Atomic Habits – James Clear

A public Book Notes experiment.

My Book Notes

I believe the concepts of this book can help you fulfill your potential. The quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits. This book is an operating manual. 

“To write a great book, you must first become the book.” – Naval Ravikant

Brailsford’s strategy “the aggregation of marginal gains”, 1 percent improvements. If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. You’ll get what you repeat.

Habits are a double-edged sword. Bad habits can cut you down just as easily as good habits can build you up, which is why understanding the details is crucial. 

The most powerful outcomes are delayed. Mastery requires patience. All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger.

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the process that leads to those results. Forget about goals, focus on systems instead. Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. The problem with goals:

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

Ultimately, it’s your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.

Changing our habits is challenging for two reasons: (1) we try to change the wrong things and (2) we try to change our habits in the wrong way.

Outcome-based habits
Identity-based habits

True behavior change is identity change. The goal is not to read a book, but to become a reader. 

The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but who you wish to become. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity. Habits can change your beliefs about yourself.

New identities require new evidence. Decide the type of person you want to be and prove it to yourself with small wins.

How to build better habits in 4 simple steps

A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. The feedback loop behind all human behavior: try, fail, learn, try differently.

The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.

The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are:

  1. make it obvious,
  2. make it attractive,
  3. make it easy,
  4. make it satisfying.

The First Law – Make It Obvious

We must begin the process of behavior change with awareness. You need to be aware of your habits before you can change them. The most common cues are time and location.

There are no good habits or bad habits. There are only effective habits.

The Habit Scorecard is a simple exercise you can use to become more aware of your behavior.

Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. Creating an implementation intention is a strategy you can use to pair a new habit with a specific time and location:


No behavior happens in isolation. Each action becomes a cue that triggers the next behavior.

Habit stacking. One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top.


A small change in what you see can lead to a big change in what you do.

Every habit should have a home. One space, one use. Your habit becomes associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behavior. The context becomes the cue. We become a product of the environment that we live in.

It’s easier to avoid temptation than resist it. Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one. 

The Second Law – Make It Attractive

The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming. Habits are a dopamine-driven feedback loop. The anticipation of an experience can often feel better than the attainment of it. The difference between wanting and liking. It’s the anticipation that gets us to take action, not the fulfillment of it. 

Desire is the engine that drives behavior. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it. It is the craving that leads to the response. Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do. 

We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them. We imitate the habits of three groups:

  1. The close (friends and family). We pick up habits from people around us. Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior and you already have something in common with the group. Growth and change are no longer an individual pursuit. We are readers, we are writers. 
  2. The many (tribe). When changing your habits means challenging the tribe, change is unattractive. When changing your habits means fitting in with the tribe, change is very attractive. We’d rather be wrong with the crowd than be right by ourselves.
  3. The powerful (those with status and prestige). We try to copy the behavior of successful people because we desire success ourselves. Many of our daily habits are imitations of people we admire. If behavior can get us approval, respect and praise, we find it attractive.

A craving is just a specific manifestation of a deeper underlying motive. Your current habits aren’t necessarily the best way to solve the problem you face, they are just the methods you learned to use. Habits are all about associations. 

Desire is the difference between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. 

Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive. 

Pregame jitters. You can reframe “I am nervous” to “I am excited and I’m getting an adrenaline rush to help me concentrate”. 

Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings and unattractive when we associate them with negative feelings. Create a motivational ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit. Like breath 3 times deeply and smile. 

The Third Law – Make it easy

We are so focussed on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to take action.
Focus on taking action, not begin in motion. 

“The best is the enemy of the good” – Voltaire.

The biggest reason to slip into motion rather than action: you want to delay failure. 

Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to merely be planning. You want to be practicing.

If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.

Repetition is a form of change. Habits form based on frequency, not time. It’s frequency that makes the difference. 

Every action requires a certain amount of energy. The more energy required, the less likely it is to occur.

