Book Review — Atomic Habits by James Clear

'Tosin Adeoti
4 min readDec 30, 2019

This afternoon, I finished James Clear’s “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”.

In this book published in 2018, James seeks to help anyone understand that building new habits does not have to be tedious and impossible, but through following certain processes we can ensure that the things we want to do are done, and the habits we seek to break are broken.

This is a fun book filled with many insightful stories. You will read of Olympic gold medalists, award-winning artists, business leaders, lifesaving physicians, and star comedians who have all used the science of small habits to master their craft and vault to the top of their field.

A notable example is how a simple tweak in the life of cyclists by a new hire by British Cycling ensured that Britain went from winning just a single gold medal at the Olympic Games and no winner in the Tour de France in 100 years to completely dominating the sport; winning 178 world championships and 66 Olympic gold medals and capturing 5 Tour de France victories in just 10 years.

In the book, James introduces the reader to a four-step model for human behavior; this framework not only teaches us how to create new habits but also reveals some interesting insights about human behavior.

In October this year, I made an attempt at learning Python programming language as a side interest but failed at it despite my high interest, and juxtaposing the message in the book with a trip back to memory lane shows me that I like other humans have a tendency to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action. And that’s why so many people fail.

Meanwhile, while improving by 1 percent isn’t particularly notable — sometimes it isn’t even noticeable — but it can be far more meaningful, especially in the long run. The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding.

Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.

Self-control is overrated. How did nine out of ten soldiers who used heroin in Vietnam eliminate their addiction nearly overnight while other heroin addicts, including other soldiers stationed at home, have a 90% relapse rate once they return home from rehab? He uses this surprising discovery to reinforce how overrated self-control is.

Do you know that a person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57 percent if he or she had a friend who became obese? It works the other way too. If one person in a relationship lost weight, the other partner would also slim down about one third of the time.

No matter how enthusiastic you are about developing new habits, you will have bad days. The key is to show up because Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you. If you start with $100, then a 50 percent gain will take you to $150. But you only need a 33 percent loss to take you back to $100. In other words, avoiding a 33 percent loss is just as valuable as achieving a 50 percent gain.

But how do you show up? The book offers among other simple tips the 2-minute rule, Making It Easy, and Goodhart’s Law.

The book does not just offer strategies for developing good habits and breaking bad ones, but also something a lot of us have not considered about good habit: the downside of creating good habits. Sounds contradictory? Well, once you read what he means, you will find out it makes perfect sense.

I say the book came at the right time for me as we approach the new year in a few hours. Unlike many other books, this is not a book to read once, it is one to continually refer to as you develop new helpful habits and drop old unhelpful ones.