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Atomic Habits by James Clear.
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1-Page Summary1-Page Book Summary of Atomic Habits

More than 50% of your actions on any given day are automatic actions, or habits. These habits have been formed through repeated actions over the course of your life, and some serve you and some work against you. Because of their significant role in your life, understanding what habits are, how to change them, and how they shape who you are is important. In Atomic Habits, James Clear provides every aspect involved in forming new habits, breaking bad ones, and transforming your life for long-term success.

Small Adjustments Lead to Massive Transformations

Behavior does not happen in a vacuum. Each action creates a path that leads to other actions. Which actions or behaviors you perform dictates which actions or behaviors will follow. This is why forming good habits is so important. When you start with good behaviors, more good behaviors will follow.

This idea is grounded in the concept of compounding behaviors and is the essence of Atomic Habits. Atomic habits are small 1% improvements in behavior that, over time, compound into full-blown behavior change and positive habits.

To make the most of small increases, you need to adjust how you think about behavior change. There are three directions by which you approach behavior change: outcome-driven, process-driven, and identity-driven changes.

Outcome-Driven Habits

Outcomes are synonymous with goals. They represent the end result you wish to achieve through your behaviors. When you focus on the end goal of your behaviors, you tend to do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. But those behaviors may not be the most beneficial or capable of being repeated long-term. Further, once the goal is achieved, there is no reason to continue those specific behaviors. If you adapt your actions to serve one finite purpose, your actions also become finite.

  • For example, you may decide you want to have six-pack abs. You decide that doing crunches will lead to that outcome. You do 100 crunches a day until you have six-pack abs. Now that you have the abs you want, 100 crunches start to seem like a burden, and you lose motivation to do them because they are not connected with a goal.

Process-Based Habits

Processes are synonymous with systems. Within every long-term goal is a system of behaviors that link up to reach the desired outcome. Focusing on a systemic level pushes you to form habits that continually lead to successful results, thereby becoming more inherent, continual, and positive in the long-term.

When you focus on systemic level changes, you’ll make small positive adjustments in your actions, rather than performing one big action.

Identity-Based Habits

Identity is synonymous with who you are and how you live. Within your identity lies characteristics. When you approach habit change through this lens, you focus on forming behaviors that match the characteristics of the type of person you want to be. This direction is closely aligned with systems, in that the systems required to reach your chosen identity are informed by the characteristics of that identity.

  • Using the six-pack abs example, you determine that someone with six-pack abs must have a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, you desire to become someone with a healthy lifestyle. You decide that a combination of 10 crunches before bed, a low-calorie diet, and riding a bike instead of driving to work equals a healthy lifestyle. Over time, continuing to perform these actions leads to an overall healthier body that includes six-pack abs. Now, you have the abs you wanted and the habit of living more healthily.

When you work through the processes of your chosen identity, you stop being someone waiting to achieve a certain goal and start living as someone capable of achieving that goal over and over again.

Outcome-driven habits help you win the game. Process-driven habits teach you how to play the game and keep playing. Identity-driven habits help you decide which game to play. So work in reverse—start with your desired identity to find the right habits that lead to the right results.

How Do Habits Form?

The reason you continue to repeat certain behaviors relates to the way the brain takes in the associated information. Your brain understands behaviors as four separate stages that, when added together, lead to habits.

Four Stages of Habit Formation

These stages are the cue, the craving, the response, and the reward. Every habit you have is linked to these four stages.

The cue is the element that triggers the brain to notice an opportunity for a reward, or pleasure. A cue can be a smell, a sound, an event, an interaction, or anything else that triggers a desire. This desire is known as the craving.

The craving is the emotional relevance attached to a certain cue. When you notice the cue, the brain anticipates an opportunity for a change in your physical or emotional state. You crave the satisfaction that change will elicit, and this craving is what prompts you to act.

The response is the actual behavior, or habit, performed to elicit the change you desire. Your brain prompts you to take a certain action it believes will create the feeling of satisfaction you want.

