Atomic Habits Summary

Are you ready to transform your life? In James Clear’s Atomic Habits, you’ll learn how to make powerful, lasting changes in all areas of your life. Through small, incremental steps, you can create habits that will help you lead a healthier, more productive lifestyle. This revolutionary approach has been praised by The New York Times and many of the world’s top experts. You will find in this Atomic Habits Summary the main principles that will put you in the direction of creating the life you’ve always wanted.

Atomic Habits – the summary

If you are serious about changing your habits and implementing good ones,
don’t look any further, the Atomic Habits book by James Clear is the book you are looking for!

If you are too busy to read the book, I summarize for you here the key ideas so you can get a glance at what the book is about and how it can positively impact your habits.

Atomic Habits was published for the first time in 2018,
based on the personal blog of the author

To understand the magnitude of the success of this book, Atomic Habits has been already translated into 50 different languages and sold over 10 million copies.

Who is James Clear?

James Clear is an American writer and speaker, who has gained his fame as the creator of the Atomic Habits books.

One interesting fact about James
is that he has only written one book in his life.
Imagine only one book, and more than 10 million copies sold worldwide and counting.

That it really is getting the first shot on target! Kudos to James.

Where can you buy Atomic Habits?

With more than 10M copies sold around the world and translated into 50 languages, you can buy it pretty much everywhere.
if you can’t just wait to start reading this masterpiece, Amazon is the place.

Purpose of the book: Atomic Habits

The purpose of Atomic Habits is simple:
Discover the tactics to become the person that you want to be through your habits.

It is key to understanding,
that the best way you can become the person you would like to be,
it is via your habits or what James Clear calls “aggregate margin gains”

And you may wonder what the f#ck is “Aggregate margin gains”?
If you are a cycling fan,
most likely you are familiar with names such as Sir Bradley Wigging, Sir Chris Hoy…
James Clear explains in his book,
how the British Olympic cycling team use the aggregate margin gains.

To put you in context, the British Olympic cycling team was not particularly good at earning medals at the Olympics until something changed one day – aggregate margin gains.

For 5 years the British Olympic cycling team was focused on making a very minor improvement every day. They started to check everything. The setup of the handlebar, the material of the chair, the pillows for sleeping, the diet, the shampoos…they analyzed everything, having in mind the ultimate goal of making out of each athlete the best version of themselves.

What was the result?
They went from being an unknown team to reaching 60% of goal medals in the Olympics.
I repeat for you the number again – winning 60% of the gold medals in the Olympics

How did they do it?
They did it by focusing on making those small changes that could improve the performance of all the athletes. Improving 1% every day, was still an improvement.
And remember this daily improvement,
it is not a sum but a multiplication.

With the power of compound interest, the improvement is massive.

In numbers for you to easily the power of the compound interest,
if you improve a 1% every day of the year, you will end up the year 37,78 times better versus where you started the year.

Yes, you read it correctly.
Almost 38 times better than the day when you started the year.

The Plateau of Latent potential

James Clear covers in his book a very interesting concept called “The Plateau of Latent potential”

This is very much connected to our lineal way of seeing things, if I do A, I expect to achieve B.

The reality is that normally there is a certain level of difference between what you think will happen versus what really happens

There is a moment when thanks to the compound interest,
what really happened is way better than you expected it would happen.

This can only be explained due to the power of habits.
At the beginning of starting a new habit,
there is always this feeling of disappointment and doubts…
Is it worth it? Why sacrifice? Why not do something different?

Systems vs Goals

How many times did you set up a goal and failed?
Most likely the reason for not achieving the goal was due to focusing on the goals instead of the objective itself.

By focusing on the system, the objectives will be achieved on their own.

There is a very nice quote (and book) from football coach Bill Walsh that summarizes the difference between systems and goals perfectly

“The scoreboard takes care of itself”

What does it mean?
If I play well (systems), chances are high that I will achieve the result(goal).

To understand it in simple words:

  • The goal, what you want to achieve, it gives you direction
  • The system, a process that will take you to the result, it allows you to progress.

The reality is that we tend to invest too much time in the objective and very little time in the systems.

Why the systems are more important than the goals?

This is the natural question to ask,
why you should focus more on the systems than the goals?

Few reasons to understand why systems are more important than goals:

  • Winners and losers both have the same objectives
  • Achieving a goal is only a temporary change.

We want habits that will stay with us forever

  • Goals postpone your happiness – when I will achieve this, I will be happy.


  • Yo-Yo effect – goals not aligned with long-term progress.

Example: Signing up to the gym and dropping it a few months later.
There is certain improvement during the first weeks at the gym, and as the habit does not stick to the routine you are coming back to square one.

What’s the problem when changing habits

For changing your habits,
you can start from the outside chancing at the outcomes,
you can go a little bit deeper by changing the processes,
or you can go to the core focusing on changing your identity

The deeper you decide to go with the change,
the higher the chances the habit will become a reality.

