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Atomic Habits
James Clear
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Habits and routines are an important part of our quotidian lives. From the moment we wake up we take part in habitual routines. They will become so easy for us that we don’t even realize doing them. Such as brushing our teeth, feeding the dog and checking social media. These routines provide stability and structure in an otherwise chaotic world. The significance of habitual routines cannot be overlooked, they help us to grow and are a key ingredient to personal growth and success. There are also bad habits such as smoking and procrastination that are good to break so they don’t get in the way of success. How can we break bad habits and how can we build strong habits that are powerful assets?


Habit is an action or behavior that is repeated regularly. Habits happen subconsciously and predictably. Once a habit is formed, performing said habit happens without much input and willpower from the person.

Habits are what shape us. If you show me your habits, I can tell your future. This may be a bit of an overstatement but the echo rings true. The correlation between habit and outcome is immense.

James Clear phrases it well on his website:

“Your life today is essentially the sum of your habits. How in shape or out of shape you are? A result of your habits. How happy or unhappy you are? A result of your habits. How successful or unsuccessful you are? A result of your habits.”

How habits are formed

Habits usually form naturally, especially in children, but habits can also be intentionally developed.

“A habit is formed when something is repeated consistently for a long enough time frame” This is not quoted from anywhere but this is the explanation many people seem to have on how habits are formed. While there is truth to this, how habits form goes much deeper.

Habits form when you do something consistently, but that action also has to have a reward. It is very difficult, almost impossible for humans to build habits upon things that cause pain. For example, getting into the habit of smoking is easy, a person feels stressed, smokes a cigarette and gets immediate relief. Once a person has smoked for long enough, they start getting cravings from certain cues that remind them of that thing.

As a rule of thumb, there are four components to habits:

The cue

The cue acts like a signal for the brain to want a certain thing in situations resembling past instances. For example, for a smoker, the cue might be the feeling of stress after a workday.

The craving

The craving comes after the cue, it tells the brain what to want in those situations. For a smoker, this might be the feeling of needing to smoke

The response

The response is the action the person takes. For a smoker, this is the action of pulling out a cigarette and lighting it.

The reward

The reward is the relief you get after the response. For a smoker, this is the relief of stress and the hit of dopamine they get after a cigarette.

Humans are pleasure-seeking creatures, or pain avoiding ones depending on the circumstances

Why do we develop habits?

Humans are incredibly habitual human beings. Habits are often referred to as automatic routines that are performed naturally and often without conscious thought. They can be either beneficial or detrimental to an individual and they play a crucial role in a person’s mind. In the podcast “The science of making and breaking habits”, Andrew Huberman, a professor of neurobiology, explains the mechanisms behind habit building. Huberman compares habits to reflexes. Reflexes are actions that a person does involuntarily and automatically in response to a certain action or stimulus. However, he makes the distinct comparison that unlike reflexes, habits are voluntary. The reason why the terms reflex and habit can get mixed up amongst the common people is that both reactions can become automatic responses to a certain situation.

Huberman separates habits into two different categories, the first one being immediate goal-based habits and the second being identity-based habits. Immediate goal-based habits are habits that are linked to a certain short-term objective. An example of an immediate goal-based habit would be a person who would like to increase their daily activity. The reach that goal, they might set a goal to reach 10 000 steps each day. Therefore, the reason to go on daily walks would be to reach that certain goal. Immediate goal-based habits are primarily focused on achieving a specific and tangible goal and the emphasis is on the results.

Identity-based habits tend to differ from immediate goal-based habits in the sense that unlike immediate goal-based habits, identity-based habits place greater focus on aligning habits with a desired identity and creating a shift in mindset. With identity-based habits, the goal for an individual could be as an example to become a healthier individual. Identity-based habits are often coupled with immediate goal-based habits, since for the individual to become healthier, they might need to set a certain immediate goal to reach long-term achievement. However, these habits often involve a more gradual and adaptable approach, since the focus is not on the specific outcome, but more on long-term behaviour change.

Habit formation


According to Huberman, dopamine is a critical component that plays a pivotal role in habit formation. Dopamine is a molecule that is associated with motivation and reward. Dopamine release occurs as a response to a rewarding experience, and it reinforces the behaviors associated with those rewards. When we engage in activities that promote the release of dopamine, the brain learns to associate that action with pleasure, therefore making an individual more inclined to repeat that action. Huberman also adds that different schedules of dopamine release can predict whether individuals stick to those habits. Dopamine scheduling also affects the pace of how quickly an individual will form those habits.

