10 Things I Learned from Atomic Habits

Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results

Ganesh Kumar Marimuthu
6 min readMar 31, 2021
Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

Recently, I came across an article, where must-read top 10 books of 2020 were listed. Atomic Habits ranked #1 on the list. I thought of giving it a try and bought the book from Amazon India. I wouldn't call myself a good reader and to be honest, this is the first book I finished in my life.

I have read many articles on building habits, which tell things that feel theoretically easy but are very difficult to follow. But it is very different in the case of Atomic Habits. All the ideas and tricks given are well narrated with real-life examples, linked with proved scientific theories, and can be followed from day one.

There are a ton of good and useful ideas given in the book, but I have summarized the Top 10 things that I liked very much.

1. Focus on Systems, Not Goals

Every one of us has goals to become rich, to be an entrepreneur, to be fit, etc. But what differentiates us from successful people is the steps that are taken to achieve the goal. So, the problem here is the system, not the goal itself.

Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.
— Atomic Habits, James Clear

So, instead of focusing on our goal, we need to devise a plan to reach the goal.

2. Outcome, Process, and Identity

In chapter 2, James introduces us to the Three Layers of Behavior Change.

Layer 1 — Outcome
This layer is concerned with changing the result like writing a book, losing weight, etc.

Layer 2 — Process
This layer is concerned with changing the plans and systems that help to achieve the goal like writing 2 pages per day to complete a book, workout plan to lose weight, etc.

Layer 3 — Identity
This layer is concerned with changing our beliefs like who I am, who I want to be. It is a kind of self-realization.

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

I personally like one of the examples that were mentioned in the book which makes the Identity layer very clear.

Imagine two people resisting a cigarette. When offered a smoke, the first person says, “No thanks. I’m trying to quit.” It sounds like a reasonable response, but this person still believes they are a smoker who is trying to be something else.
The second person declines by saying, “No thanks. I’m not a smoker.” They no longer identify as someone who smokes.
— Atomic Habits, James Clear

3. Implementation Intention

According to James Clear, what we all have in mind is What to do”, which is not enough to form a habit or achieve a goal. We also should have “When to do” and “Where to do” in our minds. He calls it an Implementation Intention.

Implementation Intention is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. That is, how you intend to implement a particular habit.
— Atomic Habits, James Clear

James Clear gives us a simple formula to follow the Implementation Intention in out day to day life.

I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].

1. I will workout at 6.00 am in the gym.
2. I will write an article at 10.00 pm on my desk.

4. Habit Stacking

James Clear explains about Diderot Effect before going into Habit Stacking.

The Diderot Effect states that obtaining a new possession often creates a spiral of consumption that leads to additional purchases.
— Atomic Habits, James Clear

He suggests that we can use the Diderot Effect to our advantage in building habits. He tells us to identify our current habits and then stack our new habits on top of it.

He also gives us another formula for Habit Stacking.


1. After I take bath, I will read a book for 30 minutes.
2. After I wake up at 6.00 am, I will drink 2 liters of water.

5. Temptation Bundling

Often we don’t follow a habit for too long. Good habits are always boring at first. James Clear tells us that we can make our good habits attractive by following the strategy called Temptation Bundling.

Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do.
— Atomic Habits, James Clear

He also gives us a formula for temptation bundling.


1. After I read a book for 30 minutes, I will watch my favorite TV series.
2. After I solve 3 programming problems, I will play Clash of Clans.

6. Close, Many, and Powerful

This is one of my favorite concepts from the book. I also had a similar thought process during my college. James Clear tells that we always imitate the habits of three groups: The close, the many, and the powerful.

  • We copy the habits that the people around us follow — friends and family.
  • We copy the habits that many people in the group follow — teammates.
  • We copy the habits that the powerful people follow — celebrities, leaders, etc.

One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
— James Clear

7. The Law of Least Effort

We always pick up habits that are easy to follow. Watching Netflix — Just play the video, Eating junk food — Order from home via Swiggy, etc. So, James Clear tells us that we have to make our good habits as easy as possible.

The Law of Least Effort states that when deciding between two similar options, people will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work.
— Atomic Habits, James Clear

1. If your goal is to work out daily, join a gym that is few blocks away from your home.
2. If your goal is to read books, place the book open on the desk which you often use.

8. The Two-Minute Rule

We all have big goals. Big goals cannot be achieved in days. Big goals take time. We are astonished by our big goals and we lose self-motivation and quit our process to reach the goal. James Clear gives us The Two-Minute Rule to follow a habit continuously.

The Two-Minute Rule states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.”
— Atomic Habits, James Clear

1. Read 2 minutes a day.
2. Workout 2 minutes a day.

The idea looks silly. But once we started doing it, it is easier to continue doing it.

9. The Goldilocks Rule

We plan to form a habit or reach a goal. But how to motivated throughout the course of achieving our goal. Here comes the Goldilocks Rule.

The Goldilocks Rule states that 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.
— Atomic Habits, James Clear

James Clears tells us that we all love challenges that are within our manageable difficulty. We can see this in our daily life. We stop playing video games when the levels are too easy to clear or too difficult to clear. We continue playing a game that is not too easy and not too hard. We are comfortable in our optimal zone.

We have to keep the habits in our optimal zone. Not too hard. Not too easy.

10. The Four Steps to Start Good Habits and Break Bad Habits

James Clear gives us the 4 Mantras to start a good habit and break a bad habit.

How to Create a Good Habit
1. Make it obvious.
2. Make it attractive.
3. Make it easy.
4. Make it satisfying.

How to Break a Bad Habit
1. Make it invisible.
2. Make it unattractive.
3. Make it difficult.
4. Make it unsatisfying.

I hope the above details were helpful. To know more about Atomic Habits, visit https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits.

Thank you 🤘

To know more about me, visit ganeshkumarm.me



Ganesh Kumar Marimuthu

SDE II at Amazon. ✍️ Content Writer 🔸 👨‍💻 Full Stack Engineer