The reward is the satisfaction gained from the action taken. You have successfully satisfied your craving and changed your physical or emotional state. The brain builds a pathway from the cue to this state of pleasure. Every time you experience the same cue, the brain will be triggered to desire that pleasure again. You will be prompted to perform the same action, thereby creating a habit.

The process works like this: Cue: You walk past a coffee shop on the way to work and smell fresh roasted coffee. Craving: Coffee gives you energy, and you want to feel energized. Response: You buy a cup of coffee. Reward: By the time you reach work, you are raring to go. Buying a cup of coffee becomes associated...

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Atomic Habits Summary Part I | Introduction: The History of Tiny Habits

There was no way James Clear could have known that an accident as a teenager would lead to his future career. But after learning the power of tiny habits in his life, he decided to share his insights and help others do the same, and it all started with a bat.

When Clear was a sophomore in high school, he dreamed of playing professional baseball. Then, one day, a teammate lost control of a bat he was swinging, and it hit Clear in the face. Clear suffered skull fractures as a result and was placed in an induced coma at the hospital.

After waking up, Clear found that the damage from his injuries had hindered his ability to see and perform certain motor functions. After a year of rehabilitation, Clear was back on the field, but his ability to play baseball was diminished. Still, he wanted to reclaim his dream.

Clear went to a small college, where he...

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Atomic Habits Summary Chapter 1: It’s More Important to Play the Game than Win

The concept behind Atomic Habits relates to 1% improvements in behavior that lead to significant, lasting behavioral transformations. Often, when we want to change our lives, we get caught up in the belief that major change requires a massive expenditure of time and energy. However, by focusing on the system of behaviors, rather than the outcome of those behaviors, major shifts in who we are and what we do become easy and more sustainable.

Systems vs. Goals

In every facet of life, there are winners and losers. Whether it’s a game, a job, an award, or an achievement, there are always going to be those who succeed and those who fail. But both winners and losers start with the same goal, so what makes the difference between the two? The answer lies in the priority put on goals and systems.

A goal is the end result you desire. If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal may be to make the Fortune 500 list one day. Systems, on the other hand, are the processes that lead to the result. As an entrepreneur, your system might be to hire a competent staff, launch a major marketing campaign, and form high-profile partnerships. **If your processes are successful, you will...

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Shortform Exercise: Have You Checked Your Systems Lately?

An atomic habit requires fortitude, patience, and a good process for it to grow into a significant and permanent change in your life. Now that you know how small behaviors lead to big habits, how can this information help you achieve your goals?


What are one or two habits you have tried to develop or break recently? Were you successful?

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Atomic Habits Summary Chapter 2: You Are What You Do

The process of changing habits is really the process of changing who you are or becoming who you want to be. Your behaviors must match your sense of self for them to be lasting, but understanding who you are can be tricky and knowing which behaviors to change even trickier. Once you understand the connection between identity and habits, you’ll find the right path for your life and stick to it.

The Layers of Change

There are three ways, or layers, in which we think about change. The direction in which we think about them makes all the difference in our success.

The outer layer consists of outcomes. As stated, focusing on outcomes to prompt change is the most common approach. You have an end result in sight, so you adjust your behaviors to reach that goal.

The middle layer consists of processes. The behaviors involved in your system become the focus of your change. Most habits are associated with this layer.

The inner layer consists of your identity. This layer encompasses your opinions, beliefs, and assumptions about yourself and the world. Changes in behavior are motivated by the type of person you are or want to be.

Working from the outside in when...

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Shortform Exercise: Are You Happy with You?

The relationship between identity and habits illuminates many factors that may be getting in the way of change in your life. How can this information help you to create better habits?


Look at three of your current habits. What do they say about the type of person you are?

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Atomic Habits Summary Chapter 3: How Habits Are Formed

Habits form when the brain processes the four stages of behavior: cue, craving, response, and reward. The brain is always actively taking in information from the outside world. When you are presented with a situation, the brain runs through a list of options to decide how best to respond. Through a process of trial and error, the brain deciphers which response elicits the best results. The response that delivers the most satisfaction is the one that will stick.

