Atomic Habits by James Clear – My Six Lessons and Takeaways

What is the point?
Your life is the living out of your habits – all of your habits – good and bad.  This book will help you build a more productive life, and fulfill your potential, one small habit at a time.


Atomic HabitsI delivered my synopsis of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear at the December First Friday Book Synopsis.  This is a very good, very useful, very practicable book.  The kind of book that provides:  if you do this, and do that, and don’t do this or that, you will develop better outcomes.  In this case, better habits..

The book begins with Mr. Clear’s description of his own habits development.  He had been very seriously injured in a baseball bat incident while in high school, nearly died, and had to climb back into functional life one habit at a time. It is a compelling story; quite helpful in understanding why this subject so captured him.

As always, I asked Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons:

#1 – We do too many things we do not want to do. We fail to do things we want to do. We need fewer bad habits, and more good habits.  This book will help.
#2 – We act without thinking, in ways that are not good for us.  We need to act without thinking in more ways that are good for us.  This book will help.
#3 – We need some tips on how to build those good habits, and how to abandon those bad habits.  This book will help; with many such tips.

Here are a few of my key excepts, the “best of” Randy’s highlighted passages:

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat.

Change can take years—before it happens all at once.

Research has shown that once a person believes in a particular aspect of their identity, they are more likely to act in alignment with that belief. …After all, when your behavior and your identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behavior change. You are simply acting like the type of person you already believe yourself to be.

Progress requires unlearning.

Quite literally, you become your habits.

Scoring your habits can be a bit more complex for another reason as well. The labels “good habit” and “bad habit” are slightly inaccurate. …There are no good habits or bad habits. There are only effective habits. That is, effective at solving problems.

People often choose products not because of what they are, but because of where they are.

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.

If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection.

Simple rule: Never miss twice. …The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit.

His book includes this epigraph:

a·tom·ic əˈtämik — an extremely small amount of a thing; the single irreducible unit of a larger system. the source of immense energy or power.
hab·itˈhabət — a routine or practice performed regularly; an automatic response to a specific situation. 

He does give appreciation and “credit,” especially to Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit – cue; routine; reward); and to B. F. Skinner, and many others

At the heart of his approach is the four-step model of habits:  cue, craving, response, and rewardWhat you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers.The cue is about noticing the reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward.In summary, the cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue.

And he proposes the four laws of behavior change – how to create a good habit, and, how to break a bad habit:


How to Create a Good Habit How to Break a Bad Habit
Law #1 – Make it Obvious Law #1 – Make it Invisible
Law #2 – Make it Attractive Law #2 – Make it Unattractive
Law #3 – Make it Easy Law #3 – Make it Difficult
Law #4 – Make it Satisfying Law #4 – Make it Unsatisfying

Note:  pay special attention to “make it easy.”  Easy; convenient! — Where do you put your bottles of water to drink?  Everywhere!

He is bigger on systems than on goals:  FORGET ABOUT GOALS, FOCUS ON SYSTEMS INSTEAD — 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.

He strongly suggests following these steps:

  • How to start a new good habit:
  • complete the following sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].” 
  • Then, embrace habit stacking.
  • when I do this, I will also do this… …The habit stacking formula is: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
  • Then: the habit stacking + temptation bundling formula is:
  • After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].
  • Then…The habit stacking + habit tracking formula is:

 And here are my six lessons and takeaways:

#1 – We are the sum total of our habits. So, do a serious, complete, honest habit inventory – good habits; bad habits.
#2 – To build a new good habit, start small. (two minutes, repeated, over time, makes a huge difference.
#3 – Change your identity, in thought and in vocabulary choice.  (e.g., Not, “I’m going to study,“ but “I am a student, who studies.”)
#4 — Change what you see.  Get rid of the cues for the bad habits; put cues for the good everywhere you can! – (Warning – the cues for the bad habits never go away; are never forgotten).
#5 – Aim for automatic good habits.  But, be very wary of automatic bad habits.
#6 – Don’t do this alone. Get a good habits partner, and cultivate that partnership.

Be more effective2.pptx copyI recently wrote this blog post: Say you want to become more …effective; productive…read these three books – Getting Things Done; The Power of Habit; Atomic Habits. I think that if you, like me, constantly struggle with being more productive – always needing to guard against bad habits, and build good habits, and mange your time very well – then these three books are worth your time.  Read them; do what they say.  You will become more productive.  I think I have.


You can purchase my synopses of all three of the books I mentioned, and many, many others, at the buy synopses tab at the top of this web page.  (Atomic Habits will be available soon). Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, and the audio recording of my presentation from the First Friday Book Synopsis, our monthly event in Dallas.

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