This is my review of Atomic Habits. As the name implies it is a book on habits. It looks at how to effectively build good habits, and how to drop bad habits. It also makes the case that the habits one has are what determine success, rather than the goals one sets or the motivation one has.

I was already familiar with many of the concepts in the book, so I took it more as a refresher than new material. I’m especially interested to see how anything here could be used to extend jupiter. In any case the ideas are powerful. They’re best exemplified in the field of sports. Hear each player or team has the same goal - to win the game. Assuming equally talented teams, what sets apart the winners is the approach they take to training and preparing. Which comes down to the habits they have in the end. The author posits that the processes one has about attaining goals are much more important than the goals themselves then. It’s the system that wins, rather than reliance on motivation (which is limited) or on goals (which can be shared, or which might carry no information on how to attain them).

The first section of the book is about this. It begins by building a case for the above. But then it goes into deeper territory. Habits are essentially your identity - the things you do repeatedly. When you develop habits you assume a new identity - sometimes with good outcomes, sometimes with bad outcomes. But any habit adoption is a change in identity. There’s a good model here of this: it all start with identity (who you are), then goes to processes (your system, or your habits), and then finishes at goals. The best and hardest way to apply changes is to go at identity - become the person who is an athlete, rather than just try to lose some weight, or develop a jogging habit.

Another important aspect is the habit execution. You first see a clue which activates a desire for change. After this you go and react to this desire. At the end you get a reward. When you adopt a habit your brain starts to optimise for this process, looking for ways to simplify the reaction or even predicting the reward at the desire stage, and not at the end.

Adopting good habits is then about hacking the process here to make it easy and automatic to do the habit. This means that you should make the clue very visible (leave good food around the house, prepare gym clothes from the night before, etc), make the desire be attractive to you (ie lead to a good long-term outcome, but have some short term boost), make the reaction easy (do something for two minutes), and add some short-term reward to the whole thing so you’re incentives to keep to it.

Dropping bad habits is then just a mirror of adopting a good habit. Clues must be hidden, the desire should be muted, the reaction should be hard, and there should not be a short-term reward for the whole thing.

A good point here is also about the notion that there’s value in the structure and repetition. So going to the gym three times a week, even if for five minutes, is much better than going twice a month for two hours. In time this structure builds on itself and you’re gonna get better results.

There’s two things I thought were missing in the book. One was a deeper dive into dropping bad habits. The discussion here was more theoretical and mirroring the one for adapting good habits (hide away bad food, add conditions to being able to do a bad habit, etc) rather than digging in the underlying needs that cause the bad habits. Indeed the author claimed that you can never get rid of a bad habit, you can just hide the clues for it, or try to dampen the reward, or have enough good habits to outweigh the bad ones. But nothing super-actionable about quitting smoking, or ditching junk food, etc.

The other was that there was no attempt made to say which habits should one have. I think there’s some universal good habits - eating healthy, being active, reading, etc. - which could have been a normative backbone for the book. Sure there were examples, but if you’re looking for a sort of “field guide to the good life” this wasn’t it.

In any case, this was a good and easy read, definitely recommend it, and I’m definitely putting into practice the learnings here in the rest of the year.