As mentioned earlier,
decide the type of person you are by asking yourself which kind of person you want to be.

And prove it to yourself, by performing these small gestures on the day-to-day basis

“Every action you execute, it is a +1 for the person you would like to be”

A real example,
my objective should not be reading a book, instead, I should aim to become a reader.
This way I will be changing my identity, now I am a reader.
How do I prove to myself that I am a reader?
By reading a few pages every day.

How do the habits work?

There are 4 main elements impacting our habits working as a cycle

  1. Cue      
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward

Cue, that would be the first element. Where all it starts.
For example, a notification on the phone.

Craving, the desire of reading the signal, what is that reward that is waiting for me?
A new follower? My partner proposing me a plan.

Response, my reaction to the signal.
I take the phone to check what is in there waiting for me

Rewards, are the consequence for the signal. What it reinforces the cycle.
I see a message from my partner, proposing to go on a trip at the weekend.

The habits, work on the basis of a non-ending loop

Rule 1 Make it obvious (or invisible)

If you want to create a new habit, be very specific about what you expect from the habit

  • What you want to do.
  • When you want to do it.
  • Where you want to do it.

Avoid general statements, instead, try to be as specific as possible.

General statement: I am going to look after my mental health.
Specific statement: every day I will meditate for 10 minutes before going to sleep.

How to make the statement specific:
You can use as a base the structure: I am going to [what] in [where] at [when]

Example: Every day I will meditate for 10 minutes before going to sleep

The more specific you will be defining your habit, the higher the chances of implementing the habit.

Concatenate your habits – one after another

Connect one habit with the other. Same as in a chain. Make one action after another.

You can use as a signal for a new habit, and an already existing habit.

try to fit your new habit between two actions that are part of your routine.

Example: Having dinner (existing habit), meditating (new habit) and brushing teeth (existing habit)

Design your surroundings

At the end of the day,
we are a product of the surroundings we live in.
When you are motivated, take advantage of it.
When you are motivated, create surroundings where the default options are the ones that you really want to implement.

Focus on the system, not on the one-time action

Discipline is good to have, but it is only effective in the short term.

It is always easier to avoid temptation than to resist.

That’s why it is key you create your surroundings with signals of the habits you want to build and eliminate the signals of the habits that you want to eliminate.

For example:
If you want to avoid eating chocolate while being at home,
chances are very high that you will not eat chocolate when you don’t have chocolate at home

Rule 2 Make it nice

All goes down to dopamine and the people around you.

By the way, there is a very interesting book about dopamine. [LINK TO BOOK]

To understand very simply how dopamine works,
dopamine is the molecule of motivation.
It helps us to anticipate the rewards of a certain action, and that’s why it encourages us to act.

You will understand it more simpler with an example:
First, I train at the gym (The action I have to do),
and then I watch an episode on Netflix (what I want to do)

You will be encouraged to go to the gym, due to the fact that later there is a pleasant action waiting for you.
This is the power of connecting your actions:
The action that you must do, and the action that you want to do.

By doing the “must do “action,
you are becoming the person that you want to be,
and later you have the reward of doing that brings you satisfaction.

People around you
We are social creatures, and we want to fit in the society and our circle of friends.
The first habits,
you don’t choose them, but instead, you mirror the people around you.

People around you, define what it is achievable.
By choosing your people, you are choosing the habits that you want to implement.

If you surround yourself with people who consistently hit the gym and eat healthy,
you will be progressively implementing these habits to ensure you fit “the tribe”.

Otherwise, you will be progressively excluded from “the tribe”.

Rule 3 Make it easy

Remove the barriers

For creating a habit, you need repetition, not perfection.
There is a very nice quote from Voltaire that explains it exactly on point: “Perfect is the enemy of the good

Sometimes you may feel you are not good enough
to lead a training,
to lead that project at work,
to try an online project,
and as a consequence of this, you may get paralyzed and end up doing nothing.

Instead of aiming for perfection,
aim for getting things done following an 80/20 approach.
Better done than nothing,
and with the power of repetition progressively you will be getting better and better.

Reality is that we are lazy by nature,
the more steps we need to complete an action,
the more difficult will be to complete it.

And the opposite applies to,
the fewer steps need for an action to be completed,
the higher the chances to do it.

Real-life example:
Do you want to read a book right before going to sleep?
Leave the book on top of your pillow. (Fewer steps, for action to be completed)
If you want to read,
but every time you want to read,
you need to walk 5min to find the book, you will end up not reading. (More steps, for action to be completed)

The 2 minutes rule

To implement a habit in a simple way,
create a “minimum version” of the habit that lasts maximum of 2 minutes. (no-brainer – that’s why the rule is called the 2-minute rule)

  • Do you want to read? Start by reading a page
  • Do you want to get fit? Start by doing 3 squats
  • Do you want to meditate? Start by lying down for 2 minutes

By starting small and removing the barriers
you will make sure; your new habits stick to your routine.

