastery

Mastery is the process of narrowing your focus to a tiny element of success, repeating it until you have internalized the skill, and then using this new habit as the foundation to advance to the next frontier of your development.

If you find this summary of Atomic Habits interesting, pick up James Clear’s book Atomic Habits.

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Compliment this summary of Atomic Habits with: Book Summary: This is Marketing by Seth Godin.