Journaling is an obstacle to think clearly. You don’t actually want the habit itself. What you really want is the outcome the habit delivers.  

Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. Prime your environment to make future actions easier. 

Reduce the friction associated with good behaviors. When friction is low, habits are easy. 
Increase the friction associated with bad behaviors. When friction is high, habits are difficult.

Two-Minute Rule

When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes. Start by mastering the first two minutes of the smallest version of the behavior. 

The best way is to always stop when you are going good. Stay below the point where it feels like ‘work’. 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. 

Standardize before you optimize. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.

Sometimes success is less about making good habits easy and more about making bad habits hard. A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your action in the future (eg. pay for the gym in advance). Commitment devices increase the odds that you’ll do the right thing in the future by making bad habits difficult in the present. We can make good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible. 

The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do. Automate it. 

One time actions that lock in good habits (eg. set the phone to silence). Using technology to automate habits is the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behavior.

The Fourth Law – Make It Satisfying

 We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying. Pleasure teaches your brain that a behavior is worth remembering and repeating. 

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

The first three laws are focussed on this time, the firth law has it focus on next time.

A reward that is certain right now is typically worth more than one that is merely possible in the future. The costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future. Reinforcement ties your habit to an immediate reward. Instant gratification.

Making progress is satisfying, and visual measures provide clear evidence of your progress. The most effective form of motivation is progress.

Perhaps the best way to measure your progress is with a habit tracker. A record of your habits streak. Never break the chain. Habit tracking makes a behavior obvious, attractive and satisfying.

You’re focused on the process rather than the result.

Habit tracking creates a visual cue that can remind you to act, is inherently motivating because you see the progress you are making and don’t want to lose it, and feels satisfying whenever you record another successful instance of your habit. Furthermore, habit tracking provides visual proof that you are casting votes for the type of person you wish to become, which is a delightful form of immediate and intrinsic gratification. 

Never miss twice. Missing one is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.

The dark side of tracking a particular behavior is that we become driven by the number rather than the purpose behind it. Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s the most important thing.

We repeat bad habits because they serve us in some way, and that makes them hard to abandon. The best way to overcome this predicament is to increase the speed of the punishment associated with the behavior. Create a habit contract. Have an accountability partner. 

An accountability partner can create an immediate cost to inaction. We care deeply about what others think of us, and we do not want others to have a lesser opinion of us.

A habit contract can be used to add a social cost to any behavior. It makes the costs of violating your promises public and painful.

Knowing that someone else is watching you can be powerful motivator.

Advanced Tactics

The secret to maximizing your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition.

You should build habits that work for your personality.

Genes can’t make you successful if you’re not doing the work.

The Goldilock Rule states that 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 perhaps the greatest villain of the quest for self-improvement. The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.

If you only do work when it’s convenient of exciting, then you’ll never be consistent enough to achieve remarkable results. Professionals stick to the schedule, amateurs let life get in the way. The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over. You have to fall in love with boredom. 

Habits create the foundation for mastery. Habits are the backbone of any pursuit of excellence. Each habit unlocks the next level of performance.

Habits + Deliberate Practice  = Mastery

Establish a system for reflection and review. Reflection and review enable the long-term improvement of all habits because it makes you aware of your mistakes and helps you consider possible paths for improvement. Without reflection, we can make excuses, create rationalizations, and lie to ourselves. We have no process to determine whether we are performing better or worse compared to yesterday.

Decision journal. Review the choices at the end of each month or year to see where you were correct and where you went wrong.

Yearly Integrity Report:

  • What are the core values that drive my life and work? 
  • How am I living and working with integrity right now?
  • How can I set a higher standard in the future?

An annual reminder to revisit my desired identity and consider how my habits are helping me to become the type of person I wish to be. 

A lack of self-awareness is poison. Reflect and review is the antidote. 

Small habits don’t add up. They compound. That’s the power of atomic habits. Tiny changes. Remarkable results. 

The summaries summary 😉

Download the Atomic Habits cheat sheet: