In Atomic Habits, James Clear details his system of behavior change based on his four laws. To establish habits that reinforce one’s desired identity, Clear suggests that these habits should be: (1) made obvious, (2) made attractive, (3) made easy, and (4) made satisfying. On the other hand, to break habits that do not support one’s desired identity, Clear argues that these habits should be: (1) made invisible, (2) made unattractive, (3) made hard, and (4) made unsatisfying. Clear ties these four laws and their inversions together with strategies like environment design, habit tracking, and deliberate practice to create a full-proof system for building good habits and breaking bad ones.

Introduction: My Story

Successful habit change creates a sense of control over your life, which in turn creates self-confidence.

Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.

We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of our lives often depends on the quality of our habits.

James Clear’s strategy involves: small habits, gradual evolution, and long series of small wins and tiny breakthroughs.

James Clear’s four-step model of habits: cue, craving, response, and reward.

James Clear’s four laws of behavior change evolved out of the four steps above.

James Clear’s framework is an integrated model of the cognitive and behavioral sciences. It accounts for both the influence of external stimuli and internal emotions on our habits.

Human behavior is always changing, but the fundamentals of human behavior do not change. They are lasting principles you can rely on. They are ideas you can build a business, family, and life around.

The Fundamentals: Why Tiny Changes Make a Big Difference

Chapter One: The Surprising Power of Atomic Habits

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains. Break down everything you could think of that goes into what you do + improve it by 1 percent = significant increase when you put them all together.

Habits are an investment. Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them.

Success is the product of daily habits, not once-in-a-lifetime transformations. The small choices you take concerning your habits determine the difference between who you are and who you could be.

Focus on your current trajectory, not your current results. It doesn’t matter how successful or unsuccessful you are right now. What matters is whether your habits are putting you on the path toward success.

Habits are a double-edged sword. You need to know how habits work and how to design them to your liking, so you can avoid the dangerous half of the blade.

The Plateau of Latent Potential. Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change. In order to make a meaningful difference, habits need to persist long enough to break through this plateau. Your work was not wasted; it is just being stored. It will pay off after a certain amount.

Habits are like trees. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. The task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.

Forget about goals; focus on systems instead. Results had very little to do with the goals you set and nearly everything to do with the systems you follow. Goals are good for setting a direction. Systems are best for making progress.

Improve for good by solving problems at the systems level. Results are not the problem. We don’t have to change the results. What we need to change are the systems that lead to the results.

When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.

Do not restrict your satisfaction to one scenario when there are many paths to success. A system can be successful in many different forms, not just the one you first envision.

It is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement.

Bad habits repeat themselves not because you have a problem but because your system is the problem.

The Atomic Habits System

  • Small habits
  • Small habits that are part of a larger system
  • Atomic habits are the building blocks of remarkable results.
  • Habits are the atoms of your lives. Each one is a fundamental unit that contributes to your overall improvement.
  • Habits build on each other and fuel bigger wins that multiply to a degree that far outweighs the cost of their initial investment.
  • A regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do but also the source of incredible power.

Chapter Two: How Your Habits Shape Your Identity (and Vice Versa)

The three layers of behavior change

  1. Outcome change (changing your results)
  2. Process change (changing your habits and systems)
  3. Identity change (changing your beliefs)

The two directions of change

  1. Outcome-based habits (start habit change by focusing on what one wants to achieve)
  2. Identity-based habits (start habit change by focusing on who one wishes to become)

There is an identity behind habits.

Behavior that is incongruent with the self will not last.

Realize that your old identity can sabotage your new plans for change. Before setting goals and determining your actions, consider the beliefs that drive the actions you want to take.

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes a part of your identity.

The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it. You start a habit because of motivation but you maintain it because it has become part of your identity.

When your behavior and your identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behavior change. You are simply acting like the type of person you already believe yourself to be.

Identity change is a double-edged sword. You resist positive change because your old beliefs have been strongly ingrained in your psyche.

Don’t get too attached to one version of your identity. Continuously edit your beliefs and upgrade and expand your identity.

The two-step process to changing your identity

  1. Decide the type of person you want to be
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

Your identity (your beliefs about yourself) emerge out of your habits (your experience). Your habits are how you embody your identity.

The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior.

Building habits is the process of becoming yourself.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. Your identity builds up as your votes build up. Habits create results and self-confidence.

