This Book Shows the Power of Small and ‘Atomic’ Habits

You are always told that to become the kind of person you want, you need a lot of hard work and struggle. But what you actually need is simple repetitive actions over a long period of time.

We always underestimate the power of small routines which accumulate over a period of time and have amazing effect on our life.

Atomic Habits is all about these tiny improvements. James Clear, clearly explains the idea behind habits, steps behind each habit and what you need to do to achieve behavioural change. There are few key ideas from the book which are discussed below.

1. 1% Rule

If you aim to become better 1% everyday for 1 year, then you’ll be 37 times better by the end of the period.

As Clear writes, “Habits are compound interest of self improvement”, it becomes clear that 1% rule is powerful.

Clear talks about ‘Plateau of latent potential’. Habits typically take a lot of time to actually show the result. In between there can be a lot of disappointments. We need patience to see the results.

2. Focus on System; Forget the Goal

Clear highlights four problems with the normal goal settings.

  1. Winners and losers have the same goals
  2. Reaching a goal is only a momentary change
  3. The goal restricts your level of happiness
  4. The goal is at odds with long-term progress

The purpose of setting up goal is to win the game. The purpose of system is to continue playing the game. James Clear

We all are mostly worried about the outcome. “Will I win the match”, “Will I score 1st in class” etc. Problem with this approach is once you achieve them you’ll have nothing else to do.

What you should be aiming for is – a behavioural change, so that you can keep playing the game through-out.

3. Identity Change

We always start the process with the outcome in mind. We then think about the process to achieve that. Finally we think about identity.

Outcome → Process → Identity

Clear says that, we should start with Identity change first and then work outwards.

Identity → process → Outcome

For example, instead setting up goal to write an article and then thinking inwards, you can aim to become writer first and then think what a writer would do everyday.

Aim should be to become a sportsman and not to play the game; aim should be to be an entrepreneur and not to build a product.

“Ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of identity. ” – James Clear

4. Fundamental laws of behavioural change

Any habit will have 4 steps. Cue, Craving, Response and Reward.

  • Cue is that which triggers the action
  • Craving is the motivation behind the action
  • Response is the actual action we perform
  • Reward is the end goal.

How will you actually work on behavioural change ? Following four steps talk about it.

4.1 Make it Obvious

Environment plays an important role in habit formation. You should put fewer steps between you and your good behaviours and more steps between you and bad behaviour. The cumulative impact of being exposed to positive cues and not being exposed to bad ones, is huge.

If you want to read a book every day, make sure that book is visible to you all the time.

4.2 Make it Attractive

It relates to craving aspect of the behaviour. Making habits attractive will help you to stick to them for long time. For some people listening to music while on treadmill makes the whole experience attractive. The fact that you get to listen to your favourite music itself pushes you to work out more.

4.3 Make it Simple

Key idea here is to make habits easy. Setting up the environment suitable for that will make habits easy to perform.

Your each iteration should be simple enough so that you’ll never feel tired or get bored over a period of time. If it is simple small task, you’re most likely to continue that habit.

4.4 Make it Satisfying

You should make habits immediately satisfying. The fact that habits will take lot of time to actually show the result, you may tend to lose interest in them. Making habits immediately satisfying will help you to stick to it better.

What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided. – James Clear

There are other key ideas from the book which I loved.

Starting a new Habit

Clear gives us simple tricks to start new habits – “Implementation Intuition”. It talks about a plan setup before hand to know when and where to take action. You can think of it something like this,

“I will do [ACTION] at [TIME] at / in [LOCATION]”.

Having a clarity on what you want to do and when you want to do is most important step in behaviour change.

Many people think that they lack motivation when they simply lack clarity. – James Clear

Habit Stacking

No action occurs in isolation. Each of your existing habit can become Cue which triggers your new habit. One of the best way to build a habit is to stack it on the existing one. Clear gives us the following formula for the same,

“Having performed [DAILY HABIT], I will do [NEW HABIT]”

Here is an example of a morning routine:

Wake up> Make your bed> Take a shower.

Let’s say you want to set up a reading habit every night.

Wake up> Make your bed> Put a book on my pillow> Take a shower.

Become aware of Habits

Advantage of habits is we don’t need to be aware of the Cue that triggers the habit. But this can be dangerous also. Most of our habits are unknown to us. For example you may not be aware that you are covering your face while you’re laughing or you’ll be smoking while you’re drinking.

Clear advices us to begin the process of behavioural change by developing awareness. You could follow a exercise for that – ‘Habit Scorecard’.

You can list down all your activity since you get up from bed. Prepare a sheet of paper with two columns. In one column you add the routines and in another column add its effectiveness. Positive, Negative or Neutral. If you track this for few days you’ll realise which activities are helping you and which ones are not.


Habits are not finish line to cross but the lifestyle to live.