Atomic Habits by James Clear Book Review & Notes

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Atomic Habits by James Clear was a good read on the basics of behavioral change.

Most of the content and processes in the book were based on the surface layer of behavioral change meaning it contained a lot of tips and tricks to help modify your behavior by changing your psychology and environment.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was that most of the processes were based on this outer layer of change and not the foundation of change which is our internal wellness such as our identity, spirituality, emotional healing, love, increased awareness/insight, and connection to a higher power.

I think true change comes from this deepest layer and then affects your habits and systems naturally where it is more effortless and without force, while the system that is discussed in this book works backward by using a lot of force and discipline to change routines which over the long run can be counter-productive.

For example, most people who read this book will test out a few of the laws and then over time will naturally fall back into their old patterns because they didn’t have a shift at the deeper level of their being of identity of who they are and how they see the world.

A lot of the processes that are discussed in the book have value and can be very helpful for making small changes in life but personally, I think that any meaningful lasting change over time has to come from a deeper layer of being.

That being said, I’ve outlined the basics of Atomic Habits so that we can use the framework to help create better habits in our life.


  • James Clear was motivated and decided to learn about behavioral change and how to create better habits due to his own pain of having to rebound from a severe injury. His desire to make changes came from the pain he experienced at a low place in his life.
  • This is important to consider because the root motivators of major change usually come from either pain or suffering or some type of spiritual awakening or identity shift due to life circumstances. The things he discussed following that event in the book were only possible because of that root motivator that propelled him to take action.

The Fundamentals

  • Habits are the compound interest of personal improvement. Getting 1 percent better every day counts for a lot in the long run
  • Habits are a double-edged sword. They can work for you or against you, which is why understanding the details is essential
  • Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You need to be patient.
  • An atomic habit is a little habit that is part of a larger system. Just as atoms are the building blocks of molecules, atomic habits are the building blocks of remarkable results
  • If you want better results, then forget about goals. Focus on your system instead
  • You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems

Levels of Change

  • There are three levels of change: outcome change, process change, and identity change
  • The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become
  • Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become
  • Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and upgrade and expand your identity
  • The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results, but because they can change your beliefs about yourself

4 Steps to Build Better Habits

  • A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic 
  • The ultimate purpose of habits is to solve the problems of life with as little energy and effort as possible
  • Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop that involves four steps: cue, craving, response, and reward
  • The four laws of behavior change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are:
    • 1. Make it obvious
    • 2. Make it attractive
    • 3. Make it easy
    • 4. Make it satisfying

1st Law of Behavior Change- Make it Obvious or Increase Awareness

  • Fill out a habits tracking scorecard or write down what you do each day and track your time to bring your habits into awareness
  • Use implementation intentions: “ I will [behavior] at [time] in [location]
  • Change your environment design and make the cues of good habits obvious and visible

Inversion of the 1st Law to Break Bad Habit- Awareness Then Make it Invisible

  • Reduce exposure. Remove the cues of your bad habits from your environment after you become aware of how your bad habit operates

2nd Law- Make it Attractive Habits are Dopamine Driven Feedback Loop

  • Use temptation bundling, pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do
  • Join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior
  • Create a motivational ritual. Do something you enjoy or come up with something before you do a difficult habit

Inversion of the 2nd Law to Break Bad Habit- Make it Unattractive

  • Reframe your mindset and highlight the benefits of avoiding your bad habits or how your bad habits are harming you for no reason

3rd Law- Make it Easy

  • Reduce friction. Decrease the number of steps between you and your good habits
  • Prime the environment. Prepare your environment to make future actions easier
  • Master the decisive moment. Optimize the small choices that deliver outsized impact
  • Use the 2-minute rule or the micro-hit rule where you can do your habits with less time and they are easy to do
  • Automate your habits that can be automated by investing in technology for things you don’t personally need to use energy for

Inversion of 3rd Law- Make it Difficult

  • Increase friction and the number of steps between you and your bad habits
  • Use a commitment device

4th Law- Make it Satisfying

  • Use reinforcement. Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit
  • Make doing nothing enjoyable. When avoiding a bad habit, design a way to see the benefits
  • Use a habit tracker. Keep track of your habit streak and don’t break the chain
  • Never miss twice. When you forget to do a habit, make sure to get back on track immediately 

Inversion of the 4th Law to Break Bad Habit- Make it Unsatisfying

  • Get an accountability partner who will watch your behavior and call you out on your shit
  • Create a habit contract. Make the costs of your bad habits public and painful
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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.