How long does habit formation take?

When it comes to habit building, an important question that many individuals would like to know is how long does it take to form a habit? In the podcast, Huberman refers to a peer-reviewed study done in 2009 by Phillippa Lally, which states that for the same habit to build, the number of days can range all the way from 18 days to as many as 254 days, based on the individual. The habit that was being implemented in this study for the participants was a simple daily task that was new to the participants and the mandate was that they performed the task around 85% of the time. The habits were related to improved health, such as eating fruit daily, taking a walk before breakfast, drinking sufficient water during the day etc. What this study showed is that for each individual, even though the task itself might be similar considering difficulty, the time it takes to form certain habits can range widely based on the individual.

Linchpin Habits

Linchpin habits or keystone habits are terms used for a specific set of routines that, when adopted, can positively affect other parts of life. These habits can function as a trigger to set off a chain reaction of other positive behaviors. According to Huberman, linchpin habits are always routines and habits that individuals prefer to do beforehand, therefore being easy to accomplish. As an example, Huberman describes that an individual who enjoys exercise can experience other improvements in their other areas of life, such as better sleep quality, decreased stress, improved self-esteem, and an increase in energy levels. Linchpin habits can create a strong domino effect where an improvement in one habit, for example exercise, will also affect an individual’s eating habits, working habits and sleeping habits. Therefore, it’s vital that individuals looking to improve their habits reflect on the habits that they already possess and see what kind of impact they might have on other habits as well.

Habit Strength and Limbic Friction

To understand habits more, Huberman explains the meaning of habit strength and how that correlates with what he calls limbic friction. Limbic friction is a term Huberman uses to describe the amount of friction a certain task or objective causes the individuals limbic system to perform. The limbic system is a set of brain structures involved in emotions, motivation, learning, and memory. Therefore, depending on the task and how naturally it comes to the individual, it will require a certain level of energy from the limbic system. For example, waking up early in the morning might cause little to no limbic friction, if an individual is accustomed to it. However, for an individual whos’ circadian rhythm is completely the opposite, waking up early might cause immense limbic friction, therefore making it much more difficult to continue pursuing that habit.

Habit strength is an important aspect to understand when learning about how habits function. According to Huberman, habit strength is measured by two different criteria, the first one being how context dependent or independent the habit is. If a habit is context independent, it means that they are performed regardless of location or surroundings. Strong habits that are embedded into an individual’s system, such as an individual’s eating schedule, sleeping schedule, or any daily activity that is performed on a regular basis, can be context independent. Context dependent habits on the other hand are behaviors that are closely related to a certain setting, situation, or environment. These behaviors are not performed across different contexts but are more likely to occur in a particular context. For example, many people have the habit of snacking when watching TV or especially when watching a movie. The context of watching TV serves as a trigger for the habit of snacking, even though the person might not even be consciously hungry.

The other criteria to determine the strength of a habit is to understand how much limbic friction is required to perform that habit on a regular basis. Huberman makes the case that during the process of consolidating and building new habits, an individual will require a certain amount of conscious effort to perform those habits. As an example, for a person who is trying to develop the habit of waking up earlier, there might be a high level of limbic friction to overcome during the initial parts of the process. Variables such as initial motivation can affect the process and increase the likelihood of success in the beginning, however motivation most often is a fading resource when it comes to long-term changes. According to Huberman, the amount of limbic friction the habit causes is highly dependent on how deeply the habit is rooted into an individual. The stronger the habit is, the less limbic friction it will generate. However, the weaker the habit, the more limbic friction it will cause. The goal of any habit that individuals would like to perform would be getting into a state of automaticity. Huberman defines automaticity as the point in which the habit becomes automatic, meaning that performing those actions has less limbic friction, therefore being less stressful mentally, physically, and emotionally.

In summary, habit development is a complex process influenced by immediate goals, identity, and neurobiological factors. Andrew Huberman highlights the significance of dopamine, habit strength, and limbic friction in this process.

Dopamine, linked to motivation and reward, reinforces pleasurable behaviors, affecting the speed of habit formation. The time needed to solidify habits varies widely among individuals, as seen in Phillippa Lally’s study. Habit establishment involves a mix of conscious effort and adaptation, considering context-dependency and limbic friction.

Linchpin habits act as catalysts for positive change, creating a domino effect in other behaviors. Habit strength, considering context and limbic friction, reveals insights into performance ease. The ultimate goal is achieving automaticity, where habits become embedded in an individual, therefore requiring minimal effort.

