Book Summary: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Quick Summary: Atomic Habits provides a simple framework for making minor improvements in your life daily. You’ll also gain an understanding of how seemingly insignificant everyday routines may have a significant impact on your life and your future.

If you find that you have difficulty changing your behaviors, the problem is not with you but with your system. It turns out that your brain is hard-wired to execute simple tasks and deliver instant rewards.

Because of this, James Clear has created an effective technique that will assist you in changing your behaviors and reaching new heights in your life.

This book covers all topics of making time for new habits, overcoming a lack of desire and willpower, creating an atmosphere that supports achievement, and discovering an accountability partner.

You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t have time. This summary will provide you with an overview of everything you can learn from this book.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

In this Atomic Habits summary, I’m going to cover the following topics:

Atomic Habits Key Takeaways

  • A habit is the continuos and frequent repetition of behaviors
  • Know the beliefs responsible for the habits you want to change
  • The 4-steps process for the formation of habit are cue, craving, response, and reward
  • Law of behavior change #1: make it obvious
  • Law of behavior change #2: make it attractive
  • Law of behavior change #3: make it easy
  • Law of behavior change #4: make it satisfying
  • Perform activities that fit right into your innate capabilities and abilities
  • Learn and master small steps to build good habits

Atomic Habits Summary

Lesson 1: Focus On Small Steps

Continuous and frequent repetition of behaviors transforms them into habits. Changes that people classify as ‘small’ are often underestimated, while in reality, these changes can be responsible for something like an ‘atomic habit’. Atomic habits are the basis for achieving extraordinary results.

Atomic habits make it easier to achieve your goals incrementally, rather than just having set goals without a system to archive them. These habits interlock similar to building blocks to trigger changes in your behavior. You need to create a clear path to achieve lasting change.

“Habits form based on frequency, not time.”

Human identity is the result of assumptions that form the basis for a belief system that is responsible for the person’s actions. People try to change their behavior by listing their desires – so it is a purposeful process.

Another approach is to focus on the person’s identity, i.e., “Who is the person? A good example is people with excellent athletic skills. Such people have habits that ensure they can maintain their skills and ability.

Lesson 2: Changing A Habit

To change a person’s habits, it is necessary to know the beliefs that are responsible for those habits. Even the ancient Latin translation of identity indicates that ‘identity’ means ‘repeated being’. Your daily routines and actions are exactly what make up your identity, because they are performed in repetition.

“Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”

You need to decide who you want to be. This is the first step in changing your habits for the better. Only when you have a defined identity can you take steps to work toward that identity.

“Incentives can start a habit. Identity sustains a habit.”

In creating and improving your identity, you must constantly make corrections and changes to your beliefs, which then turn into a change of habits.

Lesson 3: Building Habits

The brain determines the type of response to a situation. When that situation is repeated for a time, it becomes a habit. In a real sense, habits are something like stress relievers because they reduce cognitive load as they are triggered by memories.

Habits serve two functions. Basically, they help solve life problems and require a small amount of energy to provide the solution. The four-step process for forming a habit is: cue, craving, response, and reward.

Cues are the trigger/activator, cravings are the motivators, responses are the answers, and each solution earns a reward. Cues are what drive your actions, and these cues are inspired/triggered by carvings.

Actions triggered by the cue require a response, which comes in the form of answers. Eventually, you receive responses from them.

In the following lessons, we will discuss the four laws of behavior change that are vital for having good habits and removing the bad ones. 

Lesson 4: The First Law: “Make It Obvious”

The brain works by constantly taking in new information and processing it. The brain works like an office worker; it highlights important things/information and discards the unimportant ones. It takes note of experiences, events, and activities that are repetitive. It files them away in the form of a catalog that can be used in the future.

The brain recognizes clues that trigger human patterns through practice. This changes the level of consciousness toward action to accurately change that action.

‘Pointing and calling’ is a concept where you verbalize the outcome or possible outcome of an action before you act. The brain thinks about your old behaviors and patterns to determine the consequences of a habit. Only then can the habit be changed.

‘Habit stacking’ is another effective method used in adapting behaviors. In this method, a new habit is merged with an existing habit. To achieve a positive result, you need to find the right time to ‘stack’ a new habit with an existing habit. This triggers a kind of chain reaction in which the new habits are gradually linked together.

“Habits are like the entrance ramp to a highway. They lead you down a path and, before you know it, you’re speeding toward the next behavior.”

It is a person’s environment that provides the framework for his habits. Therefore, a stable environment promotes the formation and change of habits. Habits are triggered by clues – so eliminate the clues underlying a habit to get rid of the habit.

