A picture of the book cover for Atomic Habits by James Clear

Book Notes: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Rating (10/10)


Atomic Habits is one of the best selling books of all time, but why is that? I’ve read it twice now, and for me, the book earns its acclaim for one reason: it gets you working. Most of these “self-improvement” books are watered down versions of ideas, reincarnated from other self-help books with very little that the reader can apply. That’s not the case here.

I love this book. It’s covered in my handwriting, it’s been given to my children as birthday gifts, and I’ll probably read it a third time ( and maybe more).

Note: It didn’t make sense to group key passage by concept since Clear presents the ideas in a linear fashion throughout the book. I wanted to preserve the flow of logic by keeping them in perfect order.

Direct Quotes:

Page 27 – We Fall to the Level of our Systems
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

Page 32 – Behaviors Follow Belief
“Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last.”

Page 33 – Craft an Inspiring Identity
“The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it.”

Page 35 – Habits Follow Identity
“Good habits can make rational sense, but if they conflict with your identity, you will fail to put them into action.”

Page 44 – The Definition of a Habit
“A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.”

Page 51 – The Purpose of a Habit is to Solve Your Problems
“All behavior is driven by the desire to solve a problem. Sometimes· the problem is that you notice something good and you want to obtain it. Sometimes the problem is that you are experiencing pain and you want to relieve it. Either way, the purpose of every habit is to solve the problems you face.”

Page 82 – Habits are Influenced by Environment
“Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.”

Page 116 – Proximity Affects Habits
“As a general rule, the closer we are to someone, the more likely we are to imitate some of their habits.”

Page 144 – Don’t Let Your Brain Atrophy
“Like the muscles of the body responding to regular weight training, particular regions of the brain adapt as they are used and atrophy as they are abandoned.”

Page 144 – Put in the Reps
“Each time you repeat an action, you are activating a particular neural circuit associated with that habit. This means that simply putting in your reps is one of the most critical steps you can take to encoding a new habit.”

Page 158 – Design a Life That Promotes Action
“How can we design a world where it’s easy to do what’s right?” Redesign your life so the actions that matter most are also the actions that are easiest to do.”

Page 235 – Fall in Love with Boredom
“Variable rewards or not, no habit will stay interesting forever. At some point, everyone faces the same challenge on the journey of self-improvement: you have to fall in love with boredom.”

Page 236 – Master the Art of Showing Up
“If you only do the work when it’s convenient or exciting, then you’ll never be consistent enough to achieve remarkable results.”

Page 260 – Find Your Why
“Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher and poet, famously wrote, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Analysis of Key Passages:

Page 23 – Systems are Better Than Goals

“Forget about goals, focus on systems instead. Prevailing wisdom claims that the best way to achieve what we want in life-getting into better shape, building a successful business, relaxing more and worrying less, spending more time with friends and family is to set specific, actionable goals.

For many years, this was how I approached my habits, too. Each one was a goal to be reached. I set goals for the grades I wanted to get in school, for the weights I wanted to lift in the gym, for the profits I wanted to earn in business. I succeeded at a few, but I failed at a lot of them. Eventually, I began to realize that my results had very little to do with the goals I set and nearly everything to do with the systems I followed.

What’s the difference between systems and goals? It’s a distinction I first learned from Scott Adams, the cartoonist behind the Dilbert comic. Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.”

Analysis: When we set a goal, we often fail because our focus is on the celebration at the end. When we focus on a daily system, we build a reliable path the outcome.

Page 24 – Every Goal Needs a System

“In the words of three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh, ‘The score takes care of itself.’ The same is true for other areas of life. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.

What do I mean by this? Are goals completely useless? Of course not. Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems.”

Analysis: Clear is not suggesting we get rid of goals. They are good for setting our direction, but we need to get much better at attaching a daily system to them.

Page 24 – Wanting to Win Means Nothing

“Winners and losers have the same goals. Goal setting suffers from a serious case of survivorship bias. We concentrate on the people who end up winning-the survivors-and mistakenly assume that ambitious goals led to their success while overlooking all of the people who had the same objective but didn’t succeed.

Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers. It wasn’t the goal of winning the Tour de France that propelled the British cyclists to the top of the sport. Presumably, they had wanted to win the race every year before-just like every other professional team. The goal had always been there. It was only when they implemented a system of continuous small improvements that they achieved a different outcome.”

Analysis: Everyone wants to win the race. Having that goal isn’t what makes you the fastest runner. The person who actually wins is the one who has a daily running system to rely on.

Page 25 – Lack of Systems Leads to Entropy

“Achieving a goal is only a momentary change. Imagine you have a messy room and you set a goal to clean it. If you summon the energy to tidy up, then you will have a clean room-for now. But if you maintain the same sloppy, pack-rat habits that led to a messy room in the first place, soon you’ll be looking at a new pile of clutter and hoping for another burst of motivation. You’re left chasing the same outcome because you never changed the system behind it.
You treated a symptom without addressing the cause.”

Analysis: It’s possible to make changes in life, but unless you have a system to back up the change, things will return to normal. A messy person who cleans his room will have a messy room tomorrow morning.

Page 26 – A Goal Mentality Makes You Unhappy

“Goals restrict your happiness. The implicit assumption behind any goal is this: ‘Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy.’ The problem with a goals-first mentality is that you’re continually putting happiness off until the next milestone.”

