There are seven octillion atoms in the human body. For the non-astrophysicists out there, that’s a seven followed by 27 zeros.
These little pieces of matter are infinitesimal — utterly meaningless on their own. But combined, atoms can transform into living, breathing beings capable of just about anything they put their minds to.
That’s the premise of Atomic Habits by James Clear. By taking small, actionable steps, you can build upon your successes until they snowball into something much greater.
Tiny changes, remarkable results.
In this Atomic Habits book review, we’ll discuss the merits of this New York Times Bestselling title, and I’ll give you my personal opinion on how it reads. Join me as we dive into the world of habits!
What’s a Habit, Anyway?
According to Merriam Webster, a habit is a usual way of behaving : something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way.
But it’s also much more than that. In Atomic Habits, the author James Clear talks about habit loops, the psychological process behind every repetitious behavior we perform.
The habit loop looks like this:
Cue → Craving → Response → Reward
In other words, a particular environmental cue triggers a craving. In anticipation of the reward, we react in a predetermined and measurable way. Then, we receive our reward for following through (e.g., a shot of dopamine).
James Clear is a master at breaking down complex concepts and making them easy to understand. Although he adopted the habit loop from The Power of Habit, Clear developed it much further and added the craving step between cue and response (recent studies suggest that it’s our anticipation of a reward that causes us to act, not the reward itself).
Clear also offers some great examples of habits, illustrating what the loop likes like not only in theory, but in practice.
Here’s a great example of the habit loop in action:
|You wake up.||You want to feel alert.||You drink a cup of coffee.||You satisfy your craving to feel alert. Drinking coffee becomes associated with waking up.|
This next example is my personal favorite:
|You walk into a dark room.||You want to be able to see.||You flip the light switch.||You satisfy your craving to see. Turning on the light switch becomes associated with being in a dark room.|
This second example shows just how impactful and straightforward habits can be — how much they play a role in our lives without us even knowing!
That’s why the first order of business is becoming aware of your habits! If you’re reading this Atomic Habits book review, you can probably think of a few you’d like to change.
My reason for reading Atomic Habits? I wanted to establish a better wake-up routine and a more consistent work schedule. I’ve tried to improve both of these over the years, but I’ve had trouble making any lasting changes.
That’s why I began reading with a simple question in mind: can Atomic Habits really help me change my behavior, or is it just another self-help book to collect dust on the shelf?
The 4 Laws of Habit Change
As you’re probably well aware, changing habits is hard. Willpower is finite, and humans are wired to preserve energy and take the path of least resistance. That’s not exactly conducive to engaging in tasks as complex as changing behavior!
Clear believes that you can’t rely on willpower alone to make meaningful changes. Instead, you need a support system to fall back on.
A system is a set of guidelines for thinking about and engaging in behaviors. That’s where the 4 Laws of Habit Change come in.
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”James Clear
Here are the 4 Laws of Habit Change and the stage of the habit loop that each one affects:
|The 4 Laws||How To Create a Good Habit|
|1. The 1st law (cue)||Make it obvious.|
|2. The 2nd law (craving)||Make it attractive.|
|3. The 3rd law (response)||Make it easy.|
|4. The 4th law (reward)||Make it satisfying.|
For each of these laws, Clear presents several clever techniques that you can use to begin enacting change within that part of the habit loop. I appreciate how he encourages experimentation, giving you a giant toolkit and repertoire of options to pull out based on your particular situation and unique personality.
What are the techniques, you ask? These range from altering your environment to make remembering and engaging in good habits easier, to starting a habit tracking journal for a rush of dopamine every time you check a habit off the chart.
The idea behind the book and this Atomic Habits book review is that even if the techniques result in small, seemingly inconsequential changes, these little changes can begin to build up and gain momentum. What was once a little snowball becomes an avalanche of success.
“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”James Clear
The Building Blocks of Success
I remember reading The Power of Habit several years ago. Even though there was a lot of great information in the book, I was extremely disappointed by the lack of actionable tips.
Fortunately, James Clear picks up where Charles Duhigg left off, and Atomic Habits is all about tips and tricks for enacting change.
While a book about habit-changing techniques may sound boring, it’s actually quite engaging! Alongside relevant studies, Clear spices things up with personal anecdotes and stories of everyday people achieving extraordinary things.
The stories are my favorite part of the book, and a big part of this Atomic Habits book review. Nearly every chapter begins with a gripping tale demonstrating the power of a particular habit-changing method. This makes it easy to tie each technique into a real-world application, one with promising results. It also makes it easier to relate to your own experiences.
Turns out, I’ve been implementing many habit-changing strategies without even knowing it!
For instance, I typically allow myself ten minutes of social media before settling down for a 50-minute writing session. This integrates multiple strategies, including:
- Implementing intentions by setting a fixed time to engage in an activity
- Habit stacking one activity on top of another
- Temptation bundling by giving myself something fun to do first
Since finishing the book and beginning this Atomic Habits book review, my mind’s been brimming with new possibilities concerning other ways I can implement the 4 Laws of Habit Change.
Note: I finished the book a few days ago, so I don’t have any measurable results yet. But I’ve started a habit tracker and plan to use it for at least a month. I’ll be sure to update this Atomic Habits book review once I’ve completed the trial.
A Word of Caution
Near the end of the book, we’re presented with an unpleasant truth: life isn’t fair, and not everyone is created equal. We all have different IQs, different types of creativity, and different aptitudes for following through with routines, systems, and habits.
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Unfortunately, people can really tear themselves apart trying to follow self-help books, only to end up miserable and self-loathing. Trust me, I speak from experience.
So take what Clear says with a grain of salt. You may not be able to do everything he mentions in the book as casually as he talks about it. That’s not to say you should make excuses — but you should accept reality for what it is.
The main takeaway from this Atomic Habits book review? l encourage you to learn what you can from the book, gleaning nuggets of wisdom wherever possible and applying them to your life when and where they fit.
Atomic Habits Book Review: My Verdict
I loved Atomic Habits. It’s chock-full of excellent advice, engaging stories, and actionable tips for becoming a better version of yourself. My major regret is not getting my hands on it sooner!
Although Atomic Habits received rave reviews overall, many readers criticize the book for being too lengthy. They suggest that Clear could have condensed the entire book into a blog post — that it didn’t need an entire book.
That’s a ridiculous notion. First of all, Clear does have a blog where he talks about these topics in simpler terms, but without as much insight. Second, you’re paying for a cohesive book with a start, finish, anecdotes, stories, and a compendium of resources.
I only wish that Clear had included templates within the book’s pages. He offers a great number of charts and graphs, but there’s no habit tracker, for example. You can find one on his website, but I bought a book — not access to a website. I shouldn’t have to leave my physical pages to see that kind of essential resource.
That said, he is a marketer by trade. Can I really ding him points in this Atomic Habits book review for wanting to collect my email?
At the end of the day, Atomic Habits is an excellent read that teaches you about the psychological processes behind behavior and recommends ways to begin the process of changing.
James Clear expertly weaves studies and stories to help you better identify with abstract concepts, and he’s a master at breaking complex ideas down into bite-size chunks. Atomic Habits is among the best self-help books I’ve read, and I highly recommend it to readers who want to implement changes in their own lives — one atomic habit at a time.
Atomic Habits Book Review Verdict: 4.75/5
Let me know what you think!
Have you read Atomic Habits? Let me know in the comments below, and tell me what you think! Were you able to make any lasting changes using these strategies?