Summary of Atomic Habits, by James Clear

Short summary reading time: 3 min

Long summary reading time: 24 min

Book reading time: 3h57

Score: 8/10

Book published in: 2018

Main Idea

Habits you easily pick up are habits you enjoy practicing. The best way to develop new habits is to choose ones that support the person you want to become.

To break bad habits, you need to make them painful to practice.

Success is reached when you practice small habits daily that lead to huge outcomes.


Atomic Habits is a self-development book written by the blogger James Clear.

It is one of the most popular self-development books ever (along with The One Thing) despite being recent (2018).

Like most books, the most important piece of information is at the beginning. The rest is a variation of principles that have already been outlined.

I enjoyed the book but disagree with a few stuff. Since I don’t want to spoil, I added a section “Things I Disagree With” at the end of the summary.


No need to buy the book. My summary is enough.

Get the book here.

Short Summary

We become what we repeatedly do. What we repeatedly do is called a habit. By building good habits, we can become who we want to become.

The best way to build habits without quitting them is to build habits that support the person you want to become.

Indeed, it is very important for us to remain congruent with who we think we are – desires and wishes come second.

Eg: if you define yourself as a non-smoker, it will be easier to quit smoking.

-> your habits shouldn’t be established because you want something, but because you want to become someone.

Your identity -> influences and forms your habits.

Habits work in four phases.

  1. Cue: smell of waffle
  2. Craving: you get hungry
  3. Response: you buy the waffle
  4. Reward: you feel good eating it

As a result, the four laws to forming good habits follow these four steps.

  1. Cue: make it obvious.
    1. Fill out the Habit Scorecard
    2. Use implementation intention (a calendar to say what you will do and when).
    3. Use habit stacking: link one habit to another
    4. Make the cues for good habits visible and the ones for bad habits invisible.
  2. Craving: make it attractive.
    1. Use temptation bundling. Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
    2. Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
    3. Create a motivation ritual. Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.
  3. Response: make it easy.
    1. Reduce friction to start the habit.
    2. Design the environment to make the habit easy.
    3. Analyze and use the decisive moment.
    4. Use the Two-Minute Rule.
    5. Automate the habit.
  4. Reward: make it satisfying.
    1. Give yourself a reward for completing a habit.
    2. Understand the benefit behind not practicing a bad habit.
    3. Use a habit tracker not to break the chain.
    4. Don’t miss more than once on your habit.

The four laws to breaking bad habits follow these four steps.

  1. Cue: make it invisible.
    1. Make the cues invisible
  2. Craving: make it repulsive.
    1. Highlight the benefits of avoiding bad habits.
  3. Response: make it difficult.
    1. Increase friction between the bad habit and you.
    2. Get committed to your future good habits.
  4. Reward: make it painful.
    1. Find an accountability partner.

We will explore each of these in the long-form summary.

Summary of Atomic Habits Written by James Clear


“Atomic” means small. Atomic Habits is about small habits.

The author had a baseball accident in high school that left him almost dead. When he went to university, he rebuilt himself using habits. He began sharing his work on his blog and after a few months, had thousands of email subscribers.

He was invited to conferences to talk about habits and is now a worldwide expert on the topic.

1. The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits

There is this idea that the only way to be better is through power moves.

Eg: Fasting for three days instead of reducing sugar. Working out once for 10 hours instead of 10 times for one hour.

It’s wrong.

The way to improve is to do small changes regularly to become “1% better every day.”

Progressing by 1% every day for a year -> 1.01365 = 37.78.

Regressing by 1% every day for a year -> 0.99365= 0.03.

Progressing VS regressing

The 1% is the habit. On a daily basis, progress due to habits is invisible. Over the long term, the difference is enormous.

Eg: if you go to the gym for 1 hour you won’t see the difference. If you do it 1000 times, you will.

Habit is a bit like the direction of an airplane. In the beginning, changing a few degrees won’t impact the direction much. But in the long term, you end up in a completely different location.

In the long term, a few degrees of difference makes a HUGE difference.

As a result, whether you are successful now or not does not matter. What matters is whether your habits will make you successful in the long term.

Your life reflects your habits. Your bank account reflects your financial habits, your mirror reflects your health habits, etc.

