Atomic Habits by James Clear: Summary and Action Guide (2/2)


The Law of Least Effort: when deciding between two or more options, people will gravitate towards the one that requires the least effort.

  • If we make actions easy to do, we are more likely to make them a habit.

How to reduce friction

  • Optimise your environment
    • When trying to practice a habit, pick a place that is already in your daily routine
  • Prime the environment for future use
    • “Resetting the room”: return everything to its original place at the end of using a location.
    • Prepare the room for the intended action  
  • Reduce resistance for good habits
    • Want to exercise? Set out your workout clothes ahead of time
    • Want to improve your diet? Set up a meal plan
  • Make bad habits harder
    • Want to watch less Netflix? Log out of the account after every use, and only log in when you have a specific show you want to watch
    • Want to use your phone less? Leave it in another room when working
    • Use Instagram/Reddit less? Log out of the account or delete the app entirely

Exercise 12.1: Optimise your environment

  • List one way you can prepare your environment to facilitate a good habit
  • List one way you can remove something in your environment to discourage a bad habit
  • Then do those things immediately.


  • Habits (and rituals) are the “first step forward” that gets our momentum going.
  • We have multiple decisive moments in our day that lead to significant differences.

The two-minute rule

  • It’s easy to get excited about the changes that you have in mind for yourself and end up overwhelming yourself with too much
  • Counteract this tendency with the two-minute rule: when you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.
    • Example: read research paper -> read one page of the research paper
    • Example: organise study notes -> open the app and go to the notes page
    • Example: exercise on switch -> set up the console at the location
  • The idea is to start habits as easy as possible – “gateway habits”. once you’ve started doing the right thing, it is much easier to continue doing it.
Very easyEasyModerateHardVery hard
Launch Word and write for 2 minutesWrite 100 wordsWrite one sectionWrite one studyFinish my thesis
Open investing learning appRead investing stuff for 2 min a dayFinish a book on investing (hello The Intelligent Investor)Complete an online course on investingRead a financial report
Set up Just DanceOne dance30 minutes of dancing1 hour of dancing same time each weekExercise everyday

The art of showing up

  • Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a consistent basis. You have to standardise before you can optimise.
  • One push-up is better than not exercising at all; one minute of reading is better than not picking up the book. It is about taking the first step forward

Habit shaping: developing a habit in successive stages (easy -> hard)

  • Combine with the two-minute rule: focus only on the first two minutes of the first phase until you’ve mastered it. Then move on to the next phase and repeat.
HabitStarting to Exercise with Just Dance
Phase 1Set up Switch
Phase 2Load up the game
Phase 3Do one dance
Phase 4Dance for 30 minutes once a week
Phase 5Dance 3 times a week
Phase 6Dance everyday

Exercise 13.1: Craft your own habit-shaping chart

  • Follow the above – break up your intended habit into phases.
  • Make sure the 1st phase is easy enough to do in 2 minutes, and do it today.



Making good habits inevitable

  • Commitment devices: a choice you make in the present that controls your actions in the future
  • The key is to change the task such that it requires more work to get out of the habit than to get started on it
  • Examples:
    • Outlet timer that shuts off power to internet router after a set time each day
    • Scheduling an exercise session and paying ahead of time (like spin class)
    • Want to start a business – email the company and set up a call in advance
  • Automating habits: one-time actions that lock in good habits. Examples:
Signing up for a meal planUnsubscribe from emails (e.g.
Buying a water filter to clean drinking waterMute group chats and turn off all notifications
SLEEPSet phone to silent/do not disturb mode
Buy a weighted blanketAutomate email filters to clean up inbox
Buy blackout curtainsDelete games and social media apps from phone
HEALTHEnrol in website usage trackers
Buy a standing deskFINANCE
Buy an office chair for comfortEnrol in an automatic savings plan
 Set up automatic bill payments
I bought a weighted blanket and it did wonders for my sleep. Find out more here.

Technology is the most effective and reliable way to guarantee behaviour because it does not forget

  • Especially for infrequent behaviours
  • Each habit that we automate and pass over to technology gives us more time to do things machines cannot
  • You can also use it to set reminders


  • Commitment devices
  • Strategic onetime decision
  • Leverage technology to automate habits and behaviours

Exercise 14.1: Brainstorm on how you can automate your habits (like the table above) and start doing one immediately. Or you could just use my list and start with one of those.



