Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits

by James Clear


Habits benefit from compounding. Adopt the compounding mindset.

Choose your identity, not your goal.

Each habit has 4 stages:

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward

1 & 2 = Problem phase (you see something and you want the reward)

3 & 4 = Solution phase (you do something and get the reward, or at least try)

To build good habits use these 4 rules:

  1. Make it Obvious (cue)
  2. Make it Attractive (craving)
  3. Make it Easy (response)
  4. Make it Satisfying (reward)

To break bad habits inverse the rules above.

TL;WR (too long, wanna read)

Getting 1% better every day for one year will lead to a 37 times improvement.

Progress isn’t linear as we expect. Habits compound, it takes time to see results. Be patient and don’t fall victim to the valley of disappointment.

Habits are like an onion, they have multiple layers:

  1. Identity based - inner layer
  2. Process based - middle layer
  3. Outcome based (goals) - outer layer

Be a programmer, don’t have the goal of learning to code. Think and act like the person you want to become. Would a programmer spend 20 minutes everyday performing a boring task, or would he try to automate it?

1. Make it Obvious

Habit stacking

Decide when and where you’ll perform a task: I’ll read every day at 7am (WHEN) in my kitchen (WHERE).

Better yet, use habit stacking: pair new, desired habits to already established behaviors: After I wake up, I’ll read in my kitchen.

Environment design

Structure your life/environment in a way that allows you to achieve the things you desire without needing exaggerated amounts of willpower & self-control.

Make the cues of your good habits obvious and the cues of your bad habits invisible.

Wanna read more? Have books around you at all times.

Want to lose a few pounds? Get rid of all your snacks.

I use the desk in my bedroom for studying only. When I’m done learning, I leave the room. I know that studying is the only thing happening there, so I don’t get the urge to do something else.

I used to stay up checking my phone in my bed before falling asleep. Now I don’t bring my phone in my room after 9pm.

2. Make it Attractive

Temptation bundling

Pair a habit that you need to do with something you want to do.

Like listening to podcasts? Want to build a running habit? Listen to podcasts while you run!

I paired the desired cup of coffee in the morning with the habit of reading.

Join a community

James gives the example of theár sisters.

If you want to make a habit attractive, surround yourself with people that have/want the same habit.

If everybody around you is a programmer, chances are you’ll feel the desire to code.

If everybody around you smokes, you’ll feel inclined to have a cigarette.

We imitate the habits of three groups in particular:

  1. The close.
  2. The many.
  3. The powerful.

Your habits are modern day solutions to ancient desires. If people 300 years ago could live without fast food & TV, you probably can too.

3. Make it Easy (FRICTIONLESS)

Remove as much friction as possible between you and your habit.

Netflix removes the friction between you and your film. They make it dead easy to watch anything, anywhere.

Use the Two-Minute Rule: Make sure you can get into your desired habit ASAP. If it takes 20 minutes to get to the gym, you’re not gonna stick with working out. The workout that takes 2 minutes or less to start is the one that’s gonna stick.

Automate good behaviors as much as possible.

When you automate as much of your life as possible, you can spend your effort on the tasks machines cannot do yet.

Make one time purchases / actions that lock in good habits. Habit****AutomationEat healthy foodSign up to a meal prep serviceBe more secure onlineUse a password managerSpend less time on social mediaDelete social media apps from your phoneExercise more oftenJoin a nice gym

4. Make it Satisfying

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

Our brains are that of hunter-gatherers that got immediate rewards for their actions. A behavior that didn’t reward them immediately was excluded.

Us, modern humans, on the other hand, live in what scientists calls a delayed-return environment.

We work for a whole month before receiving the paycheck. We have to spend months in the gym before we see any gains.

You have to trick your brain into enjoying modern delayed reward activities by giving it a treat after performing the desired habit.

Make sure the treat doesn’t go against your desired habit. You shouldn’t reward going to the gym in order to lose weight with eating cake.

In the 5 minute break after a Pomodoro study session, I like to listen to a song, this way I’m rewarding myself for studying. Find what works for you.

Track your progress, the more visual, the better. (see Don't Break The Chain)

Make it unsatisfying to miss a day. An accountability partner or putting something on the line can help. Thomas Frank wants to get up early, in order to do so he has a Tweet scheduled that says:

Thomas Frank: Wake up or PayPal someone $5