Book Notes & Review: Atomic Habits by James Clear

An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Atomic Habits is the #1 New York Times bestseller. Over 1 million copies already sold. Authored by James Clear and published in 2018.

This book distills so much value into forming new habits and is very practical and to the point when explaining the four laws of behavior change to better understand human behavior.

On a personal level, I've created a new good habit while reading this book being consistent in writing every single day.

In this blog post, I'll compile my notes on the book that has 6 parts:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Fundamentals
  3. The 1st Law: Make It Obvious
  4. The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive
  5. The 3rd Law: Make It Easy
  6. The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying and I'll leave my review at the end.


  • The story of James Clear, the author, losing consciousness when he was young.
  • Turning point was after 2 years of James' injury.
  • "The quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits."
  • 2 articles each week for a few months led James to 1000 email subscribers. He started in 2012. Email subs increased to 30k in 2013. 100k in 2014 and 200k in 2015 and then BAM Atomic Habits was published.
  • In the same year, the appearance of his articles were in big publications read by 8 million.
  • In 2018, millions of visitors per month on his site and 500k email subs.
  • "This book is about the fundamentals of human behavior."

The Fundamentals

  • Improving 1% will get you a significant increase when you put everything all together.
  • For 110 years, the British Cycling team never won any game until Dave Brailsford came who paid attention to the smallest details like bike seats, how to lead to the fastest muscle recovery, how to reduce chances of catching a cold, even type of pillow and mattress for best night sleep for each rider.
  • After 5 years, the British Cycling team won 60% of the gold medals in the 2008 Olympics.
  • "1% worse every day for one year. 0.99^(365) = 00.03"
  • "1% better every day for one year. 1.01^(365) = 37.78"
  • The problem is that we don't consider small changes that can make a difference. We make a few changes, but the results never seem to come quickly so we slide back into our previous routines.
  • "You get what you repeat."
  • "That's how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest." - Warren Buffet
  • Imagine an ice cube sitting at room temperature, it gradually melts. A one-degree shift.
  • Don't be an overnight success. It always takes time until you cross the "Plateau of Latent Potentials". See the graph!
  • The problem is that we focus on goals associated with results and we forget to put systems associated with processed to achieve those results. Focus on systems instead of goals!
  • The actual win is to be better each day and this is done by following a system.
  • Two reasons why changing our habits is difficult:
    1. "We try to change the wrong thing."
    2. "We try to change our habits in the wrong way."
  • The problem is that we focus on what we want to achieve/get not what we want to become.
  • Better approach: Identity-based habits start from what you want to get going through the process associated with your habits until you believe that your change will make a better version of yourself.
  • "The goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader."
  • 1898 experiment conducted by psychologist Edward Thorndike by putting cats on a puzzle box and measuring the time of escape they took. That time reduced from 1.5 minutes to 6.3 seconds after 24 trials.
  • Steps to build a habit: cue, craving, response, and reward.
  • Craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state e.g. clean smile when you brush your teeth.
  • The four laws of behavior change are related to habit formation.
    1. The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
    2. The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
    3. The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
    4. The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.
  • Many questions, of why we're doing what we're supposed to be doing, are answered in these 4 laws.
  • The rest of the book discusses in detail the four laws.

The 1st Law: Make It Obvious

  • No need to be aware of the cue to begin a habit because it's done nonconsciously and that's giving you the opportunity to take action which makes habits useful. On the other hand, your habits can be dangerous because your actions are under unconscious control.
  • Habits scorecard: list your habits and add a positive sign (+) to your good habits, negative sign (-) to your bad ones, equal sign (=) to neutral habit.
  • The problem when we want to form a habit is that we leave it for chance and not specify timing nor where it should happen.
  • Implementation intention formula: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
  • Habit stacking formula by BJ Fogg: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
  • Make the cue obvious.
  • Be more specific when you set your trigger like: "When I close my laptop for lunch, I will do 10 push-ups next to my desk."
  • See here, ambiguity is gone! cue is obvious (closing my laptop for lunch), behavior (10 push-ups), location (next to my desk).
  • Anne Thorndike & changing people's drinking soda to bottled water in hospital by just changing water locations.
  • Behavior is a function of a person and environment.
  • We like to think we're in control so when we choose, it makes us feel we want that and we're in control.
  • If you want to drink more water, fill up water bottles and put them in near locations.
  • Every habit should have a home. Try to separate your activity zones in your room; a chair for reading, a desk for writing, a table for eating, a bed for sleeping.
  • What if your laptop is for writing, a tablet for reading, and a phone for social media and texting.
  • Perseverance, grit, and willpower are essential to success. To improve them, you need to create a more disciplined environment.
  • To break a bad habit, make the cue invisible.