If you want to know whether you will be successful, have a look at your current habits. Will they compound into something great in 10 years, or not?

Going to the gym, reading a book, and spending less than you earn is how you become successful in the long term.

Time acts as a multiplier. It will 10X your results if your habits are great. But it will do the same if your habits are bad.

It’s a double-edged sword.

Positive compounding

  • Productivity compounds: automation frees a little bit more of your time every day.
  • Knowledge compounds: knowledge compounds over time.
  • Relationships compound: being nicer and helping people more every day will help you get more connections over time.

Negative compounds

  • Stress compounds: when stress stays, it gives you catastrophic health results.
  • Negative thoughts compound: the more you think of yourself as worthless or unworthy, the more your life will reflect that reality. It also applies to other people.
  • Outrage compounds: protests are often the results of small events that eventually explode.

Habits are built slowly and don’t seem to give any results at first…until one day, results seem to explode overnight.

Eg: the bamboo spends the first five years growing roots under the ground. Then grows very fast.

This period when you get no results is called the Valley of Disappointment, or the Valley of Despair.

The Valley of Despair.

The Valley is why people often quit on their habits. They practice for a month, see no results, and quit.

The author calls this phase the Plateau of Latent Potential. Once you break through this plateau, the media will call you an overnight success.

The green line shows how people expect linear results while in reality, results are exponential.

Everything that is big started small. This is why creating a new habit is like nurturing a new, delicate flower. Breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a tree.

Forget About Goals, Focus on Systems Instead

Conventional wisdom will tell you to fix goals and reach them.

The goals depend on the system.

Systems are simply the processes that lead to the goals.

If you want to succeed, set a goal, then forget about it, and focus on the best system to reach the goal.

Many problems arise out of focusing too much on the goals and not enough on the problem.

Problem 1: Winners and losers have the same goal.

Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. What sets them apart is their processes.

Problem 2: Achieving a goal is momentary.

If your goal is to clean your room and you clean it, congrats! You succeeded. Now the important part is not to make it dirty again. And for that, you need a system. Results themselves don’t matter. What matters is the process that led to the results.

Problem 3: Goals restrict your happiness.

“When I reach this goal, I’ll be happy” means that you are not happy now. If you never reach the goal, it is assumed that you’ll never be happy.

When you enjoy the process you’re doing now, you don’t need to wait for the goal to be happy. You already are.

Problem 4: Goals don’t suit long term visions

People that are goal-oriented often “stop” once they reach their goals and slide back into their bad habits.

Goals help you win the game; systems keep you in the game.

True long-term thinking is process thinking. It is continuous, endless improvement.

Your process -> your progress.

A System of Atomic Habits

You fail to break bad habits due to the quality of your system.

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

We will now learn how to design good systems.

2. How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)

Changing habits is hard for two reasons:

  1. We try to change the wrong thing.
  2. In the wrong way.

Let’s first speak about changing the wrong things. Change happens at three levels:

  1. Outcomes: changing the result (if you set goals, these are it), what you get.
  2. Processes: the habit itself, what you do.
  3. Identity: your beliefs, worldview, what you believe.

Most people, when building habits, focus on the outcome.

It’s wrong.

You should start with the identity.

You should build a habit based on who you want to become.

The reason why is that beliefs are what lead us to our habits. A “smoker trying to quit” still considers himself a smoker.

A “former smoker” is not “trying to quit”. He’s done it.

Any habits that go against your “self” will not last.

There is a HUGE difference between being someone that wants a result and being someone that is the person that gets the results.

The prouder you are about something part of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain it through habit.

True behavior change goes through an identity change.

Read a book -> become a reader.
Run a marathon -> become a runner.

Once you identify with something, you will enact these traits.

Eg: Self-identified voters…vote.

When the identity is positive (“I am a good learner”), it’s great! When it’s negative (“I am dumb”), it’s a curse. Many people don’t change as change simply goes against their identity.

  • “I am always late”
  • “I am not a morning person”

Your mind strives for congruence, so you avoid the things that go against your identity.

The more attached a habit is to your identity, the harder it will be to change it.

Over the long term, the reason why you fail in your habits is that they are not congruent with your identity. This is why you should be flexible in how you define yourself.

Let’s have a look at how you can influence your identity to form better habits.