Analysis: A goal-first mentality means that you’re basing your happiness on potential future outcomes. You’re never happy NOW.

Page 26 – A Systems-First Mentality Makes You Happy NOW

“A systems-first mentality provides the antidote. When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”

Analysis: When we live a systems-first life, we get to experience happiness now because every day is proof of progress. We get experience momentum, see results, and feel gratitude today.

Page 26 – Without a System, Goal Accomplishment Can be Dangerous.

“Goals are at odds with long-term progress. Finally, a goal-oriented mind-set can create a ‘yo-yo’ effect. Many runners work hard for months, but as soon as they cross the finish line, they stop training. The race is no longer there to motivate them. When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it? This is why many people find themselves reverting to their old habits after accomplishing goals.”

Analysis: When you finally complete a goal, you experience a “Is this it?” moment. If you don’t have a system to keep you disciplined, you’re likely to fall into old habits now that the goal is accomplished.

Page 30 – Create a New Identity for Lasting Change

“The first layer is changing your outcomes. This level is concerned with changing your results: losing weight, publishing a book, winning a championship. Most of the goals you set are associated with this level of change.

The second layer is changing your process. This level is concerned with changing your habits and systems: implementing a new routine at the gym, decluttering your desk for better workflow, developing a meditation practice. Most of the habits you build are associated with this level.

The third and deepest layer is changing your identity. This level is concerned with changing your beliefs: your worldview, your self image, your judgments about yourself and others. Most of the beliefs, assumptions, and biases you hold are associated with this level.

Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what do. Identity is about what you believe. When it comes to building habits that last–when it comes to building a system of 1 percent improvements, the problem is not that one level is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another. All levels of change are useful in their own way. The problem is the direction of change.

Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.”

Analysis: The best way to make real change in your life is to craft an identity around the desired outcome. For example, if you want to read more books, instead of setting a goal to read 50 books this year, begin to see yourself as a literary aficionado. Begin using the phrase, “I’m a reader.” Start each day sitting in a coffee shop with a book in hand, and begin watching youtube videos of people reviewing books while you cook dinner at night. Once you’ve taken on the identity, you’ll naturally look for ways to fulfill it.

Page 32 – The Power of “I Am” Statements

“Imagine two people resisting a cigarette. When offered a smoke, the first person says, ‘No thanks. I’m trying to quit.’ It sounds like a reasonable response, but this person still believes they are a smoker who is trying to be something else. They are hoping their behavior will change while carrying around the same beliefs.

The second person declines by saying, ‘No thanks. I’m not a smoker.’ It’s a small difference, but this statement signals a shift in identity. Smoking was part of their former life, not their current one.

They no longer identify as someone who smokes.”

Analysis: The words “I am” are a programming language for our brain. When we complete the sentence, we tell our brain what software to run. By saying, ” I am not a smoker,” the addict’s brain begins to find reasons to support the claim. Our psychology and our ability to achieve our goals is largely dictated by the stories we tell ourselves.

Page 39 – New Identities Need Evidence to Thrive

“New identities require new evidence. If you keep casting the same votes you’ve always cast, you’re going to get the same results you’ve always had. If nothing changes, nothing is going to change.

It is a simple two-step process:

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be.
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

First, decide who you want to be. This holds at any level-as an individual, as a team, as a community, as a nation. What do you want to now stand for? What are your principles and values? Who do you wish to become?

These are big questions, and many people aren’t sure where to begin, but they do know what kind of results they want: to get six-pack abs or to feel less anxious or to double their salary. That’s fine. Start there and work backward from the results you want to the type of person who could get those results. Ask yourself, ‘Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?'”

Analysis: It’s not enough to tell yourself that you’re something. You need proof that you’re making progress towards that life or else you’ll begin to doubt yourself and give up. Once you’ve decided who you want to be, start aggregating small wins each day towards that new identity. Want to be a reader? Start by reading one page a day – every day. You can only get so far with self-confidence and positive thinking.

Page 46 – Habits Reduce Cognative Load

“Habit formation is incredibly useful because the conscious mind is the bottleneck of the brain. It can only pay attention to one problem at a time. As a result, your brain is always working to preserve your conscious attention for whatever task is most essential.

Whenever possible, the conscious mind likes to pawn off tasks to the non-conscious mind to do automatically. This is precisely what happens when a habit is formed. habits reduce cognitive load and free up mental capacity, so you can allocate your attention to other tasks.”

There’s a major benefit to building habits – they reduce cognitive load. If you can do something beneficial on autopilot, then you’re able to make steady gains on that outcome every day. The downside is that we can create bad habits that also run in the background, wreaking havoc on our lives.

Page 48 – You Constant Look for Rewards

“Your mind is continuously analyzing your internal and external environment for hints of where rewards are located. Because the cue is the first indication that we’re close to a reward, it naturally leads to a craving.

Cravings are the second step, and they are the motivational force behind every habit. Without some level of motivation or desire-without craving a change-we have no reason to act. What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers. You do not crave smoking a cigarette, you crave the feeling of relief it provides. You are not motivated by brushing your teeth but rather by the feeling of a clean mouth.You do not want to turn on the television, you want to be entertained.Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state. This is an important point that we will discuss in detail later.

