Atomic Habits Book by James Clear  Summary

Approx 30 min read 

Compounding growth in good habits (become 37.78 times better at anything)

Synopsis:- You will find 4 step process to create and enforce good habits 

Do you ever feel like you're just floating through  

life...but not actually getting closer  to the person that you want to be.

It usually happens around New years, you imagine  all the bad habits your going to break free from,  and all the good habits you will begin.“This time it will be different”  you say to yourself. 

This time I   AM going to do the things that I say I will. Only to end up back where you began shortly  after and no closer to what you had envisaged. So the question is

how do you become the person  you dream of becoming? 

How do you break free from bad habits and make the habits  you desire easier and automatic?

Atomic Habits by James Clear  answers all these questions.

We are going to write a detailed summary  of this book, And dive deep into topics like

Habit loops Dopamine spikes 

Priming your environment Plus heaps more

And make sure to stick around until the  end of the blog where we tie everything  

together from the blog and I go step by  step through how I've personally been using  

this book with my own habits and how you  can start applying it to your own habits.

I hope this summary inspires you to go out  and grab a copy of the book for yourself  

because this book deserves a  space on everyone’s bookshelf!

Let’s jump into it

Imagine a plane taking off and  travelling from New York to Los Angeles.  

Just before takeoff you adjust the  plane just slightly by 3 degrees  

or around 80 inches. If you kept flying in  a straight line...You would end up closer  

to Tijuana in Mexico than in your  intended destination of Los Angeles.

The same goes for our habits.  Tiny changes in our habits  

can change the trajectory of our lives  in ways that we can’t even notice  

until many years into the future looking back.  In both good ways and bad. You are your habits.

The Power of Atomic Habits

“A slight change in your daily habits can guide  your life to a very different destination”.

Massive action Vs 1% improvements

Far too often, we convince ourselves that massive  success is only possible through massive action  

in any goal we are pursuing. We expect  ourselves to make some quantum leap or  

momentous improvement that  will gain others attention.

However it is the tiny improvements,  that aren’t even noticeable at first,  

that create incredible change.

Let’s look deeper into the Math

1% better every day for a year will  compound to nearly 38 times better.

1% worse every day for over a  year will bring you close to zero!

Your habits can compound against you in the form  of things like stress or negative self-talk.

Or they can compound for you in  the form of things like knowledge,  

productivity, skills and relationships.

“Success is the product of  daily habits—not once-in 

a lifetime transformations”

The Truth About progress

When you start any endeavour in your life, here  is what we think should happen. Linear progress.

Here is what actually happens. 

Notice  this section here. In the beginning,  

small changes in our progress  are not even noticeable.

James Clear refers to this part of the  graph as “the valley of disappointment”  

You’ve done so much! Put in so much  effort and you can barely see any results!  

This is where most people fail and  slip back into their old routines.

The most powerful outcomes of any compounding  process are delayed so Patience is required.

Goals Vs Systems.


A goal is the result you want  to accomplish. Systems deal  

with the processes that lead to results.

The conventional wisdom suggests that the best  way to achieve anything we want in life-getting  

into better shape, building a successful business,  

spending more time with family is  to set specific, realistic goals.

But if you completely ignored your  goals and focused only on your system,  

would you still succeed?

The Author argues that you would.

Here are some problems with only having goals. Successful and unsuccessful people share the  

same goals, so therefore the goal can not  be what differentiates winners from losers. 

Achieving a goal only changes  your life for a moment in time. 

Goals can create an either-or conflict.  Either you achieve the goal and succeed,  

or you don’t and you are a failure. Even if  you were making progress in the right direction 

When you achieve a goal, what do you do after?  If your goal was running the local marathon,  

chances are after completing it,  your motivation will quickly fade  

and you will just slip back  into your old routines.

“Goals are good for setting a direction,  but systems are best for making progress”


The problem with changing your habits is not you.  The reason why you repeat the same bad habit for  

so long isn't because you don't want to change,  but because you have the wrong system for change.

Atomic habits are small routines and behaviors  that accumulate to produce incremental positive  

outcomes over time. Big breakthroughs tend to  get more attention than small improvements.  

