"Atomic Habits" by James Clear

Book Summary:

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear, provides readers with a proven framework for improving themselves in both their personal and professional lives.

Clear is an expert on habit formation and teaches readers exactly how to form good habits and break bad ones, and the importance of tiny changes.

Everyone has bad habits that they want to get rid of, this book teaches you the four laws needed to replace bad habits with better ones. Clear draws on proven ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible.

Readers will learn how to:

  • make time for new habits (even when life gets crazy);

  • overcome a lack of motivation and willpower;

  • design your environment to make success easier;

  • get back on track when you fall off course;

...and much more.

Author James Clear.

Author James Clear.

Author Bio:

James Clear is an author and speaker focused on habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Time, and on CBS This Morning. He is a regular speaker at Fortune 500 companies and his work is used by teams in the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

His website receives millions of visitors each month and hundreds of thousands subscribe to his popular email newsletter at jamesclear.com.

Book Lessons:

1) Strive To Be 1% Better Everyday

If you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero.
— Page 15

Clear starts his book with a story about the British cycling team, who, to put plainly, weren’t very good. Since 1908, British riders won just one gold medal at the Olympics and in 110 years, no British cyclist had ever won the Tour de France.

Then in 2003, the team hired a new performance director named Dave Brailsford.

Brailsford’s strategy was to search for tiny marginal improvements in everything the team did. His idea was that if the team could get 1% better in every aspect of cycling, it would compound into a huge advantage.

So Brailsford and his coaches made every improvement, no matter how small:

  • They redesigned the seats for more comfort.

  • Added rubbing alcohol on the tires for better grip.

  • Gave riders electrically heated overshorts to maintain ideal muscle temperature.

  • Switched racing suits for better aerodynamics.

    But, it didn’t stop there.

  • They tested different massage gels for fastest muscle recovery.

  • They tested pillows and mattresses for the best night’s sleep.

And much more.

Each change made a tiny, tiny difference. But put together, the changes were enormous.

From 2007 to 2017, the British Cycling team won 178 world championships, 66 Olympic or Paralympic gold medals and 5 Tour de France victories.

The same strategy can be applied to one’s personal life, constant small improvements over time accumulate into a major positive outcome:

  • Saving $250 each week isn’t much, but it multiplies into $1,000 a month and $12,000 saved by the end of the year.

  • Going to the gym 3 times in one week won’t get you in shape, but do it every week for a year and you’ll completely transform your body.

  • Reading 15 pages a day is not a lot, but it accumulates into 105 pages a week, 420 a month, and 5,040 pages a year. An average book is 250 pages, so you’ll end up reading 20 books a year just from reading a little bit each day.

So remember, becoming 1% better today may not seem like much, but with time, it can make a huge difference.

How much of a difference does 1% make? If you can get just 1% better each day, you’ll end up with results that are nearly 37 times better after just one year.

How much of a difference does 1% make? If you can get just 1% better each day, you’ll end up with results that are nearly 37 times better after just one year.

2) Focus on Your Systems, Not Your Goals

It wasn’t the goal of winning the Tour de France that propelled the British cyclists to the top of the sport...The goal had always been there. It was only when they implemented a system of continuous small improvements that they achieved a different outcome.
— Page 25

The idea of forgetting goals and focusing on systems instead is one of the most important lessons readers can learn from this book.

Here are a few problems that arise when people focus on goals:

#1: Winners and losers have the same goals.

Every athlete that goes to the Olympics has the goal of winning a gold medal, but only one will finish in first place. It isn’t the goal of winning that propels the athlete to the top of the sport, the goal had always been there.

It’s only when they implement a system of continuous small improvements (more training, better diet, etc.) that they create a competitive edge over the competition and win gold.

#2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.

Imagine you have a messy room and you set a goal of cleaning it. If you can summon the energy to tidy up, you’ll have a clean room and achieve your goal, but if you continue following your old sloppy habits, the room will be messy again in no time.

You’re treating a symptom without addressing the cause. What you really need to do, is to create a system of habits that keep your room consistently clean (always make your bed in the morning, put your dirty clothes in the laundry bin every night, etc). Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.

#3: Goals are at odds with long-term progress.