Cravings differ from person to person. In theory, any piece of information could trigger a craving, but in practice, people are not motivated by the same cues. For a gambler, the sound of slot machines can be a potent trigger that sparks an intense wave of desire. For someone who rarely gambles, the jingles and chimes of the casino are just background noise. Cues are meaningless until they are interpreted. The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the observer are what transform a cue into a craving.

The third step is the response. The response is the actual habit you perform, which can take the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on how motivated you are and how much friction is associated with the behavior. If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than you are willing to expend, then no, you won’t do it. Your response also depends on your ability. It sounds simple, but a habit can occur only if you are capable of doing it. If you want to dunk a basketball but can’t jump high enough to reach the hoop, well, you’re out of luck.

Finally, the response delivers a reward. Rewards are the end goal of every habit. The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us and (2) they teach us.

The first purpose of rewards is to satisfy your craving. Yes, rewards provide benefits on their own. Food and water deliver the energy you need to survive. Getting a promotion brings more money and respect. Getting in shape improves your health and your dating prospects. But the more immediate benefit is that rewards satisfy your craving to eat or to gain status or to win approval. At least for a moment, rewards deliver contentment and relief from craving.

Second, rewards teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future. Your brain is a reward detector. As you go about your life, your sensory nervous system is continuously monitoring which actions satisfy your desires and deliver pleasure. Feelings of pleasure and disappointment are part of the feedback mechanism that helps your brain distinguish useful actions from useless ones. Rewards close the feedback loop and complete the habit cycle.”

Analysis: Our brains are reward machines, always on the lookout for ways to feel good. The process by which this occurs is cue, craving, response, and reward. The cue is the thing that gets our attention, thereby causing a craving. That craving generates a habitual response so that we get the reward. It’s important to understand that the reward is the end goal, and that we learn two things from it. First, that the reward made us feel good. Second, the reward tells our brains what to keep doing in the future. This is why breaking a bad habit is so challenging.

Page 62 – Know Your Habits

“Before we can effectively build new habits, we need to get a handle on our current ones. This can be more challenging than it sounds because once a habit is firmly rooted in your life, it is mostly non-conscious and automatic. If a habit remains mindless, you can’t expect to improve it. As the psychologist Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Analysis: Many habits are run in the subconscious which makes them harder to identify. Until you do, you can’t begin to improve them.

Page 70 – Time and Location

“The cues that can trigger a habit come in a wide range of forms – the feel of your phone buzzing in your pocket, the smell of chocolate chip cookies, the sound of ambulance sirens-but the two most common cues are time and location. Implementation intentions leverage both of these cues.”

Analysis: We are creatures of habit. Without realizing it, we complete habits based on the time of day or our location. It’s important to consider both areas when doing an analysis of your life so that you can get an honest view of what you’re doing. This is a critical idea behind environment design.

Page 72 – Specificity Helps

“There is another benefit to implementation intentions. Being specific about what you want and how you will achieve it helps you say no to things that derail progress, distract your attention, and pull you off course. We often say yes to little requests because we are not clear enough about what we need to be doing instead. When your dreams are vague, it’s easy to rationalize little exceptions all day long and never get around to the specific things you need to do to succeed.”

Analysis: The more specific you are about your intentions, the easier it will be to stick with them.

Page 74 – Habit Stacking

“Habit stacking is a special form of an implementation intention. Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit. This method, which was created by BJ Fogg as part of his Tiny Habits program, can be used to design an obvious cue for nearly any habit.”

Analysis: The concept of habit stacking is a simple way of reminding yourself to do something. You simply attach a new and desired habit to one you are already doing. For example, every time I drink a cup of coffee, I’m going to read one page of a book.

Page 79 – The First Law of Behavior Change

“The 1st Law of Behavior Change is to make it obvious. Strategies like implementation intentions and habit stacking are among the most practical ways to create obvious cues for your habits and design a clear plan for when and where to take action.”

Analysis: If you want to start a new habit, it’s important that you make the cue for your new habit obvious. For example, if you want to be a better reader, don’t make the cue for your new habit the sunrise – that happens gradually, over time. Instead, make your cue your alarm clock. Every time it jarringly goes off, you pick up a book.

Page 92 – Self-Disciplined People Are Master Environment Designers

“When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, ‘disciplined’ people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.

The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least. It’s easier to practice self-restraint when you don’t have to use it very often. So, yes, perseverance, grit, and willpower are essential to success, but the way to improve these qualities is not by wishing you were a more disciplined person, but by creating a more disciplined environment.”

Analysis: People with self-discipline get good at environment design so that they can rely less on will power. They understand that if they want to lose weight, they need to throw out all the cookies out and hang up posters that inspire them.

Page 93 – Bad Habits are Autocatalytic

“Bad habits are autocatalytic: the process feeds itself. They foster the feelings they try to numb. You feel bad, so you eat junk food. Because you eat junk food, you feel bad. Watching television makes you feel sluggish, so you watch more television because you don’t have the energy to do anything else.”

Analysis: Bad habits feed the feelings they’re supposed to numb, thereby promoting more of the bad habit.

Page 94 – You Can’t Break Habits, But You Can Forget Them

“Here’s the punch line: You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it. Once the mental grooves of habit have been carved into your brain, they are nearly impossible to remove entirely-even if they go unused for quite a while. And that means that simply resisting temptation is an ineffective strategy. It is hard to maintain a Zen attitude in a life filled with interruptions. It takes too much energy. In the shortrun, you can choose to overpower temptation. In the long-run, we become a product of the environment that we live in. To put it bluntly, I have never seen someone consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.”