Your goal is simply to win the majority of the time. You don’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t matter if you cast a few votes for bad behavior.

The formation of all habits is a feedback loop. Your habits shape your identity. Your identity shapes your habits.

It’s important to let your values, principles, and identity drive the loop rather than your results. The focus should always be on becoming that type of person, not getting a particular outcome.

The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do. You have the power to change your beliefs about yourself. Your identity is not set in stone. You can choose the identity you want to reinforce today with the habits you choose today.

Chapter Three: How to Build Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

Habits are memories of the steps you previously followed to solve a problem in the past.

At the beginning of building a habit, your brain is busy learning the most effective course of action.

Your exploring will eventually lead to a reward. Your brain begins to catalog the events that preceded the reward.

With the repetition of a behavior, the useless movements fade away and the useful actions get reinforced.

Facing a problem repeatedly automates the brain’s response.

The feedback loop behind all human behavior

  1. Try
  2. Fail
  3. Learn
  4. Try differently

Habits do not restrict freedom. They create it. It’s only by making the fundamentals of life easier that you create the mental space needed for free-thinking and creativity.

The four steps in building a habit

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward

The human brain runs through these steps in the same order each time.

Cue is the information that predicts a reward. It triggers your brain to initiate behavior.

Craving is the motivational force behind every habit. Thoughts and feelings transform a cue into a craving. What you crave is not the habit itself, but the change in state it delivers.

Response is the actual habit. It takes the form of a thought or an action. Whether a response occurs depends on (1) how motivated you are and (2) how much friction is associated with the behavior.

Reward is the end goal of every habit. We chase rewards because they serve two purposes: (1) they satisfy us and (2) they teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future.

If a behavior is insufficient in any of the four stages, it will not become a habit. Without the first three steps, a behavior will not occur. Without all four steps, a behavior will not be repeated.

The habit loop

  1. Cue triggers craving.
  2. Craving motivates a response.
  3. Response provides a reward.
  4. Reward satisfies the craving
  5. Craving becomes associated with the cue.

The habit loop is an endless loop that is running and active during every moment you are alive.

The two phases of the habit loop

  1. Problem phase (cue, craving)
  2. Solution phase (response, reward)

The purpose of every habit is to solve the problems you face (want to obtain something or want to relieve pain).

The four laws of behavior change

  1. The 1st law (Cue): Make it obvious.
  2. The 2nd law (Craving): Make it attractive.
  3. The 3rd law (Response): Make it easy.
  4. The 4th law (Reward): Make it satisfying.

When all rules are satisfied creating good habits is effortless. When these rules are unsatisfied creating good habits is nearly impossible.

The inversion of the four laws of behavior change

  1. Inversion of the 1st law (Cue): Make it invisible.
  2. Inversion of the 2nd law (Craving): Make it unattractive.
  3. Inversion of the 3rd law (Response): Make it difficult.
  4. Inversion of the 4th law (Reward): Make it unsatisfying.

Use the inversions to break a bad habit.

The key to creating good habits and breaking bad ones is to understand these fundamental laws and how to alter them to your specifications.

The 1st Law: Make It Obvious

Chapter Four: The Man Who Didn’t Look Right

Your ability to notice the relevant cues in a given situation is the foundation for every habit you have.

Over time, the cues that spark our habits become so common that they are essentially invisible.

Begin the process of behavior change with awareness. If a habit remains mindless, you can’t expect to improve it. Before we can effectively build new habits, we need to get a handle on our current ones. Recognizing your habits and acknowledging the cues that trigger them makes it possible to respond in a way that benefits you.

We need a point-and-call system for our personal lives. We need to maintain awareness of what we are actually doing.

Habits scorecard. This is a simple exercise to become aware of your behavior.

How to create a habits scorecard

  1. Make a list of your daily habits.
  2. Once you have a full list, look at each behavior, and ask yourself, “Is this a good habit, a bad habit, or a neutral habit?”
  3. If it is a good habit write “+” next to it.
  4. If it is a bad habit, write “-“ next to it.
  5. If it is a neutral habit, write “=“.

Reminders on doing the habits scorecard

  • The marks that you give to a particular habit will depend on your situation and your goals.
  • As you create your Habits Scorecard, there is no need to change anything at first.
  • The goal is simply to notice what is actually going on.

Categorize your habits by how they will benefit you in the long run. Good habits will have net positive outcomes. Bad habits will have net negative outcomes.

