Atomic Habits

Book Review

I really like this book. It’s the book that “The Power of Habit” should have been. This book & “Getting Things Done” are the only two books I would recommend to everyone. They both changed my life in a significant way for the better.

Book cover

Summary of the Summary

Habits have a compounding effect over time - and because of that, small habits done consistently eventually return huge results. They do more than help you achieve your goals, they bring you closer to being the person you want to be. So start by asking yourself “what does the person I want to be do?” Then create a system that enables doing those things. Good habits moves you toward being that person, bad habits away. Don’t focus too much on immediate goals, focus instead on exercising the system. Each time you repeat a habit, you cast a vote for your new identity. Find the joy in that instead of waiting for the joy of achieving your goal.

The basic habit loop is ⮎ cue → craving → response → reward ⮌. You can manipulate each step in this process to help adopt good habits and break bad ones.

Cue - make habit triggers obvious. Setup your environment to expose good cues often, and hide bad cues. Be very specific with when and how you will perform a habit. Try stacking a habit you aspire to do with one you already do.

Example: Place moisturizer next to the coffee machine. Tell yourself “after each time I press ‘brew’, I will moisturize my hands”.

Craving - make good habits attractive. Use temptation bundling to stack good habits with things you enjoy (ensuring the good habit and the thing you enjoy don’t cast conflicting votes toward your new identity). Also you can associate with people who already have the habit you want.

Example: “Only after my weekly review of budgets, will l watch the new episode of my TV show.”

Response - make the good habit easy & the bad habit hard. Tailor the environment to add or remove friction where possible. Many good habits can be automated & bad habits prevented via one-time actions. Quantity is often more important than quality. You’d benefit more from never failing to meet a daily goal of “do a 2 minute warmup” than from consistently failing to meet a daily goal “do a one hour workout”… and you’ll often find after you do the warmup it’s often easy to do the workout.

Example: Unplug the TV after each use and set your journal on the power cable. Commit to writing two sentences before plugging in the TV.

Reward - make it immediately satisfying to perform a good habit by using rewards. Habit trackers can supplement rewards, and be rewards themselves. Make bad habits painful by using a habit contract and an accountability partner.

Example: After finishing my workout, I will make myself a healthy smoothie and put an X on the calendar next to the blender. If I fail to put 3 Xes in any week this month, I have to do the whole family’s laundry by myself next month.

Habit trackers are immensely helpful. They are a cue that can serve as a craving and a reward. When using a habit tracker, don’t break the chain… and when it breaks, commit to not failing twice in a row.

Experiment with many different habits. Stick with what naturally works for you. Keep pursuing what is on the edge of your capability - not easy but not impossible. After mastering any given habit, after your interests change, or just every so often, reevaluate how your systems. Ask yourself: Have your habits become rote? Can you dive deeper? Should you to refine or upgrade the person you want to be?

Full Notes


the tiny element. The smallest irreducible unit of a larger system. Or: A source of great energy or power.
a routine performed regularly and consistently in response to a situation. Often times unconsciously.

The Habit Loop

Cue → Craving → Response → Reward →(reinforces the Cue)

The Four Laws of Behavior Change

Enabling Good Habits

Make the cue obvious. Make the craving attractive. Make the response easy. Make the reward satisfying.

Breaking Bad Habits

Make the cue invisible. Make the craving unattractive. Make the response difficult. Make the reward unsatisfying.


Case study: the English cycling team when from zeroes to heroes by focusing on “The accumulation of marginal gains”. They looked to make tiny, minuscule improvements in everything, and by doing so became Tour De France & Olympic winners.

Habits are the compounding interest of self improvement. Each little thing itself doesn’t have much effect, but the cumulative effects are significant. This goes in both directions. Good habits accumulate to great results, bad habits accumulate to catastrophe. A 1% bump each day for a year results in a year-over-year performance increase of 37x.

👉 Results are a lagging measure of habits.

Goal setting is good, but systems should be the real focus. Setting goals is not the determining factor for whether you achieve them. People who succeed and people who fail to win a race all set the same goal (to win it). Setting goals doesn’t not cause them to be achieved nearly as much as setting the systems in place to achieve them. Goals set up a pattern of differed happiness, meanwhile a focus on a system can lead to continual happiness. You aren’t thinking “I’ll lose 10 pounds, then I’ll be happy”, but instead you can be happy knowing you didn’t eat out today.

Valley of disappointment - the Ice Cube Example

You’re in a frigid room with an ice cube on the table. You work really hard to heat the room from 10 degrees to 11 degrees. Nothing happens. You work really hard to heat the room from 11 degrees to 12 degrees. Nothing happens. This process repeats itself over and over until you work really hard and go from 31 degrees to 32 degrees. Suddenly the ice cube melts overnight. It wasn’t that day’s work that melted the ice cube, it was the cumulative effects of all the work that unlocked the potential to make the change. It was overcoming the plateau. From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like an overnight success.

Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)

There are 3 levels of change.

Level 1: Outcome change.

Level 2: Process change.

Level 3: Identity change.

The most effective way to change your habits for the long term is to focus on who you want to be, not what you want to achieve.

Your identity is a result of the cumulative actions you take. Each small action (habit) is a vote toward your identity. You don’t need a unanimous vote, you just need a majority. The etymology of “Identity” has literally means “what you do continually”.

The Habit-Identity Feedback Loop

Your habits shape your identity. Your identity shapes your habits.

The first step is not “what” or “how”, but “who”? Are you becoming the person you want to be. What would that person do? This is an on-going process. You must continually refine and upgrade the answer to the question “who am I?”.