“It’s easier to avoid temptation than resist it.”

Predominant behaviors of a person are the result of various cues, and of all these cues, visual cues are the ones with the greatest influence. This is a natural phenomenon in all people – people have a natural tendency to react strongly to the most visible factors.

To positively change your lifestyle habits, you need clear and dominant positive cues that trigger habits. Perhaps initially a single cue is enough to trigger a new behavior or habit in a person, and it takes the entire context of that cue to make it a true triggering cue.

When you are in a new environment, start with new habits that prevent old cues from impeding your progress.

Lesson 5: The Second Law: “Make It Attractive”

The brain’s reward system releases a hormone called dopamine when a person feels excited or joyful. By repeating a behavior or action that triggers joy or excitement, the hormone is released simply by the expectation of the reward. In other words, the anticipation of the reward becomes the reward.

If you want to increase the degree to which your brain finds an action/behavior attractive, combine it with another action/behavior that you highly desire. This is described by the author as enticement bundling.

It is this mechanism that is responsible for quickly creating a habit when the habit is pleasurable.

“Habits turn into a dopamine-driven feedback loop.”

The lifestyle of the society you are in determines, to a large extent, how much you want to behave. People have a natural need to conform to others; this need stems from the need for “recognition, respect, and praise.”

People tend to imitate people within their social groups such as friends and family. They tend to imitate “the many,” i.e., the general public, and “the powerful,” whom they regard as role models and mentors.

“Desire is the engine that drives behavior.”

You must first recognize and identify a behavior and then consider how to fit into the society where such behavior is prevalent. By taking these steps, you embrace the idea that a shared identity helps create a personal identity.
Behaviors work in two stages: they aim to satisfy “surface” needs, and they seek to address “deeper” motives.

Habits that a person engages in are expressions of an innate purpose or goal in the person that stems from their ancient needs. Their feelings and emotions are important because they can change the course of the habit-triggering signals.

Lesson 6: The Third Law: “Make It Easy”

The author describes a habit as a particular habit that you have performed continuously and repeatedly so that it becomes automatic. Frequently performed actions become automatic.

Automaticity means that an individual “performs a behavior without thinking” (exercising cognition) about it.

The brain is wired in a way that it prioritizes options that require the least effort. This helps the brain to conserve energy.

Therefore, the path of least resistance needs to be followed to create a new behavior in a person. One practical approach is to fit the new activity or behavior into an existing one. Also, practice or action is what makes learning effective. Mere planning is not as effective as taking action.

Improvement can only be made on a habit achieved after establishment. In order to establish a new habit, employ the strategy of starting small. Begin by engaging in meaningful activities for a short time, say two minutes. This would help to ‘ritualize the beginning of a process.’ Now you can focus on the routines and steps to develop that habit.

If you want to break a bad habit in your life, make things difficult for yourself in a way that will make it challenging to perform that habit. Use helpful tools or devices described by the author as ‘commitment devices.’ These devices will help make changes to your present choices to affect the future.

An example is to create a pre-order or pay for a yoga class in advance. This strategy makes you committed to the yoga class even if you want to back out in the future.

“Sometimes success is less about making good habits easy and more about making bad habits hard.”

Technology can be very helpful in this area. If you have important tasks to do, you can delete social media apps on your devices that you find distracting, or restrict access to them with a password.

Lesson 7: The Fourth Law: “Make It Satisfying”

Behavioral change is carried out by the repetition of behaviors that are instantly rewarded as well as the avoidance of ones that come with instant punishment. The brain desires instant success, no matter the ‘size’. The present evolution of the brain makes it the value ‘present more than the future.’

Select a reward that aligns with your identity. A selection like this will reinforce you as a person, making the resulting activities and actions pleasant accompanied by adequate and lasting outcomes.

There can only be a change in the habit when the alternative is attractive, accessible, and visible.

When new habits become hard to stick to, remind yourself that failure is not an approach to breaking a new habit. Negative habits are not formed when they come with pain.

Develop a tracking system to see how well you are sticking with your good habits. This will help you to monitor your efforts, and notice if there is a need for change. When you track your progression, it will give a sense of satisfaction.

Accountability is a necessary factor in ensuring that you stick to your good habits. This is why Clear suggests the concept of ‘habit contract.’ This is based on the knowledge that creating, and maintaining good habits bring about growth. Just like any other contract, the habit contract will come with penalties if the terms are breached.

