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Atomic Habits: Book Review

I picked up the somewhat-talked-about Atomic Habits while on a trip and read it in about two days. The book was easy to read, but I’m not likely to recommend it. Here are my notes and takeaways!

My first impression, since the author starts with their story, is that they wrote this book because they … blogged about habits a lot. Not a journalist, not a researcher … Who is this person! It makes me wonder generally about business books (and perhaps broader pop non-fiction) and who the writers are. Curious!

The main focus I got from the book is to focus on habits rather than goals.

With goals, there’s a drop afterwards … I relate to this, as it reminded me of my pondering on anxiety as fuel. Focusing on outcome based goals can be rough-going. For me, the contrast could be between “be an accomplished senior engineer” versus “being a curious person who’s always learning.”

When I achieve a goal, I often have an emotional drop afterwards. Like “oh, that’s it?” Like in the movie Soul when the main character gets his dream and then it’s … keep doing it. ✨Existential problems✨

If I were to intersect this with Atomic Habits, I’d say the author recommends focusing on the small, stackable actions rather than larger goals. If you want to run fast, don’t focus on the big race, but on running 3 times a week and tracking your progress … and keep going.

Or, since I want to write, write every week and keep going.

The book’s structure is around four “laws,” which it sounds like the author reframed from another popular habit book, Power of Habit. In Power of Habit, the focus is on cue, craving, response, and reward. The Atomic Habits version for building (or for breaking, apply the inverse) habits:

  • Make it obvious
  • Make it attractive
  • Make it easy
  • Make it satisfying

The most stressful part of this book for me was about habits shaping your identity. Forming a habit by saying, “I do this action because I am an XYZ” For example, “I exercise because I am a fit person.” Warning: the book does relate to diet/weight on occasion, likely because those are popular habits to discuss.

The most helpful part of the book was when the identity topic was revisited closer to closing. Then, it suggested being careful about habits limiting your identity (such as focusing on being an engineer, versus forming a more flexible identity around learning or some other more transitive identity).

Overall, it is an easy read but I didn’t think it is anything earth-shattering as far as the takeaways. I think it’s a very well marketed book!

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