“Atomic Habits” Book Summary: How to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones?

Last Updated: October 3, 2023 | by Paul Harstrom

Habits are a fundamental aspect of personal and professional success. They shape our actions, behaviors, and, ultimately, our outcomes. That is why atomic habits can be considered a building block of achievements, just like atoms being a building block of matter around us. 

Just as compound interest grows exponentially, the impact of small, incremental improvements through consistent habits can lead to significant progress and breakthroughs.

By understanding the science and psychology behind atomic habits, business owners and entrepreneurs can take deliberate actions to create a path toward exceptional business growth.

James Clear introduces the concept of “Atomic Habits,” which refers to the small basic units of behavior that shape our daily routines and ultimately determine our outcomes. He highlights the significance of focusing on the process rather than solely on the end goal, emphasizing that we can achieve unparalleled success by improving our systems and habits.

Atomic Habits Book Cover - Learn Atomic Habits Lessons for Lasting Change

So, anyone seeking to improve their habits should keep on reading this article till the end because in this summary of “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones,” we are going provides practical strategies and actionable advice on How to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, and overcome common obstacles.

1. The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits in Producing Compound Effect:

In the book “The Atomic Habits,” James Clear talks about the power of small habits and how they can make a big difference in our lives. He uses the example of British Cycling’s transformation under Dave Brailsford’s leadership. 

Brailsford, a British cycling coach, focused on making tiny improvements in various aspects of cycling, such as bike seats, tires, and even hand-washing techniques. These small changes increased over time and led to remarkable success, including multiple Olympic gold medals and Tour de France victories.

The author emphasizes that we often underestimate the value of small improvements and overestimate the need for significant, dramatic actions. Making small, consistent improvements every day can have a significant impact in the long run.

Clear compares the compounding effect of habits to compound interest in finance. Just as money multiplies over time, our habits multiply their effects as we repeat them. So we should pay attention to our habits, as they can compound for us or against us.

“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves, and branches grow. Breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a mighty oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

Furthermore, the book Atomic Habits highlights the importance of understanding that progress is not always linear. There is often a period where nothing seems to change, but this is the “Plateau of Latent Potential.” Let’s discuss what exactly this plateau is.

What Is The Relationship Of “Atomic Habits” With The Plateau Of Latent Potential?

As explained by James Clear in “Atomic Habits,” Imagine you have an ice cube placed on a table in a cold room. As the room slowly heats up, the temperature rises by one degree at a time.

Initially, the ice cube has no noticeable change from 25 to 31 degrees. However, when it reaches 32 degrees, the ice begins to melt. This seemingly insignificant one-degree shift unlocks a significant transformation

This pattern of incremental progress leading to a breakthrough is not limited to ice cubes. It can be observed in various aspects of life. Cancer, for example, spends most of its time undetectable, gradually growing within the body until it takes over within months.

Similarly, bamboo seems to make minimal progress in its early years, focusing on building a solid root system underground. But after several years, it suddenly grows ninety feet tall in weeks. 

According to Clear, The Plateau of Latent Potential refers to a stage in personal growth or skill development where progress stalls. It is a phase where despite consistent effort and hard work, it may seem that no significant improvement is being made. 

During this period, it is common to experience frustration and doubt as the desired results or breakthroughs have not yet materialized.

“When you finally break through the Plateau of Latent Potential, people will call it an overnight success.”  James Clear, Atomic Habits

The Plateau of Latent Potential concept suggests that although progress may be slow or imperceptible on the surface, there is a hidden accumulation of efforts and changes occurring beneath the surface.

It is akin to the ice cube analogy mentioned earlier, where the temperature gradually rises without any visible effect until a critical point is reached, leading to a sudden transformation.

The compounding effect teaches us that significant achievements often require patience, persistence, and Faith in the process, as the most effective outcomes are often delayed and only manifest when the latent potential is endured. Clear illustrates this concept in the words of Jacob Riis, a social reformer:

“When nothing seems to help, I look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow, it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it—but all that had gone before.”