But what really matters are the little  daily decisions and actions we take.

“Just as atoms are the  building blocks of molecules,  

atomic habits are the building  blocks of remarkable results”.

There are 3 layers to behavior change.

The first layer is changing outcomes.The  result. Losing that weight, writing that book,  

winning the season. The outcomes are what you get

The Second layer is changing  your process. What you do.  

The new workout routine,  developing a daily reading habit.

And the third layer is changing  your identity. What you believe.  

Your worldviews and how you  think about yourself and others.

Most people focus on the outcomes but  the best way to change your habits  

is by focusing on the person you want to  become instead of the results you want.

The goal isn’t to learn an instrument,  it is to become a musician.

The goal isn’t to run a marathon,  It is to become a runner.

When something you want in your  life becomes part of your identity,  

that is when your behaviors will naturally change.

When you tell yourself and others “I’m a  runner”. You want to live up to that identity.

Remind yourself

Every Time you do a workout, you are an athlete. 

Every time you write a line  of code, you are a coder. 

Each time you instruct your  team, you are a leader.

The Habit Loop A habit is when  

something has been repeated enough  times that it becomes automatic.  

Ultimately we want our habits to solve problems  in our lives with the least amount of effort.

A habit is formed and reinforced by  means of a continuous feedback loop:  

Cue + Craving + Response + Reward.  The key to creating habits that stick  

is to create feedback loops that  are continuously being improved.

Cue. Phone buzz. Craving.  Want to know who messaged.  

Response. Pick up phone. Reward.  Solve the problem of who messaged.

Cue. Mind goes blank at work. Craving.  Want to alleviate the frustration.  

Response. Check social media. Reward.  Satisfied the need to feel less frustrated

Over time, rewards become associated with cues.

So, in this example, checking social media  becomes tied to your mind going blank at work.

And then checking Facebook may be the cue to check  Instagram, which becomes the cue to check YouTube.

And before you know it, your mind going blank  cue has led to 20 minutes of wasted time.

And you more you repeat these habit loops,  the stronger and more automatic they become.

Cues can really be anything. A smell, a  sound a sight, a person, a location etc.

Try to think of any cues in your daily life that  are initiating your good or bad habit loops.

So how can we influence the  habit loop to work for us?

This book shows us the 4 laws that  will guide us to do just that.

Law 1 

Make it obvious

Most of your current habits are so automatic that  you don’t even realize them. You must first become  

aware of your habits before you can change them.  You can achieve that with your Habit Scorecard.

Write down all your daily  behaviors on a habits scorecard,  

from the moment you wake up  until the moment you go to bed.

Your scorecard may look something like this.

Based on whether it helps you  become the person you aspire to be,  

categorize each habit as positive  (+), negative (-), or neutral (=).

At this stage we aren’t trying to change anything,  

just observe what is actually  going on in our daily lives.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious,  it will direct your life and you will call  

it fate.” Carl Yung

Vagueness is a real problem when it comes to habit  formation, and studies have shown that quite often  

the reason people fail to stick to a habit  is not because of a lack of motivation,  

but because of a lack of clarity. “One day, I  will get into shape” is easy to say to yourself  

but too vague to get any momentum.  What you need is a time and a place.

The most common cues—time and  location—will help you achieve your goals.  

Clearly state your intention to  act using the following formula:

I will behavior at time in this location.

Here is a bad example,

“I will read more this month”

Here is a good example

“I will read a book for 15 minutes  daily at 6am in the spare bedroom”.

Another good way to get a habit  started is by Habit stacking.  

To stack habits, tie a desired habit to an  existing habit according to the following formula:

“After [current habit], I will [new habit]”.

For example,

“After I brush my teeth, I  will stretch for 5 minutes”.  

You can stack habits together, for example  after you finish brushing your teeth,  

you will meditate for 10 minutes, then plan the  rest of your day, before checking social media.

A “chain of habits” is more likely to be  sustained if you practice this consistently.  

Choosing the correct trigger is  essential. YOU NEED A TRIGGER CUE

Your trigger should be;

something that you do automatically  without fail during your day,  

such as waking up, turning off  your alarm or brushing your teeth.