The Two-Step Process to Changing Your Identity

Your identity comes from your life experience and habits. By looking at your habits, we can see who you are (or at least, how you define yourself).

The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity trait that enacts the behavior.

Your identity is the sum of the things you believe about yourself. If you go to the gym even when you are tired, you know you are a committed person.

-> your habits make your identity.

Your habits make your identity.

Write one sentence, you can’t call yourself a writer. Write a series of books and you can.

This is how small habits can drive identity change.

As you practice, you get results and confidence you can trust yourself. The opposite is true for bad habits.

To summarize, here’s how you can change your identity with habits.

  1. Decide who you want to be.
  2. Prove it to yourself with small victories.

If you don’t know in terms of identity, but in terms of results, then start from the results and reverse-engineer it all the way to the identity.

Let’s say you want more money. Then you may need to create a company -> to become an entrepreneur.

What type of people are entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurs:

  • Work hard
  • Are patient
  • Solve what is difficult
  • Are reliable

-> you need to become “a hard-working and patient person that solved difficult problems”.

Sometimes, when you don’t know what to do, it’s worth asking yourself what would the person that you want to become do.

“What would Elon Musk do”, for example.

These habits are called identity-based habits. They provide you with feedback loops.

Your habits shape your identity and your identity shape your habits.

Your habits shape your identity and your identity shape your habits.

However, it’s your identity that is driving the loop – not the results of the habits.

Become the person first -> get the result.

The Reason Habits Matter

The most important question is “are you becoming who you want to become”?

Who > what/how.

If you don’t know who you want to be, you won’t know which habit to pick up.

Habits are not about having something, but becoming someone.

3. How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

A habit is a behavior repeated enough times to become automatic.

A habit develops when you encounter a problem for the first time.

First, you spend efforts to find out how to solve it through trial and error.

Then you solve it.

Then there is a reward for solving it. Your brain learns that it feels good, so you want to do it again.

The sequence is: try -> fail -> learn -> try differently.

As time goes by, you improve, until the action becomes automatic (eg: driving).

The more you practice, the easier it gets for your brain.

Habits are built in four simple steps.

  1. Cue: it triggers your brain to initiate a behavior (smelling food triggers the expectation of eating).
  2. Craving: it’s the desire to get to reward, the force that gets us to act. You don’t chew and swallow: you crave the nice feeling food gives you.
  3. Response: what you do. If it demands more effort than you are willing to expand, then you won’t do it.
  4. Reward: what you get after you acted. We chase rewards because they satisfy us and teach us.
The smell of the chicken triggers a craving. You respond when you buy the chicken and are rewarded as you eat it. If the chicken tastes good, eating it will become a habit.

Your brain repeats the actions that reward it, and disregards those that don’t (or worse, trigger pain).

Any habit that misses one of these four stages won’t become a habit.

To summarize:

The habit cycle.

This is the habit loop.

It’s constantly happening as your brain is constantly looking for cues.

In a way, the habit loop can be divided into two parts: the problem phase, and the solution phase.

The problem phase is when you realize you have a problem (cue, craving), and the solution phase is when you’re looking and finding a solution (response, reward).

The Four Laws of Behavior Change

The Four Laws help you create good habits and break the bad ones.

How to create a good habit

  1. Cue: make it obvious.
  2. Craving: make it attractive.
  3. Response: make it easy.
  4. Reward: make it satisfying.

How to break a bad habit

  1. Cue: make it invisible.
  2. Craving: make it repulsive.
  3. Response: make it hard.
  4. Reward: make it painful.

The 1st Law: Make it Obvious

4. The Man Who Didn’t Look Right

One day, a nurse looked at her father-in-law and told him to go to the hospital right away despite that the man was feeling fine. The nurse had noticed he was about to have a heart attack as working with patients for years had trained her brain to look for cues and patterns.

The brain constantly does this. This is why experienced people can say and act in a way that themselves cannot explain. It just”feels” right, due to experience.

Learning is always happening, whether you want it or not.

The unconscious part of ourselves handles a lot of stuff. Sometimes, you notice cues and act on them without noticing (smoking).

This is what makes habits both useful (spotting an opportunity) and dangerous when it’s a bad habit.

Before you build new habits, you need to be aware of your current ones.