It serves as a reminder to focus on the journey rather than solely on the outcome, knowing that the culmination of all previous efforts will eventually lead to the desired results.

Also, read “The One Thing” and The Astonishing Power of Focus

2. Forget About Goals, Fall In Love With The System Of Atomic Habits:

Many believe that achieving what we want in life requires setting specific goals, whether getting in shape, building a successful business, or spending more time with loved ones. We all set goals for various areas of our life. 

While we achieve some goals, we also fail at many of them. James Clear realized that his success wasn’t solely determined by the goals he set, but instead by the systems he followed.

“Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

The distinction between systems and goals is crucial. Goals are about the desired outcomes, while systems focus on the processes that lead to those outcomes. 

For instance, an entrepreneur’s goal may be to build a million-dollar business, and the system involves testing product ideas, hiring employees, and running marketing campaigns.

Here’s the exciting part: if we ignore our goals and solely focus on improving our systems, we can still succeed. 

Take the example of a basketball coach who disregards the goal of winning a championship and instead concentrates on improving their team’s daily practice sessions. They increase their chances of achieving the desired outcome by continuously getting better each day.

“If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

There are several reasons why a systems-first approach is beneficial for business owners and entrepreneurs:

A. Winners and Losers Often Have the Same Goals: 

Setting ambitious goals doesn’t guarantee success. Many people may share the same objectives, but the systems they implement make a difference. 

They can achieve better outcomes by focusing on continuous small improvements and refining their systems.

B. Goals Provide Momentary Changes: 

Merely achieving a goal is temporary if the underlying systems and habits remain unchanged. Real progress happens when we address the root causes and improve the systems driving our results. 

“To improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs, and the outputs will fix themselves.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

By fixing the inputs (systems), the outputs (results) will naturally improve.

C. Goals Can Restrict Happiness: 

The belief that happiness will come only after achieving a specific goal can be limiting. By falling in love with the process and finding satisfaction in the systems we follow, we can experience happiness along the way. 

A systems-first mentality allows us to appreciate different paths to success and enjoy the journey.

D. Goals May Hinder Long-term Progress: 

Focusing solely on a specific goal can create a “yo-yo” effect, where people revert to old habits once the goal is accomplished. On the other hand, building systems emphasize continuous improvement and long-term thinking, enabling sustained progress even after achieving specific goals.

Adopting a systems-first mentality can be immensely helpful for business owners and entrepreneurs. It encourages them to focus on the processes, habits, and strategies they employ rather than solely fixating on outcome-based goals. 

“The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

By continuously refining their systems, making small improvements, and embracing a long-term perspective, they can drive scalable and repeatable business growth and achieve remarkable results.

James Clear – Atomic Habits

3. Identity Change Is The North Star Of Habit Change:

In the book “Atomic Habits,” James Clear explores the relationship between habits and identity, highlighting how habits shape our identity and vice versa. 

“It is a simple two-step process: Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

Clear argues that changing our habits is challenging because we often focus on the wrong things and attempt to change our habits incorrectly. Clear emphasizes the importance of identity concerning habit as:

“Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the person you wish to become.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

He introduces three layers of behavior change by comparing it with three successive layers of an onion: 

  • Changing outcomes (outermost sphere)
  • Changing processes (middle sphere)
  • Changing identity (innermost sphere)

According to Clear, many people focus on changing outcomes or processes without considering the underlying beliefs and identities that drive those behaviors. 

“Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

He suggests that actual behavior change occurs when it becomes an identity change. By shifting our focus from outcome-based to identity-based habits, we can align our behaviors with the type of person we want to become.

“Over the long run, however, you fail to stick with habits because your self-image gets in the way. This is why you can’t get too attached to one version of your identity. Progress requires unlearning. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to edit your beliefs and upgrade and expand your identity continuously.”  James Clear, Atomic Habits

Clear explains that our behaviors reflect our identity, and changing our habits is a way to embody that identity. He emphasizes that the more pride we have in a particular aspect of our identity, the more motivated we are to maintain the habits associated with it. 

“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity.” Atomic Habits

However, he also cautions that identity change can work against us if we become too attached to one version of our identity, as it can hinder our ability to change and adopt new habits.

“Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to edit your beliefs and upgrade and expand your identity continuously.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

Click here to learn how WiLD Toolkit offered by LEAD Diligently can help shape your leadership identity.

4. How to Build Good Habits In 4 Simple Steps?

By understanding the science behind habit formation, you can build better habits that align with your goals in your life. The habit loop, as explained by James Clear in “Atomic Habits,” consists of four stages: cue, craving, response, and reward. 

The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, leading to a reward. This cycle forms the basis of habit formation. Following are the four simple steps to build better habits:

A. Pay Attention to Cues: 

Cues are triggers that initiate a habit. They can be external (such as a specific time of day or a visual cue) or internal (such as an emotional state or a thought). 

By identifying and being aware of your cues, you can become more intentional about your habits.

B. Crave the Change: 

Cravings are the motivational force behind habits. They are not necessarily about the habit itself but the change in state or outcome that the habit delivers. 

Understanding what you truly desire from a habit can help you stay motivated and focused.

C. Choose the Right Response: 

The response is the actual habit or action you perform. It should be aligned with your desired outcome and effective in solving your problem. 

Consider the actions within your capabilities likely to lead to the desired result.

D. Reward Yourself: 

Rewards play a crucial role in habit formation. They satisfy your craving and reinforce the behavior. Make sure the rewards you choose are meaningful and enjoyable to you. 

This will strengthen the habit loop and increase the likelihood of repetition.

5. How Is “The Atomic Habits” Helpful To Make Your Habit Pattern Strong?

Follow these steps if you want to make your habit pattern strong:

A. Practice and Repeat: 

Habits are formed through repetition. Consistently practicing the habit in response to the cue and being rewarded reinforces the behavior and makes it more automatic over time. The more you repeat the habit, the stronger it becomes.

B. Eliminate Barriers and Friction: 

Reduce the friction associated with your desired habits. Remove any obstacles or distractions that hinder your ability to perform the habit. Make the habit as easy and convenient as possible to increase the chances of sticking with it.

C. Be Mindful and Reflect: 

Please pay attention to your habits and their impact on your life. Reflect on whether they are helping you achieve your goals or if they need adjustments. Being mindful allows you to make conscious choices and modify your habits accordingly.

D. Start Small and Build Momentum: 

Begin with small, achievable habits and gradually build upon them. Starting with manageable actions increases the likelihood of success and builds momentum for more significant changes in the future.

E. Stay Consistent: 

Consistency is key to habit formation. Please stick to your habits even when it becomes challenging, or you face setbacks. Building better habits takes time and effort, and consistency will help solidify them.

The author of “Atomic Habits” also emphasizes the transformative power of recognizing patterns and cues in our lives. By adopting the Habits Scorecard and employing the Pointing-and-Calling technique, individuals can cultivate self-awareness, modify their behavior, and improve their atomic habits. 

James Clear provides a practical roadmap for personal growth and development through these strategies.

The four laws of behavioral change in the context of “Atomic Habits” align with the habit loop model. They emphasize the importance of creating clear cues, fostering motivation and craving, simplifying the behavior, and providing immediate rewards. 

By understanding and applying these laws, individuals can effectively modify their habits and establish positive behavior patterns. Let’s discuss briefly these laws and their effect on our habit formation.

6. The Atomic Habits And Four Laws Of Behavior Change:

As we discussed earlier the habit loop and its 4 stages: cue, craving, response, and reward. These four stages form a neurological feedback loop that allows us to create automatic habits. 

The process happens rapidly and unconsciously, and it influences our behavior constantly. The habit loop can be divided into two phases: 

  • The problem phase
  • The solution phase

The problem phase includes the cue and the craving, where we recognize that something needs to change. The solution phase involves the response and the reward, where we take action to achieve the desired change.


