#myhumblereads: Atomic Habits [part 1]

Jia Li Lee
8 min readAug 25, 2021

Atomic Habits by James Clear: 10/10, easy to read with actionable insights 👌🏼

Hard to keep up with a good habit? The problem is not you, it’s your system. More than that, how does your systems make up your identity? Read on to have a sneak peek into some of the insights from Clear.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”

But first, let’s define what is a habit.
Clear defines habit as “Habits are the small decisions you make and actions you perform every day.” To me, I would like to think of habit as repeated small things I do everyday consciously AND subconsciously.

Any habit can be broken down into a feedback loop that involves four steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.

The Four Laws of Behaviour Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build good habits or break any bad habit:

To build good habits:
(1) Make it obvious
(2) Make it attractive
(3) Make it easy
(4) Make it satisfying.

To break bad habits:
(1) Make it invisible
(2) Make it unattractive
(3) Make it difficult
(4) Make it unsatisfying

I’ll pick my Top 6 (because 5 is too little whoops) fave chapters to expound on by sharing paragraphs and phrases that stood out to me together with my personal experiences and thoughts and why I think it’s a great book in this part 2 writeup (stay tuned!)

Chapter 1: The surprising power of Atomic Habits

“It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action. Whether it is losing weight, building a business, writing a book, winning a championship, or achieving any other goal, we put pressure on ourselves to make some earth-shattering improvement that everyone will talk about.

“Meanwhile, improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable sometimes it isn’t even noticeable-but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding.”

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat.

We often expect progress to be linear. At the very least, we hope it will come quickly. In reality, the results of our efforts are often delayed. It is not until months or years later that we realize the true value of the previous work we have done.”

“This can result in a “valley of disappointment” where people feel discouraged after putting in weeks or months of hard work without experiencing any results. However, this work was not wasted. It was simply being stored. It is not until much later that the full value of previous efforts is revealed.”

Chapter 2: How your habits shape your identity and vice versa

“The first layer is changing your outcomes. The second layer is changing your process. The third and deepest layer is changing your identity.

“Many people begin the process of changing their habits by focusing on what they want to achieve. This leads us to outcome-based habits. The alternative is to build identity-based habits. With this approach, we start by focusing on who we wish to become.”

“This is why you can’t get too attached to one version of your identity. Progress required unlearning. Becoming the best version of yourself requires you to continuously edit your beliefs, and to upgrade and expand your identity.”

“Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe. When it comes to building habits that last — when it comes to building a system of 1 percent improvements — the problem is not that one level is “better” or “worse” than another. All levels of change are useful in their own way. The problem is the direction of change.”

“More precisely, your habits are how you embody your identity. When you make your bed each day, you embody the identity of an organised person. When you write each day, you embody the identity of a creative person. When you train each day, you embody the identity of an athletic person. The more you repeat a behaviour, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behaviour.

Chapter 13: How to stop procrastinating by using the two-minute rule

“Everyday there are a handful of moments that deliver an outsized impact. I refer to these little choices as decisive moments… these choices are a form in the road.”

“Your options are constrained by what’s available. They are shaped by the first choice. Habits are the entry point, not the end point.”

“Two minute rule: you will find that nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two-minute version.”

“The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start. The point is to master the habit of showing up. The truth is, a habit must be established before it can be improved. Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy things in a more consistent basis.”

“If you show up at the gym five days in a row — even if it’s just for two minutes- you are casting votes for your new identity. You’re focused on becoming the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts.”

“Standardised before you optimise.”

Chapter 14: How to make good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible

“Sometimes success is less about making good habit easy but rather make bad habits hard.”

“Increase the friction until you don’t even have the option to act.”

“Technology creates a level of convenience that enables you to act on your smallest whims and desires. At the mere suggestion of hunger, you can have food delivered to your door. At the slightest hint of boredom, you can get lost in the vast expanse of social media. When the effort required to act on your desires becomes effectively zero, you can find yourself slipping into whatever impulse arises at the moment.”

“The downside of automation is that we can find ourselves jumping from easy task to easy task without making time for more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding work.”

“The ultimate way to lock in future behaviour is to automate your habits.”

“Using technology to automate your habits is the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behaviour.”

Chapter 15: The cardinal rule of behaviour change

“We are more likely to repeat a behaviour when the experience is satisfying.”

“Feelings of pleasure — even minor ones like washing your hands with soap that smells nice and lathers well. Pleasure teachers your brain that a behaviour is worth remembering and repeating.”

“What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.”

“The cost of your good habits are in the present. The cost of your bad habits are in the future.”

“As a general rule, the more immediate pleasure you get from an action, the most strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals.”

“The best way to do this is to add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long run and a little bit of immediate pain to ones that don’t.”

“The road less travelled is the root of delayed gratification. If you are willing to wait for the rewards, you will face less competition and often get a bigger payoff. As the saying goes, the last mile is always the least crowded.”

“Incentives can start a habit, identity sustains a habit.”

“Immediate reinforcement helps maintain motivation in the short term while you’re waiting for the long-term rewards to arrive.”

Chapter 18: The truth about talent

“The secret to maximising your odds of success is to choose the right field of competition.”

“Embracing strategy requires the acceptance of the simple truth that people are born with different abilities.”

Physician Gabor Mate notes: “Genes are predispose but they don’t predetermine.”

Guiding questions to finding out about yourself:
1) What feels like fun to me, but work to others?
2) What makes me lose track of time?
3) Where do I get greater returns than the average person?
4) What comes naturally to me?

“One of the best ways to ensure your habits remain satisfying over the long-run is to pick behaviours that align with your personality and skills. Work hard on the things that come easy.”

“Play a game that favours your strengths. If you can’t find a game that favours you, create one.”

“Genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They clarify it. They tell us what to work hard on.”


I hope that this “length-wordy-article diarrhoea” didn’t scare you off. I hope Atomic Habits will be as impactful to you as it was for me:) Hope you enjoy some best quotes I’ve jotted down.

Peace out,

Other cool frameworks that Clear shares:

a) Implementation intention framework
- when situation X arises, I will perform response Y .
- I will (behaviour) at (time) in (location).
b) Habit stacking framework
- After (current habit), I will (new habit).
c) Habit scorecard framework
d) Habit tracker
e) Have an accountability partner
and many more…mental models

A concised summary I found online. Credits to Dani for the wonderful visual summary.