Atomic Habits by James Clear

atomic habits by james clear

What is a habit?

A habit is a behavior or routine that you do to solve life's problem spending the least effort.

Why do habit matters?

Habits matter because they can change lives.

You can leverage habits to improve your knowledge, network, finance and health. The key thing to note here is that you need to stick with them for years, for it to pay off. Because this is how habits work. They don't add up, they compound. Once you reach the tipping point, you'll start to see remarkable results.

How can one make/break a habit

Making/breaking a habit is a 4 step process

Law How to Create a Good Habit How to Break a Bad Habit
I. Cue Make it obvious Make it invisible
II. Craving Make it attractive Make it unattractive
III. Response Make it easy Make it difficult
IV. Reward Make it satisfying Make it unsatisfying

If a behavior is insufficient in any of the four stages, it will not become a habit.

Eliminate the cue and your habit will never start. Reduce the craving and you won’t experience enough motivation to act. Make the behavior difficult and you won’t be able to do it. And if the reward is unsatisfactory, you won't do it again in the future.

Without the first three steps, a behavior will not occur.

Without all four, a behavior will not be repeated.

I. Cue

The environment sets the bigger context for our behavior. Making or breaking habits becomes easy once you understand this. The cues within an environment initiates a behavior. This is why the people from the rehab center become re-addicted, once they stay in the same locality. The clue that caused the addiction in the first place still exist there.

Two common cues are [Time] and [Location]. Create a separate environment for work, play, cooking, and entertainment


Essentially, One place One use. Instead of relying on motivation and self-control, start filling these environments with clues that encourage the intended behavior.

Priming your environment - make it obvious

To break a habit - Make it invisible

Remove the cue from the environment, your habit will disappear.

II. Craving

Habits are dopamine-driven feedback loop. The more rewarding an opportunity appears to be, the more likely it is to become a habit. Every habit has a motivation and serves a purpose either good or bad. That is why we continue doing it.

Friends and family have a huge impact on your habit formation. The Polgar sisters grew up in a family where chess was prioritized above all. It was praised and rewarded. In their culture, the obsession with chess was considered normal. Bill Gates's childhood had a similar obsession with solving puzzles and reading books.

To Feel motivated - Make it attractive

We mimic our peers. If you want to improve your health, enroll yourself for a martial art or marathon. If you want to improve your knowledge, join a Meetup or book reading clubs. Essentially, join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have.

To break a habit - Make it unattractive

Increase the friction to attain the reward.

III. Response

The response is the actual habit you perform. They deliver the reward and forms the end of every habit. Practice is the most effective way of learning. So, instead of waiting for motivation to strike, act.

Lesser the friction to act, more like it to be a habit. Whenever possible, automate things. Automation can free you up for other tasks. You need to get started, before optimizing anything. Start with something that you can do within 2 minutes to build the momentum.

Reducing the friction Increasing the friction

IV. Reward

We remember only the ending experiences of the habits. This experience needs to be satisfying for it to last. Our mind enjoys immediate rewards over the delayed results. You need to feel progress on the completion of a behavior. Our mind anticipates these dopamine surges to be satisfied, to be able to trigger the craving which is required for repeating the behavior in the future. Get analytical about reward and quantify it. The reward needs to be measurable, to denote progress. Only progress triggers a satisfying feeling.

Using dopamine surges - make it satisfying

You can use a habit tracker to build a streak of how much you did an activity. Keep the streak alive. Eg: Github code streak.

How to break - make it unsatisfying

You can count the number of days you didn't watch TV. The longer the chain goes, the more motivated you'll be. Don't break the chain.

How to pick a habit to form

First, focus on who you wish to become instead of what you want. The "who" here refers to the type of person who could get the result that you aim for. A writer. A programmer. A musician. An entrepreneur. Work backward from the result. Start building deliberate practices and processes to set yourself in that path.

Habit + deliberate practice = mastery

Eg: If you want to be a writer, start writing every day.

Identity is what you believe yourself to be. Your habit shape your identity, your identity shape your habit. It is a two-way street. True behavior change is an identity change. The more you do, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that habit. The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habit associated with it.

If you want to increase your chance of success, choose the right field of competition that suits your personality. Michael Phelps, who won the most number of gold in Olympics history was a 6 feet 4-inch tall guy with strong back and arms. He was well suited for swimming, besides being trained for that. You can stand out by combining your personality with your skills.

Some closing tips on how to approach habit building

  1. To quickly get started with habit formation. You can pair up your newer habit with your current ones. After [current habit], I'll [new habit]
  2. To master a habit, start with repetition, not perfection.
  3. The greatest threat to success is not failure, but boredom. Stick to the schedule; don't let life get in the way. Focus on the progress than expecting immediate results.
  4. Building a system that supports your habit steak is the most effective way to maintain a habit. Relying on will power to maintain the habit streak isn't effective.
  5. Since habits compound. Never interrupt it unnecessarily. Never miss twice in a row. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the beginning of a new habit.
  6. Establish a system for reflection and review.

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