Understanding dopamine, habit strength, and limbic friction provides a compass for understanding how individuals can form positive behaviors. As habits shape daily lives, this knowledge is invaluable for making and sustaining meaningful changes. (Huberman, 2022; Lally et al., 2009)

Atomic habits by James Clear

In his book “Atomic Habits,” author James Clear explores the power of small habits and their ability to create significant changes in our lives. Clear brings up that it is not the big, dramatic actions that lead to success, but more like the tiny, consistent habits we develop over time. With time these small habits create big outcomes.

Clear introduces the concept of atomic habits, which are the tiniest changes that compound over time to produce remarkable results. He highlights the importance of focusing on various systems rather than goals. By creating a system of positive habits, we can make great progress towards our goals consistently.

The author also highlights the four laws of behavior change: make it attractive, make it easy, make it satisfying, and make it obvious. By implementing these laws into our daily lives and routines, we can effectively build new habits and break the bad ones.

Later on Clear discusses how our environment plays a crucial role in shaping our behaviors. He suggests making small adjustments to our surroundings to encourage positive habits effortlessly.

Overall, the book “Atomic Habits” provides practical strategies for transforming your life by making small atomic changes that have a big impact in the big picture. It serves as a guide for anyone looking to improve their productivity, relationships, health or any other aspect of their life by forming habits. This is a book worth looking deeper into even if you are not too fond of reading.

A slight change in your daily habits can guide your life in a very different destination- James Clear. Clear looks like habit formation with a timeline and his teachings are very graphic. People often think that learning should be linear from the start point up to the success, this is not the case with most of the routines. James is calling the beginning as the valley of disappointment since there is a time when you can’t see any improvement although you are putting so much work in the progress. This is the point when most people quit with their process of habit building.

How do you break bad habits

Breaking bad habits can be very difficult for some people, which has to do with the fact that people go about it the wrong way.

When breaking a bad habit, the same principles by James Clear apply oppositely. So instead of make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying, you:

Make it hidden

To stop playing, put your game consoles in storage or give them away.

Make it unattractive

To stop eating unhealthy, look at the consequences closely and see the likely possibilities your unhealthy eating habits could cause.

Make it hard

To stop scrolling social media, delete the apps or your whole accounts entirely.

Make it unsatisfying.

To stop procrastinating, count all the hours you are wasting.

In a nutshell you should always aim to alter the circumstances instead of the habit itself. If you try to fight the urge to smoke, you will lose 4 out of 5 times. But if you throw away your lighters, stop being around smokers or cigarettes, tie your personality into being healthy and a non smoker, your chances of success are a lot greater.

You can always have better habits

Every single habit can, and even should benefit you if you are trying to improve fast.

Many people have vices, and it’s okay.

But one thing to take into consideration is that you can get as much enjoyment with better habits as your current ones. Some habits might even stop you from trying and possibly finding a passion for other, better habits.

A good example of this is playing video games. Someone might argue that video games are a good way to wind down and that playing games is fine as long as it doesn’t negatively affect other aspects of life.

I want to propose another way of thinking: try to maximize the upside instead of minimizing the downside. If you have played games your whole life, you might always turn to them for entertainment or relaxation, even though you might actually love reading, which I argue is a better habit than video games.


In Conclusion Habits and the Habit building plays a significant role in every persons life. It is important to view which habits and lifestyle decisions are you making. Habits can help us towards our goals and they can also inhibit us from reaching our goals. We can break bad habits by not focusing on fighting the urge that is triggering into the bad habit but rather be very aware of the bad habit. You should focus on making it unsatisfying, hard and a conscious decision of why is it something you no longer want to continue.

and we can build strong habits that serve as powerful assets in various different ways but the most common thing in them is  making the habit attractive, easy and obvious. Building habits can feel slow and hard in the beginning, nothing is more hard in life than change but change is inevitable if you want your outcome to change for the better.


Huberman, A. (2022, January 1]). The Science of Making & Breaking Habits. Huberman Lab Podcast. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wcs2PFz5q6g&t=1376s]

Website about habits by James Clear https://jamesclear.com/

Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H. M., Potts, H. W. W., & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998–1009. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.674

Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Habits and Break Bad Ones. Penguin Random House, 2018.

Elite Sports Clubs. (2019, January 15). Get rid of bad habits through moderation. https://eliteclubs.com/moderation-habits/

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