• Mel Butcher

Book Club Guide: Atomic Habits by J. Clear

Updated: Jan 25

Mel Butcher Blog | Photo of the book Atomic Habits by James Clear

Feel welcome to use and share the following questions as a book-club type discussion guide. Atomic Habits has been one of my favorite reads lately. If you've ever read about the basics of habit formation and then thought, "OK that's great, but what to I do with that?!" Atomic Habits is the answer to that question.

Learn more about the author, James Clear, and his offerings here. Purchase the book here or here.

Note: all quotes shown are directly from the book, Atomic Habits.


"It's so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis."

  • Think of a time when you overestimate(d) a defining moment. Upon reflection, how might you recognize more of the small improvements that lead to change over time?

The Plateau of Latent Potential

  • The author describes a plateau that a series of choices (habit) needs to get past; he calls it the Plateau of Latent Potential. Think of a time in your life that you failed to break through the plateau. How could you overcome that challenge if you faced it today?

"Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress."

  • What realization stood out for you as you learned to distinguish a goal from the system(s) that allow you to successfully achieve that goal?

"You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."

  • What new realizations did this passage create for you?

  • What goal from your past was not achieved due to a system failure?

"Once you have adopted an identity, it can be easy to let your allegiance to it impact your ability to change. Many people walk through life in a cognitive slumber, blindly following the norms attached to their identity... 'I'm terrible with directions.' ' I'm not a morning person.' 'I'm bad at remembering people's names.' 'I'm not good with technology.' 'I'm horrible at math'..."

  • What belief or identity are you still clinging to that no longer serves you? That no longer serves the better version of yourself you wish to become?

  • Can you commit to letting that part of your identity go?

"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."

  • What is a goal in your mind that you've been waiting for the "right time" on, but that you will commit to making progress on today?

  • What type of support accountability might you need to get your actions to stick?

"The punchline is clear: people who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through... The implementation intention formula is: I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]."

  • If you haven't already, take a moment now to write down at least one implementation intention that you want to commit to. Then, share it with the group, if you are comfortable.

"Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human nature. Despite our unique personalities, certain behaviors tend to arise again and again under certain environmental conditions.... Every habit is context dependent."

  • How might you create additional triggers for a habit you want to implement? (Consider the smoker's many potential cues listed on page 86 of the hardback edition.)

"The people with the best self-control are typically the ones who have to use it the least. It's easier to practice self-restraint when you don't have to use it very often."

  • What did this section help you realize about how you can make your desirable habits more accessible / habits you want to eliminate less obvious?

Habit stacking is a method to trigger the dopamine response by combining a habit you need to do with a habit you want to do. "The habit stacking + temptation bundling formula is:

1. After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [HABIT I NEED]. 2. After [HABIT I NEED], I will [HABIT I WANT]."

  • What habit stacking technique came to mind for you? How might you combine a habit you need with a habit you want?

They say... You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

"Proximity has a powerful effect on our behavior. This is true of the physical environment, as we discussed in Chapter 6, but it is also true of the social environment... As a general rule, the closer we are to someone, the more likely we are to imitate some of their habits."

  • Take a moment to think about these questions quietly. No need to share out loud unless you feel comfortable:

  • What influence do I *want more of in my life?

  • What influence do I *need more of in my life to become the best version of myself I wish to become?

  • With whom do I need to limit length/frequency of interactions?

  • What type of people do I need to encounter more (and develop relationships with over time) to be successful in my goals?

  • With whom will I commit to developing a deeper relationship with?

"You don't actually want the habit itself. What you really want is the outcome the habit delivers."

  • What new outcomes do you want to create for yourself? your career? your life?

  • What type of person do you wish to become? (This turned into a long list for me. For example: I want to become the type of person that chooses to workout every day. I want to become the type of person that reads every evening before bed. etc.)

"Human behavior follow the Law of Least Effort. We will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least work. Create an environment where doing the right thins is as easy as possible."

  • What's one step you could take today toward making the choice to perform one of your new habits more easily?

"Proactively lazy..."

  • What ideas came to mind for you when you read the section about Oswald Nuckols (page 156 of the hardback edition)?

"The inversion of the 3rd Law of Behavior Change is make it difficult."

  • What tools or techniques have you successfully implemented to disrupt bad habits (e.g. ScreenZen to disrupt social media scrolling frequency)?

"A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit. The most basic format is to get a calendar and cross off each day you stick with your routine."

  • What habit tracking techniques have worked for you?

  • What habit tracking technique do you hope will work for you?

"Pick the right habit and progress is easy. Pick the wrong habit and life is a struggle."

  • Is it just me, or is one of the most difficult things about becoming an adult letting go of childhood dreams? We do have to choose to focus our ambitions in the material real world. So my question is - is there any lingering goal that, perhaps, you need to let go of?

  • Toward what goal or area in your life do you know you should focus on that perhaps you've neglected?

"The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities."

  • In what area of your career (or life) do you need more challenge?

  • What does it look like to be sufficiently challenged for you next?

"In the beginning, repeating a habit is essential to build up evidence of your desired identity."

  • It's safe to say that many of us are deciding to embark on some new path of habit formation after reading this book. Reflect on a change to which you have committed yourself. Share one thing you will do this week to cast a vote for yourself to become the next better version of yourself.


For fun...

One of my absolute favorite people on the internet, Simone Giertz, invented a contraption a while back for tracking habits. Watch the video on it below. Buy your very own here.

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