Atomic Habits by James Clear - Dummies guide to Habit Formation



Atomic Habits by James Clear - Dummies guide to Habit Formation

Atomic Habits is one of the best books that I have read on personal productivity. While a lot of self-help books give us motivation, the system that helps us to achieve what we want is not discussed. We have to figure it ourselves. Of late, Habit Formation seems to be the main focus for anything to do with productivity. This book provides a rare insight into habit formation. It also provides the tools required to pursue our desire for change.

The central idea of the book is not to treat habits as a way to reach our goal. Instead, change our identity or align with the kind of person we want to become. A good example is, focusing on a habit that helps us to reduce weight by 10 kgs would be a goal-focused habit. So the question is, what happens after we achieve that goal? Do we slack back?

So instead, building habits to stay active and healthy may help to keep the habit for long. The habit will be part of our identity. What makes the book tick is, the obvious use of easy to follow suggestions and recommendations. Improving ourselves 1% every single day seems a very simple and do-able suggestion. Starting habits small and sustaining over longer periods leads to compounding.

Habit has 4 distinct aspects. They are Cue, Craving, Action and Rewards. Success for any habit formation relies on these four factors. There may not be immediate results or rewards for the effort and the result may not be obvious. The example of water becoming ice is a good example. Even when the water is becoming cold, it is not fully turned into ice till it reaches 0 degrees. That does not mean there is no impact of water slowly cooling down. It is just that the result takes time to show. Even with habits, the result may not be immediately obvious. But over time, the compounding of good habits certainly helps.

One of the main reasons for abandoning habits is the lack of a proper system and process.

Three layers of behavioural change

  • Outcome - what you get
  • Process - what you do
  • Identity - what you believe

Out of all the 3 layers, identity-based behavioural change helps us in the long run to build the kind of habits that one wants to inculcate.

Four Laws of Behavioural Change :

1. Make it Obvious

Use a Habit scorecard to track the progress Implementation intention - Be clear on when you want the habit as part of the routine. Date and Location can help to plan better. Habit Stacking: Build the first habit. Once the first habit seems second nature to us, build the second habit on top of it. Once you complete the first habit, pick up the second habit as well . This is an example of Habit Stacking. Environment - Ensure the environment is free from any distractions

2. Make it attractive

Anticipation of the reward makes us take any action. Dopamine driven feedback loops help us follow the habit diligently. Temptation bundling involves pairing an action you want with an action you need. Role of friends and family can help immensely. It is easy if the desired behaviour is default normal behaviour.

3. Make it easy

Most of the time the habit that we set out to follow may be too overwhelming that we stop after some time. This is because of the sheer effort or the energy it takes to follow through. So the recommendation is to build habits that are easy to follow through. And then increase the difficulty if required. Create an environment where it is easy to make the habit happen. Minimize the chances of distraction and increase the odds of making the habit happen. Reduce friction with good behaviours and increase friction with bad behaviours. Some examples of simple to follow habits are: Read one page before every night or 20 mins of yoga every day etc Standardize before optimize. Use Habit shaping to model any new habits. For example, to become an early riser, the five phases can be.

  • Phase 1: Be home by 10 pm every night
  • Phase 2: Have all devices turned off by 10 pm
  • Phase 3: Be in bed by 10 pm
  • Phase 4: Lights of by 10 pm
  • Phase 5: Wake up at 6 am every day

4. Make it satisfying

When the experience of newly formed habits is satisfying, the more likely we repeat the behaviour. We repeat when rewarded, while we avoid behaviours immediately punished.

Use Habit Tracker to track progress. Also, try to not break the chain. Never miss twice.

Goldilocks rule

Humans achieve peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge - it is not too easy, but at the same time not too difficult. It is the Goldilocks rule. The right degree of difficulty will help us to move forward in a meaningful way.


Showing up is vital. There are times when following up on a habit may be boring, hard and we may be devoid of any energy or motivation. But you need to persist and keep moving forward. Professionals stick to the schedule, while amateurs let life get in the way.

Habits + Deliberate Practice with timely reflection and review can help us gain mastery.

This is the gist of all the interesting things from the book. The book is pretty accessible. It gives us systems, processes and pointers in helping us form good habits. This can help us to align with our true identity of what we want to become. Improving ourselves 1% every day is quite an attractive proposition indeed.