The Habits Scorecard

The more you repeat a habit, the less aware you become.

If you want to change a habit, you need to bring back awareness into it.

This is where the Habits Scorecard comes in.

It’s a list of all of your habits. Write them all down, then decide for each of them whether they are positive, negative, or neutral.


  • Wake up =
  • Check phone –
  • Take shower +

You should remove checking phone.

Overall, the habits you should keep are the habits that are helping you become who you want to be.

The habits you should discard are those that aren’t.

5. The Best Way to Start a New Habit

The best (and only) way to start a habit is to plan it.

If it’s the gym, plan that you will go to the gym on Tuesday and Thursday, for example.

The cues most likely to trigger a habit are time and location.

The equation is the following: when X happens, I will do Y.

“When Tuesday at 17h happens, I will go to the gym.”

These are called implementation intentions. It is simply writing stuff on your calendar to implement the habit.

Most people fail to implement habits because they are not clear in their goals. If they want to eat healthier, they haven’t decided what or when they will eat.

Implementation intentions help you clarify by specifying what you will say “no” to and what you will say “yes” to.

Habit Stacking

The Diderot Effect states that people’s decision to buy something is based on what they previously bought.

Eg: if you buy a pink dress, you feel the need to buy the bag that goes with it.

You can use this hack for your habits.

  1. Identify a habit you already have.
  2. Stack another habit you want to develop on top.

Eg: After brushing my teeth, I will meditate.

The key to creating a successful stack is to get the right cue.

6. Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More

If the basket of donuts sits on your desk, it will be hard not to eat one.

-> environment shapes our behavior.

Eg: In a church, you whisper.

In a mathematical equation, it gives B = f (P,E) -> Behavior is a function of a Person in their Environment.

The environment is extremely important when it comes to your behavior. The most important cues are visual (the brain spends half of its power on vision alone).

Change what you see -> change what you do.

Environment is capital.

How to Design Your Environment for Success

It’s all about making the cues more visible. If you want to remember to take your medicine, put them next to your toothbrush.

Since cues are mostly visual, it means that:

  1. Bad habits are easier to escape in a new environment.
  2. Good habits are harder to follow in a new environment.

In the meantime, if you need a new routine, you may try to go to a new place to establish it as that place will be free of association to anything.

Eg: If you need to be more creative, go to a big room, or a rooftop.

In anyways, avoid mixing the environment of one habit with another.

Sleep in your bedroom, work in your office, and chill in your living room. Don’t mix them.

7. The Secret to Self-Control

9/10 US soldiers addicted to heroin stopped using it when they went back home. The change of environment had been enough for them to stop their addiction.

Once a habit has been encoded, it’s difficult to ignore the cues (unless you erase them altogether).

This is why some behavior techniques can backfire.

Eg: the picture of black lungs on a cigarette pack can stress smokers that then smoke…to chill.

You can break a habit, but you are unlikely to forget it. Going back to an old environment will send you back to your old habits.

-> willpower doesn’t work.

Your success will be dependent on your environment. You can’t work seriously in a room filled with televisions.

-> To eliminate bad habits, design or move to the perfect environment.


How to create a good habit:

  1. Fill out the Habit Scorecard
  2. Use implementation intention (a calendar to say what you will do and when).
  3. Use habit stacking: link one habit to another
  4. Make the cues for good habits visible and the ones for bad habits invisible.

How to break a bad habit:

  1. Make the cues invisible

The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive

8. How to Make a Habit Irresistible

Marketing in the food industry has managed to make food extremely attractive. As a result, people overeat and become obese.

You need to do the same thing for your habits. Let’s have a look at how craving works.

The Dopamine-Driven Feedback Loop

Dopamine drives us. When dopamine was blocked in rats’ brains, they let themselves die of hunger. They no longer wanted to do anything -> dopamine drives everything we do.

Habits are dopamine-driven feedback loops. Those that stick are associated with high levels of dopamine.

However, dopamine is not only released when you experience pleasure, but when you anticipate it.

Eg: addicts have a dopamine spike when they see cocaine.

Dopamine is in the brain when craving happens. It is the anticipation of a reward that gets us to take action, not its fulfillment.