James Clear tells us in the book  that Motivation is highly overrated.  

You can better shape your behavior  by designing your environment. 

We are more influenced by our environment  than our willpower or motivation. 

It’s hard to stick to positive  habits in a negative environment.

“Environment is the invisible hand  that shapes human behavior.”  

Creating a habit requires you to redesign  the space around you (home/work) to 

1 - make it easier to see the  cues for the desired habits and 

2 - avert bad habits by making them invisible.

If you want to drink more water, make the cues  visible and obvious. Place water bottles around  

the house in places you are likely to see them.  Want to read more? place the book somewhere you  

will see it. If you want to get better on the  guitar, don’t leave it out of sight in a closet.


Objects in the environment do not determine our  behavior; rather, it is our relationship to them  

that does. Stop seeing your environment  as a place simply filled with objects.  

Imagine it as a place filled with relationships. The couch in the living room is the place where  

one person reads an hour a night. For another, the  couch is where they watch Netflix and eat pizza  

and relax after work. If your relationship  with the couch is a place to relax,  

then trying to get a work related task  done in that environment may be difficult.

Try to make separate zones in your  house for different activities.  

The author likes to use the  mantra “One space, One use”

If you are trying to eliminate a bad habit, You  can only rely on self-control in the short-term.  

Cutting off bad habits at the source is a more  reliable solution and one of the most practical  

ways to eliminate a bad habit is to make it  invisible. Eliminate it from your environment.

For example

Put your phone in another room for a few  hours if you have trouble getting work done. 

Put junk food out of sight or remove it from  your house if you are trying to lose weight.

Law 2

Making it Attractive

When we expect to be rewarded, we take  action. The more rewarding an action is,  

the more likely we are to repeat  it until it becomes a habit.  

Hence, the first step to forming good  habits is to make them more attractive.

Understanding how dopamine  affects your body will help you


Our motivation levels are affected by dopamine,  a hormone and neurotransmitter. We are more  

motivated to act when our dopamine  levels rise. By measuring dopamine,  

scientists can pinpoint the exact moment at  which a craving occurs. It was once assumed  

that dopamine was just about pleasure, but now we  know it's vital to many neurological functions,  

including motivation, memory, learning,  punishment as well as voluntary movement.

“Gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right  before they place a bet, not after they win”.

Let’s dive deeper into dopamine spikes.

Using social media, eating junk food  and taking drugs are all associated  

with high levels of dopamine  and are highly habit forming.

The hormone dopamine is released not  only when we experience pleasure,  

but also when we anticipate it. Think about before going on a vacation.

Sometimes the thinking and anticipation of the  vacation is better than the actual vacation.

Seeing the junk food you desire  surges dopamine, not after eating it. 

Drug addicts increase dopamine when they  see the drugs, not after taking them.

The craving is what causes us to  take action in the first place.

Making our habits attractive is vital because  it is the expectation of a rewarding experience  

that drives us to act. Here, you  can use a strategy known as….

Temptation bundling

The temptation bundling process makes a habit more  attractive by combining an action we need to do  

with one we want to do.

                            For example  you could bundle watching Netflix  

(something you want to do) with  working out (something you need to do).

Temptation bundling applies a psychology  principle known as Premack's Principle.

Developed by professor David Premack,  the Premack principle states,

"More probable behaviors will  reinforce less probable behaviors."

In other words, even if you're not  looking forward to doing some exercise,  

you'll become conditioned to do it because  you get to do something else you really enjoy.

Group Influence

“We are continually wondering "What will others  

think of me?" and altering our  behavior based on the answer.”

We are influenced by the people closest  to us, and the groups we belong to.

If you are trying to build a new habit,  one of the best ways to reinforce the habit  

is to find and become part of a  culture where that habit is the norm.

If you want to get into better shape,  surround yourself with fit people.

If you want to read more, join a book club.

Primal motivators : The source of cravings

In your normal everyday life you  wouldn’t say something to yourself like  

“I want to eat this pizza because I  need to consume this food to survive”

Surface level cravings are merely  manifestations of our deeper underlying motives.  

