The 4 ways atomic habits can be used to enhance productivity

Senote Keriakes
5 min readJun 15, 2021

As spontaneous as we may think life is, our response to our life is largely based on habits that have been formed long ago. James Clear’s Atomic Habits explores how we as individuals may harness the power of habit formation to populate our lives with positive behaviours. However, our ability to form habits is somewhat of a two-edged sword, as we are just as likely to form negative habits which prove very challenging to excise.

The central thesis of the book can be described by carefully unpacking the title: Atomic Habits. The adjective ‘atomic’ has two distinct definitions:

1. An extremely small amount of a thing; the single irreducible unit of a larger system.


2. The source of immense energy or power.

Clear’s understanding of atomic habits incorporates both of these definitions for the word ‘atomic’. In his view, atomic habits are a series of small changes one implements in their day which have momentous downstream effects on an individual’s life.

At a rudimentary level, a habit involves 4 distinct components: cue, craving, response and reward. We are exposed to a specific cue in our environment, which conjures up a craving to perform our habit. This is followed up by a response, the performing of the habit itself, which is in turn followed by a reward or a feeling of satisfaction.

Let’s use an example to try make this make more sense. A so-called ‘social smoker’ is somebody who only smokes when around other smokers. In this scenario, seeing other people smoke is a cue which initiates their craving to pick up a cigarette and smoke. To satisfy the craving, the social smoker will light a cigarette and take a puff (response), at which point they begin to feel more socially included in this setting (reward).

Clear tackles the problem of habit formation by addressing these four components of a habit. He has formulated four laws of habit formation which govern how we can go about acquiring new positive habits and removing the destructive habits from our lives.

The first law is ‘Make it obvious’, which involves making the cue for the habit we wish to acquire conspicuous. For example, if you want to go for a run every day right after work, you can leave your running shoes besides the front door so that as soon as you arrive home from work, the cue to go for a run is triggered.

Another application of the first law of habit formation is a practice which Clear refers to as ‘habit stacking’, which involves scheduling a desired habit alongside a habit which is already being practiced, so that a single cue may trigger two behaviours.

I’ve personally found this method to be very useful when it came to my language learning. Every morning I wake up at 6:30 and I go to the kitchen to make breakfast. Making breakfast as soon as I wake up was a habit I already practiced, so I stacked the habit of listening to a French podcast on top of the existing habit, in order to make French listening /more obvious/.

The second law is ‘make it attractive’, i.e we need to reach a level where we crave our desired habit. If I want to run every day, I need to respond to the cue of my shoes being at the door with the craving to go for a run.

How can this be achieved?

Well, Clear discusses several ways, however the one which I have found most useful is to ‘join a culture where your desired behaviour is the normal behaviour’. Joining Facebook groups related to running and connecting with my friends on strava has helped me personally to create a state of mind where running is an expectation as opposed to a chore.

The third rule of habit is ‘make it easy’. Since the third component of a habit is response, this response needs to be as easy and frictionless as possible, if it’s to be fulfilled adequately and consistently. Motivation is not something which should be relied on with habit formation. Motivation is temporary and fleeting. During the times when motivation is running high, I like to use this surge in motivation to ensure that when my motivation is low I am still performing my habit.

Confused? I’ll explain.

In learning foreign languages, a small source of anxiety and awkwardness for me is the speaking component. Engaging with online tutors in my target languages is usually met with some friction and at times, dread. However, at the end of each lesson I usually feel very satisfied with the outcome, and I feel very motivated to speak even more. So, to harness the full capacity of this motivation, I usually book my lessons with my tutors right after completing the previous lesson. If I leave the simple task of booking a lesson too long, I will end up over-thinking and dreading it and I will put it off until it slips off my priority list.

The fourth and final law is to ‘make it satisfying’. A useful way of making a habit satisfying is through the use of a habit tracker, indicating how many days/weeks in a row you have been performing your desires behaviour. Having a visual diagram of how many days in a row it has been performing a particular habit reduces your likelihood of flaking in fear of breaking the streak.

These four rules explain very well how to instil within ourselves desired behaviours. In another blog post, I will discuss the inversions of the 4 laws and explain how to use the principles discussed in Atomic Habits to remove negative behaviours from one’s life.



Senote Keriakes

Notes on philosophy, history and religion. I write to share my point of view and reinforce the concepts that I learn, enjoy:)