Books like James Clear’s “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” are typically marketed to entrepreneurs or as a self-help guide, aiming at achieving success or increased productivity. And, fair enough. This book would be an excellent choice in those capacities.
However, this one also deserves to be on the shelves of moms and dads. “Atomic Habits” offers a mindset shift that is just the thing busy parents who are trying to do “all the things” and do them right now.
The first thing I noticed about James Clear’s book is that it is very precisely named. He starts out by defining atomic: “1. an extremely small amount of a thing; the single irreducible unit of a larger system. 2. the source of immense energy or power” and habit: “a routine or practice performed regularly; an automatic response to a specific situation.”
It’s so smart. The reader can immediately understand the overall thesis.
The second thing I noticed about “Atomic Habits” is that it’s organized with clarity in mind. (Perhaps James Clear too is also precisely named.) Clear walks the reader, step by step, through his overarching philosophy on habits, how habits are fundamentally developed, and finally what he deems “laws of behavior change” to put the power of habits to work. He wraps up with some “advanced” thinking and even a bonus chapter just for parents. (See, I told ya!)
“Habits,” Clear said, “are the compound interest of self-improvement.”
Clear opens the book with a harrowing story of a high school injury and how he bounced back from the experience by naturally adopting “tiny” habits. He explains, “I originally learned about the ideas mentioned here because I had to live them. I had to rely on small habits to rebound from my injury, to get stronger in the gym, to perform at a high level on the field, to become a writer, to build a successful business, and simply to develop into a responsible adult. Small habits helped me fulfill my potential.”
Fulfilling one’s potential is what this book is really about. Clear argues that goals are not the best thing to focus on. Instead, decide who you want to be and then identify the habits that such a person would incorporate into their life. This mindset shift takes the focus off the end result and onto the process. “Success is the product of daily habits, not once in a lifetime transformations,” Clear said.
This speaks to the needs of parents, in particular, because parents want to fulfill their potential, but they may not even know what that concretely looks like, much less name it as a goal. But most parents can identify what kind of parent they want to be or what kind of person they want to be for their families.
What’s more, Clear emphasizes the importance of small changes and long-term thinking—also great news for busy parents. He likens the effect on 1 percent change in habits to a very slight adjustment to the nose of a plane. If a plane begins facing a few degrees off of where it’s aiming, it’ll arrive, after a long journey, at an entirely different location than planned. Similarly, “a slight change in your daily habits can guide your life to a different destination,” Clear said.
With goals ignored, the focus shifts on your systems, your processes, your habits. “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems,” said Clear.
Mindset shifted, Clear continues on to define the elements of habit development, namely, “cue, craving, response, and reward,” what he calls, “backbone of every habit.”
The rest of the book is dedicated to valuable tips and practical application of the power of “atomic” habits. Overall, Clear said to make a change, you must first identify the type of person you want to be and then prove it to yourself with small wins. “Quite literally,” he said, “you become your habits.”
The principles outlined in “Atomic Habits” can be applied to every aspect of life: relationships, fitness, education, finance, career, parenting, home life—anything dependent upon your behavior. It’s a great choice for parents who are wearing many hats and want to do well what they believe they should do. They’re in this for the long haul and likely can only make tiny changes at a time, which Clear argues can make a remarkable difference.
The author offers bonus materials at JamesClear.com/atomic-habits.