Categorize habits by how they will reinforce your desired identity. Habits that reinforce your desired identity are usually good. Habits that conflict with your desired identity are usually bad.

There are no good habits or bad habits. There are only effective habits. All habits serve you in some way, even the bad ones, which is why you repeat them.

Try point-and-calling. Say out loud the action that you are thinking of taking and what the outcome will be. Hearing your bad habits spoken aloud makes the consequences more real. This approach is useful even if you’re simply trying to remember a task on your to-do list.

Chapter Five: The Best Way to Start a New Habit

Implementation intention. A plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. Leverages the two most common cues: time and location. Format: “When situation X arises, I will perform response Y.”

How to create an implementation intention

  • Fill out the following sentence: “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] and [LOCATION].”
  • Make the time and location so obvious that, with enough repetition, you get an urge to do the right thing at the right time, even if you can’t say why.

Being specific about what you want and how you will achieve it helps you say no to things that derail progress, distract your attention, and pull you off course.

When the moment of action occurs, there is no need to make a decision. Simply follow your predetermined plan.

Start a new habit on the first day of the week, month, or year because a fresh start is motivating.

Habit stacking. A special form of implementation intention. Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit. This allows you to take advantage of the natural momentum that comes from one behavior leading into the next.

How to apply habit stacking

  • Identify a current habit you already do each day then stack your new behavior on top.
  • Habit stacking formula: “After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
  • Once you have mastered this basic structure, you can begin to create larger stacks by chaining small habits together.
  • You can also insert new behaviors into the middle of your current routines.
  • Consider when you are most likely to be successful. Don’t ask yourself to do a habit when you’re likely to be occupied with something else.
  • Your cue should also have the same frequency as your desired habit (if you daily, then daily).

How to find the right trigger for habit stacking

  • The trigger must be highly specific and immediately actionable.
  • The more obvious the cue to your new habit, the better your chances are to act.

Chapter Six: Motivation Is Overrated; Environment Often Matters More

The most common form of change is not internal, but external. We are changed by the world around us. Every habit is context-dependent.

Behavior is a function of the Person in their Environment: B = f(P,E)

Many of the actions we take each day are shaped not by purposeful drive and choice but by the most obvious option.

Visual cues are the greatest catalyst for our behavior.

Live and work in environments that are filled with productive cues and devoid of unproductive ones.

You don’t have to be the victim of your environment. You can also be the architect of it.

If you want to make a habit a big part of your life, make the cue a big part of your environment. The most persistent behaviors usually have multiple cues.

The cues that trigger a habit can start out very specific, but over time your habits become associated not with a single trigger but with the entire context surrounding the behavior.

Stop thinking about your environment as filled with objects. Start thinking about it as filled with relationships. Think in terms of how you interact with the spaces around you.

Train yourself to link a particular habit with a particular context.

Habits can be easier to change in a new environment. It helps to escape the subtle triggers and cues that nudge you toward your current habits. Go to a different place or a different part of your place, and create a new routine there.

If you want to think more creatively, take a break from the space where you do your daily work, which is also linked to your current thought patterns.

When you can’t manage to get to an entirely new environment, redefine or rearrange your current one.

“One space, one use.” Whenever possible, avoid mixing the context of one habit with another. When you start mixing contexts, you’ll start mixing habits and the easier ones will usually win out.

If your space is limited, divide your room into activity zones: a chair for reading, a desk for writing, a table for eating. You can do the same with your digital spaces.

A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is an environment where habits can easily form.

Chapter Seven: The Secret of Self-Control

Addictions could spontaneously dissolve if there was a radical change in the environment.

“Disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. They spend less time in tempting situations.

You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it. Once the mental grooves of habit have been carved into your brain, they are nearly impossible to remove entirely, even if they go unused for quite a while. Simply resisting temptation is an ineffective strategy.

In the long-run, we become a product of the environment that we live in.

No one can consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment.

Eliminate your bad habit by reducing your exposure to the cue that causes it.

Inversion of the 1st Law of Behavior Change: Make it invisible.

Instead of summoning a new dose of willpower whenever you want to do the right thing, your energy would be better spent optimizing your environment.

Make the cues of your good habits obvious and the cues of your bad habits invisible.

The 2nd Law: Make It Attractive

Chapter Eight: How to Make a Habit Irresistible

2nd Law of Behavior Change: The more attractive an opportunity is, the more likely it is to become habit-forming.

