Atomic Habits

Atomic habits cheat sheet

James Clear, the author of the Atomic Habits book, focuses on habits and how they can help people improve their lives. The following Atomic Habits summary includes printable cheat sheets and worksheets. We also offer a free workbook with 23 pages of Atomic Habits worksheets.

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Atomic Habits Book

Atomic Habits Book

atomic habits journal

Atomic Habits Journal

Atomic Habits Summary

This is a summary of the Atomic Habits book which is based on the idea that small changes can cause remarkable results. We also offer a free Atomic Habits workbook PDF below with additional resources that will help you develop or change your habits.

What are habits?

Habits are automated behaviors that we’ve learned from experience.

When we repeat a behavior many times it becomes habit and happens automatically.
In James Clear’s words: “A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.”

How are habits formed?

Our brain figures out how to respond to new situations through a process of trial and error. Once we do behaviors that give satisfying consequences often enough they become automatic.

Trigger

Habits begin with a cue, or a trigger to act. For example, walking into a dark room, cues you to perform an action that will enable you to be able to see.

Craving

Next comes a craving for a change in state. In our example, to be able to see.

Response

Then comes our response, or action. In our example, flicking the light switch.

Reward

The final step in the process, and the end goal of every habit, is the reward. In this example, being able to see your surroundings. If the reward satisfied you then a positive feedback loop is formed. This tells your brain, next time this cue happens do the same thing to get the same reward. If you follow this cycle often enough it starts happening without thinking about it. That is the basis of habit formation.

Every habit is subject to the same process.

Do you habitually drink coffee every morning? Waking up is your cue, triggering a craving to feel alert. Your response is to drag yourself out of bed and make a cup of coffee. Your reward is feeling alert.

Unfortunately, not all habits are good for us, but the process is the same for both good and bad habits.

Small habits can have a huge impact on your life

We don’t notice tiny changes, because their immediate impact is negligible. However, these small changes, if repeated every day, can cause major changes in our lives. You might not even notice that change is taking place but over time you will see a difference.

“Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You need to be patient.”

If you want to make a positive change in your life, you have to understand that change requires patience, as well as confidence that your habits are helping you progress in the right direction even if you don’t see immediate results.

So if you find that your behaviors and habits don’t seem to be paying off, try to focus on your progress rather than your current results.

You don’t need to make major changes to your life all at once to have a big impact. Rather, make tiny changes to your behavior, which, when repeated over and over, will become habits that may lead to big results. If you improve 1% every day for one year, then at the end of the year you will be 37% better. Small changes make a big difference over time. Tiny atomic habits are anchored on small changes that lead to great results over time (that is how the book got its name “Atomic Habits”).

“If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, all you have to do is follow the curve of tiny gains or tiny losses, and see how your daily choices will compound ten or twenty years down the line.” I thought that that was a particularly powerful quote.

Focus more on building a system than setting goals

If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead. As James Clear explains, “Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.”True long-term thinking focuses more on building effective systems than setting goals. The idea is not to achieve a single accomplishment but to create a cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement.

Your habits shape your identity and vice versa

There are three layers of behavior change:

  • a change in your outcomes (i.e. what you get or what you achieve)
  • a change in your processes (i.e. what you do)
  • or a change in your identity (i.e. what you believe)

Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. The way you behave is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously). If you want to change your behavior you need to first change your identity (i.e. change the things you believe about yourself).

The most effective way to change your habits is to focus on who you wish to become, not on what you want to achieve. Make the habit part of your new identity.

“It is a simple two-step process: Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.”

“Ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want?” Then be that person.

“The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results (although they can do that), but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.”

How to Build New Habits

There is a printable cheat sheet for this section below.

The Four Laws of Behavior Change

Rule To Form a Good Habit To Break a Bad Habit Relevant Step
1st Make it obvious Make it invisible Cue
2nd Make it attractive Make it unattractive Cravings
3rd Make it easy Make it difficult Response
4th Make it satisfying Make it unsatisfying Reward

There are four laws of behavior change:

1. 1st Law – Make it Obvious

Make your cues as obvious as possible, and you’ll be more likely to respond to them.

We all have cues that trigger certain habits. Since certain stimuli can prompt habitual behavior, you can use this to change your habits. For example, you can change your environment to encourage better habits. If you want to exercise more often then leave your running shoes and gym clothes somewhere where you won’t miss them.

If you want to eat healthier food, then put your cut vegetables on the shelf that you see as you open your fridge instead of hiding them in the vegetable drawer.

Don’t spend time in tempting situations. It’s easier to avoid temptation than to resist it.

Use Habit Stacking

Identify a habit you already do every day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called habit stacking. For example, I will do yoga right after I brush my teeth every morning.

Use implementation intentions (a clear plan of action, setting out when and where you’ll carry out the habit you’d like to cultivate).

If you want to build new habits you must have a clear plan of action. Don’t say, “I’m going to start working out,” and simply hope that you’ll follow through. Instead, say “I’ll work out on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 7 AM for 20 minutes”.