Each time you come across a similar situation, you will remember the satisfaction gained from that particular response and repeat it. Therefore, habits are nothing more than solutions found to manage life’s problems.

The Great Cat Escape

In an experiment, cats were placed in boxes and had to press a lever to be let out. This experiment exemplifies how the mind becomes conditioned to a certain response once doing it leads to a positive result.

At first, the cats sniffed each corner of the box and clawed at the walls. Finally, either by accident or persistence, they found the lever, and one side of the box slid open. The test was repeated with each cat, and each time, the cat found the lever...

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Shortform Exercise: How Were Your Habits Formed?

Now that you know the stages through which habits are formed, let’s look at some of your current habits to determine how you got them.


What is a bad habit you currently have?

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Atomic Habits Summary Part II: Applying the Framework ︱ Chapter 4: Making Cues More Obvious

Habits can form from cues you aren’t even aware of. You are taking in information even when you don’t realize it. In the world of habits, this means you are reacting to cues and forming habits often without your knowledge. To be able to form a good habit or break a bad one, you must start with awareness of the habit and the cues that create them. Therefore, you need to find ways to make your cues and habits obvious.

The Habit Scorecard

Making a list of your daily activities helps bring your habits out of the unconscious to the surface. A habit scorecard is one way to keep track of the things you do regularly. Create a list of all the actions you make on a daily basis so your habits are brought into view.

  • Your scorecard might include the following list: 1. Wake up. 2. Get out of bed. 3. Use the bathroom. 4. Brush teeth. 5. Make coffee. 6. Etc.

Once you’ve filled out your scorecard, determine which habits serve you, hurt you, or neither in the long run. All habits are formed to address some issue or problem in your life, and only you can be the judge of which ones cast votes for the person you want to be. There should be no judgments or criticisms about...

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Shortform Exercise: Timing Is Everything

Now that you understand how to make cues more obvious, how can you use this knowledge to start new behaviors in your life?


What is one daily new habit you wish to form?

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Shortform Exercise: Shaping Your Visual Environment

You’ve learned that sight is the most powerful cue, so how can this information help you create and break habits?


Using the new daily habit from the previous exercise, what is a visual object that relates to this habit? How can you use this object to create a visual cue for the habit?

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Atomic Habits Summary Chapter 5: Making Cravings More Attractive

Cravings are the brain’s way of signifying that something is missing inside. Your habits are the time-tested strategies used to create shifts in your physical or emotional state to fill the void. There are many ways to address satisfying either of these states, but you will use the one that satisfies them in the most pleasurable way. To ensure you are motivated to act in a positive way, you must make the right behavior a more attractive option for satisfying your craving. But first, you must understand where cravings come from and why they are so powerful.

Historical Relevance

Many of your current cravings are grounded in your ancestry. Humans have evolved significantly since the time of hunters and gatherers. Science and technology have increased your ability to live more efficiently and find a wealth of resources to address your needs. However, what hasn't changed are the underlying motivations that influence behaviors. Every behavior stems from some type of underlying motive. Your habits are contemporary solutions to address ancient motivations, which include the following:

  • The need to survive, reserve or build strength, find companionship, be accepted...

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Shortform Exercise: Does Your Community Support Your Identity?

Who you associate with and where you live play big roles in the behaviors you perform. Do your social circle and environment help motivate you to be the person you want to be?


What is a bad habit you currently have that was influenced by your social group?

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Shortform Exercise: Mind Over Matter

You’ve learned that the way you think about your life can influence your motivation for life. How can you use temptation bundling and signal switching to improve your behaviors?


What is one habit you’d like to do daily? What is a different, current habit you enjoy doing?

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Atomic Habits Summary Chapter 6: Simplify Your Responses

Now that you understand how to create more positive cues and cravings, the time to act is upon you. The law governing the third stage of habit formation is to make the response easy. But making a habit easy doesn’t mean doing easy things. Making habits easy means creating pathways for behavior that are low in friction and high in follow-through. So, what does it mean to act, and how are these pathways created?

