Atomic Habits: small changes for big transformations

THE habits play a crucial role in our daily life. Indeed, they reveal through these repetitive behaviors, a part of who we are! They therefore appear as an essential lever for making lasting change in both our personal and professional lives.

I heard a lot of good things about the book” Atomic Habits (Atomic Habits) by James Clear. It is a "revolutionary" guide to understand and change our habits, and thus achieve our goals. I particularly appreciate its title with multiple meanings. The term "Atomic" is both a generator of a certain energy, of a dynamism necessary to surpass oneself and at the same time of a minimalism of change in small steps.

In this article, I invite you to explore the key principles of the book and their application for positive transformations.

What is a habit?

James Clear defines a habit as:

A regular routine or behavior that is learned over time, often unconsciously, and is usually triggered by some cue or context.

According to him, habits are the little building blocks that shape our daily lives and our long-term success.

In his book, he uses the term “atomic habits” to describe those small, yet powerful changes in our behavior that can lead to significant long-term results. These atomic habits are so small they seem insignificant, yet they are fundamental to building lasting systems of change and self-improvement.

Why is it so hard to change?

According to James Clear, changing is difficult due to several factors that influence habit formation and transformation.

Here are some of the reasons why change can be difficult:

  • Inertia of existing habits : Habits are ingrained in our daily lives and become automatic, making it difficult to break or change them.
  • Resistance to change : The human brain tends to prefer stability and familiarity, which creates a natural resistance to change.
  • Lack of short-term motivation : Positive results of change can take time to manifest, while existing habits often offer immediate rewards, making it difficult to persevere in the change process.
  • Limited willpower : Willpower is a finite resource that can be depleted as we use it, making it difficult to sustain new behaviors over the long term.
  • Adverse environments : Our environments play a crucial role in the reinforcement of habits, and if the environment does not support the desired change, it is difficult to maintain it.
  • fear of failure : Change often involves the unknown and the possibility of failure, which can lead to anxiety and inhibit our efforts to change.
  • Lack of clarity and strategy : Without a clear understanding of what we want to change and without an effective strategy to get there, it is easy to feel lost or overwhelmed.

To overcome these obstacles and facilitate change, James Clear advocates the use of specific strategies based on understanding the psychology of habits. Let's discover them together.

1. The importance of micro-changes

James Clear encourages us to start small micro changes rather than thinking too big. Indeed, it is easier to take a small step close to you than to perform a 3 m jump! It is more reassuring and in addition it requires less effort.

Repeated small actions can have a huge impact on our lives

This is very consistent with this image, often shared in the field of coaching and change:

Source: Reddit

A work of redefinition of objectives is therefore necessary.

So, rather than setting a vague goal like:

Exercise more

We would rather say:

Walk for 15 minutes every day

We are therefore more precise on thecommitment that we take in terms ofaction and D'effort. Consequently, it is easier to measure, validate and celebrate what we undertake!

Chaining successes gives you the energy and motivation to continue 🙂

2. Fight procrastination

James Clear offers several strategies to fight procrastination and help build productive habits. Here are some tips based on his teachings:

  • Make habits attractive : Find ways to associate immediate and positive rewards with your important tasks or activities.

For example, create a pleasant environment to work in or listen to music you like while you complete your tasks.

  • Make Habits Easy : Reduce friction between you and your tasks by removing obstacles.

For example, prepare everything you need in advance, create an organized workspace and establish a routine to start your activities more easily.

  • Make Habits Satisfying : Set up a progress tracking system to observe your improvement.

For example, celebrate small wins along the way to boost your motivation.

  • Use the two-minute principle : If a task can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately. This will help you avoid the accumulation of small tasks that can lead to procrastination.
  • Identify triggers : Spot the times when you are more inclined to procrastinate and identify the triggers of this procrastination. By becoming aware of these times, you can better manage your reactions to procrastination.
  • Using the Pomodoro Technique : Work in short time intervals (eg 25 minutes) followed by short breaks. This method can help you maintain focus and avoid procrastination.
  • Visualize the costs of procrastination : Become aware of the negative consequences of procrastination and imagine the positive results if you act now. This awareness can strengthen your motivation to take action.
  • Find an accountability partner : Involve a friend, colleague or family member in your goals. Sharing your progress and challenges with someone else can help you stay accountable for your actions.

By implementing these strategies, you will gradually be able to overcome procrastination and complete your tasks more efficiently.

3. The Law of Accumulation

The book also discusses the law of accumulation, which highlights the power of small gains. Every little progress we make, no matter how insignificant, brings us closer to our goals.

