top of page
  • Writer's pictureKristi Campanella

My Take Away From Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits Review/Summary

I recently read Atomic Habits by James Clear. As many of you know I have been reading his blog for a while now. This book has been a long time in the making but has finally come out and I thought I would share some of the things I took away from it.

I like to think with books that if I get one or two things that I can use from it then it was worth reading it. I feel like I took away several good points and ideas from this book so I thought I would share in case any of them sound good to you or sound like they might help you in your life. So, this is not as much of a review as it is my summary of my take aways.

The book is basically about how to drop bad habits and make new ones and keep new ones. It is more about how to make good habits than how to drop bad ones, but he does talk about that some. One of the things he mentions is about just trying to be 1% better than yesterday. One percent is not that much so it doesn’t sound too hard when you say it in your mind. I was like, “ok, I can be 1% better today.”

I started using it with my food and my workouts at the gym. I just told myself I only had to do 1% better but the reality is I did better than 1% because once you make the decision to just do a little better it is not that hard. Telling yourself you only must do 1% better kind of lets the pressure off.

So, without further ado, here are some of the things I liked about the book and I thought could help me in my quest to create better habits in my life.

It’s the Small Steps In the book James says that we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action and underestimate the value of making small improvements daily. We think we must make some earth-shattering improvement that everyone will talk about but in reality, it is the small steps that we consistently take that finally lead to what looks like that earth-shattering movement. If we hadn’t been making those small improvements in our diet, then we would not have lost all that weight at the end of the year or looked muscular by making changes in our workouts. You get the point.

Focus on Systems Rather than Goals The author talks about focusing on systems rather than goals. He states that winners and losers have the same goal-Olympians all want to win gold, every candidate wants the job, the difference is the system.

For example: a coach’s goal is to win championships, but the system is the way he/she recruits players, manages his/her assistant coaches and conducts practice. So, for us runners, the goal is to run a marathon in a certain amount of time perhaps. The system is how we structure our training program, how well we stick to our training program as well as all the other things that would go into our most successful race such as running shoes, mental work, and nutritional considerations. There are more things to consider but you get the idea, you need a good system in order to achieve your goals.

He states that if you’re having trouble changing your habits the problem isn’t you, it is your system. Bad habits repeat themselves again and again, not because you don’t want to change but because you have the wrong system for change.

One final thought on goals that I found interesting is that he says that goals restrict your happiness: “once I reach my goal I’ll be happy.” The problem with a goal first mentality is that you are continually putting off happiness until the next milestone.

Become the Kind of Person Who IS This James writes that the ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this versus I’m the type of person who IS this.

An example he gives is: the goal is not to read a book, it is to become a reader. And, of course, here is one from me: the goal is not to run a marathon it is to become a runner. He goes on to say that whatever your identity is now you only believe it because you have proof. “You aren’t a runner because you went for a jog one day, it is the repeating of this activity that allows evidence to accumulate, thus changing your self-image.”

So, he says you must:

1. Decide the type of person you want to be; 2. Prove it to yourself with small wins (If you want to be a runner then start running a little each week. You don’t have to start with 30 miles a week, just start running some.)

4 Laws of Habit Change 1. Cue (How can I make it obvious?) 2. Craving (How can I make it attractive?) 3. Response (How can I make it easy?) 4. Reward (How can I make it satisfying?)

He uses these 4 “laws” of habit change to help make a new habit stick. The cue is the trigger for the habit. Create visual cues to remind you of your habit-make it obvious.

Example: put your workout clothes out the night before right where you will see them when you first wake-up. He talks about using something he calls habit stacking to help with cues. In habit stacking each action becomes a cue that triggers the next behavior.

One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new habit/behavior on top.

Example: After my morning coffee I will meditate (or for me, I will put on my workout clothes). Or, if using the running clothes example, “I will put my running clothes on as soon as I get up.” Hopefully this then leads to stacking the next habit of running right when you get up or after your coffee, etc., etc.

Some other ideas he has are: design your environment for success. Example: If you want to drink more water then fill up bottles of water and place them around the house; the water bottles are the cue, the obvious.

The craving is how you make the habit or desired behavior attractive. For instance, he suggests that you try a new environment or change up your environment-create a space/office for working or divide a room into activity areas if your space is small. The room or space is the cue and the craving for where you do your work.

I recently re-did my office to make it attractive and a place I like doing my work. It is now not only a place that I associate with doing my work on the computer but also a room I enjoy going to because it is inviting and bright and cheery. I even put in a chair for reading because it is such an attractive room to me now that I want to spend some time in here. Here is a couple of pictures of my new home office. It used to be a kind of dark, caramel color.

Next, he talks about making your habit easy, or the response. He reports that when scientists analyzed people who appeared to have tremendous self-control, it turned out that those individuals weren’t that different from those who were struggling. The “disciplined” people were just better at structuring their lives in a way that did not require heroic will power and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations. The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who need to use it the least. So, create a more disciplined environment. Self-control is a short-term strategy not a long term one.

Create an environment where doing the right thing requires the least amount of effort. The water bottles placed around the house are a good example of this, it is now easy to drink more water because it is right there for you to grab wherever you are in the house.

Lastly, he talks about making the habit attractive. He discusses some studies showing that dopamine is released in our brains in anticipation of the reward as well as when we actually get the reward. So, make the habit attractive to your brain, create anticipation of the reward.

He suggests pairing something you need to do with something you want to do. For example, I get on my treadmill (TM) or bike while watching my binge shows. My reward is watching my binge show, but I do my habit of getting on my TM or bike a certain amount of time per day.

Other Tricks

  • To build better habits join a culture where the desired habit is part of the culture (Run Club)

  • Reprogram your brain to enjoy hard habits: Instead of “I need to go run in the morning” say “it’s time to build endurance and get fast.”

  • The most effective form of learning is practice not planning. The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it-just keep doing it.

  • Use the 2 minute rule: when you start a new habit it should be able to be done in 2 minutes or less because in order to make it satisfying you need to make it successful right away.

How Can You Make Habits Stick? Here is how he says you can make habits stick:

1. Track them; one way to make it satisfying is to feel like you are making progress and tracking will help with this. Try to keep your habit streak-never miss twice 2. Have an accountability partner 3. Build habits that work for you personally by asking these questions:

  • What feels like fun to me but work to others (can you handle the pain of the task easier than others?)

  • What makes me lose track of time?

  • Where do I get greater returns than the average person?

  • What comes naturally to me? (When have I felt alive? When have I felt like the real me?

  • The work that hurts you less than it hurts others is likely the work you were made to do

Use the Goldilocks Rule: (not too easy, not too hard, just right). He says to work on tasks/habits that are right on the edge of your current abilities. If you are always working on habits that do not challenge you or your abilities, you may become bored with them. He says, “The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.”

Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated, it’s the ability to keep going when work isn’t exciting that makes the difference. He says that professionals stick to a schedule, amateurs let life get in the way.

He also suggests that every now and then you reassess your habits-make sure that you haven’t stopped paying attention to little errors.

Here is a quote by Lao Tzu that he had at the end of his book. I put it in because I thought it was great. Check it out below.

Men are born soft and supple; Dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; Dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible Is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding Is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.

I know this is a lot of information, but I had a hard time not putting more in this review/summary. There was a lot of great information and ideas in the book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I hope that some of the ideas I presented from the book help you if you are trying to create new habits in your life.

Have a great Sunday! I can't believe I am about to type this but, GO Chiefs!! That is how much I am sick of the Patriots!!

Happy Running!



Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page