Analysis: To become a habit, the process must get engrained in your brain. That means that they’ve “scratched the record” and will always be there. However, you can forget the habit, and the best way to do that is rely on environment design to avoid them.

Page 104 – Make Every Habit Attractive

“If you want to increase the odds that a behavior will occur, then you need to make it attractive…While it is not possible to transform every habit into a supernormal stimulus, we can make habit more enticing. To do this, we must start by understanding what a craving is and how it works. We begin by examining a biological signature that all habits share the dopamine spike.”

Analysis: It’s possible to engineer a habit so that I’m more likely to do it each day. The best way to do that is to make the dopamine payoff easy and attractive. If I want to read books everyday, I need to ensure that part of my reading focuses on books I love and that I’m building notes that feel valuable. I can also get a cup of coffee during reading time.

Page 105 – Dopamine is the Chemical of Desire

“Scientists can track the precise moment a craving occurs by measuring a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The importance of dopamine became apparent in 1954 when the neuroscientists James Olds and Peter Milner ran an experiment that revealed the neurological processes behind craving and desire. By implanting electrodes in the brains of rats, the researchers blocked the release of dopamine. To the surprise of the scientists, the rats lost all will to live. They wouldn’t eat. They wouldn’t have sex. They didn’t crave anything. Within a few days, the animals died of thirst.

In follow-up studies, other scientists also inhibited the dopamine releasing parts of the brain, but this time, they squirted little droplets of sugar into the mouths of the dopamine-depleted rats. Their little rat faces lit up with pleasurable grins from the tasty substance. Even though dopamine was blocked, they liked the sugar just as much as before; they just didn’t want it anymore. The ability to experience pleasure remained, but without dopamine, desire died. And without desire, action stopped.

When other researchers reversed this process and flooded the reward system of the brain with dopamine, animals performed habits at breakneck speed. In one study, mice received a powerful hit of dopamine each time they poked their nose in a box. Within minutes, the mice developed a craving so strong they began poking their nose into the box eight hundred times per hour. (Humans are not so different:
the average slot machine player will spin the wheel six hundred times per hour.)”

Dopamine creates desire; without it, no amount of self-control can get us to behave in specific ways. We need to reinforce desired behaviors with some kind of reward that spikes dopamine. Doing so will increase our desire to the point of obsession for completing habits. This means that I need to know what generates a chemical response in me, and ensure that that stimulus is healthy. i.e. -> You could drink a cup of coffee ever time you do a habit, but that could cause long-term issues. How might Phenomenology or Empiricism play into this concept?

Page 106 – Dopamine Rises in Anticipation of Rewards

“For years, scientists assumed dopamine was all about pleasure, but now we know it plays a central role in many neurological processes, including motivation, learning and memory, punishment and aversion, and voluntary movement.

When it comes to habits, the key takeaway is this: dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it. Gambling addicts have a dopamine spike right before they place a bet, not after they win. Cocaine addicts get a surge of dopamine when they see the powder, not after they take it. Whenever you predict that an opportunity will be rewarding, your levels of dopamine spike in anticipation. And whenever dopamine rises, so does your motivation to act.”

Analysis: Dopamine increases when you anticipate a reward. This is helpful to consider when designing habits. Set up a reward you’ll look forward to at the completion of each habit, and then you’ll be motivated during the action.

Page 106 – Choose the Right Rewards

“It is the anticipation of a reward-not the fulfillment of it-that gets us to take action.
Interestingly, the reward system that is activated in the brain when you receive a reward is the same system that is activated when you anticipate a reward. This is one reason the anticipation of an experience can often feel better than the attainment of it. As a child, thinking about Christmas morning can be better than opening the gifts.”

Analysis: If I choose the right rewards, they will motivate me through the ups and downs of trying to complete a habit. The reward needs to be strong enough that I’ll anticipate it. This doesn’t mean buying a new car or doing something outrageous, but simply something I can look forward to as a celebration. Using the coffee example, perhaps I stop drinking coffee for 30 days, and if I can do my habit every day for a month, I can go to my favorite coffee shop and enjoy a book and a breve.

Page 107 – Provide the Reward Right After the Habit

“Before a habit is learned (A), dopamine is released when the reward is experienced for the first time. The next time around (B), dopamine rises before taking action, immediately after a cue is recognized. This spike leads to a feeling of desire and a craving to take action whenever the cue is spotted. Once a habit is learned, dopamine will not rise when a reward is experienced because you already expect the reward. However, if you see a cue and expect a reward, but do not get one, then dopamine will drop in disappointment (C). The sensitivity of the dopamine response can clearly be seen when a reward is provided late (D). First, the cue is identified and dopamine rises as a craving builds. Next, a response is taken but the reward does not come as quickly as expected and dopamine begins to drop. Finally, when the reward comes a little later than you had hoped, dopamine spikes again. It is as if the brain is saying, “See!
I knew I was right. Don’t forget to repeat this action next time.”

Analysis: It’s critical that the anticipated reward is provided right after the habit is performed so that your brain can get the expected / anticipated dopamine hit. If you delay the reward, you’ll have a drop in dopamine and motivation going forward.