And these underlying motives guide our behavior.

Here are some examples of underlying motives:

Conserving energy 

Obtaining food and water Finding love and reproducing 

Connecting and bonding with others Winning social acceptance and approval 

Reducing uncertainty Achieving status and prestige

Your brain did not evolve with a desire to smoke  cigarettes, check Instagram every 5 minutes or to  

play video games. Online platforms and products  do not invent new motivations, but rather appeal  

to the underlying motives of human nature  that we already have to gain our attention.

“Your habits are modern-day  solutions to ancient desires.  

New versions of old vices. The underlying  motives behind human nature remain the same”

People who have the underlying motive of  connecting with others may jump onto Facebook,  

others seeking the underlying motive of finding  love and reproducing may sign up for Tinder.  

Reducing uncertainty, there’s Google for that.  Seeking social acceptance, there is Instagram.

Reprogramming your brain to enjoy hard habits

“You can make hard habits more attractive if you  

can learn to associate them  with a positive experience.”

By highlighting the benefits of a  habit rather than its downsides,  

you can quickly reprogram your mind and  make it seem more appealing. For example,

Fitness = health and wellbeing and not fatigue. 

Cleaning the house = an environment conducive  to peace of mind and not wasted time. 

Saving money = future financial  freedom and not sacrifice.

These subtle shifts in mindset  aren't magic, but they can  

change your feelings toward  some habits or situations.

Make it Unattractive.

To break a bad habit, do the same but  highlight the benefits of NOT doing that habit  

to make it as unattractive  to keep doing as possible.

Law 3 

Make it Easy

How long does it actually  take to form a new habit?

During habit formation, a behavior becomes  increasingly automatic as it is repeated. As  

you repeat an activity, your brain changes  in order to become more efficient at it.  

Long before neuroscientists dug  into the process of forming habits,  

repetition was known as a powerful tool for  establishing habits. You activate particular  

neural circuits associated with habits  every time you repeat them. So framing habit  

formation in terms of time is flawed. It should  be framed in terms of the number of repetitions.

Reducing Friction : The Law of Least Effort

The more energy required, the less likely it is  to happen. It takes almost no energy to get into  

the habit of reading one page of a book each  day. Habits are more likely to occur when they  

require less energy. The bigger the obstacle,  the more friction there is between you and the  

desired outcome. If you need to travel 20  minutes out of your way to go to the gym,  

chances are you will not. If your gym is located  on your commute to work, you will greatly decrease  

the friction. By making your good habits more  convenient, you're more likely to stick to them.

Your life will be easier if you  find ways to reduce friction  

rather than trying to solve it. In order to build  better habits, we have to find ways to reduce  

friction associated with our good habits and  increase friction associated with our bad habits

Prime the environment for use

By automating or setting up your environment,  you can reduce the friction for future action,  

e.g. “I will lay out my workout clothes at night  so I can get up and get moving in the morning.”

Or to prepare a healthier breakfast,  place the pan on the stove,  

and gather the ingredients the night  before. Again to reduce any friction.

Using the Two-Minute Rule to Stop Procrastinating

Using the "2-minute rule" can help you  establish small habits that will lead  

to habit momentum and success in bigger goals. Find a simple, 2-minute version of your desired  

habit. You want to scale down your desired  outcome. Running a marathon becomes putting  

on your shoes and stretching for 2 minutes.  Reading an hour per day becomes reading one  

page. You need to get the routine anchored in  place and then slowly build up the difficulty.

After you have mastered the 2-minute  habit, you can progress to the next phase;

To make something more difficult,  

think about ways you can create barriers of  friction between yourself and the bad habit.

Make it as impractical as possible.

If you want to watch less TV,  unplug the TV after each use  

and put the remote in an inconvenient location.

When you go shopping, leave your  credit cards under the seat of your car  

if you have a bad habit of spontaneous spending.

Do anything you can to make your  Bad habits less likely to occur.

Law 4 

Make it satisfying

The most important rule of behavior change

A feeling of pleasure is a message to the brain:  

"This feels good. Let’s repeat this next  time." When you experience pleasure,  

your brain learns that a behavior  is worth remembering and repeating.

