Atomic Habits

3 minute read

Some notes and observations from Atomic Habits, by James Clear.

I recently read Atomic Habits as recommended by The Startup Book Club reading list for 2019. The goal of the book is to provide the reader with a framework for making small improvements every day. If you can improve by 1% every day over the course of a year, then at year end, you will be 37x better than you were.

“Small changes will compound into remarkable results over an extended period of time”.

How to build better habits

Habits can be broken down into a four step feedback loop.
cue -> craving -> response -> reward.

We can use the four laws of behaviour change to build better habits.

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

Make it obvious

Often, the environment is more important than the motivation. Every habit is initiated by a cue. In order to make those cues stand out, we need to shape our environment. This can be as simple as leaving a book in every room if you would like to become a reader. Reshaping your environment will also help to fight against old or bad cues.

Another mechanism of making the cue obvious is to implement a technique known as Habit-stacking. Habit stacking gets you to identify some existing habit and pair some new behaviour with it. The formula for habit stacking is simply

e.g After I make my morning coffee, I will meditate for one minute.

Make it attractive

The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming. Dopamine++ = Motivation++.

An interesting mechanism of making a new habit more attractive is to employ the mechanism of Temptation-bundling. The purpose of this is to pair a habit that you want, with a habit that you need.


After I open my phone, I will read a page of a book. After I read a page of a book, I will check Facebook.

The first is the need, the second is the want. You will eventually look forward to the need because it leads to the want.

Make it easy

Human effort follows The Law of Least Effort. Ensure that you minimize any frictions associated with a good habit. Priming your environment (:point_up:) greatly helps with this. An important point here, is that the time spent on a behaviour is not as important as the number of times you do it.
Many years ago, a music teacher told me that it was better to practise for 2 minutes every day, than for 2 hours once a week. The daily repitition helps you to become the person that you want to be (a reader, a musician etc) and your muscle memory improves quicker than with reduced frequency.

Make it satisying.

The fourth law of behaviour change. It’s important that your new habit is rewarding. Our brains have evolved to favour immediate reward over delayed rewards. This probably goes way back to the hunter-gatherers who never knew where and when the next meal would come from. Maybe if your goal is to become someone who exercises and looks after themselves, then your short term reward for hitting the gym is to go for a massage. This aligns the short term reward with the long term motivation. The author explains that the reward of a bowl of ice-ceam for a successful workout does not align and leads to conflicting identies.

Whatever the choice, to get a habit to stick, it’s important that you feel an immediate success once you have responded to the cue.

Inversions of the above

Worth noting that whilst the four laws of behaviour change can be used to build better habits, we can use their inversions to break bad habits.

  1. Make it invisible (reduce exposure by removing cues).
  2. Make it unattractive (highlight the benfits of avoiding the bad habit).
  3. Make it difficult (increase friction between you and the habit).
  4. Make it unsatisfying (make the costs public and painful).


I’ve just noted down some points and takeaways that I found useful over the course of this book. This book was recommended to me, rather than me seeking to change existing habits, but I have found that the book has has a positive effect on my outlook of day to day activities, my prioritisation of tasks, and how I choose to spend my time.

Tiny Changes Lead To Remarkable Results.

I’d definitely recommend this one.