Eg: The night before Christmas is more exciting than unpacking the gift. Dreaming about a holiday can feel better than actually being on holiday. This is the difference between wanting VS liking.

Dopamine in your brain.

The brain has much more firepower for wanting than for liking. It’s the craving and the anticipation of a reward that gets us to act, not the reward itself.

-> your habits must be attractive.

How To Use Temptation Bundling To Make Your Habits More Attractive

Temptation bundling is about linking a habit you don’t like with one you like.

Eg: Netflix doesn’t work until you pedal on your bike.

Temptation bundling applies the Premack principle. It states that “more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors.”

9. The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits

One of our most innate desires is to belong. To do so, we imitate the habits of our parents, friends, neighbors, and culture.

-> Our habits aren’t chosen. They’re copied.

We get our habits from three groups:

1. The people that are close to us

Your chances to become obese increase by 57% if one of your friends becomes obese. You will be more likely to be fit if your friends are also fit.

We soak up the behavior and habits of people around us.

If you want to learn or do something, join a group that already does it. Belonging to a group is powerful and motivating.

2. The majority

The more people we are surrounded by, the more likely we are to copy their behavior.

The problem is that often, the behavior of the group contradicts the desire of the individual. But the individual still bends in.

We’d rather be wrong with everyone else than be right by ourselves.

3. Powerful people

Humans constantly seek power and status. To do so, we copy the successful people, hoping to become successful ourselves.

10. How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits

Every craving has an underlying motive.

Hunger’s motive is to survive. Sex’s motive is to reproduce.

Our motives often are:

  • Spare energy
  • Connect with other people
  • Get approval from others
  • Decrease uncertainty
  • Achieve status and prestige

Your habits are solutions to ancient desires. You smoke because you associate cigarettes with decreasing stress. If you manage to decrease stress in another way, you’ll stop smoking.

If you manage to associate cigarettes with something you don’t like, you’ll also stop smoking.

-> Life is predictive, not reactive. When the light is green, we assume we can cross the road. We predict our decisions based on the cues we get from our environment.

A craving is the feeling that something is missing. It compels you to act.

Whenever a habit helps you address a motive, you’ll repeat it.

How To Reprogram Your Brain To Enjoy Hard Habits

You just have to associate them with a positive experience.

Stop saying “I have to go to the gym”. Say instead “I get to go to the gym”.

Have to -> get to.

It helps you see opportunities where you saw problems. Benefits, where you saw drawbacks.

Summary of the 2nd Law

How to create good habits

  1. Use temptation bundling. Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
  2. Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
  3. Create a motivation ritual. Do something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.

How to break bad habits

  1. Highlight the benefits of avoiding bad habits.

The 3rd Law: Make it Easy

11. Walk Slowly, but Never Backward

An experiment showed that the people instructed to take a lot of pictures made better pictures than those instructed to take the best picture. The first group experimented and practiced, while the latter sat and thought.

In that case, a focus on quantity produced better quality than a focus on quality did.

This is the difference between motion VS action. Motion is research and thinking. Action is doing.

Motion won’t lead to a result, so why do we do it? Because we want to feel we are progressing without taking the risk to fail.

The truth is that motion is a form of procrastination.

If you want to start a new habit, you don’t have a choice. You need to practice.

How Long Does It Actually Take To Form A New Habit?

You establish a habit by repeating an action. The more you repeat, the more your brain will develop itself to ease the habit, the easier the habit will be.

-> Practicing is the best thing you can do!

In the beginning, habit takes effort and focus. As you practice, it becomes easier and more automatic.

-> a habit is not formed after some time, but after the number of repetitions!

12. The Law of Least Effort

Energy is expensive and humans are lazy. This is the Law Least Effort. When you look at your bad habits, they often require no energy to practice.

This is why you should make your habits easy.

How To Achieve More With Less Effort

All you need to do is to remove friction in the environment. If your gym is on your way to work, you’ll be more likely to go than if it’s far.

The author calls this “addition by subtraction“.

It is doing more by removing obstacles or friction to action.

13. How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule

Around 40-50% of what we do every day is automatic.

Habits influence you even more than you think, as they can determine what you will do several hours from now.

Eg: check your phone “for just a second” and end up spending 20 minutes, etc.

The few seconds in the habit that will determine the next minutes or hours are called decisive moments.