For example, if you are learning a new language, learning just a few words a day may not seem like much, but in the long run it will help you master the language.

The law of accumulation is therefore important to take into account for the following reasons:

  • Cumulative effect : Small, steady improvements over time can lead to remarkable results. It's the power of small, consistent steps that add up to big impact.
  • Attenuation of the initial effort : The accumulation of these small changes makes habits more natural and less demanding.
  • Identity reinforcement : When you adopt small positive habits, you reinforce your identity as a person who accomplishes constructive actions. This can boost your self-confidence and your ability to continue positive behaviors.
  • Sustainable systems : By focusing on small, lasting changes rather than temporary drastic changes, you create systems that support long-term success.
  • Resistance to setbacks : When you face obstacles or setbacks, the law of accumulation helps you stay resilient. You can view these setbacks as isolated incidents in the context of an overall trajectory of progress.
  • Continuous improvement : The emphasis on accumulation rather than instant perfection encourages you to seek continuous improvement rather than striving to reach an unrealistic level of performance.

The law of accumulation helps to be more patient and persevering in the pursuit of one's goals.

4. The importance of the environment

The environment is an essential factor in the formation of habits, and according to James Clear, it plays a key role in the success of behavior change. The environment can be seen as a “sphere of influence” that shapes our behavior in significant ways.

For example, if you want to stop snacking on unhealthy foods, keep them out of your sight and replace them with healthy, easy-to-access snacks.

To create an environment conducive to new habits, according to James Clear, here are the elements to take into account:

  • Visual cues : Place visual reminders or cues in your environment to remind you to do the action you want to make a habit.

For example, if you want to read more, keep a book on your bedside table to remind you to read before sleeping.

  • Friction reduction : Eliminate the obstacles that could prevent you from achieving your new habits.

For example, if you want to go to the gym in the morning, pack your gym bag the night before to avoid wasting time and energy in the morning.

  • The social environment : Surround yourself with people who have similar habits or are supportive of your goals. Social influence can be powerful in reinforcing your habits.

For example, if you want to learn Korean, get closer to a group passionate about this culture and who will help you in your approach.

  • Creating a conducive space : Arrange your environment in such a way as to facilitate the execution of your new habits.

For example, if you want to meditate every day, create a quiet and comfortable corner in your home for this practice.

  • The immediate rewards : Attach immediate rewards to your new habits.

It can be something as simple as enjoying a cup of tea after completing an important task.

  • Public commitment : Sharing your goals and new habits with others reinforces your responsibility and commitment to these changes.

For example, if you want to develop your brand image, you can announce to your network that you will share a tip about your trade every day for a month.

By creating a favorable environment, you put all the chances on your side to adopt and maintain new habits. It can also become a powerful ally in your quest for personal growth and continuous improvement. The reverse is also true, remember to pay attention to it!

5. The power of feedback loops

According to James Clear, a feedback loop is:

A process in which information about the results of an action or behavior is used to adjust and improve that behavior.

It is a mechanism that allows us to assess our performance and therefore make informed decisions.

There are two types of feedback loops:

  • The positive feedback loop : It occurs when the results of an action are positive or desirable. It reinforces the behavior or habit by giving us a reward or a sense of satisfaction. This positive feedback motivates us to continue to act in the same way.
  • The negative feedback loop : It occurs when the results of an action are negative or undesirable. It encourages us to adjust our behavior or try a different approach for better results in the future.

To set up good feedback loops, it is important to keep in mind:

  • Specific and measurable objectives : Set clear, quantifiable goals so you know exactly what you're trying to accomplish.
  • Regular monitoring of progress : Record your actions and results regularly to assess your progress towards your goals.
  • Objective data : Make sure that the information collected is objective and based on facts, in order to make informed decisions.
  • Adjustments and improvements : Use feedback to make positive changes to your approach if needed. Be open to experimentation and continuous learning.
  • The celebration of success : Don't forget to celebrate your successes, even the smallest ones, to reinforce your motivation and commitment.

Regular feedback helps you stay on track and keep moving towards the desired change.

The Cycle of Habits for Change

James Clear proposes an approach based on four steps For build good habits Or deconstruct the bad.

These steps are based on his model “ Cue-Craving-Response-Reward", also known as the habit cycle.

Here's how you can use his template in a practical, step-by-step way:

Step 1: Identify the Signal (Cue)

For good habits:

Identify a existing signal that reminds you to make the habit.

If you want to get into the habit of exercising every morning, use the alarm clock as a cue. When the alarm rings, it serves as a reminder to put on your gym clothes.

For bad habits:

Spot it signal that triggers the bad habit.

