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Atomic Habits by James Clear

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Weightlifter, author, and habit building scholar teaches you how to train yourself to acquire/remove habits while avoiding common pitfalls and increasing the chances of obtaining long lasting results using his simple but powerful 4 laws of habit building and some other advanced techniques.


Finished: Jan 2019
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
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💡 Short review

While there are many books about habit building, some are mostly hacks and tricks that are well intended but lack stickiness. This book is unusually approachable considering the depth in which explains this discipline. Many of the techniques described here were learned through the writer's own experience and underpinned by years of research. Clear's approach is definitely a great addition to the habit building literature. However, I think in some parts the books lacks cohesion (it is a collection of blog posts) and depth(mostly on the final chapters) but the effort to condense the laws at the end of each section helps the reader and is suitable as reference material.

📔 Notes

In this book The habit loop as defined as:

Cue => Craving [Feeling] => Response => Reward [Feeling]

On key aspect that this loop is the Cue/Craving relationship. The cue initiates the habit loop but the craving is in fact crucial, and malleable, when programming new habits or uninstalling existing ones.

The proposed way to build new habits is to implement what the book calls The four laws of behaviour change:

Make it obvious (🍎 in counter bowl), attractive (small 🔴 in adult herring gulls), easy (📷 students: Quality vs Quantity), and satisfying (🛀 fragrant lathery soap).

		Obvious		Attractive	Easy	Satisfying
This time	✅		✅		✅	❌
Next time	❌		❌		❌	✅		

Use dopamine spikes to manipulate habit building during Cue, and Reward (delayed) stages.

Increase attractiveness with the Habit stacking + temptation formula:

After {current habit}, I will {habit I need} 
After  {habit I need}, I will {habit I want}

If you want to check Facebook, but you need to exercise more: 1. After I pull out my phone, I will do ten burpees (need) 2. After I do ten burpees, I will check Facebook (want).

Practice, better than planning — Action better than Motion, Repetitions better than total time performing a habit.

Prime your environment: Make it easier by removing friction or establishing an effortless environment.

Avoid procrastination: Mastering the decisive moments in a day will determine the good/bad day outcome. The 2-min rule, create a shorter version of the habit you are trying to install, e.g.,

"Study for class” becomes “Open my notes.”
“Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes.”

Make a deliberate effort to make it minimal, and stop before it becomes a hassle. Then use habit building to increase difficulty + get closer to actual habit goal. Fallback to 2-min rule when needed. Add automation and one time purchases to ease up habit formation.

Understand delayed and immediate rewards, i.e, time inconsistency: value the present (rewards) far more than future.

Use reinforcement to cope with lack of immediate rewards by turning short-term deprivation into a visible step towards your long-term gratification, ex. loyalty program for yourself (but must make sense!, no ice cream after workout).

Sticking with habits

  1. Track them! Ben Franklin, Jerry Seinfield! It's Obvious, attractive, satisfying

Don't break the chain —Seinfield

Implement visual proof (📆, pebbles etc.), motivates by seeing progress, also work as a cue to act next time.

The habit stacking + habit tracking formula is:

After {current Habit}, I will {track my habit}
  1. Recover fast when the habit breaks down

Never miss twice —James Clear

But don't become a slave to numbers, some things are better off "untracked". Purpose matters. Measure != target

Accountability via partner can be a powerful deterrent. Punish tangibly, concretely, and quickly to prevent undesired behavior or:

Cost of procrastination > Cost of Action	

Draw a contract ️️✒️📜 and add accountability partners. Must include consequences and possibly immediate cost. Automate if possible.

Your personality also plays an important role on your habits. Check the Big 5 personality traits O.C.E.A.N. Build habits that suit you! Find a balance between explore and exploit, some good questions:

  • What feels like fun to me, but work to others? bet on your natural inclinations
  • What makes me lose track of time? is it flow state?
  • Where do I get greater returns than the average person? luck or natural talent
  • What comes naturally to me? Ignore society

No habit/practice/game where you excel? Use the Scott Adams approach, be good (not excellent) at several things that intersect and become uniquely talented!

Find the sweet spot between boredom and failure to keep you engaged. See Yerkes-Dodson law. In regards to habit building, keep them simple initially and then find small advancements/challenges, striving for flow state (4% above your ability).  

Combat boredom by introducing a *variable reward* system, like 🎰 – enhance existing cravings. Aim to succeed half of the time. Also,

At some point, everyone faces the same challenge on the journey of self-improvement: you have to fall in love with boredom

As habits become part of your identity, their feedback sensitivity decreases, therefore mistakes can be incorporated more often. We stop paying attention. Reinforcement not the same as improvement. For maximal achievement you need to add deliberate practice:

Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery

Not everything needs to be automated! The habit is just a building bock for the next level. Field mastery involves mastering and stacking multiple habits, by tweaking and adjusting which can be achieved by reflection, Clear's Annual review include tallies and metrics and six months later an Integrity report focused on values and life/work integrity.

Identity is defined by habits, but maintaining a beginners mindset and malleability that won't constrain your future choices.

The Importance of reviews:

Life is constantly changing, so you need to periodically check in to see if your old habits and beliefs are still serving you

Habit building is a process of never ending improvement by accumulating little gains and seeing the results compound!

💎 Gems

Anticipation is more important than the reward

Even though dopamine was blocked, they liked the sugar just as much as before; they just didn’t want it anymore. The ability to experience pleasure remained, but without dopamine, desire died. And without desire, action stopped

Fulfilment is not as important

motivation to act. It is the anticipation of a reward—not the fulfillment of it—that gets us to take action. The greater the anticipation, the greater the dopamine spike.

The 2nd law: make it attractive

These insights reveal the importance of the 2nd Law of Behavior Change. We need to make our habits attractive because it is the expectation of a rewarding experience that motivates us to act in the first place.

Linking habits can be a powerful toolbinge at a time.” He was also employing temptation bundling to make his exercise habit more attractive. Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do.

Premack’s Principle.

Named after the work of professor David Premack, the principle states that “ more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.” In other words, even if you don’t really want to process overdue work emails, you’ll become conditioned to do it if it means you get to do something you really want to do along the way.

Bundling new habits with existing ones

Temptation bundling is one way to create a heightened version of any habit by connecting it with something you already want.

Present vs Future rewards bias

Usually, this tendency serves us well. A reward that is certain right now is typically worth more than one that is merely possible in the future. But occasionally, our bias toward instant gratification causes problems.

Most people go after short-term satisfaction

The road less traveled is the road of delayed gratification

The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change:

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

Recovering from habits breakdown

The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.

Going to the gym for five minutes may not improve your performance, but it reaffirms your identity.

Selecting the right place to focus to become great

genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity.

Personality traits and habits

You don’t have to build the habits everyone tells you to build. Choose the habit that best suits you, not the one that is most popular.

Goldilocks rule

humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.

Boredom is 💀

The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes expected. And as our habits become ordinary, we start derailing our progress to seek novelty.

Beat the boredom

Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way. Professionals know what is important to them and work toward it with purpose; amateurs get pulled off course by the urgencies of life