Atomic Habits Summary11 min read

Atomi Habits Book Cover Pic

One-Sentence Summary

Atomic Habits is a definitive operating manual for building better habits—not for days or weeks, but for a lifetime.

Favorite Quote From The Author

Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.

– James Clear

Quick Summary

The author takes the readers on a journey to his past when an unimaginable accident during high school made him lose the ability to perform even primitive biological activities. Although he was crippled to the point where he was on the verge of giving up his baseball career, he attempted to gain back control of his life by building small but effective habits. Eventually, he managed to become one of 33 players on the All-American Academic team. The improvements were minor when he started, but the effects were long-term. He then wrote his very first book, “Atomic Habits” to pass on the critical lesson he learned during the process: changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years. The author puts forth a systematic approach to achieving the same–the four-step model of habits and the four laws of behavior change that evolve out of these steps.

Get The Fundamentals Right!

  • We normally overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value that small improvements daily hold to that very moment. Emphasis on the former would only result in a momentary change, while that on the latter results in a long-lasting effect.
  • Furthermore, focusing on the result restricts you to a narrow version of happiness. Thus, focusing on the system rather than the goal will result in long-term success and ensure long-term happiness.
  • Habits are a double-edged sword. They can work for you or against you, depending on whether that habit is good or bad for achieving your goal. Changing your habits according to what you want to achieve can be challenging for two reasons: (1) we try to change the wrong thing, or (2) we try to change our habits in the wrong way.
  • There are three levels at which changes can occur – (1) changing your outcomes, (2) changing your process, and (3) changing your identity. All levels of change are useful in their own way, but the problem lies in the direction of change that one adapts.
  •  Instead of starting with change based on outcomes, it is ideal to start working on changes based on your identity. It is the set of beliefs that you hold on to, that is making it difficult for you to change your habits. For example, the goal must not be to read a book but to become a reader. A simple two-step process will help achieve the same: (1) Determine what sort of person you hope to become. (2) show yourself some success on the low-key level.
  • The optimal way to change our habits is to work on a standard feedback loop for any habit. This feedback loop can be broken down into four steps – cue, craving, response, and reward.
Habit Fundamentals
Cycle of Habit Formation

The Four Laws of Behaviour Change

Every routine has a reward as its ultimate purpose. Observing the reward serves as the first step in the four-step feedback loop, which is followed by craving for the reward and acting on that desire to obtain the reward. The problem phase of every habit includes the cue and craving, while its solution phase includes the response and reward.

How To Create Good Habits

The four laws of behavior change that correspond to creating a good habit are stated below:

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying

1. Make It Obvious

  • The first and foremost step in creating a habit is to pick up on the cues that lead to favorable outcomes without consciously thinking about it. This can be both useful as well as dangerous. If a habit remains mindless, you can’t expect to improve it. To avoid falling into mindless habits, pointing and calling would help raise awareness to a more conscious level.
  • Creating a habit scorecard has been proven effective in becoming more aware of your behavior. Simply make a list of habits that you do daily and mark them based on how effective they are in achieving your goals. Hearing your habits spoken aloud makes the consequences seem more real and helps you from mindlessly slipping into an old routine.
  • The two most common cues are time and location, which help you make a plan about when and where to act. This is, in other words, called implementation intention, and creating one is a strategy that you can use to pair a new habit with a specific time and location. The implementation intention formula is I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
  • Another strategy that you can rely on is habit stacking. When you pair a new habit with a current one, the new one will be more obviously performed by you. A simple way to use habit stacking is to fill out the following sentence: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
  • Environment is an important factor that is to be taken care of. Building new habits in a new environment is easier because you are not fighting against old cues. Making the cues of good habits more evident in your environment will increase your chance of performing that habit regularly.