Motion versus Action

Preparing for change is an effective way to trick yourself into thinking you’re forming better habits when all you’re really doing is procrastinating. You research the latest diet trends, seek out the best get-rich-quick scheme, or look for the most optimal side hustle. When you get trapped in the process of looking for the best solution, you never move beyond the act of looking to actual action.

Motion is what happens when you take time to plan, research, and design the process of changing. When working for you, motion helps you gather your thoughts and determine what your first steps will be to change your system. When working against you, motion gives you the illusion of making progress. You feel the forward movement of action...

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Shortform Exercise: The Two-Minute Tango

Trying to tackle a new habit all at once can lead to disappointment and reduced activity. How can you incorporate the two-minute rule into your desired habits to help you stay motivated?


Name one habit you wish to begin this year.

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Shortform Exercise: Making a Big Commitment

Both commitment devices and one-time actions require foresight to keep you moving in the right direction. What are some ways these strategies can help improve your habits?


What is one current task or behavior in your life that could benefit from a commitment device?

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Atomic Habits Summary Chapter 7: The Pleasure Point

The cardinal rule of habits is “what is rewarded is repeated; what is punished is avoided.” So far, you’ve learned the necessary steps to help motivate you to begin a new habit or break a bad one. The first three stages of habit formation—cue, craving, and response—all work to help you create a new behavior. The final stage—reward—helps you duplicate the behavior.

All habits are based on anticipated pleasure because pleasure triggers the brain to remember what happened to create it. Satisfaction is the final link in the habit loop, which is why the fourth law of habit formation is “make it satisfying.” However, for satisfaction to impact behavior, the sensation must be experienced immediately.

Instant versus Delayed Rewards

Modern society is structured as a “delayed-return environment,” in which the rewards for many actions come at a later point in the future.

  • Only after weeks of work do you receive payment for your services.
  • Only after a steady routine of exercise and healthy eating do changes in your body become noticable.

However, human nature is embedded in an “immediate-return environment” inherited from early humans and the animal kingdom,...

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Shortform Exercise: Rewarding Behavior

We all have habits we want to start or break. But willpower is often not enough of a motivator. How can the tips from this chapter help you stick to good habits and leave bad ones behind?


What is one habit you wish to start that falls into the category of habits of avoidance? (These are habits that involve not doing something, like not drinking alcohol for a month or not spending money on unnecessary items.)

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Atomic Habits Summary Part III: Mastering Atomic Habits︱Chapter 8: It’s What’s Inside that Counts

If you want to develop habits that are easy to maintain and lead to success, choose habits that align with your capabilities. Behaviors that highlight your strengths and interests will be more enjoyable and easier to stick with.

Your Genes and Your Habits

Everyone has different talents, abilities, and interests, and your genetic make-up has a lot to do with what yours are. Your genes encompass characteristics that create your personality. Although genes are immutable, they are flexible in how they support your life choices. Put your energy toward things that excite you, and your genes will give you a successful edge.

When working for you, genetic predispositions give you an advantage. When working against you, they give you a disadvantage. Genes do not determine your destiny, but they do determine which opportunities will benefit you the most.

Environment has a lot to do with whether your genes work for or against you. This is why selecting the right behaviors and environment is crucial for your success.

  • Consider a 7’0” muscular young man. His genetic make-up gives him height and strength, but these predispositions are only useful in the right...

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Shortform Exercise: Making Who You Are Work for You

Do you know what your genetic predispositions say about what habits are right for you?


What is fun for you but hard for others?

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Atomic Habits Summary Chapter 9: How to Keep Showing Up and Pushing Through

Losing motivation is one of the biggest killers of habit formation. You lose motivation for several reasons, including choosing the wrong habits to start, not seeing progress fast enough, and failing to allow small changes to lead to others. However, one of the biggest killers of motivation is boredom.

