Atomic Habits book review, summary and lessons

If you have any interest in productivity and self development, chances as you will have heard of this book before. I’ve seen this book absolutely everywhere for the last year, and almost all of the takeaways being positive. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while so I decided to make it my first book of February! As you’ll see in my picture, I used alot of sticky notes to highlight important bits, I did this so that I could write an in depth summary of what was covered, because even though you would get the most benefit from reading it yourself, I know not everyone has the time or effort to read- especially quite a hefty non fiction like atomic habits! Whilst most of the information given was taken from other sources, I thought it was a great collection of knowledge around building ( and breaking) habits, with very clear actionable steps.

I really expected it to be over hyped, but to my surprise it wasn’t! I’d heard parts of it referenced on youtube in various productivity videos, but I found it a lot more engaging and interesting to be reading it, perhaps I learn by reading + making notes, or perhaps you really do need to have read it to reap the benefits of it! I found all of the concepts discussed quite simple, James Clear broke it down to make it understandable and easy to digest, unlike some self help books, so don’t shy away from reading this in fear of it being too complex! The effects you get from this book are really up to you, if you don’t apply the tactics then you won’t see any difference but, if you do follow his tips he lays out, I’m sure the benefits would be life changing. I think I am hesitant to call a book ‘life changing’ as I don’t believe it is the book itself changing your life, I think it is you choosing to implement changes that is, but I guess if I were to call a book life changing then I would choose Atomic Habits.

Firstly, here are a few of the things I really liked about this book

  • really clear actionable information anyone can implement easily in their life
  • tables and diagrams to make information easy to understand
  • the main concept of ‘the four laws of behavior change’ was spread across the whole book, with chapters being split among these four laws, I found this made it a really cohesive read and made it more actionable. I prefered how it was multiple concepts under 4 main areas, as opposed to 20 different concepts under no specific areas.
  • chapter summaries! I loved this feature. At the end of each chapter a brief outline is given, this repitition making the information more memorable and solidified in your brain.

I’m going to summarise the content from the book, bringing in some of my highlights and things I found most impactful. You may want to write down a few of your habits that you want to start before this so you can try and make a quick plan for each of them in a few minutes.

So overall the book focuses on four main laws of behavior change: Make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, make it satisfying. The same goes for breaking bad habits but just the opposite, eg make it invisible, unattractive, hard and unsatisfying. These four stages link with cue, craving, response and reward. I’ll give an example linked in with these things so it is easier to understand, lets say the habit is you want to start a daily morning run. To make it obvious, you could lay running shoes out by your door, so you see them first thing when you wake up, this can be your cue. To make it attractive you could create a motivational ritual, where you dance to your favourite song for a minute before you start running, this could be the craving, as you pair the thing you want to do ( dance) with the thing you need to do ( run). To make it easy you could pre plan the route and have all your clothes and socks laid out ready for you, so there is no time wasted on rifling through your wardrobe, time that you could deside against going on your run in. To make it satisfying you could prepare a smoothie or breakfast you love for when you come back, this is your reward for going. If you did this system with your habits, you can work out the things you need to incorporate into your life to make it more likely you’ll sustain, and want to do your habits. This is the basic overview of the system you need to create and stick to habits, but I’m going to go into more detail on strategies you can use at each stage.

General strategies

Use systems not goals. It’s great to have your goal to motivate you and give you a reason for your habits but, you aren’t always going to be motivated. Instead of focusing on the end result, choose some habits that will help you succeed towards this area and try implementing them. A good revision system for example, built up of revision habits, will not only help you in your upcoming test, but all sorts of tests in your future as well, compared to having no system and just a goal to pass your upcoming test, which you may pass but it doesn’t leave you much better off for the future after the goal. Systems consisting of habits in your daily life are the key to success as they don’t require motivation, something that is never guaranteed, but resiliance, something which can be learnt and maintained. I think this is one of my biggest takeaways of Atomic habits. My dream of going somewhere like Cambridge is motivation to revise but, sometimes it won’t be enough to make me revise. But, a daily habit of at least 30 minutes of revision will as it won’t require me to feel motivated and energised- two feelings that are quite unreliable.

Another takeaway from this book seems obvious but still important to me. The only way to build sustainable habits is if they are actually attainable. A small habit may improve your life by 1% every week, but what about if you had 10 small habits everyday? Think about how all those little habits with little impact on your life, could add up to make a huge change, a huge long lasting change because small habits are a lot more sustainable than one big one. I guess this point is the whole reason it is called atomic habits but I hadn’t thought about it this way before so it was a key takeaway for me!

An important point is how your habits define your identity. To sum it up briefly, 1st choose your desired identity, 2nd prove to yourself it is who you are by small wins and habits. For example, if your identity is someone who excells at school and is headed towards an amazing job, prove to yourself you are this person by implementing habits that someone with this identity would have. In a way, fake it till you make it.

Make it obvious

In this section my two main takeaways were habit stacking and altering your environment. In summary habit stacking is the process of finding a habit you already have engrained, such as brushing your teeth after breakfast, and adding a new habit onto that habit, so it becomes obvious. For example: after brushing my teeth I will begin my stretching routine. By using habit stacking it can help you maintain your habits as it isn’t as hard as starting a complete new habit in isolation. I also liked the idea of altering your environment to make sure your cues are obvious, prompting your habits. The whole point of this stage is to create a cue that will prompt you to complete the habit, so for example if you wanted to create a habit of drinking a glass of water as soon as you wake up, place that cup of water where you will see it the second you wake up. Maybe get a bedside table so the water can be right next to you, change your environment around to make the cue as obvious as possible so you cannot forget this habit, make it so if you don’t complete the habit, you are actively choosing to go against it.

Make it attractive

If your habits aren’t attractive, you aren’t going to do them. My main takeaways from this section were more on the reverse side, about how bad habits you keep are attractive. For example the habit of constantly eating junk food probably exists because it is easy to get to and in sight, it is attractive to you because you associate the taste with happiness and satisfaction. You need to make your bad habits unattractive, so maybe making a rule you need to do 100 star jumps before you can even open the junk food cupboard, because this will stop you mindlessly snacking as 100 star jumps does not look attractive to you ( for most people!). One thing I liked from this section was about joining a community of people who share your desired identity, it doesn’t have to be an actual community, it could just be lots of people you follow or maybe something like a facebook group. If you are consuming content / having interactions with people completing your desired habits, these habits will become attractive to you as you don’t want to stand out.

Make it easy
Humans are primed to take the option with the least effort, so when applying this to habits we want, it is very unrealistic to expect to sustain an intense, hard habit. Like the environment bit I talked about before, making it easy means making your habit as easy to start and do as you possibly can. Same goes for opposite, eg to stop yourself from playing too many video games, unplug the console after every use to increase friction and make it harder to do, making it less likely you’ll do the bad habit. Another way to build habits I found interesting, but have not tried, is simplifying your promises to yourself. James Clear refers to it as the two minute rule, but my take on it was that it is a lot easier to start habits when you promise yourself less. Eg with running, instead of saying you want to go on a run, make your habit getting changed and running for 2 minutes. Once you have completed your two minutes of running, that is technically habit completed, but chances are you will want to continue. Telling yourself you are going for a two minute run sounds a lot less daunting than a 30 minute run, and it is easier to do. There may be days where you do genuinely only run two minutes and turn back, but as long as you keep doing it and build up that consistency it is worth it. Reframe your habits to make them easier to complete with environment change and simplifying them.

Make it satisfying

Reward yourself! Make completing a habit worthwhile by placing something exciting straight after. It has to be straight after your your brain won’t properly connect the dots! An example of making it satisfying would be rewarding yourself with an episode of a series you love after a few hours of revision, or maybe a yum breakfast waiting for you after a run. One of my main ways of making my habits satisfying is keeping a habit tracker, it is such a good feeling when you see your habits ticked off every day with no gaps, and this will also make you not want to miss a day so you don’t break the streak. Sometimes you will break the streak though, and this is why I liked James Clear’s idea of never missing two days. You need to enforce the rule that you can miss one day but never two, as two leads to three then to four ect ect. I’m currently trying to implement this as I feel like it is such a good way to avoid stopping your habits after a few down days.

So that was my in depth summary of James Clears book, atomic habits. I summed up the main notes and highlights from it, but certainly not all of the notes I made because if I were to write up those, this post would be a lot longer than 2000 words! This post is for me as well as I think it will be good for me to refer back to, to remind myself of things I can implement without having to re read the whole book, so hopefully it can serve as that for you as well. I may do a follow up post in a few months once I have tried and tested the techniques, so I can tell you which ones worked for me and which didn’t, as time is the only test for these sorts of things.

Have you read atomic habits? If you have be sure to let me know in the comments and share your thoughts with me- I’d love to know your opinions on it! Did you think it was over hyped/ nothing special or did you think it contained some great information? Thank you for reading and happy Monday! I hope you have a good day and see you again for another post on Wednesday!

mia x

8 thoughts on “Atomic Habits book review, summary and lessons”

  1. […] I don’t have any complaints for this book, I think it was a well curated bank of knowledge on building and sustaining habits, an essential read for anyone interested in self development. It was worth the hype in my opinion! I did an indepth review and summary here if you are interested in reading more about it: Atomic Habits book review, summary and lessons […]


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