Walking into McDonald’s is a decisive moment. It will determine you will eat bad food for the next half-hour.

Habits are your entry point, not the endpoint.

The Two-Minute Rule

Any habit can be scaled down to a two-minute version.

  • Run an hour -> change clothes and tie your shoes.
  • Study -> open your notebook.

-> once you start doing something, it’s much easier to keep on doing it.

This is what you want: a gateway habit that eases the entire sequence.

If you want to run a marathon, putting on your shoes will be your gateway habit.

The point of the gateway habit is not to do the thing (merely putting on your shoes is ridiculous), it’s to show up. You need to establish the habit before you can improve it.

The purpose of this rule is to avoid feeling like the habit is a chore.

Eg: If you don’t want to train at the gym for one hour, go for two minutes, then leave.

It’s better to do that for a month and establish a good gym habit than not going to the gym at all.

It sounds ridiculous, but the purpose here is not to work out. It is to establish the habit of working out, so you can work out.

A modified version of this is called habit shaping. It’s mastering the first two minutes of any habit before you get fully into it.

Eg: if we take the gym into account:

  1. Get into workout clothes
  2. Get out of your house
  3. Reach the gym
  4. Workout for five minutes and leave
  5. Workout for one hour

14. How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible

If you have a problem with overeating, buy small sizes. If you check your phone too often, put it in another room. The idea is to make it as hard as possible to do what you shouldn’t.

If you struggle to go to the gym, pay a coach in advance.

This is called schedule commitment.

How To Automate A Habit And Never Think About It Again

Use technology to do so: ask your banking app to save money for you, block social media in your browser, etc.

Summary of the 3rd Law

How to create a good habit

  1. Reduce friction to start the habit.
  2. Design the environment to make the habit easy.
  3. Analyze and use the decisive moment.
  4. Use the Two-Minute Rule.
  5. Automate the habit.

How to break a bad habit

  1. Increase friction between the bad habit and you.
  2. Get committed to your future good habits.

The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying

15. The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change

The fourth law (make it satisfying) increases the odds that a behavior will be repeated.

However, humans don’t want any type of satisfaction. They want instant gratification because this is the environment we evolved in.

Back to cavemen time, no one ever did anything hoping to see results in 5 or 10 years like we do today. People were living day-to-day. They learned to value the present more than the future.

The delayed-gratification society is recent, around 500 years old. This explains why we’re hooked on products offering us instant gratification.

When it comes to gratification, there are two types of habit.

The bad habits: the immediate outcome feels good, the ultimate outcome feels bad (smoking).
The good habits: the immediate outcome feels bad, the ultimate outcome feels good (exercising).

-> The bigger the immediate pleasure something gives you, the more you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals!!

Since we prefer instant gratification, most people spend their lives chasing immediate hits of satisfaction.

The road less traveled is the road of delayed gratification.

And the most successful people are the ones that delay instant gratification.

Let’s have a look at how you can enjoy delayed gratification.

How To Turn Instant Gratification To Your Advantage

The only way to enjoy habits giving delayed gratification is to make it that they also help you enjoy instant gratification.

Eg: saving money. Instead of buying that shirt, transfer to a saving account the money equivalent to the price of the shirt. This way, you reward instantly the action of not spending money.

Be mindful to assign a logical reward. Don’t reward yourself with ice cream for going to the gym. Get a massage instead.

16. How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day

Get a habit tracker. It can be marking a “V” in your calendar for each workout, ticking a to-do list, or moving paperclip from one jar to another.

The most successful people tracked and recorded their habit to “never break the chain”.

The advantages of habit tracking are:

  1. It’s obvious: it keeps you honest, and it shows where you stand.
  2. It’s attractive. Progress is the most effective form of motivation. When you have a bad day, you can see how far you have come.
  3. It’s satisfying. Ticking the to-do list feels good!

The problem with tracking is that it is itself a chore: tracking a habit is yet another habit to develop.

So here’s how you can make tracking easy:

  1. Automate
  2. Keep tracking for your most important habit only
  3. Record immediately after you practiced

How To Recover Quickly When Your Habits Break Down

Follow this simple rule: never miss twice.

If you miss once on your habit, go back to it as soon as possible.

