Atomic Habits

date Dec 7, 2020
authors James Clear
reading time 10 mins


A habit is a routine or behavior that is performed regularly — and, in many cases, automatically.

Start to finish

This injury was one of mine, and the experience taught me a critical lesson: changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.

4-step model of habits:

  1. cue
  2. craving
  3. response
  4. reward

Overestimate and underestimate

It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action.

Downside of small steps

Unfortunately, the slow pace of transformation also makes it easy to let a bad habit slide.

Improve just 1%

Making a choice that is 1 percent better or 1 percent worse seems insignificant in the moment, but over the span of moments that make up a lifetime these choices determine the difference between who you are and who you could

Direction is more important than results

You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.

Ladding indicators

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat.

Positive Compounding

  • Productivity compounds.
  • Knowledge compounds.
  • Relationships compound.

Negative Compounding

  • Stress compounds.
  • Negative thoughts compound.
  • Outrage compounds.

Eliminate decision fatigue

The more tasks you can handle without thinking, the more your brain is free to focus on other areas.

Valley of Dissapointment

habits often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold and unlock a new level of performance. In the early and middle stages of any quest, there is often a Valley of Disappointment.


in order to make a meaningful difference, habits need to persist long enough to break through this plateau — what I call the Plateau of Latent Potential.

Goals vs System

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results… Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems.

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Common problems with goals:

  • Problem #1: Winners and losers have the same goals.
  • Problem #2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.
  • Problem #3: Goals restrict your happiness.
  • Problem #4: Goals are at odds with long-term progress.

Longterm thinking

True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.

Outcomes, process and identity

Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.


The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity.

How identity grows

When I began my writing career, I published a new article every Monday and Thursday for the first few years. As the evidence grew, so did my identity as a writer. I didn’t start out as a writer. I became one through my habits.

Process of changing identity

It is a simple two-step process: Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

Conscious vs Unconscious mind

Whenever possible, the conscious mind likes to pawn off tasks to the nonconscious mind to do automatically. This is precisely what happens when a habit is formed. Habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity, so you can allocate your attention to other tasks.


Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it. In fact, the people who don’t have their habits handled are often the ones with the least amount of freedom.

Creating a good habit

  • The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
  • The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
  • The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
  • The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.

How to Break a Bad Habit

  • Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible.
  • Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive.
  • Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult.
  • Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying.

Pointing and calling

This process, known as Pointing-and-Calling, is a safety system designed to reduce mistakes. It seems silly, but it works incredibly well. Pointing-and-Calling reduces errors by up to 85 percent and cuts accidents by 30 percent… Hearing your bad habits spoken aloud makes the consequences seem more real. It adds weight to the action rather than letting yourself mindlessly slip into an old routine.

Habit stacking

Habit stacking is a special form of an implementation intention. Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit.

Habit fields

In one study, scientists instructed insomniacs to get into bed only when they were tired. If they couldn’t fall asleep, they were told to sit in a different room until they became sleepy. Over time, subjects began to associate the context of their bed with the action of sleeping, and it became easier to quickly fall asleep when they climbed in bed.

Single use device

I know a writer who uses his computer only for writing, his tablet only for reading, and his phone only for social media and texting. Every habit should have a home.

Disciplined meaning

Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations. The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least. It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often.

Early habits are learned without thinking

Often, you follow the habits of your culture without thinking, without questioning, and sometimes without remembering. As the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne wrote, “The customs and practices of life in society sweep us along.”

Surround yourself in a culture where that behaviour is the norm

One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. New habits seem achievable when you see others doing them every day.

Modern day solution to ancient desires

Find love and reproduce = using Tinder Connect and bond with others = browsing Facebook Win social acceptance and approval = posting on Instagram Reduce uncertainty = searching on Google Achieve status and prestige = playing video games Your habits are modern-day solutions to ancient desires.


I once heard a story about a man who uses a wheelchair. When asked if it was difficult being confined, he responded, “I’m not confined to my wheelchair—I am liberated by it. If it wasn’t for my wheelchair, I would be bed-bound and never able to leave my house.”

Standardise before Optimise

Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis. You have to standardize before you can optimize.

Think of the firt 2 minutes

The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely it becomes that you can slip into the state of deep focus that is required to do great things.

Always underperform slightly

The secret is to always stay below the point where it feels like work.

Keep the momentum by stopping at the exciting step

Ernest Hemingway believed in similar advice for any kind of writing. “The best way is to always stop when you are going good,” he said.

Make the preferred behaviour automatic

The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do. Increase the friction until you don’t even have the option to act. The brilliance of the cash register was that it automated ethical behavior by making stealing practically impossible. Rather than trying to change the employees, it made the preferred behavior automatic.

Mistake vs bad habit

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.

A good measure

Named after the economist Charles Goodhart, the principle states, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Measurement is only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture, not when it consumes you.

Training + well-suited

The people at the top of any competitive field are not only well trained, they are also well suited to the task. And this is why, if you want to be truly great, selecting the right place to focus is crucial.


In short: genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity. As physician Gabor Mate notes, “Genes can predispose, but they don’t predetermine.”

What are you good at?

  1. What makes me lose track of time?
  2. Where do I get greater returns than the average person?
  3. What comes naturally to me?

Working hard or luck?

Until you work as hard as those you admire, don’t explain away their success as luck.

Who can handle the boring

But then he said something I wasn’t expecting: “At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.”

Boring routine

The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us… You have to fall in love with boredom.

Honesty with yourself

Your actions reveal how badly you want something. If you keep saying something is a priority but you never act on it, then you don’t really want it. It’s time to have an honest conversation with yourself.