Book: Atomic Habits, 3. Building Better Habits in 4 Simple Steps

The Goal of This Post

This post is a synthesis from the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear.

The author packs a playbook on how to build systems and habits for life-long transformation. This post focuses on the continuous feedback loop (cues, cravings, responses, rewards) that is at the core of building(and breaking!) habits. I hope you enjoy it!

If You Only Takeway One Thing

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


Some of the key ideas we’ll explore in this post:

  1. Why Your Brain Builds Habits
  2. The Four Stages of a Habit
  3. The Four Laws of Behavior Change

Why Your Brain Builds Habits

Let’s see this in two different scenarios.

Scenario: “A World without Habits”

  • Whenever you encounter a new situation in life, your brain has to make a decision. How do I respond to this? The first time you come across a problem, you’re not sure how to solve it… Neurological activity in the brain is high during this period. You are carefully analyzing the situation and making conscious decisions about how to act. You’re taking in tons of new information and trying to make sense of it all. The brain is busy learning the most effective course of actions.

Scenario: “A World With Habits”

  • As habits are created, the level of activity in the brain decreases. You learn to lock in on the cues that predict success and tune out everything else. When a similar situation arises in the future, you know exactly what to look for. There is no longer a need to analyze every angle of a situation. Your brain skips the process of trial and error and creates a mental rule: if this, then that… A choice that once required effort is now automatic. A habit has been created.

How do habits impact our lives?

Habits are mental shortcuts learned from experience….
Building habits in the present allows you to do more of what you want in the future.

The Four Stages of a Habit

All habits proceed through four stages: CueCravingResponseReward. ↺

(1) Cues

  • The cue triggers your brain to initiate a behavior.
  • The cue represents a bit of information that predicts a reward.
  • Your mind is continuously analyzing your internal and external environments for hints of where rewards are located.

(2) Cravings

  • Cravings are the motivational force behind every habit.
  • Without some level of motivation – we have no reason to act.
  • What you crave is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers.
  • Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state.

(3) Responses

  • The response is the actual habit you perform.
  • The response can take the form of a thought or an action.
  • Your response depends on your ability… A habit can occur only if you are capable of doing it.

(4) Rewards

  • Rewards are the end goal of every habit.
  • Rewards satisfy us. Rewards deliver contentment and relief from craving.
  • Rewards teach us. Rewards teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future.

The Habit Feedback Loop

The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue.

The Four Laws of Behavior Change

Whenever you want to change your behavior, you can simple ask yourself:

  1. How can I make it obvious?
  2. How can I make it attractive?
  3. How can I make it easy?
  4. How can I make it satisfying?

A set of simple rules for creating good habits and breaking bad habits:

StepHow to Create a Good HabitHow to Break a Bad Habit
The 1st LawCueMake it obvious.Make it invisible.
The 2nd LawCravingMake it attractive.Make it unattractive.
The 3rd LawResponseMake it easy.Make it difficult.
The 4th LawRewardMake it satisfying.Make it unsatisfying.

Assessment & Reflection

Key questions to reflect and assess on:

  • Which situations in my life do I sense and respond automatically?
  • Which situations in my life do I find myself struggling to handle or manage?
  • How may I start noticing or become more aware of the cues that trigger me in my daily life?

The book chapter focuses on the process of building and breaking habits through a continuous cycle of cues, cravings, responses, and rewards.
A powerful framework that serves as the foundation for habit formation.

All content credit goes to the author. I’ve shared the bits I’ve enjoyed the most and found most useful.

Cheers ’till next time! Saludos!


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