An implementation intention introduces a clear plan of action, setting out when and where you’ll carry out the habit you’d like to cultivate. Research shows that this is the most effective way to cultivate a new habit.

2. 2nd Law – Make it Attractive

Humans are motivated by the anticipation of reward, so making habits attractive will help you stick to them.

Our brain releases dopamine (a hormone that makes us feel good) when we do activities that we enjoy. However, dopamine is also released when we anticipate these activities not only when we actually do them. That is why planning a vacation is so enjoyable and part of the fun.

We can use this to our advantage when trying to form new habits. If we make a habit something we look forward to, we’ll be much more likely to follow through and actually do it. James Clear suggests using “temptation bundling” to do this. Temptation bundling is when you take a behavior that you want to adopt that is unappealing and link it to a behavior that you enjoy (one that will cause your brain to release dopamine). For example, make a decision that you will only watch TV in general or a specific program that you enjoy when you are on the treadmill.

3. 3rd Law – Make it Easy

If you want to build a new habit, make that habit as easy to adopt as possible.

We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work. Therefore, making behaviors as easy as possible is important to turn them into habits. Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible. James Clear gives a few tips to make habits seem easier in the long term.

Focus on reducing friction

If you want to do something, then make sure that the supplies are available so that there’s no friction. For example, if you want to go for a run, then keep your running gear out. If you don’t want to waste time on your phone, then don’t keep it nearby while you are working or simply turn it off. Doing so will introduce enough friction to ensure you only use it when you need to.

The two-minute rule

“The Two-Minute Rule states, ‘When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.’”

This is another way to make any new activity feel manageable. The rule recognizes that simply getting started is the first and most important step toward doing something. If you want to start running then commit to running for two minutes only. Once you start running, you will probably keep going.

Make your habits immediately satisfying to help you change your behavior.

The most important rule for behavioral change is to make habits satisfying. This can be difficult since our habits are often beneficial in the long run and we don’t always get immediate satisfaction. For example, when we workout every day we will eventually get fitter but we don’t see the change every day. On the other hand, bad habits often do have immediate satisfaction such as the enjoyment from eating chocolate.

Therefore, when you are trying to build habits with a long-term benefit, try to attach some immediate satisfaction to them. For example, if you want to start losing weight, start saving for something that you really want to buy. Each day that you eat well and/or workout put a dollar (or however much you decide on) into the savings account to save for something you really want. You will now get some short-term satisfaction each time you put money into your account. This will keep you on track until you reach your long-term goals.

The Role of Family and Friends in Shaping Your Habits

“We tend to imitate the habits of three social groups: the close (family and friends), the many (the tribe), and the powerful (those with status and prestige).”

“One of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is to join a culture where (1) your desired behavior is the normal behavior and (2) you already have something in common with the group.”

“If a behavior can get us approval, respect, and praise, we find it attractive.”

How can we stick to our habits?

Habit Trackers

A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit. It is basically like marking an X on a calendar.

A habit tracker is an effective technique to keep your habits on track since one of the most satisfying feelings is the feeling of making progress. “Habit trackers and other visual forms of measurement can make your habits satisfying by providing clear evidence of your progress.”

This framework is very popular and was even used by founding father Benjamin Franklin. Franklin kept track of 13 personal virtues (such as avoiding frivolous conversation and always doing something useful). Every night, he tracked his progress.

Use our free printable habit trackers to mark each day that you stick with your chosen behaviors. Since habit tracking itself is an attractive, and satisfying, habit you will find it will help you keep on track. The anticipation and action of marking your habit tracker each day will feel good and keep you motivated.

James clear suggests that you never miss twice. If you miss one day, try to get back on track as quickly as possible. Don’t break the chain. Try to keep your habit streak going for as long as possible.

Habit Contract

A habit contract is a good framework to keep your habits on track since it imposes negative consequences if you fail to do so.

Use our free printable habit contract below. In the habit contract, you will commit to doing something and you will identify specific habits that will help you reach that goal.

You then set up penalties for not doing those things. Once you have completed it, sign it and get two people you respect to sign it as well. Choose people who you will not want to disappoint or lose face in front of if you don’t do what you commit to doing.

See the free printable habit contract below.

How to Break Bad Habits

1. Make your cues invisible

We all have cues that trigger certain habits. The buzz of your phone, for example, is a cue to check your messages. If you find yourself wasting a lot of time on social media or on your phone then move your phone away while you are working or put it on silent.

2. Make your bad habits unappealing

Focus on the benefits of avoiding your bad habits to make them seem unattractive.

“Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings and unattractive when we associate them with negative feelings. Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.”

3. Make the bad habit as difficult as possible

Focus on increasing friction

For example, if you don’t want to waste time on your phone, then don’t keep it nearby while you are working or simply turn it off. Doing so will introduce enough friction to ensure you only use it when you need to.

