book talk

The Power of the Tiny (Atomic Habits)

Dear Readers,

I’m putting my Things Good Readers Do series on pause for awhile. Though I am looking forward to completing it, because I want to share the things I do to help little readers grow, I don’t quite have the brain space to work on those types of posts while preparing for an international move. For those of you who have moved internationally – and those of you who have moved at all – you know it isn’t just a one day, or even one-week, process. So I’ll be doing some different book-related posts in the coming weeks that take a little less time and energy to write – but will, I hope, still give you some great bookish ideas.

Happy reading!

Selective Focus Photography of Purple Flowers on Book Page
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

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I’m introducing a new type of blog post today that I’m going to call “Book Talk.” As I’ve mentioned before, talking about books is a really powerful way to be a better reader. As you talk about the books that you read, you find others who are interested in similar things, and will talk about books with you, which will encourage you in your endeavor to read more (or read better).

Also, I was doing some thinking this weekend about my blog, and, as I told my friend A (who is the person I bounce all blog-related ideas off of), I have so many more thoughts to put into the world about the books I read than the short-ish review blurbs that I write once a month!

However, I didn’t want to do the same individual-book-review-post that so many other book bloggers do. There is definitely nothing wrong with that type of post. I may even find myself doing that for particular books at some point (never say never).

But the thoughts I have about books aren’t always book-review-type thoughts. They’re better classified as reflections.

I have this theory, which seems to be backed up by Scripture, science, and lots of experts. (So it’s really not my theory at all.)

What you put into your mind influences who you become.

I see evidence of that because when my mind is wandering, or as I drift off to sleep, it often goes back to something that stuck out to me in whatever book I was reading – a visualization of a description (whether wholesome or not), a poignant observation about life, or the mindset shift that a book or author recommends.

Did you ever hear the Sunday school song that went like this: “Oh be careful little eyes what you see”?

I’m pretty sure someone wrote that little tune to remind kids (and adults) that what we see and hear affects our thoughts. And what we think about influences our actions. And our actions are a reflection of who we are.

So, using a geometry proof-type of thinking, what you read (or watch or hear) influences who you become.

Anyway, the reason I’m explaining all of that is this: I’m going to starting writing some of my “book talk” because what you read influences who you become: since I’m thinking about what I’m reading, inevitably something that a friend says will remind me of something I read in a book, and it becomes part of our conversation.

I thought it would be fun to share these thoughts with you, wonderful reader!

Today’s Book Talk: Atomic Habits

Atomic Habits: the life-changing million-copy #1 bestseller by [James Clear]

The book talk for today is about the power of the tiny. They’re thoughts I have about the book Atomic Habits by James Clear.

A friend of mine read this book awhile ago and recommended it on her IG account, and I read her thoughts, and thought, “Yeah, I should probs put that on my TBR.”

But we were talking this week, and she brought it up again, and I finally decided I’d read it now.

First, it definitely deserves to be added to my book list of books on productivity, technology and relationships, and I plan to add it momentarily.

Second, I was tickled that Clear mentions his intention to make it a follow-up, practical guide to Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, which is already on the aforementinoed productivity book list. My one beef with Duhigg’s book was that it had a lot of theory, but not much practical application. Atomic Habits provides that missing application piece.

Third, I’m probably going to need to revisit this book in the future. There’s so much good stuff packed in there that there’s no way a person can put it into action all at once.

One of my favorite things that he says, which is really the premise for the whole book is that tiny changes that don’t seem to make a difference in the short-term actually compound to make significant, astounding changes in the long-term when done consistently.

So I suppose the title for this post should be more like “The Power of the Tiny and Consistent” – but it didn’t pack the same punch.

This idea my favorite, because it’s something God has been teaching me over the past couple of years. And then the idea has just kept popping up in different places – sermons, conversations, books . . . and when that happens, it’s like God is saying, “Hey! This is important. Pay attention!”

Would you believe that last year (2020) my “word for the year” was consistency? I’d noticed how I do things with great vim and vigor at first and then peter off when I am not reminded constantly to keep at whatever-it-was – in particular, spiritual disciplines.

Turns out this is just part of being human. Building new habits, when they aren’t made obvious to us (part of what Clear talks about) is really hard.

I read several books last year, too, that had to do with this idea of being consistent in the seemingly small things, because they really end up being the big things – one of them being The Power of Habit, and another being Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird (btw, highly recommend!).

Then at the beginning of this year, my sister’s church did an 8-week sermon series called “Seeds: Tomorrow Starts Today.” It was all about how the little things we do, pay attention to, and prioritize today affect our tomorrow. I listened to every sermon in the series.

Earlier this month, I read Lauren Graham’s memoir, Talking as Fast as I Can. And would you believe, she talked about how showing up consistently, even if you don’t get much done on a given day, made a huge difference in her ability to write and meet deadlines!

And then we come to Atomic Habits.

I found it so helpful!

Ever since I read Bird by Bird, I’ve been trying to figure out how to write, every day. I did for a little while – last summer. But then the school year started, and I didn’t have the daily routines (read: habits) built in that would allow me to keep writing every day.

James Clear explains why that happened to me: I was trying to bite off more than I could chew, so this new habit seemed too hard when thrown into the mix of starting up a school year (and, as it turns out, *virtually* the entire school year…).

There are a few other habits I was thinking about as I read the book.

He has four rules for forming habits, and then explains the inverse of each rule for how to forego unwanted habits.

