A Rhythm in Notion
Small(er) Steps Toward a Much Better World

Book Review: Atomic Habits

New Year’s Lasts as Long as My Hangover

So many people on Twitter pointed to James Clear’s Atomic Habits as one of their most useful books of 2018 that I gave it a read for New Year’s.

The book’s thoroughness and clarity on all aspects of habit formation, and Malcolm Gladwell-worthy storytelling, push it head and shoulders above any other habits book.

The Points that Stuck With Me

  • Small repeated actions go through a latency period before showing results, the “plateau of latent potential.” Like going bankrupt, it happens slowly, then all at once. Or, like heating a cube of ice, the temperature rises and rises until a phase shift occurs and the ice dissolves into water. What were those previous degrees of heat doing? The same dang thing, but the results didn’t show.

  • A great life is composed of many small habits. Nail good habits, and your results will compound over time to yield an extraordinary life, an extraordinary person.

  • If you improve just 1% per day, at the end of a year you are 37 times better, because math.

  • You can make this 1% compounding idea the basis of a powerful program. Take each tiny piece of your life or endeavour apart, and try to make each tiny piece just 1% better. Put the pieces back together, and you have world-class excellence.

  • You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.
  • To continue toward excellence, you keep forming new habits at higher levels. Just review your habits and performance to see what new is needed.

  • Making a habit part of your identity will make it intrinsically rewarding over time, and help it stick.

  • Find your Habit Tribe.

  • Habits are formed based on frequency of performance, not mere passage of time.

  • Use the trigger template: I will [something] on [date/time] at [place]
  • Use the habit stacking template: when I [current habit], I will [new habit]

  • Context matters a lot. Just as you should set up your environment to remove the need for willpower, in order to excel, you need to find the right environment for your characteristics and talents.
  • If you are losing at life, explore new options. When you find something you’re winning at, spend 80% of your time exploiting that, and 20% exploring new things.


When we’re thinking about the “improve each tiny piece” idea, I will note that the Theory of Constraints should probably be used at some point. ToC says that because a system is more than a mere assemblage of parts, some one piece will be the bottleneck for the entire system. “Improving” other parts may just further overload the bottleneck, worsening rather than improving the entire system’s performance. Nevertheless I’d bet one can make many improvements in most systems before this becomes important.

I’ve started looking for personal examples of stacked habits. For instance, when I wash my hands in the bathroom, I habitually use the running water to rinse the sink and countertop (my sink area is always clean!). Until I read this book, I thought of this as “that weird but super useful thing I do” instead of “a stacked habit.”

And I’m searching for ways to stack habits to accomplish larger routines and longer-term goals. For instance, I’m using Tiago Forte’s Daily/Weekly/Monthly reviews, along with Taylor Pearson’s quarter goal-setting. I can probably find some trigger for “do whichever review is due” in my daily routine.

His combination of the Pareto principle and the explore vs. exploit dichotomy was particularly insightful, providing a balanced rule that will continue to be relevant even after one chooses a field to exploit. It reminded me of Ann Miura’s emphasis on only pursuing a career at which she could be truly world class.

As Ann says, find your world class.