Missing once is ok. Missing twice becomes a habit – the habit of missing.

Understand that even if you can’t execute flawlessly, what matters is showing up.

Doing something imperfectly > not doing it at all.

Mathematically, going up is higher than going down.

From 100 to 150 is a 50% gain. From 150 to 100 is a 33% loss…

Furthermore, remember identity.

It’s not about working out. It’s about being the type of person that doesn’t miss workouts.

Knowing When (And When Not) To Track A Habit

To quote the author: The dark side of tracking a particular behavior is that we become driven by the number rather than the purpose behind it.

Whether a restaurant is good or not should not be measured by the revenue, but by the percentage of customers that come back.

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Measurement should guide you, not consume you.

17. How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything

The most effective way to break up a bad habit is to inflict a direct punishment when the habit is practiced.

An accountability partner is great for that.

The idea is very simple: anytime you do a bad habit or miss a good one, your partner punishes you. It may be through giving your partner $100, or having to wear funny clothes the entire day, or anything like that.

Summary of the 4th law

How to create a good habit

  1. Give yourself a reward for completing a habit.
  2. Understand the benefit behind not practicing a bad habit.
  3. Use a habit tracker not to break the chain.
  4. Don’t miss more than once on your habit.

How to break a bad habit

  1. Find an accountability partner.

Advanced Tactics: How To Go From Being Merely Good To Being Truly Great

18. The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t)

The secret to maximizing your chances of success is to choose something you already are naturally good at.

It’s true for everything, job, sports, habits.

Michael Phelps was designed to swim. Usain Bolt was designed to run. Had they chosen swimming instead of running and running instead of swimming, we would have never heard of them.

-> genes determine your area of opportunity.

The areas where you are likely to succeed are where your habits are satisfying.

To find out which ones they are, you need to study your personality.

How Your Personality Influences Your Habits

Your genes influence everything you do. They pre-determine your personality.

Your personality is rated on the OCEAN scale.

  • Openness
  • Consciousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

-> build habits that work for your personality.

How To Find A Game Where The Odds Are In Your Favor

Simply pick up a habit that is easy to pick up.

If you don’t know which one it is, you need to explore.

Once you find one, keep it and invest in it.

Use the following questions to help you get started:

  1. What feels like fun to me, but work to others?
  2. What makes me lose track of time and gets me into flow?
  3. Where do I get greater returns than the average person?
  4. What comes naturally to me?

Sometimes, it’s the intertwinement of skills that make you really good at something, such as being good for both drawing and telling jokes, like Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert.

If you can’t win in the game of others, create yours. Be different.

Work hard on the skills that come easy.

19. The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work

People give up when what they do is boring or too difficult.

This is the Goldilocks principle: this principle states that children enjoy the most challenges that are neither too hard nor too easy. They need to be difficult enough to drive growth, but not overly impossible.

Adults are the same.

The Goldilocks Rule therefore, is to progress in a way that is neither too hard, nor too easy.

When you are in the goldilocks zone, you usually hit the flow state.

This is the key to success: do challenges that are hard enough so you grow, but not too hard so you’re stuck; and make enough progress so that you remain motivated and never quit.

How To Stay Focused When You Get Bored Working On Your Goals

Here’s a piece about success few people will ever admit.

The best in their field don’t only work hard, have talent, etc. At some point, they can also endure the boredom of practice again and again and again.

-> successful people also feel demotivated. But they keep going.

The greatest threat to success is not failure, but boredom.

Humans need novelty. This is why as soon as we feel a lack of motivation, we jump onto the next workout, diet, etc.

Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly.


This is why the most-habit forming products are those providing you with constant novelty.

This principle is called variable reward. It explains why slot machines are so addictive.

The sweet spot is 50/50. The brain loves when it loses as much as it wins (makes sense in regard to the Goldilocks principle).

If you desire to succeed, you will have to fall in love with boredom.

Sticking with it is what makes the difference between a winner and a loser.

To quote the author: The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over.

20. The Downside of Creating Good Habits

The downside is that you do no longer pay attention to little errors. In fact, when you have been doing the same thing for a long time, there is a decline in performance.

As a result, if mastery is your purpose, you need to bring mindfulness back into an automatic habit. The equation is as follow:

Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery

Mastering the habit is not enough. You should always aim at going to the next level.