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

The first Three habits increase your  chances of doing the habit this time.  

The last law increases your chances  of repeating the habit next time.

The Mismatch between immediate and delayed returns

It is common for us to feel good about  our immediate results, but bad about  

our long-term outcomes when we practice bad  habits. It is the opposite with good habits:  

the immediate result is unpleasant,  but the ultimate outcome is satisfying.

A certain amount of success in  just about every field involves  

ignoring an immediate reward for a long-term one.

It is best to add a little immediate pleasure  to the habits that will pay off in the long run  

and a little pain to those that won't.

How to stick with good habits everyday

QUOTE “The vital thing  

in getting a habit to stick is to feel  successful—even if it’s in a small way.  

The feeling of success is a signal that your habit  paid off and that the work was worth the effort.”

It is satisfying to make progress, and you can  monitor your progress using visual measures,  

such as moving paper clips, hairpins, or  marbles. These “little wins” can go a long way.  

For example, for each sales call you make today,  move a marble from one jar to the complete jar.  

For Each 25 minutes of writing, move a paperclip

Visual measurements can take  many forms: diet journals,  

workout logs, download progress  bars, or even page numbers in a book.

Keeping a habit tracker may be the  best method to monitor your progress.

Using a habit tracker is a simple way to determine  whether you did a particular habit.

How to recover quickly when your habits break down

In spite of your best efforts, it is inevitable  that life will interrupt you at some point.

A bad day at work, a bad performance,  or a bad workout can happen to anyone.

When you're having a bad day, you don't  realize how valuable it is to just show up.

“Lost days hurt you more than  successful days help you.”

Don’t break the chain of continuity. Missing twice  is the start of a bad habit; never do it. On a bad  

day, it's better to do 10 sit ups (instead  of your normal 50) than not do them at all.

Breaking a bad habit: Make it Unsatisfying

How an accountability partner  can change everything.

A behavior is less likely to  occur when pain is immediate.

Being held accountable by a partner is a good  way to keep your desired habits in check.  

We all want to be liked and respected, so  we would rather just avoid the punishment.

For example - I owe you $10  every time I miss a workout,  

plus the respect I lose for  failing to do what I said I would!

Behavior is more likely to be influenced  by concrete, and immediate consequences.

The Habit Contract

You can create a habit contract  to hold yourself accountable,  

just as governments use laws  to hold citizens accountable.

You can create a habit contract either  verbally or in writing, which makes it  

clear that you will honor a particular habit and  that there will be punishments if you do not.

You can then use your accountability  partners to enforce that contract.

Ok so it’s one thing to read a book, but  another to actually apply it to your life.

So i’m going to try and visually  represent how I have personally  

been using this book to build systems  around my habits the past few months.  

After you read the book maybe your approach will  be different than mine or better, or maybe there  

are some parts I completely missed or could  improve upon so do let me know in the comments.

The Good habits I wanted to develop were  more consistent workout and reading routines.

The Bad habit I wanted to eliminate was becoming  distracted and overconsuming social media

First I completed the Habit scorecard. This gave  me a good idea of habits I could try to eliminate,  

but more importantly it gave me  an idea of daily habits I was  

already doing that I could  stack my new habits with.

Ultimately, when you find the habits you  want to work on. you want to be pushing  

Desired good habits towards this side of the  spectrum, and bad habits towards this side.

For the working out habit.

The first step was to make the cues more obvious,  and I had a few tools I could use from the book.  

In this case I used what James Clear  calls the implementation strategy.

I will workout at 6am in the living room.

Next I tried as best I could to design my  environment conducive to this new habit.  

I took my dumbbell set out of the  closet, and put them in the living room.  

I also found a few pictures of  healthy physiques on the internet  

and put them in places around the house  as cues that would remind me of the habit.

Next, I moved on to the craving phase.

To increase dopamine and motivation I  bundle the workout with listening to  

some of my favorite podcasts. I also implement  reprogramming my brain. I tell myself repeatedly  

I don’t “have to do a workout” but that “ I  get to build strength and a healthier body”  

That subtle shift in mindset has gone a long way.

