CDS's Head of Coaching Sara Penter gives us her key findings from James Clear's Atomic Habits

I believe if you hear about a subject or topic more than three times it is something that needs your attention. This is how I found myself ordering the book ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear. I had heard James talking on more than three podcasts, so I thought it would be good to find out about his philosophy on building good habits and breaking bad ones. It also coincided with New Year, which always gets me thinking about my focus for the year ahead.

I was immediately attracted to the definitions of ATOMIC and HABIT …




  1. An extremely small amount of a thing; the single irreducible unit of a larger system
  2. The source of immense energy or power




  1. a routine or practice performed regularly; an automatic response to a specific situation


The book sets out to demonstrate why building small habits makes a big difference – how making a 1% improvement each day for a year results in being 37 times better by the time you're done! What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.  Clear suggests that habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.


At the beginning of a new year we are surrounded by messages about setting goals for the new you! Clear argues that success lies not in setting goals but in the systems/processes that lead to the results.


In order to successfully change our habits we need to understand the three layers of behaviour change;


First Layer is changing your outcomes – changing your results: getting fit, finding a new job, launching a new business. Outcomes are about what you get.


Second Layer is changing your process – changing your habits/systems: new fitness routine, joining a new networking group, decluttering your office. Processes are about what you do.


Third Layer is changing your identity – changing your beliefs, your judgments about yourself and others. Identity is about what you believe.


Clear suggests that when it comes to building habits that stick we need to start at the centre and work outwards – start by focusing on who we want to become. He provides the following example: two people are quitting smoking – when offered a cigarette the first one says “No thanks. I’m trying to quit”. The second one says, ”No thanks. I’m not a smoker.”  The first one believes they are a smoker the second one no longer identified themselves as someone who smokes.  Improvements are only temporary until they become part of you … “the goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become runner”.

 So … you need to


  1. Decide the type of person you want to be (you can consider this at all levels – as an individual, a team, an organisation …)
  2. Prove it to yourself with small wins


Sometimes it’s hard to answer question 1. We are usually clear about the results we want so you may want to work backwards and ask yourself “who is the type of person that could get this outcome?”


Once you have clarified the type of person you want to be you can begin taking the small steps to reinforce your habits.  So in my quest to be a healthy/fit person when I am facing a choice/decision I will ask myself  …“What would a fit/healthy person do in this situation?”


Alongside repeatedly asking this question to help reinforce the new identity, Clear also demonstrates that clarifying your implementation intentions has a massive impact on your ability to stick to your goals. This involves completing this sentence



So on that note I have to go it’s 6.30pm on Thursday and I’m off to yoga.


If you want to understand the step by step process to build good habits and break the bad ones,  I would recommend getting the book. Or you can watch these Youtube videos and




Posted: Tuesday 5 March 2019

Copyright © 2014  Career Directed Solutions - Site map