You can even choose to make your habit contract public; you can do this by having someone who holds you accountable for your actions. This person would be someone you can trust, who wants you to succeed, and someone who can be strict and firm with you. The author suggests that making your partner aware of your habit contract would do you right. Your partner will easily call you to order when you are going out of line or slipping back to your old self.

Lesson 8: The Right Balance

Genetics and DNA traits are essential factors in shaping a person’s identity, personality, and behavior. It is impossible to remove genetics from the way a person responds to situations and events to which he or she is exposed.

The assessment of a person’s underlying and innate abilities also play an important role in shaping their personality. Therefore, you need to choose, create and develop habits that complement your character and fit in with ease. This way, you will have a greater chance of achieving the changes you desire.

If you are aiming for lasting success or are interested in achieving the results you want, you need to engage in activities that fit your innate abilities and skills exactly. You need activities that align with your strengths, not your weaknesses. You need activities that are ideal for your skill level – not above or below it. This is how you pave the way for further growth and development.

“Genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity.”

The thought of facing challenges can be a source of motivation for you. If you know that when you face a problem successfully, you are bound to come out of it stronger, better, or with a reward, that will spur you to do more. This creates a kind of motivation in you to do a good job.

It is important that the tasks, challenges or obstacles you face are a perfect match for your skills and abilities. A situation where the task is either below or above your abilities is not a good test for you. Instead, you will end up with an exaggerated view of yourself or an underestimated image of yourself. Neither scenario is ideal for a person.

If you choose a task or challenge with a level of difficulty that matches your skills and abilities, the result will help you realise your true status. The principle used for tasks and challenges also applies to habits.

The best and most effective way to mastery is to start small and perform a habit repeatedly and continuously.

“Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities.”

Boredom is one of the biggest threats to achieving a lasting good habit. Human beings tend to stop their actions or activities when they become more like a routine. They develop a lack of interest in these actions, which may derail their plans.

Lesson 9: Good Habits

Any behavior desired by a person requires learning and mastering small steps, repeatedly and continuously over time, which then evolve into what manifests as good habits.

The process is meticulous and can be somewhat slow as it must be registered in the brain – this takes time. When the brain has fully registered and assimilated the behavior, it leads to a change in a pattern, which then shows up as a habit. This is true for both good and bad habits.

After some time, good habits that a person has developed and cultivated become automatic, so that the person no longer has to think about the habit before performing it. This can only be achieved by practicing ethical behavior on a daily basis.

Self-reflection is quite essential to achieving your goals. If you are seeking habit change, it is essential that you have a sense of reflection and perspective that takes the form of accountability, careful examination and serious thought and consideration, and finally meditation.

In this way, you can look for mistakes that would have gone unnoticed without self-reflection. This is also crucial for effective improvement and the transformation of bad habits into good ones.

“One of our greatest challenges in changing habits is maintaining awareness of what we are actually doing.”

Good habits performed incrementally, continuously will develop into a sustainable and strong human conduct. Ultimately, having good habits will create an unwavering and unique identity for you.

Conclusion

James Clear explains the necessity of good habits and why they are preferable to bad habits. The author convincingly suggests that it is important to start small in order to achieve positive results in the form of good behavior.

Throughout the book, the author never loses sight of the goal – how to change a habit, create and build a new habit, and maintain a good habit.

About The Author

James Clear is a self-help author and entrepreneur who explores habits and their potential to motivate self-improvement. 

Hundreds of thousands of people receive Clear’s weekly newsletter, where he shares stories from his own life and that of other top performers in the business, sports, the arts, etc.

Atomic Habits Review

James Clear’s book Atomic Habits is worth a read if you have the time. 

It can seem like a hamster wheel to pursue self-improvement and self-help. Because of this, it’s easy to become stuck in reading How to Change Your Life books without ever improving your life. 

There are occasions, however, books in this genre that deliver on their promise and provide readers with enormous value.

Atomic Habits has sold so many copies in less than three years that it’s easy to see why.

This book contains a lot of useful and actionable information, from how and why habits form to how they can be broken or created.

The most important insight James Clear offers is how unreliable friend inspiration can be in changing your habits. He is also correct in saying that you will accomplish more if you create a disciplined work environment rather than wish you were disciplined. 

Your willpower alone won’t keep you from picking up your cell phone idly. You might want to put the phone away for a while. When you get home, you might rather watch television than reading. Place the tube in an inconvenient location or unplug it after every use. Your chances of success will increase.

Atomic Habits Quotes

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

 

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”

 

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”

 

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

 

“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. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.”

View our larger collection of the best Atomic Habits quotes.

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