Use the two-minute rule

You can use the two-minute rule to make refraining from something seem manageable. For example, if you are trying to diet and have a craving for chocolate, do something you enjoy for two minutes. The chances are your craving will be over after two minutes if you don’t act on it immediately.

Use a commitment device

This is a choice you make in the present that locks in better behavior in the future. For example, if you want to save money, then you enroll in an automatic savings plan.

“Using technology to automate your habits is the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behavior.

4. Make your habit unsatisfying

The most important rule for behavioral change is to make bad habits unsatisfying. This can be difficult since bad habits often have immediate satisfaction such as the enjoyment from eating chocolate even if they are unsatisfying in the long run.

Attach some immediate satisfaction to avoiding a bad habit

For example, each day that you don’t do your bad habit, put a dollar (or however much you decide on) into a savings account. You will now get some short-term satisfaction each time you put money into your account. This will keep you on track until you reach your long-term goals.

Use a habit contract

A habit contract is a good framework to keep your habits on track since it imposes negative consequences if you fail to do so.

Atomic Habits Cheat Sheet

How to Build New Habits

Atomic Habits Cheat Sheet_How to Build Good Habits -
Atomic Habits Cheat Sheet_How to Stick to our Habits

PDF

How to Break Bad Habits

Atomic Habits Cheat Sheet_How to Break Bad Habits
Atomic Habits Cheat Sheet_How to Break Bad Habits

PDF

How to Stick to our Habits

Atomic Habits Cheat Sheet_How to Stick to our Habits

Atomic Habits Worksheets

The Atomic Habits worksheets PDF format is editable so you can type on them before you print. The worksheet templates are also available as images if you want to write on them and not type.

Atomic Habits Worksheets PDF – 23 Pages

This free printable journal has 23 pages of Atomic Habits worksheets in PDF format. The workbook is typeable so you can use it on your PC, iPad, or tablet without printing it. If you prefer to download only specific resources such as a scorecard, cheat sheet, or habit contract then see below.

atomic habits worksheets

Typeable PDF23 Pages

Atomic Habits Scorecard

Atomic Habits Scorecard
Atomic Habits Scorecard Instructions

Image | PDF

  1. Make a list of your daily habits

List all things you do on a daily basis and without thinking such as waking up, brushing your teeth, checking your phone, taking a shower, drinking coffee, etc.

  1. Look at each behavior and ask yourself if it is a good, bad or neutral habit.
  • If it is a good habit (i.e. it will benefit you in the long run), write “+” next to it.
  • If it is a bad habit (i.e. it will have a negative outcome in the long run), write “–” next to it.
  • If it is a neutral habit, write “=” next to it.
  1. Be aware of your habits

There is no need to change anything at first. The goal is to simply notice what is actually going on. Observe your thoughts and actions without judgment or internal criticism.

The idea is to get you to recognize your habits and acknowledge the cues that trigger them. This will make it easier to discover which habits you should change and respond in a way that benefits you.

Habit Contract

Habit contract

Atomic Habits Quotes

The following Atomic Habits Quotes are powerful sentences from the Atomic Habits book.

“A habit is a behavior that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.”

“Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You need to be patient.”

“If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, all you have to do is follow the curve of tiny gains or tiny losses, and see how your daily choices will compound ten or twenty years down the line.”

“It is a simple two-step process: Decide the type of person you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.”

“Ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that could get the outcome I want? Then be that person.”

“The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results (although they can do that), but because they can change your beliefs about yourself.”

“Habits are attractive when we associate them with positive feelings and unattractive when we associate them with negative feelings. Create a motivation ritual by doing something you enjoy immediately before a difficult habit.”

“Using technology to automate your habits is the most reliable and effective way to guarantee the right behavior.”

Atomic Habits Review

I found the book to be extremely effective. I have read many books on habit formation and yet this one still stood out. I love the idea of starting with small changes. I have tried to change my habits many times over the years and have never really been successful over the long term. I love the two-minute rule. I don’t have a lot of spare time but I can spare two minutes. When I start out planning to exercise for two minutes I often carry on, but if I didn’t initially plan to go for two minutes, then I wouldn’t have started. I am an “all or nothing” kind of person so the two-minute rule was a game-changer for me. The main idea of the atomic habits book is that tiny changes add up over time and make a big difference. Before I read the book I didn’t really bother making small changes. I would set my goals to exercise for an hour or two a day and then eventually land up doing nothing.

The idea of changing my identity was also something that I found really powerful.

I am a very goal-oriented person and this book puts more focus on the process than the goal, which I found to be an interesting concept and I started putting more focus on processes in my life as a result.

The book is easy to read so it was enjoyable as well. Some books are too academic or detailed and I feel like I’m back at school. This book was an easy read and very practical which I love. It is full of actionable advice.

I also liked the fact that there are many strategies presented in the book. You are bound to find at least a few helpful.

If you spend a lot of time commuting then the audiobook will be a great alternative to actually reading the book.

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