Atomic Habits by James Clear

Atomic Habits book cover

This is a book review of Atomic Habits: By James Clear

Introduction

The concept of habits has been an interest of mine for over 10 years.  In fact, ever since I picked up Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.  As a result I have read quite a number of ‘habit’ related books.

I picked up Atomic Habits as I was intrigued with the concept that tiny changes can lead to remarkable results.  Having now read the book I can confirm that this is not just hype.

Layout and Style

Atomic Habits is laid out in six sections with three or four chapters in each section.  Whilst each section can stand on its own, its real power comes from working through the book in order.  As each section covers a different ‘law’, it is easy to dip in and out of the book. This is helpful when looking to use the book as an ongoing reference.   At the end of each chapter there is a useful summary in bullet note form..

The writing style is engaging. All the examples in Atomic Habits are backed up with evidence and linked to the research undertaken. An extensive appendix is included.  To me this gave the book authority.

 ‘this book is not an academic research paper, it’s an operating manual’

The Four-Step Model of Habits

The backbone of Atomic Habits is the four-step model of habits – cue, craving, response and reward, attributed to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit. James goes through each of these with a thorough exploration of the implications with the response being the actual habit that is performed.  Throughout, working examples are given in order to bring the points to life and to drive the learning home.

There’s some really interesting aspects on how to build better habits, as well as, how to break bad habits, using the above process.

The Four Laws of Behaviour Change

To achieve better habits, Atomic Habits uses Four Laws of Behaviour Change which are:

  1. Make it obvious
  2. Make it attractive
  3. Make it easy
  4. Make it satisfying

Each of the laws are covered thoroughly.  Below is a brief summary of what’s covered under each law.

Make it obvious

The most common cues of time and location are explored together with habit stacking i.e. pairing a new habit with an existing habit.  How our environment impacts our ability to form good habits and an explanation as to how self-control is a short-term and not a long-term strategy.

Make it attractive

The discussion centers round making a habit irresistible and how the ‘Dopamine-Driven Feedback Loop’ works. This explained by sharing the results of scientific experiments which I personally found fascinating.  My biggest take-away from this section were:

  • understanding that it is the anticipation of a reward that makes us want to take action, not the fulfillment of the reward itself and,
  • that we adopt habits to fit in with our environment.

‘We tend to adopt habits that are praised and approved by our culture because we have a strong desire to fit in and belong to the tribe’

Make it easy

This section of Atomic Habits starts off with a chapter on ‘Walk Slowly, but Never Backward’. This basically means getting started is better than trying to be perfect. 

There is an interesting experiment surrounding students taking a photography course at the University of Florida. Insightful results are shared.  James also explores how long it takes to form a new habit. Spoiler alert, 21 days is a myth. It’s not the length of time a habit is performed. Frequent repetition is key.

This combined with the idea that the Law of Least Effort is fundamental in cementing a habit.  The easier it is, the more likely we are to do it. 

Not rocket science perhaps, but James goes on to use the application of the two minute rule i.e. a new habit should take less than two minutes to do. This reminds me of Stephen Guise’s mini habits.

Make it satisfying

We are more likely to repeat a behaviour when we experience satisfaction from it.  But, the brain prioritises immediate rewards over delayed ones.  ‘To make a habit stick you need to feel immediately successful, even if that is only in a small way’.  Change is easy when it is enjoyable.

One of the most satisfying feelings is that of progress.  Create a habit tracker, marking x on a calendar each time a habit is completed provides a great visual. As habits build progress is seen.  James also mentions about engaging with an accountability partner or creating a habit contract with someone.  The very fact that someone is watching us can be a powerful motivator.

Advanced Tactics

In concluding Atomic Habits, James includes a chapter on ‘Advanced Tactics’ where he lays bare the ‘truth about talent’.  Primarily anyone can be successful if they practice enough and relying solely on an in-born talent will not guarantee success. 

He also explores how different personality types influence the habits that we adopt.  In effect, it is easier to establish good habits if they align with our own natural abilities.  I particularly liked his statement ‘genes do not eliminate the need for hard work.  They clarify it.  They tell us what to work hard on.’

The benefit of habits is that we can do things without thinking.  But, this does have its downside. We could potentially stop paying attention to little errors.  Including reflection and review when building habits to keep on track in the right way is therefore recommended.

Summary                                       

I really enjoyed Atomic Habits. In particular, I gained a lot of valuable insight into how to create good habits, that are sustainable.  And how to break bad habits.  I have already put a number of the recommendations into practice. Including habit tracking and, a reward mechanism for sustaining those habits that I find personally challenging.

James includes a very comprehensive appendix to the book.  This provides all the supporting research that he undertook, and references the major studies he used to support his arguments.  This is a man who knows his subject matter and is happy to share the learning process that he underwent.

Who is this book for?

This book is for anyone who is looking to establish good habits as a way to improving themselves. It will also help those who are looking to break some of their bad habits.  The advice given is realistic and achievable.  A great reference book.

If you have read ‘Atomic Habits, let me know what you think in the comments below.

Please feel free to comment below.

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About the author Alison

A qualified UK based coach with 30 years of experience in personal development.

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