The Ulysses Pact

The Ulysses Pact, known as well as Odysseus,
means deciding upfront what you are going to do.

If you manage in advance to make impossible the bad habits,
you will not need to worry about the temptations.

For example:
If you want to save X amount of money every month,
as soon as you get your paycheck, transfer that X amount to your saving account,
this way you remove the temptation of spending that money during the month!

Rule 4 Make it satisfactory

As humans beings,
for the things we are rewarded, we tend to repeat them.
for the things we are punished for, we tend to avoid them.

The same happens for the animals,
when your little dog behaves well,
how do you reward him? with candy, right?
You are using the same principles,
you are rewarding the good behaviour and encouraging your dog for repeating it.

Why is it not so straightforward for the habits?
The reason is that for good habits, the reward is only in the long term.
Imagine going to the gym for a week,
there will not a major reward.
if you keep going to the gym, you will see major benefits: health, strength, mobility, better sleep.

On the other hand,
bad habits have rewards in the very short term,
eating that croissant filled with chocolate, the satisfaction is immediate.

You can make sure you stick to the positive habits,
by anticipating the rewards, one practical way to do,
it is by noting down all the positive aspects you will get from implementing this positive habit.

Progress and habits contract
Keep track of your habits.
That feeling of progress is a satisfaction on its own.

A simple way to do,
it is by writing down in your agenda (or in the notes on the phone),
the days when you are showing up and delivering versus your habits.

When you are on a streak of 21 days doing the habit,
you will hate not showing up the day 22,
that’s why you will be pushing yourself to keep loyal to your contract with yourself.

it is some kind of “contract” that you did with yourself confirming that you want to implement this healthy habit in your routine.
What’s more,
if you make this “contract” public even better.

Be vocal to your circle about the habit that you want to implement.

By committing externally, the chances of failing will be reduced considerably.
You don’t want to fail in the eyes of “your tribe”.
Recall what we talked about earlier; we want to have this feeling of belonging to a group.

How to sustain the habits in time

Two options to ensure you sustain your habits in time.

Option 1 How to sustain the habits in the time – increase the difficulty

Once you have a habit nicely implemented in your routine,
there is a certain chance that you may get bored.

An easy way to address this boredom,
is by increasing the difficulty of the habit.

Careful here,
try to keep it difficult enough that will keep you motivated,
but not too difficult that you will think it is impossible to achieve.

Try to find the middle point,
that point that it will be neither too easy, neither too difficult

Option 2 How to sustain the habits in the time – reflect and revise

Reflect and revise your habits to be aware of your own mistakes.

Once the habits are implemented in your routine,
in a way the habits “liberate” space in your brain.

We execute them in automatic mode.

That’s why, if you want to master any habit,
you need to least calibrate in the mid of the year,
if your habits are taking you in the direction you want to be both personally and professionally.

You can ask yourself questions such as:

  1. Which are the key values in my life and work?
  2. Am I living my life in line with my values?
  3. How can I level up in the future?

As part of the full-year reflection,
you may want to close the year and start the new one by asking yourself:

  • What went well this year?
  • What went not so well this year?
  • What did I learn?

While doing this full-year reflection, together with the mid-year reflection you can validate if the habits that you implemented are making out of you the best version of yourself. The person that you would like to be.

Atomic Habits download PDF for free

There are plenty of sites where you can find this book to be downloaded for free (I will not be linking them from here). If you can’t afford to buy the book, I recommend you read this post in detail and if you still have any doubts, drop me a question down below and I will get back to you with more details.

FAQ Atomic Habits Summary

Which are the 4 atomic habits?

The main 4 habits described in the James Clear book are to make it obvious, to make it attractive, to make it easy, and to make it satisfying.

Is the book Atomic Habits worth reading?

Yes, it is. Absolutely yes. Atomic Habit is one of the masterpieces worth the read. It combines both theory and practice. As a result, you will be able to implement actions in your routine right after reading the book.

How long does it take to read Atomic Habits?

If you are an average reader, you would be able to read Atomic Habits in around 10 hours. To make the most of this book, it is worth having a “quick read”, reviewing this post with the main ideas and later deep diving into each of the habits. Definitely, this is a book worth reading more than once in your life.

How many pages do Atomic Habits have?

The book in the paper version contains 288 pages.

When was Atomic Habits published for the first time?

The first edition of Atomic Habits was published for the first time in October 2018, and since then more than 10M copies have been sold worldwide.

Can a teenager read Atomic Habits?

Yes, of course. Atomic Habits can be read by anyone who is interested in implementing positive habits in order to become the person that you want to be. Due to the easy language used in the book, everyone who is able to learn properly no matter their age (>10 years old) can read this book.

Summary of Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits by James Clear is the go-to guide for anyone looking to make lasting changes in their lives. James Clear breaks it down so you can easily track progress, set achievable goals, and reverse engineer them, and what’s more, also provides insights on how to motivate yourself and break bad habits for good.

If you’re looking to make lasting changes in your life, this summary of this book is for you!.

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