All behavior is driven by the desire to solve a problem, whether obtaining something good or relieving pain or stress. The habit loop can be seen in various real-life examples, such as:

  • Flipping on the light switch in a dark room
  • Checking a text message on your phone
  • Biting nails when feeling stressed
  • Drinking coffee to feel alert upon waking up

These four laws of behavior change provide a practical framework for creating good habits and breaking bad ones. The laws are:

1. Make it obvious (Cue): Identify the cues that trigger the desired behavior.

2. Make it attractive (Craving): Make the habit appealing and create a sense of motivation or craving.

3. Make it easy (Response): Simplify the habit and reduce its friction.

4. Make it satisfying (Reward): Provide immediate rewards or satisfaction upon completing the habit.

By following these laws, you can design habits effectively. Conversely, to break a bad habit, you can invert the laws:

  • Make the cue invisible
  • Make the habit unattractive
  • Make it difficult to respond
  • Make the reward unsatisfying

Understanding and applying these four laws can help in creating positive behavior changes. They are applicable in various fields and can be used to tackle different challenges. 

By considering how to make a behavior obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying, you can align your habits with human nature and increase the likelihood of success.

7. What Is The Best Way To Start A New Habit?

In “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”, James Clear discusses the best way to start a new habit and emphasizes the importance of implementation intentions and habit stacking. The author begins by describing a study conducted in 2001 by researchers in Great Britain. 

The participants were divided into three groups: 

  • A control group
  • A motivation group
  • A group that created implementation intentions

The results showed that the group that formulated a specific plan for when and where they would exercise had the highest success rate in developing the habit.

Implementation intentions refer to planning when and where to act beforehand, leveraging time and location cues.  The format for creating an implementation intention is described as follows: 

“When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.”  James Clear, Atomic Habits

Many studies have shown that implementation intentions effectively stick to goals and form habits in various areas, such as recycling, studying, and stopping smoking.

James Clear also introduces the concept of habit stacking, which involves pairing a new habit with an existing habit. This strategy, created by BJ Fogg, helps create an obvious cue for the new habit. 

The formula for habit stacking is:

“After CURRENT HABIT, I will NEW HABIT.” James Clear, Atomic Habits

Several examples are given to illustrate how habit stacking can be applied in different areas of life, such as meditation after morning tea, ten pushups after closing my laptop, gratitude after eating something, and financial decisions tied to some daily habits.

Furthermore, the author of The Atomic Habits discusses the influence of the environment on human behavior. It highlights the role of cues and surroundings in shaping our habits and decision-making. 

The concept of choice architecture is introduced, emphasizing how small environmental changes can lead to significant behavior changes. The example of rearranging drinks in a hospital cafeteria to promote healthier choices is provided to illustrate this idea.

Clear concludes by emphasizing the importance of being aware of the environment’s impact on behavior and leveraging it to support desired habits. 

It suggests that by making the time and location of a habit obvious and using habit stacking, individuals can increase the likelihood of following through with their intentions. The ultimate goal is to create a concrete action plan and eliminate vague aspirations.

8. Why Should We Walk Slowly, but Never Backward?

James Clear discusses the importance of taking action and the difference between being in motion and doing something. The author shares an anecdote about a photography class where students were divided into two groups:

  • Quantity
  • Quality

The quantity group had to produce many photos, while the quality group had to produce just one perfect photo. 

Surprisingly, the quantity group produced the best photos at the end of the term because they were actively practicing and learning from their mistakes. At the same time, the quality group spent too much time speculating and had little to show for their efforts.

Clear emphasizes that it’s easy to get caught up in finding the optimal plan or approach for change, such as losing weight or starting a side hustle, without actually taking action. 

The author quotes Voltaire, who said, 

“The best is the enemy of the good,”  James Clear, Atomic Habits

Highlighting the trap of seeking perfection and delaying action. Motion, which includes planning and strategizing, is important but doesn’t produce tangible results. Action, on the other hand, is what delivers outcomes.

The author explains that motion often makes us feel like we’re making progress without facing the risk of failure or criticism. It’s a way to avoid taking action and facing potential setbacks. However, motion alone doesn’t lead to results. 

Only through action, by actually doing the work, can we achieve the desired outcomes. Thus Clear encourages readers to focus on action rather than staying in motion.