While it is not possible to transform every habit into a supernormal stimulus, you can make any habit more enticing.

It is the anticipation of a reward, not the fulfillment of it, that gets us to take action. Dopamine is released not only when you experience pleasure, but also when you anticipate it.

Desire is the engine that drives behavior. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it. It is the craving that leads to the response.

Temptation bundling. Link an action you want to do with an action you need to do.

Combine temptation bundling with habit stacking. Formula: After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT].

Chapter Nine: The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits

Behaviors are attractive when they help us fit in.

We imitate the habits of three groups in particular:

  1. The close (family and friends)
  2. The many (the tribe)
  3. The powerful (those with status and prestige)

Imitate the close.

  • To build better habits, join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior. New habits seem achievable when you see others doing them every day.
  • Take this strategy further by joining a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.
  • Remain part of the group even after achieving a goal to maintain your habits.

Imitate the many.

  • When changing your habits means challenging the tribe, change is unattractive.
  • When changing your habits means fitting in with the tribe, change is very attractive.

Imitate the powerful.

  • We are drawn to behaviors that earn us respect, approval, admiration, and status.
  • We are also motivated to avoid behaviors that would lower our status.

Chapter Ten: How to Find and Fix the Causes of Your Bad Habits

Every behavior has a surface level craving, which in turn has a deeper underlying motive.

The underlying motives behind human behavior remain the same. The specific habits we perform differ based on the period of history.

There are many different ways to address the same underlying motive. Your current habits are not necessarily the best way to solve the problems you face; they are just the methods you learned to use.

Habits are all about associations. Once you associate a solution with the problem you need to solve, you keep coming back to it.

The cause of your habits is actually the prediction that precedes them. You see a cue. You make a prediction. That prediction leads to a feeling. You act based on this feeling that your prediction created.

A craving provides a reason to act. Your craving is your desire to change your internal state because you sense that there is a gap between where you are now and where you want to be.

“It is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad, or indifferent.” Our feelings and emotions tell us whether to hold steady in our current state or to make a change. They help us decide the best course of action.

Whenever a habit successfully addresses a motive, you develop a craving to do it again.

You can make hard habits more attractive if you can learn to associate them with a positive experience.

Reframing your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks is a fast and lightweight way to reprogram your mind and make a habit seem more attractive.

Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.

The key to finding and fixing the causes of your bad habits is to reframe the associations you have about them. Reprogram your predictions to transform a hard habit into an attractive one.

The 3rd Law: Make It Easy

Chapter Eleven: Walk Slowly, but Never Backward

You just need to get your reps in. If you want to master a habit, the key is to start with repetition, not perfection. You don’t need to map out every feature of a new habit. You just need to practice it.

Repeating a habit leads to clear physical changes in the brain.

Repetition is a form of change. Simply putting in your reps is one of the most critical steps you can take to encoding a new habit.

Automaticity. All habits follow a similar trajectory from effortful practice to automatic behavior.

Habits form based on frequency, not time. There is nothing magical about time passing with regard to habit formation. What matters is the rate at which you perform the behavior.

Make it easy. To build a habit, you need to practice it. And the most effective way to make practice happen is to make it easy.

Chapter Twelve: The Law of Least Effort

The Law of Least Effort. When deciding between two similar options, people will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.

The less energy a habit requires, the more likely it is to occur.

The greater the obstacle (the more difficult the habit), the more friction there is between you and your desired end state.

Make your habits so easy that you’ll do them even when you don’t feel like it.

You could do the hard work on good days, but during tough days, you should be able to do the habit easily.

Use environment design to make actions or habits easier. Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible and doing the wrong thing is as difficult as possible.

Habits are easier to build when they fit into the flow of your life.

Avoid starting habits in high-friction environments. Or lessen friction at home or office.

Addition by subtraction. When we remove the points of friction that sap our time and energy, we can achieve more with less effort.

Redesign your life so the actions that matter most are also the actions that are easiest to do. Reduce the friction associated with good habits. Increase the friction associated with bad habits.

Chapter Thirteen: How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the Two-Minute Rule

Habits are automatic choices that can be completed in just a few seconds but can shape the actions and conscious decisions that you take for minutes or hours afterward.

Decisive moments. Moments in a day that deliver an outsized impact. They set the options available to your future self.

Decisive moments are important because our choice during a decisive moment sets the trajectory for how we spend the next chunk of our time. Your options are constrained by what’s available. They are shaped by the first choice.