If you tend to eat sugary snacks when you feel stressed, stress is your signal. Take note of when you feel stressed to understand when and why you reach for sweets.

Step 2: Examine Craving

Good habits:

Find a way to make theenvy to make a habit stronger. Use positive affirmations or imagine them long term benefits.

If you want to drink more water, think of the health benefits every time you see a bottle of water. This will strengthen your urge to drink more water regularly.

Bad habits :

Identify theenvy following the signal and ask yourself questions to understand why it exists.

If you crave a cigarette when you're stressed, ask yourself what you're really looking for. Is it a mental break? A moment of calm? Identifying this can help you find alternatives.

Step 3: Edit Response

Good habits:

Simplify the habit as much as possible to reduce friction.

If you want to read more, keep a book in your bag so you can read during unexpected wait times (like in a waiting room or on public transport).

Bad habits :

Give up the bad habit difficult to accomplish.

If you constantly check your phone, put it in another room when you work. This will make checking your phone less convenient and help you stay focused.

Step 4: Set the Reward

Good habits:

Give yourself a small immediate reward which is aligned with your desired identity.

After a meditation session, take a moment to savor the calm and mental clarity you feel. This reinforces the reward and encourages you to keep going.

Bad habits :

Find a alternative reward which gives you a similar benefit without the cost of the bad habit.

If you're used to drinking sugary sodas for fun, try a healthier alternative like flavored water. You get a similar reward (a nice drink) without the downsides.

By following these steps with real-life examples in mind, you can better understand how to apply the Habit Cycle to your own life to create lasting and meaningful change.

Additional techniques according to James Clear:

1. Make it obvious

Make good habits visible and the bad ones invisible.

Good habits:

Make the good habit as visible as possible.

For example, if you want to get into the habit of reading, leave a book on your bedside table or somewhere you will see it regularly.

Bad habits :

Make the bad habit hard to see or hit.

If you're trying to stop snacking on sweets, don't keep them on your counter or in an easily accessible drawer.

2. Make it attractive

Use the positive motivation for good habits and negative for the bad ones.

Good habits:

Add an element of pleasure or reward.

If you're trying to exercise regularly, choose a physical activity that you really enjoy or listen to your favorite podcast or music while you work out.

Bad habits :

Associate negative consequences with the bad habit.

For example, if you are trying to quit smoking, calculate the amount of money you spend each month on cigarettes and imagine what you could do with that money instead.

3. Make it easy

Reduce the necessary steps to form a good habit.

Good habits:

Reduce the steps needed to complete the good habit.

If you want to start meditating, install a meditation app on your phone and prepare a quiet space to have everything ready when you have a free moment.

Bad habits :

Add obstacles between you and the bad habit.

If you want to reduce the time spent on social media, remove apps from your home screen or use apps that limit the time you can spend on these sites.

4. Make the reward satisfying

Make sure the reward is immediate and satisfactory.

Good habits:

Choose an immediate reward that is consistent with your long-term goal.

After a workout, enjoy a refreshing shower or a protein shake that you love.

Bad habits :

Find an alternative reward that is healthier but just as satisfying.

If you're used to having a soda for a break, try flavored sparkling water as an alternative.

By applying these techniques systematically, you can create an environment that promotes good habits and discourages bad ones, making behavior change more accessible and sustainable.


For James Clear, the creating positive habits and the removing negative habits are essential for achieve our goals.

It emphasizes the importance of design systems and environments that promote the establishment of good habits, rather than relying solely on motivation and willpower.

In understanding the mechanics of habits and using them to our advantage, we can transform our life in a lasting and meaningful way.


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Picture of Olivier MY

Olivier MY

Trained as an engineer and passionate about people, I quickly turned to the world of Agile coaching and Professional coaching. Today, I support individuals, teams and organizations towards creating value adapted to the constraints and challenges of today's world. I am committed to contributing to the professionalization of the profession, in particular through detailed feedback and inspirations highlighting the importance of an open, curious and respectful posture.


6 responses

  1. Hello Oliver,
    Thank you for sharing and summarizing the key principles 🙂 I think your article will be very useful to me, like many of your other articles that I have already used in my practice.
    I don't write often but I read you, it inspires me and it helps me a lot!

    1. Hello Gwenaelle,
      Glad you found value in this article!
      Your message encourages me to continue, and for that alone I thank you!
      To the pleasure.

  2. Hello Olivier
    and thank you for sharing. I wouldn't have had the courage to read the entire book, your summary suits me very well and is enough to open up areas for improvement.
    Have a nice summer and see you soon

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