The author then discusses the process of habit formation, which involves repetition and practice. The more we repeat a behavior, the more automatic it becomes, and our brain’s neural connections strengthen. 

In “Atomic Habits,” Clear highlights that habit formation is not about the time it takes to build a habit but rather the number of repetitions. Just as our current habits have been internalized by hundreds of thousands of repetitions, new habits require the same frequency to become automatic.

Clear also introduced the Law of Least Effort in “Atomic Habits  .”It states that humans naturally gravitate toward options requiring the least work. We are motivated to do what is easy and convenient. The author emphasizes that energy is precious, and the brain is wired to conserve it. 

Therefore, when deciding between similar options, we tend to choose the one that requires less effort. The author emphasizes that every action requires energy, and the less energy a habit requires, the more likely it is to occur. 

Habits that can be performed with low motivation levels, such as scrolling on phones or watching TV, tend to steal a significant amount of time because they are convenient and easy to do.

Thus Clear cautions readers against getting stuck in the planning phase or seeking perfection, as motion alone does not lead to results.

9. How Atomic Habits Help You To Go From Being Merely Good To Being Truly Great?

In “Atomic Habits,” Clear discusses the concept of going from being good to being great and emphasizes the importance of choosing the right field of competition based on one’s natural inclinations and abilities. 

Clear begins by comparing two successful athletes, Michael Phelps and Hicham El Guerrouj, who excel in swimming and middle-distance running. Despite their different physical attributes, such as height and body proportions, they have achieved greatness in their respective sports by playing to their strengths.

The “Atomic Habits” highlights that genetics play a significant role in determining one’s natural abilities but also points out that genes do not determine one’s destiny entirely. 

While genes provide certain advantages in favorable circumstances, they can also be a disadvantage in unfavorable conditions. Therefore, it is crucial to understand and accept that people are born with different abilities.

Personality traits and genetic predispositions are closely linked, influencing our behaviors and habits. Clear explains the “Big Five” personality traits:

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extroversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

These traits have biological foundations and shape our preferences and inclinations. The author suggests that building habits that align with our personalities and interests are more likely to lead to satisfaction and long-term adherence.

To identify the right habits and areas to focus on, the Clear suggests asking yourself questions such as: 

  • What feels like fun to me, but work to others? 
  • What makes me lose track of time? 
  • Where do I get greater returns than the average person? 

By answering these questions, you can narrow down the habits and areas that are most satisfying and align with your natural inclinations.

Finally, Clear encourages creating your own game or niche if you can’t find one where the odds are in your favor. He emphasizes the uniqueness of combining different skills and backgrounds to create something rare and valuable.

The author highlights the example of cartoonist Scott Adamswho successfully combined his drawing skills with his business background.

In summary, Clear emphasizes the significance of choosing the right field of competition, building habits that align with your personality and interests, and creating opportunities where the odds are in your favor. 

Understanding your natural inclinations and abilities can maximize your chances of achieving true greatness.


“Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” helps individuals overcome obstacles, break bad habits, and establish new, positive habits that lead to long-term success and personal transformation.

“Atomic Habits” Book Summary: How to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones offers actionable strategies and techniques that can be applied to various aspects of life, including personal development, productivity, health, and business success.


How can “Atomic Habits” help improve personal growth and productivity?

“Atomic Habits” by James Clear provides practical strategies and insights to help individuals develop small, incremental habits that lead to significant personal growth and increased productivity over time.

How long does it typically take to form a new habit according to the book “Atomic Habits”?

According to “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, habit formation typically takes around 66 days, although the time can vary depending on the complexity of the habit and individual circumstances.

Can “Atomic Habits” be applied to businesses and organizations as well?

Yes, “Atomic Habits” can be applied to businesses and organizations as well. The book offers valuable insights on how to create a culture of effective habits, improve productivity, and achieve long-term success in the professional setting.

How can “Atomic Habits” be used to overcome procrastination and improve time management?

“Atomic Habits” provides practical strategies for overcoming procrastination and improving time management by focusing on small, consistent actions, setting clear goals, implementing effective habit cues, and employing a system of immediate rewards.

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