The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive

  • "The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming."
  • The "wanting" centers in our brains are much longer than "liking" centers.
  • Temptation bundling is linking your activity you "want" to do with the activity you "need" to do.
  • "Doing the thing you need to do means you get to do the thing you want to do."
  • The habit stacking + temptation bundling formula:
    1. After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED].
    2. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].
  • Example: I want to check youtube videos, but I need to be more consistent in writing. What should I do?
    1. After reading, I will write.
    2. After writing, I will watch youtube videos.
  • Now, writing has become attractive.
  • Family can bring habits to their children and make them genius like the Hungarian Laszlo Polgar did to his 3 daughters master and becoming chess prodigies by bringing chess books at a very young age, making them compete against each other, and in tournaments.
  • "If you grow up in a family that rewards you for your chess skills, playing chess will seem like a very attractive thing to do."
  • The closer we are to someone, the more likely we imitate their habits.
  • If you smoke, read this book: Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking. The author has also a series of other books and programs that can help you to understand your addiction or issue like alcohol, overeating, digital addiction, and even the fear of flying. See Allen Carr's website for more information.

The 3rd Law: Make It Easy

  • There is a difference between motion and action.
  • Example:
    1. motion: listing down 20 ideas for an article.
    2. action: sit down and write that article.
  • Preparation and planning can be a form of procrastination.
  • You just need to practice the habit and start with repetition, not perfection.
  • What makes you procrastinate is that you're in the motion phase, not the action phase. When you're in motion, you're preparing and planning what you're trying to be perfect being put in passive learning, not active learning.
  • "The less energy a habit requires, the more likely it is to occur."
  • The greater the friction, the less likely the habit is to occur.
  • The 2-minute rule: "When you start a new habit, it should take in less than 2 minutes to do."
  • "Gateway habit" leads you down a more productive path by mapping goals on a scale from very easy, easy, moderate, hard, until very hard.
  • "The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do."

The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying

  • This law is what increases the chance for a behavior to be repeated.
  • Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.
  • With good habits, the immediate outcome is probably unenjoyable but the ultimate outcome feels good.
  • "The costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future."
  • Make your short-term reward aligned with your long-term vision.
  • A trick a 23-year-old stockbroker was making every day. He had two jars, one had 120 paper clips and the other is empty. When he was doing each sales call, he transferred one paper clip. Within 18 months, he raised $5M. This is known as the "Paper Clip Strategy".
  • The habit stacking + habit tracking formula: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [TRACKING MY HABIT].
  • Never miss twice when you feel like your habits slide off track.
  • Pay if you miss keeping track of the habit as a punishment.
  • Build habits that work for your personality.
  • Adwords & Gmail were side projects done by Google engineers (meaning in their 20% on projects of their choice).
  • Choose the right field of competition.
  • Goldilocks Rule: the human brain is working motivated in optimal if the task is right on the edge of its current ability. Not too hard. Not too easy.
  • Boredom example: playing tennis vs. a 4-year-old boy.
  • Failure example: playing tennis vs. a professional like Roger Federer.
  • Expand the routine bit by bit. (Remember Gateway Habit)
  • Successful people feel the same lack of motivation as everyone, but they find a way to show up despite the feeling of boredom.
  • "You need just enough "winning" to experience satisfaction and just enough "wanting" to experience desire."
  • Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery
  • Lakers basketball coach Pat Riley was looking for 1% improvement within the season and then he made a reflection and review at the end of the season.
  • Small habits don't add up. They compound.
  • Satisfaction = Liking - Wanting
  • "Being poor is not having too little, it is wanting more."

My Review

What I like about this book is the intuitiveness in it. Most of the nonfiction statements are to the point and pretty much make sense. I also like the harmony of the four laws being distributed among the parts of the book to illustrate the whole point of human behavior and how understanding habits can really transform why we're doing what we do on a daily basis.

Some real-world stories are mentioned which give proof that habits can be applied to learning, business, sports, and more.

I don't quite like that there is no balance between creating good habits and quitting bad ones. I feel like the author is more biased into creating good habits. Many of the stories lack the concept of the inversion of the four laws.

On a personal level, I'm not saying writing has started with this book but it's a great resource that made me think about writing as a routine I do every day using the habit stacking and temptation bundling formula mentioned in the second part of the book.

You can find Atomic Habits on Amazon

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Disclosure: The Amazon link for the book (in this section) is a paid link so if you buy the book, I will have a small commission

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