It’s when you think you’re good that you often become bad.

How To Review Your Habits And Make Adjustments

You need to define metrics and review the work you have done. Take into account what you did well, what you did wrong, and focus on improving.

The only way to success is continuous improvement.

How To Break The Beliefs That Hold You Back

The problem of habit and identity is that you can get stuck. Eg: the teacher that refuses to apply a new method because they have been using the same one for twenty years.

To avoid this trap, avoid making any part of your identity too big. In fact, avoid making your identity big.

The more a belief defines you, the less you can change it.

Habits can lock you up and prevent you from changing.

Always be reviewing them, and always remain flexible to change.

Conclusion: The Secret to Results That Last

One tiny change won’t change your life. But added on top of each other…they will radically change your life. This takes time and practice.

Habits cannot end. It’s a never-ending process.

The secret to success is to never stop improving.

To quote the author, it’s remarkable what you can build if you don’t stop.


The following are lessons stemming from the four-step model of human behavior (cue, craving, response, reward).

Awareness comes before desire: you assign meaning before you crave something.

Happiness is simply the absence of desire: happiness is what you feel when you don’t crave anything.

It is the idea of pleasure that we chase: you actually don’t know how pleasurable fulfilling your desire will be when you are on your way to fulfilling it.

Peace occurs when you don’t turn your observations into problems: craving is the desire to fix a problem. When you stop wanting to fix things, you become at peace.

With a big enough why you can overcome any how: great craving creates great action.

Being curious is better than being smart: curiosity creates action. Intelligence does not.

Emotions drive behavior.

We can only be rational and logical after we have been emotional.

Your response tends to follow your emotions.

Suffering drives progress: craving creates pain which compels you to act.

Your actions reveal how badly you want something: saying it’s a priority VS acting on it.

Reward is on the other side of sacrifice.

Self-control is difficult because it is not satisfying.

Our expectations determine our satisfaction: as we grow, our expectations grow too, so our happiness decreases.

The pain of failure correlates to the height of expectations: if you want something badly, it hurts badly when you fail.

Feelings come both before and after the behavior: the first feeling compels you to act, the second compels you to repeat.

Desire initiates. Pleasure sustains: quite logically.

Hope declines with experience and is replaced by acceptance. Experience teaches you what you can expect., hence, hope decreases.

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Things I Disagree With

Focus on the system: Peter Thiel condemns this system-oriented culture because it assumes no direction. When you focus on systems, you accept it goes slowly. When you focus on a definite purpose, you can find ways to hack it and produce a lot in a short amount of time.

Habit shaping: if you need time to master the first two minutes of the habit because you don’t want to do it…then maybe the habit isn’t for you? In a way, I feel the entire book was written for people that shouldn’t get into specific habits in the first place. If you really can’t do it…then don’t. Habit hacking does not make sense, because you shouldn’t have to hack a habit.

In fact, the author explains readers in the end to choose a habit that is easy to practice, making almost the entire book pointless.

No talk about lifestyle: the truth about habits is that following them hugely depends on your lifestyle. When I was on a strict lion diet and did nothing but working and working out, following any type of hard habit was much easier because I wasn’t craving any dopamine.

As soon as I drank alcohol, watched a movie, fapped, ate sugar, played video games, did not sleep enough, consumed social media, or something alike, following tough habits became much harder. James Clear talks about genes, but genes don’t have such a big impact.

You know what has? Sleep, food, exercise, and social relationships.

Everything you consume and do on a daily basis drives your behavior much more than genes. The equation is simple: garbage in, garbage out. You can’t sustain a gym routine if you watch Netflix and eat McDonald’s. As simple as that.

The myth of personality: Benjamin Hardy has shown quite well that personality is not permanent. James Clear advises the readers to do something that fits their personality, but this is wrong. If you have a personality that suits no habits, you won’t develop any.

Hardy advises the exact opposite of James Clear: you should practice habits that will force you to develop the personality you need to have to become the person you want to be! And the way to do so is by choosing who you want to become.

So James Clear was right at the beginning of the book when he advises readers to decide who they want to be and attach the habits to that person. He’s wrong when he advises people to choose habits based on their personality.

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  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:May 26, 2022