Page 110 – Temptation Bundling

“Temptation bundling is one way to apply a psychology theory known as Premack’s Principle. Named after the work of professor David Premack, the principle states that “more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.” In other words, even if you don’t really want to process overdue work emails, you’ll become conditioned to do it if it means you get to do something you really want to do along the way.”

Analysis: The best way to do something you’re dreading is to bundle it with something you want to do. This relies on Premack’s Principle, which says that more behaviors you’re likely to do will help reinforce ones you’re avoiding.

Page 115 – We Learn Our First Habits From the Herd

“Humans are herd animals. We want to fit in, to bond with others, and to earn the respect and approval of our peers. Such inclinations are essential to our survival. For most of our evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in tribes. Becoming separated from the tribe-or worse, being cast out-was a death sentence. ‘The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.’ Meanwhile, those who collaborated and bonded with others enjoyed increased safety, mating opportunities, and access to resources.

As Charles Darwin noted, ‘In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.’ As a result, one of the deepest human desires is to belong.

And this ancient preference exerts a powerful influence on our modern behavior.
We don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them. We follow the script handed down by our friends and family, our church or school, our local community and society at large. Each of these cultures and groups comes with its own set of expectations and standards-when and whether to get married, how many children to have, which holidays to celebrate, how much money to spend on your child’s birthday party.

In many ways, these social norms are the invisible rules that guide your behavior each day.”

Analysis: Humans are hardwired to fit in. We need the herd for protection and guidance, and it’s from this herd (our family, friends, and close society) that we learn how to live by imitating their behaviors. This means that for each one of us, we’re learning a tribal set of rules which creates diversity.

Page 117 – Choose your Habit Culture

“One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. New habits seem achievable when you see others doing them every day. If you are surrounded by fit people, you’re more likely to consider working out to be a common habit. If you’re surrounded by jazz lovers, you’re more likely to believe it’s reasonable to play jazz every day. Your culture sets your expectation for what is “normal.” Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself. You’ll rise together.”

Analysis: When designing a new habit, look for a group of people that live that habit in excellence. By spending time with them, you’ll improve more rapidly. Our culture sets our expectations.

Page 118 – Join the Club

“Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to the tribe. It transforms a personal quest into a shared one. Previously, you were on your own. Your identity was singular. You are a reader. You are a musician. You are an athlete. When you join a book club or a band or a cycling group, your identity becomes linked to those around you. Growth and change is no longer an individual pursuit. We are readers. We are musicians. We are cyclists. The shared identity begins to reinforce your personal identity. This is why remaining part of a group after achieving a goal is crucial to maintaining your habits. It’s friendship and community that embed a new identity and help behaviors last over the long run.”

Analysis: By joining a group of people that exemplify the habits you want to live, you become a part of the tribe and are more likely to follow through. As a reader, joining a book club is the best way possible to improve your reading habits and experience.

Page 121 – Use the Influence of the Herd to Craft Better Habits

“The human mind knows how to get along with others. It wants to get along with others. This is our natural mode. You can override it-you can choose to ignore the group or to stop caring what other people think-but it takes work. Running against the grain of your culture requires extra effort.

When changing your habits means challenging the tribe, change is unattractive. When changing your habits means fitting in with the tribe, change is very attractive.”

Analysis: As Sigmund Freud pointed out, we are herd animals and it’s painful to be kicked out of the pack. We want to fit in for protection, identity, and support. It’s interesting that Clear suggests we use the influence of the herd to construct valuable habits, and when it’s needed, to Stop living by other people’s expectations.

Page 142 – Motion vs. Action Towards Goals

“I refer to this as the difference between being in motion and taking action. The two ideas sound similar, but they’re not the same. When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result.
Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome. If I outline twenty ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually sit down and write an article, that’s action. If I search for a better diet plan and read a few books on the topic, that’s motion. If I actually eat a healthy meal, that’s action. Sometimes motion is useful, but it will never produce an outcome by itself.”

Analysis: Clear differentiates between motion (planning and thinking) and action ( doing). Both are necessary, but motion towards a goal will never achieve anything. You need to do something.

Page 143 – When Preparation Becomes Procrastination

“It’s easy to be in motion and convince yourself that you’re still making progress. You think, ‘I’ve got conversations going with four potential clients right now. This is good. We’re moving in the right direction.’ Or, ‘I brainstormed some ideas for that book I want to write. This is coming together.’

Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to merely be planning. You want to be practicing.

If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it. This is the first takeaway of the 3rd Law: you just need to get your reps in.”

Analysis: Motion towards a goal (planning and thinking) feels like you’re making progress. You’re not. While this step is helpful, it can become a problem when preparation because your mode of procrastination. The best thing you can do is start practicing the new habit, getting the reps in, and learning from the experience.

Page 143 – The More I Do Something, the Better I Get at It

“Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition. The more you repeat an activity, the more the structure of your brain changes to become efficient at that activity. Neuroscientists call this long-term potentiation, which refers to the strengthening of connections between neurons in the brain based on recent patterns of activity. With each repetition, cell-to-cell signaling improves and the neural connections tighten.

First described by neuropsychologist Donald Hebb in 1949, this phenomenon is commonly known as Hebb’s Law: “Neurons that fire together wire together.”

Analysis: A habit might be challenging at first, but the more I do it, the better I will get at it. That’s because my brain will make connections over time that improve my ability.

Page 144 – Automaticity

“All habits follow a similar trajectory from effortful practice to automatic behavior, a process known as automaticity. Automaticity is the ability to perform a behavior without thinking about each step, which occurs when the non-conscious mind takes over.”

