James Clear’s Atomic Habits: The Minimal Effective Dose

Person stood outside holding Atomic Habits book by James Clear which talks about minimal effective dose

It’s the final part in our series about building successful habits based on the work of James Clear and his book, Atomic Habits. So far, we’ve looked at identity, the aggregation of marginal gains, and the impact of compounding. This week, I want to discuss the minimal effective dose.

The Smallest Thing

The minimal effective dose refers to the smallest thing you could do today to point your habit in a positive direction. This is significant because it creates another little vote for that person you want to be. So let me give you a couple of examples:

Earlier this month, I talked about my aspiration to be a better guitarist. My aim is to practice 10 minutes a day, which I achieve by making my desired habit obvious. In other words, I keep my goal simple and the guitar where I can see it! Setting an easy goal means I’m able to see improvements quickly and stay connected to the outcome. Here, the minimal effective dose is those 10 minutes that push me forward without being such a time-drag.

Another example, there’s a rather hideous exercise my strength and conditioning coach has asked me to do. It’s called a banded clam, and uses a resistance band to work the small muscles of the glutes. So I have an exercise mat and resistance bands in the office, both of which are visible from my desk. Then, I keep it nice and simple with just 20 reps a day: the minimal effective dose.


In Atomic Habits, James Clear explores the difference between an elite athlete and one near the top of their game. His findings reveal the elites are excellent at dealing with the boredom of monotonous, endless repetitions. As a result, they become much better than other athletes. The minimal effective dose will allow you to exercise patience and form a habit you can sustain.

And that’s it. We’ve talked about identity: who do you want to be? Every time you practice that habit, you make a vote for that person. We’ve talked about the aggregation of marginal gains: making small changes in many areas to make a big difference overall. We’ve talked about compounding and the impact of building on small improvements, and today we’ve talked about the minimal effective dose. Now, there is a commonality between these ideas, so pick what works best for you.

And if you want more on any of this, then I really suggest you buy the book!

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