Having a goal-oriented mindset and create a “yo-yo” effect. Many people set the goal of running a marathon and work hard for months, but after finishing the race, they stop running because they already achieved their goal.

You see this all the time when people have the goal of losing weight. They do crazy juice diets or insane cardio workouts and eventually lose the 15 pounds they wanted, but then after hitting their goal, they go back to their old habits of eating junk and sitting on the couch all day.

Clear has a great line in the book that says, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems” (pg 27).

By creating a system of good habits, you’ll be able to achieve better results and create a stable long-term solution instead of focusing on reaching short-term goals that only provide a temporary solution.

Systems continue to provide results, while goals are hit-or-miss. (All images credit to JamesClear.com)

Systems continue to provide results, while goals are hit-or-miss. (All images credit to JamesClear.com)

3) Design Your Environment for Success

The most powerful of all human sensory abilities, however, is vision. The human body has about eleven million sensory receptors. Approximately ten million of those are dedicated to sight. Some experts estimate that half of the brain’s resources are used on vision.
— Page 84

For this reason, what you see can lead to a big shift in what you do.

Clear tells a story about the energy crisis of the 1970s, where Dutch researchers looked at energy usage in a suburb near Amsterdam. They found that some homeowners were using 30 percent less energy than their neighbors–despite the fact that the homes were of similar size.

So why did some owners use less electricity and others more?

  • Researchers found that homeowners who had the electrical meter in the main hallway of their house could easily observe and track their energy usage while others had the meter in their basement where they rarely checked their usage.

This example shows how a person’s behavior can be easily influenced by their environment, often times more than they consciously realize.

Clear then applies this lesson to everyday life.

  • It’s easy not to practice the guitar when it’s hidden in the closet.

  • It’s easy not to read a book when the bookshelf is in the guest room.

  • It’s easy not to take your vitamins when they are hidden in the back of the top shelf.

Once Clear learned this lesson, he set out to find ways to apply it to his daily life.

For instance, he used to buy apples because he wanted to eat more fruit. However, he stored the apples in the back of his fridge, but because they were out of sight, he often forgot about them. By the time he remembered about them, they had were already rotten.

So, Clear decided to take his own advice and redesigned his environment for success. He bought a large display bowl and placed it in the middle of the kitchen in the open where he could see the apples and easily grab one. This simple change led him from eating no apples all week to eating multiple apples a day!

Here are a few more ways people can redesign their environment for success:

  • If you want to practice playing guitar more often, place your guitar in the middle of your living room so it’s easier to start playing it.

  • If you want to drink more water, fill up a few water bottles or containers, and place them in common locations around your home.

  • If you want to read more books, keep a book on the nightstand near your bed so you can easily grab it and get through a few pages before going to sleep.

And for bad habits, you want to do the opposite and make things harder to do:

  • If you have trouble staying off your phone, leave it in the other room and turn off notifications.

  • If you’re wasting too much time watching television, move it to a room that you rarely go into, or better yet, sell it.

  • If you’re playing too many video games, unplug the console and put it in the closet after each time you play it so it’s harder to turn on next time.

“Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one,” Clear writes.

Instead of summoning a new dose of willpower every time you want to do the right thing, your energy would be better spent optimizing your environment.

The goal of behavior change is to make cues for good habits obvious while making cues for bad habits invisible. That is the secret to self-control.

Book Review:

I’d put this book in the top 3 best productivity books I’ve ever read, it’s that good.

James Clear did an excellent job with this book. It’s an easy and entertaining book to read filled with personal stories as well as scientific studies. There’s a lot of information to absorb, but each chapter ends with a summary and important lessons are repeated throughout the book.

This will definitely be a book that I will be reading more than once, that’s how much value you’ll find in these pages. I’ve already started applying a few of Clear’s lessons to my life and started seeing small, but promising results.

If you’re looking for an easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones (which is everyone), this book is for you. Read it, highlight it, take notes, and start applying the lessons to your life and achieve success that lasts.


Rating: 5/5 Stars 

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If you already read “Atomic Habits” here are some similar books I’d recommend reading:

For literally 5 bucks and a few hours, a book will give you an enormous amount of valuable information that can help you in life. It’s practically highway-robbery. So take advantage of this and read as much as you can.

If you want to check out my list of recommended books, you can find that here.

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