Book Review: Atomic Habits by James Clear

“If you’re having trouble changing your habits, the problem isn’t YOU. The problem is your system.” Sound too good to be true? Well, in Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James Clear explains that we repeat bad habits not because we don’t want to change badly enough, but because we don’t have the right system for change in place. He offers a practical framework: don’t focus on the outcome; focus on the process. Changing your focus to your system means creating tiny, “atomic habits,” which compound over time and naturally lead to remarkable results. Think a 1% change, compounded over time (365 days), leading to exponential change (37x better in a year)!

Released in 2018, Atomic Habits has sold millions of copies worldwide. With relevance transcending demographics and generations, it has become the topic of Tik-Tok videos, inspirational pins on Pinterest, and a discussion topic on numerous podcasts and TV shows. Given the state of the world and workplace in the last few years, people are struggling to find motivation and identity now more than ever.

Clear notes the problematic typical approach to setting goals: winners and losers have the same goals, achieving a goal is only a momentary change, they restrict your happiness, and they are at odds with long-term progress. For example, you set a goal to become a runner. You lay out your plan with the milestones and dates and when you fall short, so does your happiness and your belief in yourself. This is what Clear calls “outcome-based habits”, and instead recommends “identity-based habits”. So, instead of focusing on what we want to achieve, we focus on who we wish to become, a shift in identity. Using the same example: “I want to become a runner” versus “I AM a runner.” So you begin to think, “What would a runner do?”. He breaks it down like this: Decide who you want to be. Prove it to yourself with small wins.

Clear explains that habits are formed from a feedback loop: cue, craving, response, and reward. When this is repeated enough times, it becomes automatic. And to change habits, there are four laws: make it obvious (cue), make it attractive (craving), make it easy (response), make it satisfying (reward). A little hack: you can inverse this for breaking bad habits. These laws build habits, and your habits are part of your system. When we are creating new habits, the easiest way is to use a current habit as your cue and build on that. For example, after I brush my teeth, I meditate for 5 minutes. Seems simple enough right?

It’s no wonder why readers love Atomic Habits for its tangible, seemingly easy ways to achieve results, form new habits, or break bad habits. It is inspirational without being cheesy and it makes changing your life seem possible. A little heads up: Clear starts the book by recounting his own gripping and somewhat graphic personal story that I still think about when I pass a school or a baseball field. The story hooks you and provides background on Clear’s personal journey of creating this simple framework to help others achieve. If you need a little boost of inspiration and motivation, Atomic Habits could be just what you need as we enter into one of the busiest times in our industry.

Share this post: