Atomic Habits - Summary and review

Updated: April 7th, 2024
Published: January 13th, 2024


What is Atomic Habits about

So, Atomic Habits is all about improving 1% each day and using habits to create unfair advantages in life. Techniques such as habit stackingthe 4 laws of habit formation and building identity can be used used to transform your life for the better, but also remove bad habits that are dragging you down. The five main takeways are:

  1. The Four Laws of Behavior Change can be used to create good habits. The four laws are: (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, (4) make it satisfying.

  2. Setting goals can be powerful, but even more important - focus on improving the process of getting there, and you will see true, long-lasting changes.

  3. Identity drives processes, which drives habits. By encoding new things into your identity you can drive real change. Focus on who you want to become, not goals of what you want to achieve.

  4. Motion vs action. Don’t get stuck in theory and planning - take action. Habits are created by repeating a behavior enough times to become automatic. Best is the enemy of good - waiting for a perfect opportunity or setting the bar too high often leads to taking no action.

  5. Just as you can use the four laws to introduce positive habits, you can use their counterparts to get rid of bad habits.

The five main points - going deeper

1. The Four Laws of Behavior Change can be used to create good habits

So, improving by 1% each day, results in an becoming 37.78 times better in a year (!). The following four laws of behavior change can be used to create good habits.


Cues are what triggers or initiate habits. A cue for working out could be seeing your running shoes, getting reminded you should go for a run. Thus, you could make this cue obvious by placing your shoes for running in the hallway so you see them before going to work, and immediately when coming home.Design your environment to make cues of good habits both obvious and visible.In order to introduce new habits and make them obvious you can also use methods like:

  • implementation intentions - clearly define when and where you will perform a habit: “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]”

  • habit stacking - add a new habit on top of an existing one: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT]”


Habits that are attractive and motivate you will be adopted into your life. If a habit is unattractive we likely won’t have enough willpower to do it over and over. Create a motivation ritual i.e. perform a difficult habit right after something you enjoy. For example, I turn on my favorite podcasts while going for a workout and riding my bike to work, or turn on a motivational song before doing sales calls.


Good habits should be smooth to perform. The amount of friction between you and the habit determines the likelihood of you performing the habit. Reduce this friction and you’re far on your way to secure your new habit. Pack the gym bag the night before, or prep your lunch boxes on the Sunday before your work week.


Desire is the source of all progress. The human brain is wired to do more of what gives us pleasure, historically quite immediate pleasure. In today’s world most rewards live far into the future, from the point where the behavior was completed.

A core problem here is that ‘We feel bad about our good habits immediately, but very good about them in the long run.’ Thus, there are techniques to make good habits immediately satisfying such as tracking your habits to create a streak or give yourself a smaller, but associated reward, upon completing the habit.For example, if you manage to avoid an expense - let’s say to not eat out, or purchase something unneccesary, immediately make a deposit of the same amount to your saving account. That will give you an instant reward and enforce the good habit, that would otherwise have a more abstract reward far into the future.

2. Power of improving the system, rather than outcome-based goals

Goals are a traditional way of initiating improvements, making sure they happen, and tracking their progress. However, when it comes to habits - there are three layers of behavior change - identity, processes, and outcomes. You want to work with changing the process of how you do things, that are not a goal you reach, or a finish line that you cross. Rather, it is a system to improve, an endless process to refine.

“Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.” - James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits

To take things further, you want to build identity-based habits, where you focus on who you want to become, not goals of what you want to achieve. Three layers of behavior change - Identity, processes, outcomes: page 30-31 Atomic Habits

3. Encode changes into your identity to drive long-lasting changes

By working with your identity, instead you can encode long-lasting changes that are tied to the deep core of who you are. Processes and identity do not end when a goal is reached, and can persist setbacks, without a discouraging binary completed/failed outcome.One could set the goal of ‘running a marathon’, but once you’re done, what now? Instead, encode your identity to include long-term health and well-being.For example, the identity of “I am an active athlete that enjoys nature and physical challenges” will help you tremendously in motivating yourself to not just go running, but also live an active life, take the stairs, go for hikes, ride your bike to work, etc. Soon that marathon will be just another day of your new life!


However, be aware of the dark sides of identity - when working against you - the identity can encourage you to deny weak spots and prevent you from truly growing.A good approach to mitigate this risk is to not make any single aspect of your identity an overwhelming portion of who you are. Don’t tie up your identity just to being an athlete, or founder. That will leave you lost when you get an injury, or sell your company. Instead of defining yourself by a role, define yourself by the aspects of that role that you love.

“Keep your identity small” - Paul Graham, Investor and Founder of YC

When 4-time Formula One champ Sebastian Vettel announced in 2022 his retirement, he highlighted the value of him having a built a parallell life outside of Formula One - identifying as being a father and husband, amongst other things.

“But as much as there is life on track, there is my life off track too.” Sebastian Vettel, Formula One champion

4. Break bad habits by reversing the four laws

Breaking a bad habit is simply a matter of reversing the four laws of behavior change:

  1. Make it invisible - prime your environment to hide all the cues of your bad habits

  2. Make it unattractive - reframe your mindset and highlight the benefits of avoiding the bad habit

  3. Make it difficult - increase the friction and use a commitment device to restrict the future choices to the ones that benefit you

  4. Make it unsatisfying - get an accountability partner who can watch your behavior, and create a habit contract to make your bad habits costly and painful

5. Don’t get stuck in planning without taking action - motion vs. action

When you are in motion, you are planning and strategizing. Motion is absolutely necessary, but in this phase you are not producing results. Thus, you need to be careful not to get stuck in this theoretical phase of motion. Action, on the other hand, delivers outcome.


Well, in motion there is no risk of failure, and we feel like we are making progress. Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism. Thus, we won’t put ourselves in positions where we can be vulnerable and produce results that can be critized.Best is the enemy of good. Waiting for a perfect opportunity, or theorizing too long, often leads to taking no action. We all have a tendency to do this - whether it is starting up that new business, podcast or Youtube channel - or simply, go workout.


Practice is the most effective form of learning. So focus on taking action, not being in motion. The power of an habit is defined by the number of times it has been performed, not how long you have been doing it for. So what are you waiting for? Now you got all the tools and theory you need - go out and get started with the habits you always wanted!

“Neurons that fire together wire together.” - Hebb’s Law

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✍️ My top 3 quotes These are, in my opinion, the top quotes from the book Atomic Habits.

Quote 1

Winners and losers have the same goals.

Quote 2

The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.

Quote 3

We feel good about our bad habits immediately, but very bad about them in the long run. /../ We feel bad about our good habits immediately, but very good about them in the long run.