Why You Lose Interest

We tend to believe that successful people work from a super-charged place of eagerness and fortitude. Because of this, you likely believe that you must get “amped up” to accomplish a difficult task. You take any signs of boredom as evidence that you need a new challenge. These ideas promote quitting a positive behavior simply because it’s not exciting anymore.

To really succeed at forming positive habits, you must accept that boredom is inevitable. You must also acknowledge that feeling bored doesn’t mean the behavior is no longer valid.

What Is Boredom?

Boredom is the state experienced when something stops being novel or entertaining. Regarding habits, boredom occurs when new habits become automatic and easy.

Mastery requires practice, but the more you practice one behavior, the more mundane that behavior becomes. When habits...

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Shortform Exercise: Are You Being Challenged?

Keeping your behaviors moving in a direction of variable rewards is a good way to keep them challenging and interesting. How can you improve your good-enough behaviors to keep moving forward?


What is one habit you currently do well? What identity does this habit support?

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Shortform Exercise: Is Your Identity Flexible or Fragile?

When you define your identity through the lens of a single action, behavior, or aspect, your identity becomes fragile. Redefine your identity to focus on a system of characteristics.


What is your current identity or desired identity? Is it flexible (e.g. “I’m a person who eats conscientiously and healthily”) or fragile (e.g. “I’m a vegan”)?

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Atomic Habits Summary Chapter 10: Habits for the Future and Beyond

It’s hard to fathom that one small change in behavior can truly transform your entire life. But through the processes described in Atomic Habits, you’ve learned that small adjustments in the right behavior systems can lead to long-term success. Knowing this, is there any reason to think that one small change can’t snowball into a different mode of living?

If you’re still dubious, think about the example of a self-made millionaire. This person didn’t start out with a pile of money and simply add more to it. They started with nothing and made small gains financially. They built upon those gains one by one until they’d amassed a large sum of money, or their first million. The processes by which they did this varied.

  • They made small investments, turning small sums of cash into large sums of cash.
  • They used their profits to expand their business or purchase property, which brought in more money.
  • They put money into savings accounts with high interest returns.

They have all the money they could need now because of the success of these actions, but they had to start with that first dollar before any of it could have happened.

That first dollar is no different...

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Shortform Exercise: The Path to the Moon

You might be wondering why it’s better to manage expectations than shoot for the moon. Now that you understand the relationship between satisfaction and expectations, how can you apply this relationship to previous pain experienced due to failure?


When was the last time you felt pained by failing to achieve what you wanted?

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Shortform Exercise: Your Future Identity and Behaviors

Throughout this summary, you’ve learned about different ways of thinking about habits and how to address behaviors in your life. How has the information in Atomic Habits helped you view your behavioral trajectory now and in the future?


What aspect of habit formation resonated the most with you?

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Part I | Introduction: The History of Tiny Habits
  • Chapter 1: It’s More Important to Play the Game than Win
  • Exercise: Have You Checked Your Systems Lately?
  • Chapter 2: You Are What You Do
  • Exercise: Are You Happy with You?
  • Chapter 3: How Habits Are Formed
  • Exercise: How Were Your Habits Formed?
  • Part II: Applying the Framework ︱ Chapter 4: Making Cues More Obvious
  • Exercise: Timing Is Everything
  • Exercise: Shaping Your Visual Environment
  • Chapter 5: Making Cravings More Attractive
  • Exercise: Does Your Community Support Your Identity?
  • Exercise: Mind Over Matter
  • Chapter 6: Simplify Your Responses
  • Exercise: The Two-Minute Tango
  • Exercise: Making a Big Commitment
  • Chapter 7: The Pleasure Point
  • Exercise: Rewarding Behavior
  • Part III: Mastering Atomic Habits︱Chapter 8: It’s What’s Inside that Counts
  • Exercise: Making Who You Are Work for You
  • Chapter 9: How to Keep Showing Up and Pushing Through
  • Exercise: Are You Being Challenged?
  • Exercise: Is Your Identity Flexible or Fragile?
  • Chapter 10: Habits for the Future and Beyond
  • Exercise: The Path to the Moon
  • Exercise: Your Future Identity and Behaviors