The Two-minute Rule. When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.

Make your habits as easy as possible to start. A new habit should not feel like a challenge. The actions that follow can be challenging, but the first two minutes should be easy.

To figure out a gateway habit, map out your goals on a scale from “very easy” to “very hard.”

At the beginning, focus only on mastering the habit of showing up. Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis.

A habit must be established before it can be improved. You have to standardize before you can optimize. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist.

What happens after you master the art of showing up

  • The first two minutes become a ritual at the beginning of a larger routine.
  • The ritual is the ideal way to master a difficult skill.
  • The more you ritualize the beginning of a process, the more likely you get into a flow.

If the Two-Minute Rule feels forced, try this: do it for two minutes and then stop. It’s not a strategy for starting, it’s the whole thing. Your habit can only last one hundred and twenty seconds.

The secret is to always stay below the point where it feels like work. “The best way is to always stop when you are going good.” (Ernest Hemingway)

It’s better to do less than you hoped than to do nothing at all.

Once you’ve established the habit and you’re showing up each day, you can combine the Two-Minute Rule with “habit shaping” to scale your habit back up toward your ultimate goal.

  1. Master the first two minutes of the smallest version of the behavior.
  2. Advance to an intermediate step and repeat the process (focus on just the first two minutes and master that stage before moving on to the next level.
  3. You’ll end up with the habit you had originally hoped to build while still keeping your focus on the first two minutes of the behavior.

Chapter Fourteen: How to Make Good Habits Inevitable and Bad Habits Impossible

Make your bad habits more difficult by creating a commitment device.

Commitment device. A choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future. A way to lock in future behavior, bind you to good habits, and restrict you from bad ones while your mind is in the right place rather than waiting to see where your desires take you in the moment.

The best way to break a bad habit is to make it impractical to do. Increase the friction until you don’t even have the option to act.

Onetime actions/choices. Single actions that automate your future habits and deliver increasing returns over time.

You may use technology to automate good habits and eliminate bad ones so that you can spend your effort on the tasks that machines cannot do yet.

By utilizing commitment devices, strategic onetime decisions, and technology, you can create an environment of inevitability where good habits are guaranteed.

The 4th Law: Make It Satisfying

Chapter Fifteen: The Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change

Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is rewarded is repeated. What is punished is avoided.

We are not looking for just any type of satisfaction. We are looking for immediate satisfaction.

Immediate-return environment. Your actions instantly deliver clear and immediate outcomes.

Delayed-return environment. You work for years before your actions deliver the intended payoff.

The human brain did not evolve for life in a delayed-return environment.

You value the present more than the future.

With our bad habits, the immediate outcome usually feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad.With good habits, it is the reverse: the immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good.

The brain’s tendency to prioritize the present moment means you can’t rely on good intentions.

The more immediate pleasure you get from an action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals.

Updated Cardinal Rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided.

If you’re willing to wait for the rewards, you’ll face less competition and often get a bigger payoff.

At decisive moments, add a little bit of immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long-run and add a little bit of immediate pain to ones that don’t.

The vital thing in getting a habit to stick is to feel successful even if it’s in a small way. To stay on track, you need immediate rewards. They keep you excited while the delayed rewards accumulate in the background.

Reinforcement. Ties your habit to an immediate reward, which makes it satisfying when you finish, thus increasing the rate of a behavior.

Use reinforcement when dealing with habits of avoidance. Whenever you resist temptation, give yourself and immediate reward. This makes avoidance visible and makes doing nothing satisfying.

Select short-term rewards that reinforce your identity rather than ones that conflict with it.

Identity can become a reinforcer. Eventually, as intrinsic rewards kick in, you’ll become less concerned with chasing the secondary reward. The identity itself becomes the reinforcer. You do it because it’s who you are and it feels good to be you.

It takes time for evidence to accumulate and a new identity to emerge.

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

Chapter Sixteen: How to Stick with Good Habits Every Day

Visual measures reinforce your behavior and add a little bit of immediate satisfaction to any activity.

Habit tracker. A simple way to measure whether you did a habit. Basic format: Get a calendar and cross off each day you stick with your routine.

Habit tracking is powerful because it leverages multiple Laws of Behavior Change. Habit tracking simultaneously makes a behavior obvious, attractive, and satisfying.

