Review: Atomic Habits by James Clear

September 14, 2021

Who is James Clear?

James Clear, a Denison University alumnus, is a New York Times bestselling author and sought-after speaker on the topics of habit-formation and progress.

Via his training platform, The Habit Academy, Clear has taught thousands of leaders and professionals some of the strategies outlined in this book. With millions of monthly visitors to his website, Clear has become a well-known voice on the topics of long-term growth and habit-formation.

James Clear has become known for his ability to explain complex topics in a way that’s easy to understand. I look forward to sharing some of those with you here.

What Will You Learn In Atomic Habits?

Four Laws Of Behavior Change (And Their Inverse For Bad Habits)

In Atomic Habits, Clear introduces us to his model for creating good habits along with its inverse for breaking bad ones. He calls it the Four Laws of Behavior Change.

“The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.”

Clear, pg. 55

Clear proceeds to divide the book into 8 chapters; 4 for each law and 4 for each law’s inverse, to treat bad habits (make it invisible, unattractive, difficult, unsatisfying, respectively).

Environment And Habit-Formation

One of the areas in which Clear focuses on throughout the book is the impact of your environment and surroundings on your behavior. Specifically, he addresses the notion of some people being able to ‘resist temptation’ better than others. 

While it may seem that way on the surface, he provides us some details on how these people may actually be using their environment to help.

“When scientists analyze people who appear to have tremendous self-control, it turns out those individuals aren’t all that different from those who are struggling. Instead, “disciplined” people are better at structuring their lives in a way that does not require heroic willpower and self-control. In other words, they spend less time in tempting situations.”

Clear, pg. 93

Therefore, the people who were found to resist temptations at the best rate were also the ones who were in tempting situations the least.

The Battle vs. Instant Gratification

One of the biggest obstacles when forming good habits is our desire for instant gratification. Once we begin to exercise more often, read more, eat healthier, etc. we expect to see results fairly quickly. When we don’t, we begin to feel discouraged and are more likely to give up on our newfound habit. While most books fail to address this phenomenon, with regards to the timing of visible results, Clear provides a simple analogy.

“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”

Clear, pg.16

According to this analogy then, the impact of your habits is less of a linear line and instead becomes steeper as it reaches a tipping point. This would be similar to a graph of someone’s investment account due to compound interest. To illustrate this “tipping point” that I mentioned, Clear provides an example.

“Imagine that you have an ice cube sitting on the table in front of you. The room is cold and you can see your breath. It is currently twenty-five degrees. Ever so slowly, the room begins to heat up. Twenty-six degrees. Twenty-seven. Twenty-eight. The ice cube is still sitting on the table in front of you. Twenty-nine degrees. Thirty. Thirty-one…Then, thirty-two degrees. The ice begins to melt. A one-degree shift, seemingly no different from the increases before it, has unlocked a huge change.”

Clear, pg. 20

Relationship Between Your Habits And Your Identity

One of my favorite parts of the book is the connection Clear draws between your daily behaviors and your identity. According to Clear, our desire to change our habits is less about changing what we’re doing and more about changing who we are. 

For example, when we say “I want to make my bed every morning.” What we’re really saying is we want to become the type of person who does that, or “an organized person”.
Moreover, because our identities evolve over time, each time we do (or don’t) do something, we cast a metaphorical vote for the identity we’ll assume. Our mind then takes that vote as a suggestion, and when deciding our identity, just picks the suggestion with the most evidence (most votes).

“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”

Clear, pg. 38

Now that you know that each behavior serves as a vote for the person you become, you should strive to cast the right vote the majority of the time.

“You don’t need a unanimous vote to win an election; you just need a majority. It doesn’t matter if you cast a few votes for a bad behavior…your goal is simply to win the majority of the time.”

Clear, pg. 39
  1. Decide on the type of person you want to be
  2. Get there, one vote at a time.

Final Verdict: 9.6/10

I enjoy books on the topics of habit and habit-formation because I believe that you’re only as good as the actions you take on a daily basis. Atomic Habits is a must-read for anyone committed to daily improvement.

James Clear provides us with his Four Laws of Behavior Change. This model teaches you how to develop the good habits we need and eliminate the bad ones we don’t. Using real-world examples, Clear describes habit-formation in a way that’s simple and easy to understand.

Whether it’s your physical health, professional career, or any other area of your life, improving your habits is the answer to long-term growth. I highly recommend Atomic Habits to all entrepreneurs and those striving to grow in their personal or professional lives.

You can compare prices for and purchase the book here. Also, if you enjoyed this review, you’ll love my review of High-Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard.

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