8 Lessons from Atomic Habits | James Clear

Secret Formulas You Can Apply Now to Build Better Habit

Jack Yang
6 min readJun 14, 2020
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Overall Impression

The book is a short but definitive guide on how to transform your habits. I was a little skeptical when I first got the book since I didn’t expect too much information from this rather short book, and plus I have read several books on habit building such as The Power Of Habit and The Willpower Instinct, but I have to admit this is one of the most practical books on the subject. Clear includes not only scientific research to back up his claims but also provides hands-on tips on how to best utilize those findings. I apply many of the principles to my weight loss journey, and I have successfully lost 10 pounds in 2 months. I will demonstrate how I utilize lessons from the book to my own experience in the following and I hope it can help you with your habits as well. By the end of the summary, I will attach a list of useful formulas from the book that you can apply to your life right now.

Score: 4.5/5

Recommendation: anyone who wants practical habit-forming guidebook


1. If you want to work out more, be an athlete

The most fundamental way to change behavior is through changing the identity. For example, if you want to get fit, it requires more frequent exercise. If you think to yourself “Yuck, I have to go to the gym”, your goal of getting fit is contradictory to your personal identity as someone who does not want to be fit. It is much more difficult to achieve a fitter body because each exercise and diet is against your will. Instead, think to yourself, “I go to the gym because I’m an athlete”, you are much more likely to be fit as well as have an easier time doing so because your identity (athlete) is consistent with your desired outcome (get fit). In brief, if you want to change your behavior, you have to change your identity so that it aligns with your goal.

2. Good habits compound, so do bad ones.

In the book, Clear does some simple but cool math. If you improve 1% on something, you will end up 37 times better than when you started. On the other hand, if you worsen something by 1%, you will only be 3% as good as you once were. To add to that, I also did some calculations of my own. If you improve 1% each day over the next 3 years, the end result is 54,000 times better! Therefore, by making tiny improvements each day, you end up with a drastically better version of yourself by the end of the year.

3. If you want to improve the overall, improve the pieces

This is one of my main takeaways from the book. Clear mentioned the British cycling team was able to win world champions by breaking down everything into small pieces from tires to seats and perform upgrades on each of them. By combining with the compounding effect mentioned previously, you can identify every small aspect of something you want to improve on and make incremental upgrades over each day, the compounded resulting enhancement will be unbelievable. This relates to the system of habit-forming: cues, craving, response, and reward. By identifying and improving each aspect of the system, you will be able to form even the most difficult habits.

4. Make your habit obvious

The environment plays an important role in your habits because it is the first step in the habit loop: cues. For example, whenever you open your cabinet and you see a jar of delicious cookies, you either have to fight the temptation of having one or just surrender to it. Those who have the strongest willpower uses the least willpower. A common phrase is “out of sight, out of mind”. One of the best ways to resist temptation is to completely limit the exposure to it. Personally, I am a sucker for Rice Krispies and Doritos. During my weight loss, I had to give them all away to my friends, which was extremely challenging but effective. Without the lure of these delicious snacks, I was able to reduce caloric intake by a huge amount.

Being obvious does not only have to be in the visual term but the clarity on the action as well. It is much easier to accomplish something if you define the exact location and time and behavior in advance. To add on that, it is even better to have someone monitor your predefined action as an accountability partner. For example, I would tell my workout buddy Calvin, “let’s meet at the gym at 8pm tomorrow and do push workout” and we never missed a workout.

5. Make your habit attractive

This is the second step in habit building: craving. People like eating cheeseburgers because it makes them feel good. Due to marketing and consumer behavior, the world is engineered to be more attractive than ever. Food has never been so delicious looking. Malls have never been so dazzling. This attractiveness appeals to the primitive human desires and triggers the dopamine, which is the “feel-good hormone” that is released in anticipation of a reward. To build or break a habit, first identity the underly desires that are bring provoked. For example, are you scrolling through Instagram to satisfy you needs for social connections? Are you smoking to satisfy your needs for relief tension? Are you swiping through Tinder to satisfy your needs for reproduction? Such questions are uncomfortable to answer but directly addressing those needs is usually more effective than fixing the behaviors that are caused by those needs.

In addition, you can also cultivate a positive mindset. Use “I get to” instead of “I have to” to take over the autonomy of your action. For those who are on a diet, you probably know how difficult it is to eat chicken breast, especially to eat it every day for 2 months like I did. One way I did to make things better is to think to myself, “I get to eat chicken breast today and it will help me build more muscle!”

Another way to make a habit more attractive by pairing an existing feel-good habit so that your brain triggers dopamine next time you perform this action. For example, you can do 5 pushups when your video game is loading.

6. Make your habit easy

Modern apps and websites are designed so that it appeals to the law of least effort, which states that, between two actions, people will always take the one that requires the least amount of energy. For example, it is much easier to scroll to the next Tik Tok video than to start working on your homework, it is much easier to stay on the couch and watch Netflix than to get up do something. In order to have this law work for us, we should make the habit easier to perform by reducing its fiction. For example, if I want to work out first thing in the morning, I would put my gym clothes on a chair so that I wouldn’t have to look through my closet, which would add friction to my desired action.

7. Make your habit satisfying

It is the last step of habit-building: reward. This is also one of the most important factors when it comes to bad habits and why people are obsessed with instant gratification. People love shopping because it satisfies their needs for new looks. People love video games because it satisfies their needs for thrills. You can take advantage of this psychological effect by rewarding yourself after accomplishing good behaviors. An important note is to reward yourself something that aligns with your identity, as mentioned previously. I know people who reward themselves a milkshake after a workout and wonder why they gain weight. This is because their reward (milkshake) is contradictory to their identity (healthy). For example, during my weight loss phase, my personal identity is to be a fit person. I sometimes would reward myself with a tasty fruit smoothie after a particularly tough workout because both smoothie and exercise are aligned with my identity.

Another way to add diversity and manageable challenges to your repetition of habits. The human brains get a feeling of satisfaction from randomness (the reason gambling is so addicting) and conquering challenges (the reason games have many quests).

8. Formulas

  • Clarify habit: I will (BEHAVIOR) at (TIME) in (LOCATION)
  • Habit stacking: After (CURRENT HABIT), I will (NEW HABIT)
  • Positive mindset: I get to (NEW HABIT) instead of I have to (NEW HABIT)
  • Habit Shaping: Start with the first 2 minutes of a habit, then gradually increase the time
  • Temptation bundling: combine feel-good habit with a new habit
  • 1.0¹³⁶⁵ = 37.78