Ideally, joining a gym, or finding a  group to workout with would be even better  

to strengthen this habit,  but unfortunately all gyms  

are closed where I live, so I’m kind of  on my own for now with these two tools.

Next, making it easy.

Using the 2 minute rule, to make  sure I don’t end up like most people  

starting a new habit, that  try to do too much too soon.  

I want my habit to not feel like a challenge  at all. My 2 minute rule was putting on my  

workout clothes and stretching. If that was the  only thing I accomplished then that was fine,  

because I showed up. But you will quickly find  that once you are there, you are now motivated to  

get the workout done. It is weird but the  motivation seems to come after you get started.

My mindset is focused on small 1 percent  changes compounding into meaningful results  

AND that my systems will get me to the results,  not vague goals. Remembering that my main focus  

at this point is just making sure I show  up and start anchoring this habit in place.  

Once you are consistently showing  up, increase the progression.

To decrease friction, I made the rule  that I’m not allowed to check my phone  

until the workout was complete. If I get  distracted by emails or social media,  

It is one excuse and one step of friction  between myself and the workout getting completed.

Lastly, this was a game changer for me,  priming the environment. When I place my shoes,  

yoga mat and dumbbells out the night before I  skyrocket my show up and workout percentage.  

As soon as I place these  items out the night before,  

I feel like the ritual has begun and the workout  is already complete because I have zero excuses.

So with those 3 phases of the loop  systemized to get me to show up.

I only had the last phase of the loop left to  tackle. To make sure I keep repeating the habit.

I use both of these tools somewhat  together to close out the loop.  

I use a habit tracker, crossing the  day off the calendar becomes the reward  

and it forces me to not want to break  the chain. I also take a of picture of  

the calories I burnt and send the picture  to my partner, and that feels satisfying.

Mindset wise, I begin with identity and I  remind myself after each workout that “I  

want to become the kind of person that enjoys  fitness and doesn’t miss workouts” I don’t  

put all my focus on outcomes such as I want  to be 10kg lighter by such and such a date.

I also remind myself that I need to  be patient for results and that I’m  

probably still somewhere in this Valley of  disappointment before I will see results!

So that is my personal  system for morning workouts.

I went through the same process with the  reading habit, with a few minor changes.

I used the habit stack. After [making  a coffee] I will [read for 90 minutes]  

… making a coffee was my trigger cue for reading.

My one space one use rule was reading on  the balcony of my apartment.

One of the best parts of my day  is a nice cup of coffee in the  

morning. So this was the perfect  thing to bundle the habit with.

Remembering how dopamine raises in anticipation  of a reward and not the reward itself. I wanted  

this dopamine spike for wanting coffee to  start becoming associated with reading.

My 2 minute rule was to read 1 page of The  Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. Super simple,  

again in the beginning all I was concerned  with was showing up and getting this habit  

anchored. Then I slowly built up  the habit to around 90 minutes.

For the bad habit I was trying to eliminate

To make the habit invisible, I started  by making my phone as boring as possible,  

which required deleting a lot of apps.

I use the reprogramming tool, to  highlight the unattractive side of  

overconsuming social media. Telling myself  things like… … consuming is the easy and  

lazy option of the masses ,producing  things is difficult but rewarding. Do I  

want to be a consumer or a producer? Random  scrolling through feeds is for losers. So  

try to paint your bad habit in a light that  makes it super unattractive to keep doing.

To increase friction, I left my phone out of  sight whilst working in a drawer in another room.

To make it unsatisfying, I have an accountability  partner, I get my partner to enforce this  

habit. The punishment is If she sees me using  social media during work time, I owe her $10.

So that is how I have been using this  fantastic book guys with great results  

so far, and I hope this summary has helped you to  better understand the concepts within this book.

Go out and grab a copy of this book if you  haven't already, you are going to take in the  

knowledge at a much deeper level, from all the  stories and examples that James Clear goes over  

some advanced techniques, not in this summary  that will help you strengthen your habits.

Thankyou for reading.