Atomic Habits by James Clear: Book Summary and Key Lessons

Date published
Mar 21, 2021
Last updated
Jul 31, 2021 3:53 PM


Atomic Habits is one of the books about how to build better habits.

In early 2021, motivation and habits were the points I wanted to improve in my life.

The book exceeded my expectations. I found a lot of powerful and practical tips there. I recommend it to everyone. See my full summary and notes from Atomic Habits here.

Below is my take on 3 great ideas from Atomic Habits.

1 - Why resist the temptation when you can remove it?

One of the main principles from the book is: we don't have to fight our temptations. We can simply remove the cues (triggers) that lead to bad habits from our sight.

Our willpower is finite. We cannot resist bad things forever — eventually, we will slip. Every moment we spend fighting with temptations we lose valuable energy. At some point, the battery will run out.

When you get offered a mouth-watering muffin, it is hard to resist it.

However, it becomes much easier to eat healthy when muffins are not offered at all.

The term introduced in Atomic Habits is environment design. It is the process of reshaping your surroundings to fit the behavior you want to support.

Make the cues that lead to bad habits hidden (invisible). Just remove them from your environment.

  • Spending too much time on social media? Hide the social app from your home screen.
  • Spending too much money on new clothes? Stop visiting the malls and reading fashion magazines.
  • Want to eat healthier? Remove a plate with cookies from your kitchen table and replace it with apples.
  • Can't get focused at work? Remove all distractions and noise. Disable notifications.

Don't try to resist the muffins, make them unnoticeable.

Similarly, you can make the cues that lead to good habits easily accessible.

Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible

2 - It is not motivation that matters, but systems

The motivation is overrated.

Same as with willpower, our motivation can drain of its own. Some days we are ready to move mountains, and some days we just don't feel like it.

To compensate for this lack of consistency, we should be building systems. Systems will support us whether we are in the mood or not.

Use tools like Habit Tracker, Implementation Intention, Habit Bundling, and others to create and sustain your habit systems.

Last year, I wanted to start jogging in the park in the morning. But I couldn't figure out the days I go and the days I'll skip. So what decision did I make? I started going every day. Now every time I wake up, I don't have to ask myself "Am I going to jog today?". I just do. It more feels like my body does it for me.

Systems also help us to stay on track when we achieve our goals.

"Now I reached my goal — what do I do next?". Often we don't know the answer. Moreover, many people find themselves reverting to old habits after accomplishing a goal. After all, when the target is reached, what's there left to push you forward?

When choosing to follow systems, you remove the burden of constantly looking what to aim for.

You just keep doing what you did. You keep exercising, reading, writing, or whatever, regardless of whether you have the goal or not. Following good habits becomes easy when you don't have to care about goals.

The purpose of goals is to win the game. The purpose of systems is to continue playing the game

3 - Usually it’s just about this little entry point

There is one particularly challenging part about new habits.

It is always the beginning.

For me, it is very difficult to start doing something new. And even harder to stop doing what I'd been doing for a while.

The problem was that my planning was nice but the execution was terrible.

That's when I realized how important it is to organize the entry point to your new habits. You have to make the first step so simple so it becomes irresistible.

But once you get started — the magic happens. Good habits become easier and bad habits slip away.

For example, I wanted to begin reading paper books more consistently. My goal was to read a book for 30 minutes every evening before bed. But there was always a reason not to start — work, family, other things. So I changed my goal to read 1 (ONE!) page per day. And it did miracles. I started by reading 1-2 pages each night, soon it transformed into 5-10 pages, and now I am reading 1-2 chapters.

Remove all the friction between you and your desired behavior. Create a gateway between now and where you want to be. Start small.

A habit must be established before it can be improved


  • Your willpower is finite. Stop spending it on resisting temptations. Remove the cues that lead to bad habits from your environment instead of actively fighting them
  • Goals fuel up your initial desire, systems is what keeps pushing you forward. Instead of trying to ignite the motivation, build systems to help you stay on the right path.
  • You just need to start. Focus on creating an entry point for a good habit. It can be a simple action that takes 1-2 minutes but will steer you in the right direction.