Analysis: By doing something consistently, my brain will build efficient pathways allowing me to eventually do that habit well without thinking about it. This is critical to keep in mind when forming new habits, since it’s easy to get discouraged in the beginning due to failure, complexity, or confusion. Simply do the habit, trust the process, and then do it again.

Page 151 – Conservation of Energy

“Conventional wisdom holds that motivation is the key to habit change. Maybe if you really wanted it, you’d actually do it. But the truth is, our real motivation is to be lazy and to do what is convenient. And despite what the latest productivity best seller will tell you, this is a smart strategy, not a dumb one.

Energy is precious, and the brain is wired to conserve it whenever possible. It is human nature to follow the Law of Least Effort, which states that when deciding between two similar options, people will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.”

Analysis: We rely on motivation to achieve our goals, but the truth is that we don’t naturally want to wake up early, work out, and do hard things. That requires energy, and we’re wired to survive – to protect energy. Knowing that about myself is useful so that I can manage expectations, not give up, and know that a little patience is required.

Page 152 – Take the Energy-Efficient Path to Habit Formation

“Every action requires a certain amount of energy. The more energy required, the less likely it is to occur. If your goal is to do a hundred push-ups per day, that’s a lot of energy! In the beginning, when you’re motivated and excited, you can muster the strength to get started. But after a few days, such a massive effort feels exhausting. Meanwhile, sticking to the habit of doing one push-up per day requires almost no energy to get started. And the less energy a habit requires, the more likely you will do it.”

Analysis: When we set goals, we go all in. We choose the hardest, most demanding, and draining way to do something. I’m going to read 100 books! Or I’m going to run 10 miles every day. We do this because we’re motived, but when the motivation fails (which it will) we fail because these tasks require too much energy. Instead, we should choose a version of these goals that requires as little energy as possible to complete. That way, we can build a daily habit that’s easy to do and will grow over time as we build long-term potentiation.

Page 152 – You Don’t Want the Habit, You Want the Outcome

“every habit is just an obstacle to getting what you really want. Dieting is an obstacle to getting fit. Meditation is an obstacle to feeling calm. Journaling is an obstacle to thinking clearly. You don’t actually want the habit itself. What you really want is the outcome the habit delivers. The greater the obstacle-that is, the more difficult the habit-the more friction there is between you and your desired end state. This is why it is crucial to make your habits so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it. If you can make your good habits more convenient, you’ll be more likely to follow through on them.”

Analysis: We build habits for ourselves in order to get the outcomes they produce. The idea is to make the habit as easy as possible so that you make progress towards the outcome every day.

Page 156 – Resetting the Room

“Oswald Nuckols is an IT developer from Natchez, Mississippi. He is also someone who understands the power of priming his environment.

Nuckols dialed in his cleaning habits by following a strategy he refers to as “resetting the room.” For instance, when he finishes watching television, he places the remote back on the TV stand, arranges the pillows on the couch, and folds the blanket. When he leaves his car, he throws any trash away. Whenever he takes a shower, he wipes down the toilet while the shower is warming up. (As he notes, the ‘perfect time to clean the toilet is right before you wash yourself in the shower anyway.’) The purpose of resetting each room is not simply to clean up after the last action, but to prepare for the next action.”

Analysis: Resetting the room in a principle of environment design and energy management. When you’re finished in a room, put everything away so that it’s ready for the next time you use it. This is a powerful habit because it solves two issues. First, you live in a clutter-free environment (something that restores energy), and second, you set your future self up for success when the environment needs to be used again.

Page 161 – Decisive moments

“Every day, there are a handful of moments that deliver an outsized impact. I refer to these little choices as decisive moments. The moment you decide between ordering takeout or cooking dinner. The moment you choose between driving your car or riding your bike. The moment you decide between starting your homework or grabbing the video game controller. These choices are a fork in the road. Decisive moments set the options available to your future self.”

Analysis: A decisive moment is when you’re faced with a seemingly minimal choice that in fact has a large impact on your outcomes. These decisive moments happen all through the day and add up to success or failure. Value these decisions and learn to recognize them when they arrive. Get good at choosing with purpose.

Page 162 – The Two-Minute Rule

“When you dream about making a change, excitement inevitably takes over and up trying to do too much too soon. The most effective way I know to counteract this tendency is to use the Two-Minute Rule, which states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.

You’ll find that nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two minute version:
‘Read before bed each night’ ‘becomes ‘Read one page.’
‘Do thirty minutes of yoga’ becomes ‘Take out my yoga mat.’
‘Study for class’ becomes ‘Open my notes.’
‘Fold the laundry’ becomes ‘Fold one pair of socks.’
‘Run three miles’ becomes ‘Tie my running shoes.’

Analysis: We often fail at implementing new habits because we commit to too much. They become unsustainable, and we fall behind. The best way to combat this is to give each habit a two-minute limit for completion. That way, you’re only allowed to do the bare (and doable) amount which adds up over time. It also gets you into the process of the habit, allowing you to build long-term potentiation. As you do, you can increase the workload.

Page 169 – Create a Commitment

“In the summer of 1830, Victor Hugo was facing an impossible deadline. Twelve months earlier, the French author had promised his publisher a new book. But instead of writing, he spent that year pursuing other projects, entertaining guests, and delaying his work. Frustrated, Hugo’s publisher responded by setting a deadline less than six months away. The book had to be finished by February 1831.