2. Make It Attractive

  • The next step is to make the opportunity attractive. Humans are prone to fall for exaggerated versions of reality; thus, making the goal attractive is one important step to be carried out. 
  • A dopamine spike is a biological signature that all habits share in common. The irresistible anticipation of receiving a reward drives us to perform the task.
  • Temptation bundling is one way to make your habits irresistible. You can also combine this strategy with habit stacking which can be implemented as:

    1. After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]
    2. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT]

    For example, 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)
  • Environment plays a significant role in determining which behaviors are attractive to us. We tend to adopt habits that are followed by (1) the close, (2) the many, and (3) the powerful.
  • Thus, it is ideal to join a culture where your desired behavior is normal and you already have something in common with the group. This is because we find a behavior attractive based on the amount of approval and respect it gets within a group.

3. Make It Easy

  • The key to mastering a habit is to start with repetition rather than working on perfection. This is the first takeaway of the 3rd law. Brains literally rewire themselves to become more proficient at the things they do repeatedly.
  • While it is natural to put your hard work into something that you want to achieve, it is ideal to work smarter. Because the human brain is wired to conserve energy whenever possible, eventually, it gravitates toward the path that uses the least amount of energy. 
  • One way to put the law of least effort into action is by being proactively lazy. For instance, after watching TV, you should return the remote to its stand, rearrange the pillows on the couch, and fold the blanket. Resetting a room serves as more than just a cleanup procedure before the next event.
  • Each day is made up of many moments, but those decisive moments lead you to either a productive or an unproductive day ahead. Thinking too much about what to decide during these moments pushes you down to procrastinate.
  • An effective way to fight against procrastination is to use the two-minute rule, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.” You can scale down any habit into a two-minute version: “Run three miles” becomes “Tie my running shoes” The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. 

4. Make It Satisfying

  • We are more likely to repeat a behavior when the experience is satisfying. But we are looking for more than just any type of satisfaction. We are looking for immediate satisfaction. Although humans have come a long way from being primates to becoming modern humans, our brains are still very much used to instant gratification. In contrast, in modern society, the choices you make today will not benefit you immediately.
  • One way to turn instant gratification to your advantage is to use reinforcement which refers to the process of using an immediate reward to increase the rate of behavior. While habit stacking ties your habit to an immediate cue, reinforcement ties your habit to an immediate reward which makes it satisfying when you finish.
  • The first three laws of behavior change—make it obvious, attractive, and easy—increase the odds that a behavior will be performed this time. The fourth law of behavior change—make it satisfying—increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated next time.
  • One of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress toward your goal, which can be easily achieved by using a habit tracker. A habit tracker works like a tool to measure your progress and helps make the habit satisfying as it provides clear evidence of the path you’ve traveled so far.
  • It is inevitable for the consistency to break due to unavoidable circumstances. One must remember that perfection is not possible. In such cases, make sure you don’t miss twice. Try to get back as quickly as possible because missing twice is the start of a new habit.
Four Laws of Beahvior Change
Atomic Habits Cheat Sheet – Laws that will help you bring the change

How To Break Bad Habits

  • The process of breaking a bad habit is simply the inversion of the four laws of behavior change: (1) Make it invisible, (2) Make it unattractive, (3) Make it difficult, and (4) Make it unsatisfying.
  • Once a habit is formed, it is unlikely to be forgotten. A classical way of dealing with making a cue invisible is to have self-control. But the most practical way is to reduce exposure to the cue that causes it.
  • The second step is to make your bad habits look unattractive. Associate your bad habits with negative feelings, and you will automatically avoid doing it without pressure.
  • Making the bad habits difficult to do can help you prevent repeating them. Increase the number of steps between you and your bad habits by restricting your future choices to the ones that benefit you.
  • We usually avoid doing something that yields a painful or unsatisfying reward. The last and final refuge is to make the consequences of bad habits painful. We care deeply about what others think of us. We do not want them to have a lesser opinion of us—so having an accountability partner can add a social cost to any behavior by making violating your promises public and painful.

So, to answer the basic question “Is atomic habits worth reading” ultimately depends on you, and how much you take away from the book and diligently follow it. The process can get boring at some point, but the ability to keep going when work isn’t exciting makes the difference.Without wasting any time further get your copy of the atomic habits book or if you are an avid audiobook listener then opt for an Atomic habits audiobook – we prefer both. In the end, professionals stick to the schedule, while amateurs let life get in the way.


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