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Review Comparing Atomic Habits with The Power of Habit

"Your habits are how you embody your identity."
Atomic Habits, by James Clear

My husband and I have been married for over fifty-three years. We have been relatively healthy for most of this time, but a health crisis in 2022 prompted us to learn more about changes we might need to make if we plan to avoid dementia, and particularly Alzheimer's Disease. We subscribed to an online group that focused on lifestyle medicine with scientifically-sound evidence base for the beliefs held by the group's neurologist leaders.

We learned that our whole-food, plant-based diet was a good start to our plan to optimize our health by keeping our arteries clean and our microbiome in good working order. Exercise and stress management were also on the agenda, as well as reading and learning new skills, such as a foreign language or a musical instrument.

The group hosted a Book Club for its online members. My husband was in the midst of treatments for cataracts, so I took on the role of reader for both of us. The upcoming book was Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear.

In the arena of self-help literature, habit formation has been a popular topic in the personal development genre. Besides Atomic Habits (published 2018, affiliate link) we were also familiar with Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit:Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business. (published 2012/2014).

Both authors delve into the science of habits and provide strategies for positive behavior change. In this comparative review, we'll explore the preferred techniques presented by James Clear in Atomic Habits and examine why these methods may overshadow the approach presented by Charles Duhigg.

Clear's Focus on Atomic Habits

James Clear's Atomic Habits introduces the concept of atomic habits—tiny changes that compound over time to produce significant results. Clear emphasizes the power of small actions, advocating for the idea that focusing on the minute details of behavior can lead to transformative outcomes. This micro-level approach allows individuals to make manageable changes and witness tangible progress, creating a positive feedback loop.

Duhigg's Habit Loop

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg introduces the habit loop—a neurological pattern consisting of cue, routine, and reward. While the habit loop is a compelling model, it leans more towards the macro level, examining habits as holistic routines. Duhigg's emphasis on identifying and altering the habit loop is insightful, but it may lack the understandability of Clear's concept of atomic habits.

The Strength of Clear's Implementation Strategies

Atomic Habits stands out for its practical and actionable strategies, such as "habit stacking" in which you pair an already established habit with a new habit. An example might be "After my 1/2 hour morning devotional, I will spend 1/2 hour on my German Duolingo program."

Clear provides a step-by-step guide for implementing habits, making the process accessible to a wide audience. His emphasis on environment design and visual cues adds a layer of specificity that aids in the successful establishment of habits.

Duhigg's Limited Practical Application

While The Power of Habit offers a deep dive into the science of habits and habit loops, the application of this knowledge seems less straightforward. Duhigg's focus on case studies and stories, while engaging, might leave some readers searching for concrete steps to implement in their daily lives. In comparison to Clear's actionable techniques, Duhigg's approach may be seen as more theoretical than practical. I recall asking my Grade 12 Chemistry teacher if there was a practical application for a speciic experiment-- long since forgotten-- but I remember his startled blank look and his mumbling something like, "This is Science-- there might not be "a practical application" for this experiment."

How To Set and Stick To Life-Changing Habits- Presentation by Charles Duhigg

Clear's Emphasis on Identity

James Clear goes beyond the mechanics of habit formation by highlighting the role of identity in sustaining habits. He argues that by aligning habits with one's identity, individuals can foster lasting change. Clear's approach taps into the psychological aspect of habit formation, encouraging readers to see themselves as the type of person they aspire to become.

"What Would (The Person I Wish To Become) Do? Interview with James Clear

Duhigg's Exploration of Institutional Habits

Charles Duhigg's exploration of organizational and societal habits is a notable strength in The Power of Habit. However, for readers seeking personal change, these sections may feel less directly applicable. Clear's focus on individual habits and the cumulative impact of small changes will likely resonate more with those looking for immediate, personal transformation.

The Flexibility of Clear's Approach

James Clear recognizes the uniqueness of individuals and provides a flexible framework for habit formation. He encourages readers to adapt strategies to their own preferences and circumstances. This flexibility caters to a diverse audience, making Atomic Habits applicable to various lifestyles and personalities.

Duhigg's Emphasis on Habit as a Key to Success

Charles Duhigg explores the idea that understanding and manipulating habits can lead to success in various aspects of life. While this overarching theme is compelling, the practical steps to achieve this success feel less explicit than Clear's approach. Clear's focus on the minutiae of daily habits offers a more hands-on guide to achieving success through behavior change.


Both Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg contribute valuable insights into the study of habit formation.. However, Clear's emphasis on atomic habits, practical strategies to utilize habits, and the integration of identity into habit formation sets his work apart.

 The narrative skills and flexibility of Clear's approach make Atomic Habits a standout resource for those seeking not just to understand habits but to actively and effectively change them. 

While Duhigg's exploration of the habit loop and societal habits is insightful, it may leave some readers longing for the actionable steps and personalized guidance that Clear so adeptly provides. In the end, Atomic Habits emerges as a preferred choice for individuals looking to make lasting, positive changes in their lives.


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