Hugo concocted a strange plan to beat his procrastination. He collected all of his clothes and asked an assistant to lock them away in a large chest. He was left with nothing to wear except a large shawl.

Lacking any suitable clothing to go outdoors, he remained in his study and wrote furiously during the fall and winter of 1830. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was published two weeks early on January 14, 1831.”

Analysis: Victor Hugo created a commitment by giving himself no other options than to beat his procrastination and get to work. When facing a large deadline that I’m putting off, a good strategy is to put myself into a position where I have not choice but get to work.

Page 170 – Commitment Devices

“A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future. It is a way to lock in future behavior, bind you to good habits, and restrict you from bad ones. When Victor Hugo shut his clothes away so he could focus on writing, he was creating a commitment device.”

Analysis: A commitment device is a strategy I can use to beat procrastination. Remove something in my life that I think I need, and earn it back by completing my project on time.

Page 174 – Distractions without Friction

“Technology creates a level of convenience that enables you to act on your smallest whims and desires. At the mere suggestion of hunger, you can have food delivered to your door. At the slightest hint of boredom, you can get lost in the vast expanse of social media. When the effort required to act on your desires becomes effectively zero, you can find yourself slipping into whatever impulse arises at the moment. The downside of automation is that we can find ourselves jumping from easy task to easy task without making time for more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding, work.

I often find myself gravitating toward social media during any downtime. If I feel bored for just a fraction of a second, I reach for my phone. It’s easy to write off these minor distractions as ‘just taking a break,’ but over time they can accumulate into a serious issue. The constant tug of ‘just one more minute’ can prevent me from doing anything of consequence. (Im not the only one. The average person spends over two hours per day on social media. What could you do with an extra six hundred hours per year?)”

Analysis: The easy and convenience of technology prevents us from digging into deep and meaningful work. There are too many distractions without friction.

Page 189 – The Cost of Habits

“With our bad habits, the immediate outcome usually feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad.
With good habits, it is the reverse: the immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good. The French economist Frédéric Bastiat explained the problem clearly when he wrote, “It almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa.

Put another way, the costs of your good habits are in the present.
The costs of your bad habits are in the future.”

Analysis: Good habits feel bad now, but pay off in the future. Bad habits feel great, but they ruin you in the end. Choose wisely.

Page 193 – Game the System

“That said, it takes time for the evidence to accumulate and a new identity to emerge. Immediate reinforcement helps maintain motivation in the short term while you’re waiting for the long-term rewards to arrive.”

Analysis: Since good habits don’t feel great now, you need to game the system by attaching some form of “feel good” to them so that you stick with it. Over time, as you begin to see the results and experience momentum, the habit will reinforce itself.

Page 198 – The Power of Progress

“The most effective form of motivation is progress. When we get a signal that we are moving forward, we become more motivated to continue down that path. In this way, habit tracking can have an addictive effect on motivation. Each small win feeds your desire.
This can be particularly powerful on a bad day. When you’re feeling down, it’s easy to forget about all the progress you have already made.

Habit tracking provides visual proof of your hard work-a subtle reminder of how far you’ve come. Plus, the empty square you see each morning can motivate you to get started because you don’t want to lose your progress by breaking the streak.”

Analysis: Motivation comes from making progress. That’s why it’s so critical to have small wins each day that accumulate. Tracking your daily habit will make it harder to break since you don’t want to “miss a day.”

Page 200 – Never Miss Twice

“No matter how consistent you are with your habits, it is inevitable that life will interrupt you at some point. Perfection is not possible. Before long, an emergency will pop up-you get sick or you have to travel for work or your family needs a little more of your time.
Whenever this happens to me, I try to remind myself of a simple rule: never miss twice.
If I miss one day, I try to get back into it as quickly as possible. Missing one workout happens, but I’m not going to miss two in a row. Maybe I’ll eat an entire pizza, but I’ll follow it up with a healthy meal. I can’t be perfect, but I can avoid a second lapse. As soon as one streak ends, I get started on the next one.”

Analysis: It’s not realistic to expect perfection in your new habit. If you miss a day, that’s fine and completely normal since life has a way of throwing curveballs. The goal is to never miss two days in a row. By committing to this strategy, you stay in control amid the chaos.

Page 201 – Successful People Rebound

“This is a distinguishing feature between winners and losers. Anyone can have a bad performance, a bad workout, or a bad day at work.
But when successful people fail, they rebound quickly. The breaking of a habit doesn’t matter if the reclaiming of it is fast.”

Analysis: When you do make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up – get good at rebounding. Even the most successful people have bad days. The thing that makes them successful is that they’re really good at rebounding.

Page 202 – Do It for Identity

“Furthermore, it’s not always about what happens during the workout. It’s about being the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts. It’s up when easy to train when you feel good, but it’s crucial to show don’t feel like it-even if you do less than you hope. Going to the gym for five minutes may not improve your performance, but it reaffirms your identity.
The all-or-nothing cycle of behavior change is just one pitfall that can derail your habits. Another potential danger-especially if you are using a habit tracker-is measuring the wrong thing.”

Analysis: When building a new habit, it’s important that you build an identity that supports that habit. There will be days when you don’t want to do the work, but if you do it anyway, you become the kind of person that never misses. That only reinforces the new identity, making you stronger. Get good at showing up, and you’ll change both externally and internally.

