a-tom-ic: 1. an extremely small amount of a thing; the single irreducible unit of a larger system. 2. the source of immense energy or power.
hab-it: 1. a routine or practice performed regularly; an automatic response to a specific situation.
Atomic Habits begins by defining two key words and thus sets the scene and the purpose of the book right from the start. This non-fiction book is about how small one percent changes compound over time to transform your life.
Using theories of psychology and neuroscience, plus real life scenarios, readers are taught strategies for making new positive habits and removing negative ones.
This book is unique in how it combines the theories and research from many fields of science and creates a usable, practical and easy to understand guide about human behaviour and how to create beneficial habits.
For example, the psychologist Kurt Lewin is quoted: ‘Behaviour is a function of the Person in their environment, or B = f (P,E)’. But before the reader becomes overwhelmed by formula, the quote is explained via a scenario about impulse shopping.
Personally, I found the strategy of atomic habits easy to implement in my own life. Immediate changes I applied was to do as many push ups as I could every day before showering, and to write for 30 minutes every evening after my young children went to bed.
I was astounded how quickly I went from barely being able to do one and a half push ups – to ten in a short period of time. As for writing, even after a day at work and a reluctance to get started, once I stuck to my newly formed habit I discovered that writing became easier – even if tired.
Straight away I saw the benefit of these two minor changes in my life and how much potential impact they could have long term. I became very excited about what else was possible using such a simple strategy.
Previous Published Works
Atomic Habits is James Clear’s first book, published 2018. He has since published The Clear Habit Journal which is an indexed daily journal with notebook and habit trackers.
You can also find 286 articles spanning from 2012 to 2020 on his website jamesclear.com. Articles come under 21 different categories and include behavioural psychology, deliberate practise, mental toughness and self improvement. Although, no new articles have been added in the previous six months.
Contents of the book include 20 short chapters, an introduction which includes the personal story of the author, a conclusion and appendix.
The 20 chapters fall under seven main elements: fundamentals, the 1st law, 2nd law, 3rd law, 4th law, advanced tactics, and the appendix where you can find information on applying atomic habits to business and parenting.
These elements are summarised as thus:
- Fundamentals: why tiny changes make a difference
- 1st law: make it obvious
- 2nd law: make it attractive
- 3rd law: make it easy
- 4th law: make it satisfying
- Advanced tactics
Each chapter finishes with a concise dot point summary. You’ll also find a ‘cheat sheet’ which is sequentially filled in as the book progresses through the ‘laws’ or strategies.
Atomic Habits definitely excels in the explicit intentional learning of habit formation. Pre-set sentences are provided as a scaffold to implementing new procedures in your life.
For example: I will [BEHAVIOUR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].
This method is also repeated for habit stacking – the process of attaching a new habit to an already existing habit.
After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
Other strengths in the book are the concise chapter summaries; the diagrams and graphs; how scientific theory is related to everyday life experience; the printable cheat sheet; extra downloadable information; and, the advanced techniques.
I particularly enjoyed the advanced tactics as it delved into genetics, motivation and mastery.
Under the chapter about genes, Clear tells the story of two Olympic athletes: Michael Phelps in swimming, and Hicham El Guerrouji in middle distance running. Both athletes achieved greatness in their respective sports, however, if they were to swap swimming with running and vice versa, they would not have achieved the same level of success due to genetics.
Clear expands on this by writing that we need to accept the simple truth that people are born with different abilities. Not just physical characteristics but mental ones as well. ‘The people at the top of their field are not only well trained, they are also well suited to the task’.
In short: genes do not determine your destiny. They determine your areas of opportunity … genes can predispose, but they don’t predetermine.James Clear
Praise & Critiques
A perusal of Amazon’s book reviews of Atomic Habits shows 2,059 positive reviews and 99 critical reviews.
Positive comments include:
- New favourite self-improvement book which seamlessly ties all ideas into the central theme of habits
- Book packed with actionable ideas, tactics and strategies
- Conversational tone with many interesting stories
- Life changing
- Practical, huge toolkit of organised and named strategies
- Innovative novel concepts backed by proven science
- Plethora of real life examples
- Save your money by watching videos, listening to podcasts and reading article on the same topic
- Website is sales page, you need to give your email and get spammed if you want further information
- Nothing new, just a re-hash of other books
- Ideas are marketed as a personal brand
- Skilful self-promotion from a marketer, not a writer
- Just another self-help book
- The example of the techniques of successful habit formation by an elite cycling team are negated once you realise the team may have used performance enhancing drugs
Whilst acknowledging the negative feedback, I feel this book has achieved its goal of teaching people how to form lasting achievable habits through explicit strategies backed up by research and behavioural science.
I would recommend Atomic Habits to anyone interested in self improvement whether it be for personal reasons, relationships, financial, productivity or knowledge. By following the steps in this book and implementing them in your life, you will be able to transform your trajectory through small consistent changes.
On a scale of one to five, with one being the least favourable and five being the highest rating, I give this book a four.
I was keen to read as much of this book as I could in the shortest amount of time as it was so intriguing. I’ve referred back to pages in the book and talked to multiple people about Atomic Habits and how I have implemented them in my life. However, there are still areas of the book that could be improved, particularly in removing the section about the elite cycling team as a reference story to why atomic habits are successful. Atomic Habits loses some of its credibility by including the cyclists as it is strongly suspected they used performance enhancing drugs during the same time. If the book was tightened up and revised for a later edition, then I would definitely score the book a five out of five.
If you have already read Atomic Habits, please share your opinion of the book below in the comments section.