Rule #1: Make it obvious

Noticing cues is more difficult over time. Awareness is key, and difficult. Point and call train operators are intentionally keeping up awareness. The habit version of this is a “Habit Scorecard”. Literally just try to list out all your Habits throughout the day, then assign them a simple score for how they benefit or harm you in the long run. You could verbalize your own habits to be even more aware of them. “I’m going to have this energy drink, even though it’s bad for me.”

Be specific

Implementation intentions are good for follow through. “I will exercise at 6am in the home gym on Weekdays” is better than “I will exercise more”. Time and location are necessary details. Habit stacking is using a current habit as a cue for the habit you want. “I will exercise after I make coffee” (not a great example). You can write down a list of all the habits you want, then write down a list of things that you do every day, or things that happen to you every day… then map between them.

Get environmental

Environment is a powerful driver of behaviors. Design your environment to increase your exposure to positive cues, and reduce exposure to negative ones. If you have ingrained bad habits into one environment, maybe just find a new one. Whenever possible, avoid mixing contexts between habits… because soon you’ll only do the easier habit in that context.

Rule #2: Make it Attractive

This chapter was anemic compared to the others thus far in terms of practical advice, which is a bit of a shame because it was the least obvious-at-first-glance rule. It delved into dopamine and the role it plays in the brain and how hyper-palatable foods take advantage of it to ingrain bad (for you) habits that help the food designers sell more goods, as an example. The practical takeaway here was temptation bundling. Pair a good habit (something you need to do) with a thing you already like doing (something you want to do). This can be done in conjunction with habit stacking. When I make coffee (something I want to do), I will moisturize my hands (something I need to do).

With the help of others

Humans want to fit in. It’s an attractive prospect. You want to fit in with the close, the many, and the powerful. Try to associate with people who already have the habit you want.

I don’t really see how to “make it unattractive” would work - unless you paired a bad habit with something you hated doing? That doesn’t seem like it would be possible in all cases. Oh well. He also suggested trying to focus intensely on the negative aspect of your bad habits and you may be able to make them unattractive.

Rule #3: Make It Easy

Quantity begets quality. Doing a lot of things will often produce better results than trying to do the perfect thing. “Perfect is the enemy of Good” - Voltaire. Preparation can be a form of procrastination.

The Law of Least Effort

Rather than turn up the valve to get more water out, try unlinking the hose first. Same result, less pressure. Reduce friction between you and your habit. This is addition by subtraction.

Prime the environment to reduce friction between you and the good Habits you want and increase friction to the bad habits.

The Two Minute Rule

(not the GTD one). The best way to ensure follow through on Habits is to make the habit less than two minutes in length. Don’t make a habit to meditate for 30 minutes. Make the Habit to meditate for 2 minutes. It’s easy to commit to two minutes. You do that consistently and you’ll often find yourself doing more than that. It’s about showing up consistently.

Automation & One-Time Actions

There are some pretty sure fire ways to make good habits inevitable and bad ones impossible. Watch too much TV? Throw out your TV. Have your spouse change your social media password on Monday, and not give it to you until Friday night.

Rule # 4: Make it Satisfying

One common issue with good habits you can’t seem to keep is that, while they set you up for a satisfactory future - they aren’t really satisfying in the moment. Flossing keeps your teeth healthier, but isn’t really a blast. Employ immediate rewards for following through on long term goals. Make sure the short term reward doesn’t cast a vote in the opposite direction of the habit (don’t get ice cream after cardio). In the flossing example, you could use the time it takes you to floss to go to your favorite website.

Habit Tracking

Another way to make good habits more satisfying is to use a habit tracker. These can be applications on a phone, putting Xes on a calendar, or even using a physical counter. Habit trackers are great. They can be your cue, they can be a good source of satisfaction, and they keep you honest with yourself. If you are tracking a habit, your goal should be don’t break the chain and when life gets in the way, don’t miss two days in a row. I (Aaron) made a habit tracker. The Life Tracker 1.0 was essentially just a habit tracker. The author does talk for a bit about ensuring you’re not tracking the wrong things & that not everything should be tracked.

Make bad habits unsatisfying

The inverse rule, to be used for bad habits is to make them unsatisfying (or downright painful). One good way to do this is to write up a Habit Contract with an accountability partner. It could be something like “if I fail to track my macros any day in December, I will give my personal trainer $200 to use as he sees fit.” There are applications and websites that can help you do this sort of thing.

Long Term Success

Habit Selection

Not all habits are equally well suited to any given individual. You should seek variants of a habit that you want that are easiest for you. The author talked about the same thing that David Epstein wrote about in Range. A good path to success is to sample a lot of things, then stick with what works for you. When picking things to focus on, sometimes it’s good to look for things whose worst parts don’t seem to stick to you as much as they do to everybody else.

Your genetics can predispose you to succeeding in one thing over another, but they don’t predetermine that. When possible, play into your strengths. It will take you farther than focusing entirely on your weaknesses. You should be doing what works for you ~90% of the time. Use the other 10% to experiment with new stuff.

The Goldilocks Rule

Keep your habits and goals just hard enough. You should be just riding the edge between difficult and too difficult. You can maintain consistency in your habits (and grit) by finding this line. You will inevitably get bored, but you have to be able to push through boredom and continue to show up if you want to succeed long-term.

Mastery & Deliberate Practice

One you have ingrained a habit, you have to return to the effort full part of the work. If the habit becomes rote, dive deeper into it to find new areas to improve. You may benefit from periodic and systematic reviews of your habits.

Never stop

Never stop making improvements. Never stop redefining yourself. Don’t be too defined by any one thing. Adapt. Grow. Continue onward.