Page 202 – When Numbers Become the Enemy

“The dark side of tracking a particular behavior is that we become driven by the number rather than the purpose behind it. If your success is measured by quarterly earnings, you will optimize sales, revenue, and accounting for quarterly earnings. If your success is measured by a lower number on the scale, you will optimize for a lower number on the scale, even if that means embracing crash diets, juice cleanses, and fat-loss pills. The human mind wants to ‘win’ whatever game is being played.

This pitfall is evident in many areas of life. We focus on working long hours instead of getting meaningful work done. We care more about getting ten thousand steps than we do about being healthy. We teach for standardized tests instead of emphasizing learning, curiosity, and critical thinking. In short, we optimize for what we measure.
When we choose the wrong measurement, we get the wrong behavior.”

Analysis: While it’s good to track our progress, we tend to make it about the number and lose sight of what’s important. We start “cheating” in order to game the system, beat the number, and feel a win.

Page 206 – Make Bad Habits Expensive

“The more immediate the pain, the less likely the behavior. If you want to prevent bad habits and eliminate unhealthy behaviors, then adding an instant cost to the action is a great way to reduce their odds.

We repeat bad habits because they serve us in some way, and that makes them hard to abandon. The best way I know to overcome this predicament is to increase the speed of the punishment associated with the behavior. There can’t be a gap between the action and the consequences.”

Analysis:. The best way to overcome bad habits is to connect an expensive or painful result to them that immediately takes effect. If the pain is great enough, you’ll stop doing the thing. This can accomplished by confession, donating money to a charity you despise, etc.

Page 231 – The Goldilocks Rule

“While there is still much to learn, one of the most consistent findings is that the way to maintain motivation and achieve peak levels of desire is to work on tasks of ‘just manageable difficulty.’

The human brain loves a challenge, but only if it is within an optimal zone of difficulty. If you love tennis and try to play a serious match against a four-year-old, you will quickly become bored. It’s too easy. You’ll win every point. In contrast, if you play a professional tennis player like Roger Federer or Serena Williams, you will quickly lose motivation because the match is too difficult.

Now consider playing tennis against someone who is your equal. As the game progresses, you win a few points and you lose a few. You have a good chance of winning, but only if you really try. Your focus narrows, distractions fade and you find yourself fully invested in the task at hand. This is a challenge of just manageable difficulty and it is a prime example of the Goldilocks Rule.

The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.”

Analysis: In order to improve, you have to position yourself at the appropriate level of challenge. The Goldilocks Rule says that you should be capable of winning, but you’re going to have to focus and gather your skill. If you ignore this rule and take on challenges that are too extreme (high or low), you’ll either lose motivation or get bored.

Page 233 – Can You Handle the Boredom of Training Every Day?

“After my baseball career ended, I was looking for a new sport. I joined a weightlifting team and one day an elite coach visited our gym. He had worked with thousands of athletes during his long career, including a few Olympians. I introduced myself and we began talking about the process of improvement.

‘What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else?” I asked. “What do the really successful people do that most don’t?’

He mentioned the factors you might expect: genetics, luck, talent. But then he said something I wasn’t expecting: “At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.”

Analysis: It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to get good at something. Once the original shine of the habit wears off, all that’s left is the day-to-day grind of doing it. I need to be the kind of person that enjoys the work for it’s own sake because it will be boring at times, and that’s a good thing. It means in on my way.

Page 239 – Watch Out for Automatic Mistakes

“However, the benefits of habits come at a cost. At first, each repetition develops fluency, speed, and skill. But then, as a habit becomes automatic, you become less sensitive to feedback. You fall into mindless repetition. It becomes easier to let mistakes slide. When you can do it “good enough” on autopilot, you stop thinking about how to do it better.
The upside of habits is that we can do things without thinking. The downside of habits is that you get used to doing things a certain way and stop paying attention to little errors.”

Analysis: By definition, a habit is something that we do on autopilot. Once we get to the stage, the good news is that we’re doing the habit. The bad news is that we get comfortable doing it poorly. This is where the art of deliberate practice comes into play.

Page 242 – Establish a System of Review

“It is precisely at the moment when you begin to feel like you have mastered a skill-right when things are starting to feel automatic and you are becoming comfortable-that you must avoid slipping into the trap of complacency.

The solution? Establish a system for reflection and review.”

Analysis: Set up a consistent appointment with yourself to review the habit, determine what it means to do it well, and adjust. I fell into this trap playing guitar as a teenager. I got “good enough” and then simply practiced the same riffs every day, never improving. I got really good at 10 impressive songs. Implement deliberate practice to continue pushing the bounds so that you exist in the Goldilocks Rule of challenging work.


One of my favorite sections in Atomic Habits is when Clear discusses the difference between “motion” and “action.” It’s easy to have motion on a goal or a habit, which is to spend time thinking and planning. It feel like you’re getting things done. While this state is important for overall accomplishment, it’s easy to hide here. The stage of preparing to act often becomes an easy form of procrastination. Atomic Habits is all about helping you to overcome the overwhelm of progress by turning difficult behaviors into simple, repeatable, and beneficial habits you can run daily without thinking too hard about them.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in creating personal change, and I’m pretty sure that’s most if us which is why this book has sold so many copies.