Atomic Habits Book Summary

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I recently joined The Startup Book Club, where we read one of the books most recommended by startup founders, tech pioneers, and indie makers every two weeks.

Here’s a quick summary of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones:

Small (Atomic) Habits lead to Big Results

The impact created by a change in your habits is similar to the effect of shifting the route of an airplane by just a few degrees. Imagine you are flying from Los Angeles to New York City. If a pilot leaving from LAX adjusts the heading just 3.5 degrees south, you will land in Washington, D.C., instead of New York. Such a small change is barely noticeable at takeoff — the nose of the airplane moves just a few feet — but when magnified across the entire United States, you end up hundreds of miles apart.

You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results. Unfortunately, the slow pace of transformation also makes it easy to let a bad habit slide.

Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits.
Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. Your clutter is a lagging measure of your cleaning habits.
You get what you repeat.

Patience is a Virtue

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it — but all that had gone before.”

Small changes often appear to make no difference until you cross a critical threshold. The most powerful outcomes of any compounding process are delayed. You need to be patient.

Knowledge compounds. Learning one new idea won’t make you a genius, but a commitment to lifelong learning can be transformative. Furthermore, each book you read not only teaches you something new but also opens up different ways of thinking about old ideas.

Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change. This pattern shows up everywhere. Cancer spends 80 percent of its life undetectable, then takes over the body in months. Bamboo can barely be seen for the first five years as it builds extensive root systems underground before exploding ninety feet into the air within six weeks.

Complaining about not achieving success despite working hard is like complaining about an ice cube not melting when you heated it from 25 to 31 degrees. All the action happens at 32 degrees.

Sorites Paradox

Can one coin make a person rich? If you give a person a pile of ten coins, you wouldn’t claim that he or she is rich. But what if you add another? And another? And another? At some point, you will have to admit that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him or her so.
We can say the same about atomic habits.

Can one tiny change transform your life? It’s unlikely you would say so. But what if you made another? And another? And another? At some point, you will have to admit that your life was transformed by one small change.

It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.

Winners and losers have the same goals

Runners work hard for months, but as soon as they cross the finish line, they stop training.
When all of your hard work is focused on a particular goal, what is left to push you forward after you achieve it?

The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game.

The problem with a goals-first mentality is that you’re continually putting happiness off until the next milestone. When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.

Furthermore, goals create an “either-or” conflict: either you achieve your goal and are successful or you fail and you are a disappointment. You mentally box yourself into a narrow version of happiness. This is misguided.

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Identity (Key Takeaway)

I have a friend who lost over 100 pounds by asking herself, “What would a healthy person do?” All day long, she would use this question as a guide.

Would a healthy person walk or take a cab? Would a healthy person order a burrito or a salad?

She figured if she acted like a healthy person long enough, eventually she would become that person. She was right.

The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become.


Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action 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.

The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it.

If you’re proud of how your hair looks, you’ll develop all sorts of habits to care for and maintain it.

If you’re proud of the size of your biceps, you’ll make sure you never skip an upper-body workout.

If you’re proud of the scarves you knit, you’ll be more likely to spend hours knitting each week.

Once your pride gets involved, you’ll fight tooth and nail to maintain your habits.

The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.

True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity.

Some of the other interesting excerpts include:

Happiness is not about the achievement of pleasure (which is joy or satisfaction), but about the lack of desire. It arrives when you have no urge to feel differently.

It is easy to get bogged down trying to find the optimal plan for change: the fastest way to lose weight, the best program to build muscle, the perfect idea for a side hustle. We are so focused on figuring out the best approach that we never get around to taking action. As Voltaire once wrote, “The best is the enemy of the good.”

Reframe your habits to highlight their benefits rather than their drawbacks. Instead of telling yourself “I need to go run in the morning,” say “It’s time to build endurance and get fast.”

Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. It’s easy not to practice the guitar when it’s tucked away in the closet.

You don’t realize how valuable it is to just show up on your bad (or busy) days. Lost days hurt you more than successful days help you. If you start with $100, then a 50 percent gain will take you to $150. But you only need a 33 percent loss to take you back to $100. In other words, avoiding a 33 percent loss is just as valuable as achieving a 50 percent gain.

If you liked the above content, I’d definitely recommend reading the whole book. 💯

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