Benefit #1: Habit tracking is obvious. Recording your last action creates a trigger that can initiate your next one. The mere act of tracking a behavior can spark the urge to change it. Measurement offers one way to overcome our blindness to our own behavior and notice what’s really going on each day.

Benefit #2: Habit tracking is attractive. The most effective form of motivation is progress. Through habit tracking, each small win feeds your desire.

Benefit #3: Habit tracking is satisfying. Tracking can become its own form of reward. It is satisfying to mark an X on the calendar.

Habit tracking provides visual proof that you are casting votes for the type of person you wish to become, which is a delightful form of immediate and intrinsic gratification.

How to make tracking easier?

  • Whenever possible, measurement should be automated.
  • Manual tracking should be limited to your most important habits. It is better to consistently track one habit than to sporadically track ten.
  • Record each measurement immediately after a habit occurs. The completion of the behavior is the cue to write it down.

The habit stacking + habit tracking formula is:After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [TRACK MY HABIT].

Every habit streak ends at some point. Have a good plan for when your habits slide off track.

Perfection in being consistent with your habits is not possible.

“Never miss twice.” The breaking of a habit doesn’t matter if the reclaiming of it is fast.

Chapter Seventeen: How an Accountability Partner Can Change Everything

Inversion of the 4th Law of Behavior Change: Make it immediately unsatisfying.

Add an instant cost to a bad habit to prevent it.

The strength of the punishment must match the relative strength of the behavior it is trying to correct. Behavior only shifts if the punishment is painful enough and reliably enforced.

The more local, tangible, concrete, and immediate the consequence, the more likely it is to influence individual behavior.

The more global, intangible, vague, and delayed the consequence, the less likely it is to influence individual behavior.

Habit contract. A straightforward way to add an immediate cost to any bad habit. A verbal or written agreement in which you state your commitment to a particular habit and the punishment that will occur if you don’t follow through. Then find one or two people to act as your accountability partners and sign off on the contract with you. It adds a social cost to any behavior because it makes the costs of violating promises public and painful.

Having an accountability parter is helpful. Knowing that someone is watching can be a powerful motivator. Knowing that you will fail to uphold your promises to others is an immediate punishment. You can automate this process.

Advanced Tactics: How to Go from Being Merely Good to Being Truly Great

Chapter Eighteen: The Truth About Talent (When Genes Matter and When They Don’t)

Habits are easier to perform, and more satisfying to stick with, when they align with your natural inclinations and abilities.

Genes provide a powerful advantage in favorable circumstances and a serious disadvantage in unfavorable circumstances.

Competence is highly dependent on context.

If you want to be truly great, selecting the right place to focus is crucial.

Genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity.

The areas where you are genetically predisposed to success are the areas where habits are more likely to be satisfying.

Direct your effort toward areas that both excite you and match your natural skills, to align your ambition with your ability.

Bundled together, your unique cluster of genetic traits predispose you to a particular personality.

If you are not genetically inclined to a particular habit, use environment design.

You should build habits that work for your personality.

There is a version of every habit that can bring you joy and satisfaction. Find it.

Learning to play a game where the odds are in your favor is critical for maintaining motivation and feeling successful.

Pick the right habit and progress is easy.

Explore/exploit trade-off

  • Exploration at the beginning of a new activity
  • Goal: Try out many possibilities, research a broad range of ideas, and cast a wide net
  • After this initial period of exploration, shift your focus to the best solution you’ve found, but keep experimenting occasionally.
  • If you are winning, you exploit. If you are losing, you explore.
  • Work on the strategy that seems to deliver the best results about 80 to 90 percent of the time, and keep exploring with the remaining 10 to 20 percent
  • If you have a lot of time, explore. If you have little time, exploit.

Questions to narrow in on the habits and areas to focus on.

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

Whenever you feel authentic and genuine, you are headed in the right direction.

If you can’t find a game where the odds are stacked in your favor, create one.

  • Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort.
  • Combine these areas to create your own game.
  • Win by being different.
  • Combine your skills to reduce competition and stand out.
  • Rewrite the rules to shortcut the need for a genetic advantage.

A good player works hard to win the game everyone else is playing. A great player creates a new game that favors their strengths and avoids their weaknesses.

Specialization is a powerful way to overcome the “accident” of bad genetics. The more you master a specific skill, the harder it becomes for others to compete with you.

If you can find a more favorable environment, you can transform the situation from one where the odds are against you to one where they are in your favor.

