20 Quotes from Atomic Habits by James Clear

I recently reread James Clear’s Atomic Habits. The popularity of this book is well deserved as it is a tour de force of how to effectively implement habits into your life. I noticed that while the past year or so I haven’t implemented directly the strategies suggested in the book, I have utilized many of the principles unconsciously, most likely from my first reading of the book several years ago. If you’re wanting to improve your life with small changes then this book is for you.

Here are 20 of some of my favorite quotes from the book:


  1. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis (15).
  2. Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits. You get what you repeat (18).
  3. We often expect progress to be linear. At the very least, we hope it will come quickly. In reality, the results of our efforts are often delayed. It is not until months or years later that we realize the true value of the previous work we have done. This can result in a valley of disappointment” where people feel discouraged after putting in weeks or months of hard work without experiencing any results. However, this work was not wasted. It was simply being stored. It is not until much later that the full value of previous efforts is revealed (22).
  4. Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results (23).
  5. You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems (27).
  6. Behind every system of actions are a system of beliefs (32).
  7. Research has shown that once a person believes in a particular aspect of their identity, they are more likely to act in alignment with that belief (34).
  8. Carl Jung said, Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate (62).
  9. The process of behavior change always starts with awareness (66).
  10. Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for the time to be right to make an improvement (71).
  11. One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. This is called habit stacking (74).
  12. You can break a habit, but you’re unlikely to forget it. Once the mental grooves of habit have been carved into your brain, they are nearly impossible to remove entirely—even if they go unused for quite a while (94).
  13. The normal behavior of the tribe often overpowers the desired behavior of the individual (120).
  14. I refer to this as the difference between being in motion and taking action. The two ideas sound similar, but they’re not the same. When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will deliver an outcome. If I outline twenty ideas for articles I want to write, that’s motion. If I actually sit down and write an article, that’s action. If I search for a better diet plan and read a few books on the topic, that’s motion. If I actually eat a healthy meal, that’s action (142).
  15. Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done. When preparation becomes a form of procrastination, you need to change something. You don’t want to merely be planning. You want to be practicing (143).
  16. One of the most common questions I hear is, How long does it take to build a new habit?” But what people really should be asking is, How many does it take to form a new habit?”…It’s the frequency that makes the difference. Your current habits have been internalized over the course of hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions (146).
  17. The amount of time you have been performing a habit is not as important as the number of times you have performed it (147).
  18. Standardize before you optimize. You can’t improve a habit that doesn’t exist (166).
  19. The ending of any experience is vital because we tend to remember it more than other phases. You want the ending of your habit to be satisfying (191).
  20. The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It is the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident. Missing twice is the start of a new habit (201).


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