Atomic Habits
James Clear

so freaking good

General Thoughts

This book is everywhere. If you haven’t already heard of it, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll run across in a zillion different contexts in the next few weeks and months. There’s a good reason for that too: it’s excellent.

Atomic Habits is an easy to read manual that will help you to transform your life. That’s not an exaggeration . A lot of books, gurus, and charlatans will promise that, but this one delivers. I’ve talked about it before in this blog. And I’ve talked about the successes that I’ve achieved with it more than once.


The author, James Clear, offers a clear (no pun intended) and concise formula for leveraging our daily habits to build the life that we desire. He argues that, at our core, we are a collection of our habits and that if we want to change ourselves, we need to learn to change our habits. He offers practical paths to do so, leveraging the psychological drivers to our habits.

One of the core ideas in the book is that we don’t need, and shouldn’t try, to make big sweeping changes. Rather, make incremental changes that lead to big changes. He points this out with the widely quoted and paraphrased observation that 1% better every day leads to a 33 fold improvement over a year.

Graph showing 1% improvement for 365 days

Want to take up running? Just put your shoes on today. Maybe tomorrow you walk outside. Build up to walking around the house. By the end of the year, you’ll be running daily.

He also offers up the advice that we should leverage our own sense of identity. Our sense of identity tends to drive our actions. Musicians play music. Health nuts eat right. Runners run. If you want to take up running, call yourself a runner. Tell everyone around you that you’re a runner now. That sense of identity will help you to reframe your thinking and motivate you toward your goals.

Perhaps the most useful part of the book is the Habit Loop. The Habit Loop identifies the four phases that our minds go through, leading us to engage in, and reinforce behaviors.

  1. Cue. The thing that makes us think of the behavior.
  2. Craving. The neurological response that, essentially, equates to desire for the behavior.
  3. Response. This is the behavior, or habit.
  4. Reward. What we get out of the behavior.

Illustration of the Habit Loop

The bulk of the book is devoted to hacking these four phases to either create new habits, or break old habits. He defines Four Laws of Behavior Change, one for each of the part of The Habit Loop. The laws are easy to remember and apply in daily life. Each one individually helps to create a new habit or break an old one. Employing all four of them is an incredibly powerful recipe for behavior change.

It also helps you to reframe the idea of failure. James Clear offers up the analogy that each time you engage in your new habit, you’re casting a vote for the future version of yourself that you’re trying to build. One vote isn’t enough to change an election. It takes lots of them. Don’t beat yourself up. Just cast more votes for who you want to be. Personally, I found this to be a powerful metaphor. I think about it every time I fail. It helps me to keep my spirits up and to motivate me to do better next time.


This book is truly life changing. It’s honestly only one of two books that I’ve found to be so impactful, and in such a directly applicable way. The other was How to Read a Book.

Unlike How to Read a Book, Atomic Habits is incredibly approachable and easy to read. My wife and I read it together and her main complaint was that it’s a bit repetitive. I, however, found the repetition to be a good thing in that it reinforces and reframes ideas.

It’s been a couple of years now since I read this book and every time that I find myself engaging in a bad habit or wanting to build a new one, I think about the habit loop and look for ways to apply one of the Four Laws. Often times, applying a single law is enough. And when it’s not, there are three more to draw from and I can cast another vote next time.