Atomic Habits by James Clear is a research-based, highly accessible guide to making and breaking habits. A wildly successful bestseller, this book had quite the tall order to fulfill my expectations for it. Not only did it meet my expectations; it exceeded them. Atomic Habits really is as good as everyone says it is. Atomic habits are the small, regular choices that compound to create sweeping results over a lifetime. Clear explains exactly how to create those habits.

Clear uses just the right amount of repetition in his writing. There is just enough to really hit a concept home, but not so much that the repetition is annoying or boring. There is no beating of dead horses here, but every concept is explained thoroughly and carefully.

A common criticism for Atomic Habits is that it contains no new information—it’s all already been said elsewhere (especially information about systems like habit stacking and habit tracking). I disagree, however. Not only do I think that there is a lot of incredible information about the psychology of habits that I haven’t encountered in many other books on the topic, but even the information I’ve been exposed to before has never been presented in such a clear way. Some of this has already been said; Clear says it better. No other book on habits is as clear or as digestible.

I especially love the way that Clear uses stories and testimonies. It is common to see books in the personal growth genre overloaded with these kinds of stories. They are often too long, uninteresting, and sometimes completely unnecessary. Clear uses stories in Atomic Habits only when they are necessary and serve his overall point. Clear’s personal story of overcoming an injury and reaching his dream of playing college baseball is interesting and entices the reader to learn more about the systems he used to achieve his goals.

Photo of Atomic Habits

The 4 Laws of Behavior Change

The backbone of Atomic Habits is Clear’s explanation of the 4 laws of behavior change. The four laws are:

  1. Make It Obvious
  2. Make It Attractive
  3. Make It Easy
  4. Make It Satisfying

These are the principles that guide us in creating new habits. The inverse of these same laws are the principles that guide us in breaking bad habits. Clear explains exactly how to make a good habit obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying, as well as how to make a bad habit invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying. Clear gives simple instructions for how to apply these principles to just about any habit, and provides resources and ideas for how to put it into practice.

Photo of Emily typing


Clear writes about the importance of framing habits through the lens of identity. We commonly set goals like, “I will run this many times a week,” or “I will run a 10K”. The effects are far more lasting, however, when we set goals that partner with our identity. “I will run a 10K” becomes “I will become a runner.” An identity like this will stick with us far longer than a goal, and will remain even when the goal has been accomplished. Clear writes about a friend of his who lost 100lbs by asking herself, “What kind of choices would a healthy person make?” She partnered with the identity of being a healthy person, and allowed those choices to guide her to a healthy lifestyle, which eventually led her to a healthy weight.

Clear writes, “The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress…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. This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity. And if a change is meaningful, it is actually big. That’s the paradox of making small improvements.”

I can tell myself that writing every day is an important habit I need to develop in order to reach my goals. I can tell myself that writing is important to me, and that it’s good for me, and that it brings purpose to my life. But nothing compels me to write quite like this truth: I am a writer. Writers write. Adopting this as part of my identity has pushed this habit over the threshold from just wanting to adopt a practice because it’s a good thing, to adopting it because it’s simply what I do.

Thank you for reading my review of Atomic Habits by James Clear. For weekly reviews, join my email newsletter below.

Photos by Kara Buse.

Newsletter Sign-up

Get book reviews delivered right to your inbox.


On Beauty and Motherhood

I put on makeup every day for 30 days. I didn’t wear makeup every day before I had my daughter, so I surely didn’t prioritize it after she was born. One day in January, I realized that I liked how I felt when I wore makeup, so I thought I would conduct a little experiment. I wanted to see how it would make me feel to wear it every day for 30 days. Depending on the results, I may consider making a concerted effort to wear it daily.

My Top 10 Reads from 2023

I read some pretty phenomenal books in 2023— some of which will go on my list of all-time favorites. My top ten is dominated by nonfiction, yet funnily enough, novels hold the top two spots on my list. Five of the ten are memoirs, revealing a particular preference I have for that genre right now. In general, my reading ratios are 1 novel: 1 memoir: 1 additional nonfiction. I want to read more fiction this year.

Project Emily Advent: Day 25

My maternal grandfather, Papa, was a great and wild soul. He was particularly close with my sister, Bailey. He loved all of his grandchildren, and made a particular effort to show up in each of our lives. But Bailey was Papa's best girl. He was totally smitten with her. He was a friendly and warm person, but he could be bristly at times, and Bailey seemed to be the only person undeterred by his bad moods. She was every bit his equal in fortitude and stature of personhood.

Disclosure (Let’s be honest)
This website contains posts with affiliate links, meaning that I receive a small commission if you purchase a book I’ve linked— at no extra cost to you. I’ll always be upfront with you when a post is sponsored or a book is gifted. All books I recommend are books I actually read and enjoyed.
No joke.