Happy New Year! What a perfect book to start off 2023 strong. This blog post is my critique of the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear (2018) from the standpoint of individual, group and enterprise leadership insights. I would categorize this a personal development book.
Each of my critiques review the key message of the book, the high-level concepts, the book’s areas of strengths, and where it falls short. I conclude each critique with an overall assessment ranking (1-10 ascending) of its effectiveness in providing the reader applicable lessons in personal and/or leadership development.
Overview: “Atomic Habits” was a recommendation from my younger cousin in Atlanta. I’d seen the title before in airports, but never thought it could live up to Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, so I left it on the shelf. My cousin gave me the book and said it really helped her. Clear structures the book by four laws of habit building: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying.
Key Message: The key message of this book is that you don’t rise to the level of your habits, but you fall to the level of your systems. The point is to make your systems as smart and easy as possible for you to achieve on a consistent basis.
High-level concepts: The book is a modern day practical habit building guide. Clear argues that a habit is formed by a four step process – a cue (a trigger), a craving (a desire), a response (an action), and a reward (a result). If you can isolate how each of the four stages affects your ability or inability to achieve a desired habit, then you can alter the destiny of that habit.
Areas of Strengths: Clear does a great job of breaking down components to granular levels and making the concepts accessible. Simple phrases are easy to recall and therefore implement. Habit stacking, for example, is pinpointing an exact time and location to fold a new habit into the mix – directly after a pre-existing habit that you already have embedded into your life. You take your dog for a walk each morning at 7:30am, so your new desired habit is to make your bed before you walk out the door. You are stacking a five minute task before your 30 minute walk. Another phrase includes temptation bundling. It consists of a reward for completing a new habit stack. Because I made my bed (new habit) before I took my dog for a walk (existing habit), I will take him the long way home (reward).
Supplemental Materials: His 3-2-1 blog from his website is delightful. 3-2-1: The New Year, second chances, and a simple way to start striving toward your dreams – James Clear
Where it Falls Short: I have been pondering this for a while and cannot find fault with this book. I would, however, expand more on the inversion (or opposite) of each of the four laws, so that one can clearly identify when they are doing something to sabotage or counteract the desired habit. Maybe that’s for Clear’s next book…
Overall Assessment & Why: Reluctantly, I rate it a 9 out of 10. A 9 is no joke, and to give it the same rating as the original Covey may insult some. But I firmly believe that this “no victim mentality” book can really help individuals assess their actions and take steps to change those aspects of their lives that they are unhappy with. Sometimes, the truth hurts. Sometimes, the truth helps.