To achieve greater success in any field, we must break bad habits and build good ones. In the book, James Clear draws on insights from cognitive and behavioral sciences to provide a powerful step-by-step plan that can help you to create better habits in any area of life. In this free Atomic Habits summary, we’ll briefly explain the Habit Loop (how habits are formed), and the 4 laws to form good habits and break bad ones.
What are Atomic Habits?
Atomic habits are tiny routines and behaviors that build on one another to multiply outcomes over time.
We tend to prioritize big breakthroughs over tiny improvements. However, it’s those small daily decisions and actions that really matter. If you improve by 1% a day, you don’t just become 365% (or 3.7x) better in 1 year. Because of the compounding effect, you actually become 37x better. The reverse is also true if you slide by 1% per day. Thus, regardless of where you are now, your habits define your trajectory and future outcomes (for better or worse).
We’ll now give an overview of how habits are formed, and how you can use atomic habits to creative massive changes in your life. Do get a copy of our full 14-page summary for more details.
Atomic Habits and The Habit Loop
Habits are basically mental shortcuts to help us solve problems, i.e. to get something we want or avoid something we don’t want.
Specifically, there are 4 parts to habits-formation: The cue (e.g. the phone buzzing when a message comes in) sparks a craving (e.g. the desire to know what’s in the message), which triggers a response (e.g. you grab the phone and read the message), which brings a reward (e.g. you know what’s in the message).
Over time, the brain links the cue with the reward, so you automatically reach for the phone once it buzzes. The loop is now complete and the habit is formed.
Using the habit loop, James Clear presents 4 simple laws to build good habits and break bad ones:
Law #1: Make the Cue More Visible
Habits are automatic because our brains pick up cues and predict certain rewards without conscious thought. To start a new habit, make your cues more obvious.
In our complete summary, you can get specific tips/techniques to make your habits cue more obvious and start building atomic habits. These include (i) using the habits scorecard to build awareness, (ii) developing an intention statement with specific time/location cues, (iii) stacking your habits to make them more sustainable, and (iv) designing your environment to shape your behavior.
Once a habit is formed, it’s hard to forget. Hence, the best way to break a bad habit is to remove temptation by reducing your exposure to the cues that trigger those bad habits. For example, if your phone is distracting you from work, put it in a different room.
Law #2: Make the Habit Attractive
We take action only when we expect it to produce a reward. The more useful or rewarding the action, the more we’ll repeat it, until it becomes a habit that we do automatically or subconsciously. Thus, to form good habits, we need to make them more attractive.
In our complete Atomic Habits summary, we explain (i) the role of dopamine (and how it works in the habit loop and cravings), (ii) how to use temptation bundling to increase a habit’s attractiveness, and (iii) how to leverage on our community (or the people around us) to shape our habits.
In short, the key to building a good habit is to create the belief that an action is worth repeating by associating these habits with attractive rewards and positive feelings. On the other hand, if you want to break a bad habit, play up the negatives and bad feelings to make the habit unattractive.
Law #3: Make the Steps Easy
To more you practice something, the better you become at it and the easier it seems. The best way to build a habit is to practice it, and the best way to start practicing is to make it easy.
In our complete 14-page summary, we explain the Law of Least Effort, and how to (i) design your tasks and environment to reduce friction, (ii) master the key moments that have disproportionate impact on your subsequent actions/habits and (iii) use the “2-minute rule” to develop mini or atomic habits that lead to bigger ones.
To break habits, make them difficult, e.g. unplug the TV and remove the batteries from the remote control so it’s hard to watch TV.
Law #4: Create Instant Satisfaction
Laws #1-3 motivate you to take action once. Law #4 closes the habit loop to decide if you’ll repeat the action. Basically, actions that deliver instant rewards will be repeated; those that deliver instant punishments will be avoided.
From our full book summary, you can learn how to take advantage of our natural desire for instant gratification using tools like (i) instant rewards and (ii) a habit tracker. To break bad habits, make them instantly unsatisfying or painful.
Here’s a quick recap of the 4 steps to building good habits.
Becoming Exceptional with Atomic Habits
Most people logically understand and accept the importance of building good habits. Yet, it’s not easy to apply it in practice. In the book, James Clear elaborates on many other powerful insights, including:
- Why it’s vital to stick to your daily actions and habits long enough to cross the “Plateau of Latent Potential”;
- Why the most powerful source of habitual change is at the identity level, and what it means to trigger behavioral change at 3 levels: identity, processes and outcomes;
- How you can maximize your growth and improvement by aligning your atomic habits with your talents, interests and contexts;
- How to stay motivated with The Goldilocks Rule; and
- How to manage the downside of good habits and keep improving/growing.
You can get a detailed overview of all of these insights/tips with our complete book summary bundle.
Getting the Most from Atomic Habits
The holy grail of habit change is not a single 1% improvement, but a thousand of them. Initially, small habitual improvements may not deliver a noticeable difference. However, if you keep layering small changes on top of each another, the results add up and you’ll eventually reach a tipping point where it’s much easier to stick with your good habits. Whatever your goals and circumstances, so long as you commit to building 1 atomic habit at a time, you will achieve extraordinary results.
In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 14-page text summary, and a 25-minute audio summary.
Besides the details in our summary, the book also includes:
- Clear’s personal journey/experience with atomic habits; and
- Many true stories of people (from artists to business leaders) who achieved mastery and success using atomic habits.
About the Author of Atomic Habits
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones is written by James Clear–an American author, entrepreneur, and photographer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Time, and Entrepreneur, and on CBS This Morning, and is taught in colleges around the world. Clear is also the creator of The Habits Academy, a training platform for organizations and individuals that are interested in building better habits in life and work.
Atomic Habits Quotes
“Success is not a goal to reach or a finish line to cross. It is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.”
“Changes that seem small and unimportant…will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them.”
“Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.”
“Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.”
“Habits are all about associations.”
“Genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity.”
“Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way.”