Our genes do not eliminate the need for hard work. They tell us what to work hard on.

The better we understand our nature, the better our strategy can be.

  • We can know where to spend our time and energy.
  • We can know which types of opportunities to look for and which to avoid.

Focus on whether you are fulfilling your own potential than comparing yourself to someone else.

Work hard on the things that come easy. To ensure that your habits remain satisfying over the long-run, pick behaviors that align with your personality and skills.

Chapter Nineteen: The Goldilocks Rule: How to Stay Motivated in Life and Work

The way to maintain motivation and achieve peak levels of desire is to work on tasks of “just manageable difficulty.”

The Goldilocks Rule (Yerkes-Dodson law). Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.

When you are starting a new habit, it’s important to keep the behavior as easy as possible so you can stick with it even when conditions aren’t perfect. Once a habit is established, it’s important to continue to advance in small ways, so that you are kept engaged. This will also get you to a flow state.

You need to regularly search for challenges that push you to your edge while continuing to make enough progress to stay motivated.

Desire occurs at a 50/50 split between success and failure.

At some point, you will have to fall in love with boredom. You should be ready to do the work even when it’s not convenient or exciting so that you become consistent enough to achieve remarkable results.

Chapter Twenty: The Downside of Creating Good Habits

The downside of habits is that you get used to doing things a certain way and stop paying attention to little errors.

Habits + Deliberate Practice = Mastery. Habits are necessary, but not sufficient for mastery. You need a combination of automatic habits and deliberate practice to become exceptional.

The process of mastery

  1. Narrow your focus to a tiny element of success.
  2. Repeat it until you have internalized the skill.
  3. Use this new habit as the foundation to advance to the next frontier of your development.

The process of mastery requires that you progressively layer improvements on top of one another, each habit-building upon the last until a new level of performance has been reached and a higher range of skills has been internalized.

To avoid complacency, to make you aware of where to improve, and to ensure that you are spending your time on the right things, establish a system for reflection and review, which doesn’t have to be complex.

James Clear’s two primary modes of reflection and review are his Annual Review and Integrity Report.

Annual Review. (1) What went well this year? (2) What didn’t go so well this year? (3) What did I learn?

Integrity Report. (1) What are the core values that drive my life and work? (2) How am I living and working with integrity right now? (3) How can I set a higher standard in the future?

Reflection and review also allows you time to revisit your identity.

As you latch on to a new identity, that identity can also hold you back from the next level of growth. Your identity creates “pride” that encourages you to deny your weak spots and prevents you from growing.

To prevent an identity from jeopardizing growth avoid making any single aspect of your identity an overwhelming portion of who you are. Redefine yourself such that you get to keep important aspects of your identity even if your particular role changes.

Choose a flexible identity, which works with the changing circumstances.

Life is constantly changing, so you need to periodically check-in to see if your old habits and beliefs are still serving you.


Commit to tiny, sustainable, unrelenting improvements.

Success is not a goal to reach. It is a system to improve, and endless process to refine.

Whenever you’re looking to improve, you can rotate through the Four Laws of Behavior Change until you find the next bottleneck. Round and round. Always looking for the next way to get 1 percent better.

The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements.


Little Lessons from the Four Laws

Happiness is simply the absence of desire.

  • Suffering is the space between craving a change in state and getting it.

Peace occurs when you don’t turn your observations into problems.

Emotions drive behavior.

We can only be rational and logical after we have been emotional.

Your response tends to follow your emotions.

  • Thoughts and actions are rooted in what we find attractive, not necessarily in what is logical.
  • To approach a situation from a more neutral emotional position allows you to base your response on the data rather than the emotion.

Suffering drives progress.

  • The desire for a change in state is the source of all suffering and all progress.

Your actions reveal how badly you want something.

  • If you keep on saying something is a priority but you never act on it, then you don’t really want it.

Self-control is difficult because it is not satisfying.

  • Resisting temptation does not satisfy your craving; it just ignores it.

Feelings come both before and after the behavior.

  • Cue Craving (Feeling) Response Reward (Feeling)
  • How we feel influences how we act, and how we act influences how we feel.

Desire initiates. Pleasure sustains.

Hope declines with experience and is replaced by acceptance.

  • At the beginning, when there is no experience to give feedback, hope is high.
  • The second time, experience provides feedback to the initial expectation and hope declines. Hope is replaced by acceptance.