The fourth law of behaviour change: make it satisfying

  • What is immediately rewarded is repeated
  • What is immediately punished is avoided

Hyperbolic discounting / time inconsistency

  • Good habits are not rewarding in the moment, but pay off only in the future
  • Bad habits are immediately rewarding but lead to undesirable long-term consequences
  • The human brain evolved to prioritise the present moment, which is why people gravitate towards bad habits rather than good ones

Turning instant gratification to our advantage – use reinforcement for good habits

  • At the end of a good habit, immediately reward yourself with something you like
  • This reward should be consistent with the identity you want to develop.
    • e.g. if you want to become someone who exercises, it does not make sense to reward yourself with bubble tea. Instead, you can take a long leisurely shower.
  • Immediate reinforcement can be particularly useful for habits of avoidance where we want to avoid doing something
    • Nothing happens when we avoid an action; we are just resisting temptation. it’s hard to feel satisfied when there is no action.
    • Instead, we can make avoidance visible e.g. every time I make the conscious decision to skip bubble tea, I can deposit $5 (the money I technically “saved”) into a Book Fund
  • As intrinsic rewards like better mood, more energy, and reduced stress kick in, the secondary reward will become less important over time
    • Still, external rewards are important at the beginning when we cannot see consequences and require a bit of a push.

Exercise 15.1: Decide on a reinforcement activity for a good habit that you want to build. For example, every time I eat at home, I write in my journal to indicate I have saved $10.


Habit tracking: a (visual) measurement that indicates whether you’ve performed a habit or not

  • Habit tracking is obvious: we know exactly where we are and seeing our daily actions can spark the urge to change.
  • Habit tracking is attractive: demonstrates progress and gives us motivation to continue
  • Habit tracking is satisfying*: tracking is rewarding in itself. It is satisfying to check off a task on your to-do list or see that you are making progress. It keeps us focused on the process rather than the result.

Making tracking easier

  • Automate your measurements – there are a lot of existing apps and tech that can do the work for you. Examples:
    • Your phone measures the number of steps you have taken that day
    • Credit card statements tell us how much we spend
    • Once you know where to get the data, add a note to your calendar and review it weekly or monthly
  • Manual tracking should be limited to the most important habits – it’s better to track one habit regularly than sporadically track ten.
  • Record each measurement immediately after the habit occurs (I prefer to do it every night though).

Recovering quickly when habits break down

  • We all miss our habits sometimes.
  • The key is to never miss twice and don’t break the chain.
  • The most important thing is to just show up on bad days. Simply doing something – even if it’s not always up to standard – is better than doing nothing.

Beware of measuring the wrong thing!

  • Sometimes we get caught up with the measurement instead of the process. Be careful not to be driven by the number rather than the purpose behind it.
  • It can help to redirect our focus to on other measurements that can give more signals of progress
    • Instead of weight loss from exercising, or a flatter belly, track overall mood and energy levels every day after exercise to refocus yourself
I like to physically track, and the Self Journal I swear by includes a section on paper. But if you prefer a simple printable version like the above, you can try this.



The habit contract: A verbal or written agreement in which your state your commitment to a 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 contact with you.

Habit contracts are extremely effective because they make behaviour unsatisfying.

  • They add a consequence to behaviour, as well as a social cost.
  • In general, the more local, tangible, concrete, and immediate the consequence, the more likely it is to influence subsequent behaviour (and correction).
    • Late for class = marked as absent
    • Did not pay for parking = parking fine
  • However, behaviour only shifts when the punishment is painful enough and reliably enforced. The cost of inaction needs to be greater than the cost of action.

Exercise 17.1: Write your own habit contract and get someone on it with you!

Be sure to include:

  • The goal/why you want to change
  • Objectives (specific actions you will take every day)
  • Consequences of succeeding or lapsing
  • How you and your partner will ensure accountability.

Here’s one I made to tackle my sleep issues.


And that marks the end of the Atomic Habits Action Guide! Thanks for sticking around, and I hope you’ve been able to take away some insights.

In this half, we’ve covered the 3rd and 4th laws and their inversions – making it easy (difficult) and making it satisfying (unsatisfying). Now put all your responses to the exercises together, and they should set you off to a good start on building your new habit (or breaking an old one).

If you enjoyed this action guide and would like to see more, subscribe to my blog at the bottom of this post! I’ll be working on other books next, so stay tuned – e.g.

See you around!

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