30 October 2019Mindset

Book review: Atomic habits

I have recently finished listening to “Atomic habits” audio book by James Clear (for the 3rd time). James does an excellent job of breaking down the habit cycle and explaining how optimisation processes in our brains work. This book deserves a lot of credit for various improvements in my life. It gave me the foundations necessary to work on my daily habits.

“Atomic habits” has references to various research papers and case studies scattered throughout the book. It also makes it easy to apply the learnings. It’s incredibly easy to start applying the learnings to your daily life, because you don’t need to exert a lot of effort to do it. It’s possible to start with tiny changes to your routine and continue making new adjustments over time. The cumulative gains over time will then do the rest.

The messages in this book are also interleaved with various stories that put the learnings into context. These stories make it easier to understand and remember the lessons. James also does a great job of reiterating the previous concepts when he introduces something new so that everything neatly ties in together.

Key takeaways

Some of the key concepts that I’m taking away after listening to the book for the 3rd time are “Ice cube” effect and cumulative gains.

“Ice cube” effect

Imagine that you have an ice cube in a room with a -5 degrees celsius temperature. If you heat the room up by 1 degree to -4 degress celsius, there won’t be any change to the ice cube. The same is true for the next 4 times you heat the room up by 1 degree. If you want to melt the ice cube it can “feel” like no progress has been made. However, when you heat it up by an additional 1 degree raising the total temperature over 0 the ice cube will start melting. All of the progress you’ve made up till that point has accumulated and passed the threshold necessary for the visible change. “Ice cube” effect means that there’s a certain threshold before the accumulated gains become visible.

This is something that I’ve observed a lot around me - passive income, promotions, business clients. Rarely are there incremental rewards for the progress you make. More likely than not one has to accumulate a certain amount skills, knowledge and/or resources before the next reward level is reached. The most obvious application is my writing skill - I must build up a writer’s reputation and my audience before I start gaining serious rewards from it.

Cumulative gains

1% improvement doesn’t sound like a lot. I used to think “how can I 10x” whatever I was looking to improve. However, when talking about personal improvent, all of the gains are cumulative and not incremental. Someone who knows 2 skills is more valuable than 2 people having 1 skill each, because of the benefits that come from combined knowledge. Eliminating the need to coordinate speeds up the process. With that in mind, 1% improvements can accumulate really quickly! If you improve yourself by 1% every day for 1 year, you end up over 37 times better (3778%)!

1% per day seems a bit daunting to me, but 1% per week doesn’t. If you learn something new daily that can easily add up to a 1% improvement over the period of a week (maybe even 1% daily initially). With 1% weekly improvement as a goal, you can become twice as good in 70 weeks (that’s a little under 1 and a half year), 3 times as good in 111 weeks (2 years and 2 months) and 5 times as good in 162 weeks (3 years and 2 months). You can see where this is going.


You can find all formats of the book on jamesclear.com/atomic-habits. I would recommend the book to anyone looking for an easy way to transform your life. It has served me well on my journey to a happier and more productive life.

Deividas Karžinauskas

Hey there! I'm Deividas Karžinauskas and I write about my habits, financial decisions and P2P investments.