Book Review–Atomic Habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones, by James Clear

According to James Clear, Atomic Habits was Amazon’s number one selling book around New Year’s. And no wonder–Clear gently takes the reader through our current best understandings about how habits are formed and changed and provides practical advice on how to put that evidence into practice. Each chapter of the book gives you something to consider, to reflect upon, and to enact to help you move towards your goals.

This is not a science book, but it is evidence-based. As a naturally skeptical person, I would appreciate a little more documentation of where the information comes from. What kind of data was used to draw these conclusions? Was research performed on a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and cultures? However, it’s clear that many folks in the evidence-based space agree with Clear’s approach, as you will hear echos in conversations as wide-ranging as Stronger by Science to Balance 365.

This is a “how to” manual of sorts, and I think in a lot of ways, it gives folks a template for changing their lives, one small habit at a time. AND making these kinds of changes requires a willingness and ability to observe and evaluate our successes and challenges from a somewhat dispassionate place, otherwise our conclusions and next steps will be overly influenced by our own personal biases and unchallenged assumptions.

And I suspect this is the Achilles heel of Clear’s cheerful optimism that we can all change our lives with small habits over time. I’ve witnessed many people begin with incorrect conclusions or personal observations strongly influenced by pseudoscience or personal preference, which leads them further down incorrect pathways, ultimately further away from their goals. This is easy to observe when someone attaches themselves to a diet and the pseudoscience behind it. It is perhaps less obvious in areas of training. However, when it comes to something like learning to train around pain, these more nebulous and non-evidence-based beliefs could easily make someone go in the wrong direction for quite a while before having them challenged.

And this is where the role of good coaches, therapists and trainers comes in. They have the skills to help us navigate the fine line between knowing ourselves and challenging our beliefs about who we are and what we’re capable of. Blind spots in self-awareness and knowledge are a given. We can’t all see all the patterns all of the time. We won’t always make clear-eyed conclusions about which direction we need to move towards in order to make positive changes. I really like Atomic Habits, and I think it would be a powerful tool to have at your side, especially while working with someone to make changes in your life. I think for folks with especially high self-efficacy, it can set them on the right path, but ultimately, we all are likely to benefit more from working with others to broaden our perspective.

Feature Photo Credit: Adam Tinworth, via Unsplash

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