Summary of Atomic Habits by James Clear

I recently read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. Here are the most valuable takeaways for me personally:


Compound interest of effort, i.e. trajectory, is more important than your current position. Focusing on the now (i.e. I will go to the gym 3x/week) is more effective than focusing on goals (i.e. I will lose weight).

Habits as identity

Habits that form part of your identity are easier to do as they provide intrinsic motivation. Compare “I don’t smoke” to “No thanks, I’m trying to quit”. Decide what type of person you want to be (the type of person who gets the outcome you want) and adjust habits to make it happen.

Make a list of your habits and consider if it “casts a vote towards your desired identity”. Give them scores. Consider for example your list of actions in the morning after you wake up - can you adjust them to get yourself closer to your desired identity? Should anything be added or removed?

More examples: “read a book” vs. “I am a reader”
“make my bed” vs. “I am an organised person”
“go to the gym even when it rains” vs. “I am committed to my fitness” or “I enjoy exercise”

It can often be useful to replace beliefs - e.g. get rid of “I’m not a morning person”, if it doesn’t help you get closer to your desired outcome.

Think about the person you want to become. What would this person do?

Getting yourself to do stuff

Self-control is an imperfect, short-term strategy. For real success you need to trick your brain to do stuff automatically.

Habit stacking

Use existing habits as a trigger to do new ones. After “current habit” I will “new habit”. A cue of (time, location) can also work, but an existing habit works better (more flexible)

Cue example (ok): “At 7am in my kitchen, I will meditate for one minute”
Habit stacking (better): “After I pour my coffee each morning, I will meditate for one minute”
Or: “After I take off my work shoes, I will put on my gym clothes and go to the gym”
Or: “After I lay down in my bed, I will say one thing I am grateful for today”

This is based on the Diderot effect (easier to do something after you’ve done something else that’s similar - example cited was buying more stuff after making an expensive purchase)

You can stack repeatedly. You can also stack before an existing habit, or during. For example listening to music while vacuuming the room.


Make ‘right’ thing as easy to do as possible. If you want to practice guitar, put the guitar near the sofa so you pick it up.

Make ‘wrong’ things harder to do. Hide food away if dieting; delete apps from your phone; stop reading product reviews if you spend too much money; unplug and hide devices. Consider not just the bad habit but also the cues and environment that lead towards it.

Building habits in an new environment is easier - no old cues. Create environments dedicated to one task (work desk etc.). Only use your bed for sleep, etc.

Obvious, Attractive, Easy, Satisfying

Obvious: be as specific as possible, make it doable (e.g. meditate for 5 minutes; gym for 30 minutes), use clear cues/habit stacking

Attractive: habit stacking to provide a reward afterwards (or right before); join a culture where your desired behaviour is normal (and gets approval, respect, praise); appreciation (“gym = get stronger, feel better”, “I don’t have to cook for my family, I ‘get’ to cook for them”); meditation (helps willpower). For bad habits, make them unattractive - what are the benefits of doing ‘nothing’ instead?

Easy: automate habits if possible (e.g. make paying into savings account automatic; buy a better mattress or blackout curtains to improve sleep automatically; smaller plates to eat less). Use website blockers. Accept that habits take time to become truly automatic. Two minute rule: start with <2m tasks. Stop tasks before they feel too tedious.

Examples of 2min tasks: put on workout clothes and leave house; sit down and close eyes for 1 minute; read one page of a book; open my study notes.

Satisfying: calendar chain of Xs for each day you complete the task; have a friend hold you accountable; choose tasks you are naturally good at. Goldilocks rule: not too hard but avoid boredom. “What feels like fun to me, but work to others?” You don’t have to love it but can you handle the pain of the task easier than others? What puts you in flow? What gives me greater returns than the average person? What feels natural to me, when have I felt alive / the real me? (engagement)

Combining skills can help. The writer of Dilbert was not world class at comedy or drawing, but could do both fairly well + a business background. The combination gave him a skill others do not have.

If any of this resonated with you, consider buying the real book as it has a lot more detail!