I won’t explain all those to you – you should read the book instead! But I will tell you some of my thoughts and what stood out to me.

Forming New Habits

One of the suggestions for forming new habits was the “Two-Minute Rule.” Clear states that many times, people bite off more than they can chew when forming a new habit. For instance, saying that they’ll work out six days a week for an hour each time when they don’t work out at all in the present.

In order to form new habits, he explains, it needs to feel easy, at least for the first step, since psychology has shown us that we won’t form habits if they feel too hard or overwhelming. So he says that the first phase in forming a new habit should be an action that takes under two minutes – for example, putting on workout clothes.

Once you make the critical decision to put on workout clothes, it’s far easier to continue down that path and actually do the workout versus choosing to stay in the clothes you’re wearing or change into sweats after work. Once you have the clothes on, you’re far more likely to do a workout. (Although my dad has been known to spend an entire Saturday in workout clothes because he got sidetracked and never got his run in. But it usually helps.)

I have worked out, mostly through running, for over half of my life. And in that half of my life, I have almost always run after school. (Since I’m a teacher now, that habit has been able to continue, because after school = after work for me.)

My body and brain are completely conditioned to that, even though I’ve every once in awhile tried to be ambitious and work out before school/work.

After trying and only being able to do it for a total of like two days straight, I had decided that I just couldn’t handle waking up that early.

Waking up early was, in truth, only part of the problem.

Having an inconsistent bedtime was a bigger part of the problem: going to bed late really kills my ability to get myself out of bed any earlier than absolutely necessary to get to work on time. And since I haven’t had a consistent bedtime in a few years, getting up earlier than I had been wasn’t working.

It’s like I’ve had this threshold of “my body won’t wake up before 6am.” Or, at times, 6:30am.

What really has to happen is I have to become a person who goes to bed early and on time, consistently, in order to become a person who works out every morning before work.

Why would I decide to make this shift? Life changes. So routines have to change.

First, I added in Spanish tutoring lessons twice a week, after school. That cramped my ability to work out after school, but for a while I thought I could make it work.

Plus, the rainy season hasn’t seemed to end yet here in Quito, and it tends to rain right as we finish the school day. If it was just rain, that would be one thing, but it’s often thunderstorms, which are not safe to run in.

Finally, since my new job will be in Georgia, I can’t see myself going from the beautiful, dry, cool air of Quito to the muggy heat of Georgia in July and continuing to run at 4pm. Nope. I just don’t think that will be happening.

So for all of those reasons, I’m deciding to make the shift to being a person who works out in the morning.

I’ve done okay-ish the last couple of weeks, but reading Atomic Habits is giving me some great, concrete, do-able ideas to help sustain me through the difficulty of changing my workout habit.

For instance, instead of telling myself that I have to work out for a minimum of 30 minutes before school, I’ll tell myself I at least have to leave my apartment and walk for 10 minutes. This will help on the days when I wake up later than I had planned.

Rather than skipping a day, telling myself I just have to walk for 10 minutes is building the routine of working out in the morning into my psyche – literally creating the pathways in my brain.

In fact, that’s what I did last Monday morning.

The point (at least at first) is not how much or how intensely I work out. It’s that I work out. It’s that I “show up” to a workout every morning.

As Clear points out, it’s on the days when it’s tougher to show up and the quality of your workout, writing, or [fill in the blank with your habit] is less than ideal that it really makes a difference.

He explains, through numerous examples, that you don’t see the changes happening at first, and you won’t feel like you’re making progress, but just the fact that you do the small thing and show up for whatever it is, is actually progress itself.

One of the examples Clear uses was incredible to me: the British cycling team worked on improving in many different areas by one percent. Only one percent! Doesn’t seem like much, right?

But the result of all of those tiny changes meant that someone from their team won the Tour de France two years in a row (when they hadn’t ever had a member win it once in the entire history of the race previously).

So using the two-minute rule and a few other ideas he gave, I’ll make some get this morning exercise routine going.

Foregoing Unwanted Habits

In addition to lots of tips on how to methodically develop new habits, Mr. Clear had some great things to say about getting rid of bad habits.

The difficult thing about unwanted or unhealthy habits is that, though they ultimately don’t benefit us, they do give us something in the here-and-now and we do them to meet some felt need or desire, as Clear explains.

For instance, I’ve found myself checking my phone and/or social media in between classes or even while I’m listening to students say something during office hours. Or, while I’m planning or grading, I suddenly get this urge to check my phone, even though I don’t even think I’m bored right then!

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I’m not proud of this, but I’m acknowledging it, because there’s clearly an underlying felt need.

Sometimes, I think it is boredom, which as Cal Newport points out in Deep Work, letting myself get distracted is not a good way to train my brain.

But another need that I’m realizing, is the need for connection. I’m sitting at my desk, on my computer all. day. long. without even having any office mates or cubicle pals to check in with when my heart is needing some human connection.

That’s a real need to listen to.

But I’ve started to ask myself: Instead of scrolling through social media, which really doesn’t actually give me the connection and break that I’m looking for, what could I do instead to meet that need?

And after reading this book, I’m starting to think: How can I make it easier to address my need for connection in healthier ways, and how can I make it harder for myself to check social media during the day?

That’s another principle that Clear outlines in his book: if you make bad habits harder, and good habits easier, you help yourself make the choices you want to make, and know you should make, more consistently.

I think I might look at apps that block social media at certain times during the day – or even for whole days – so that it takes more effort to distract myself than it does to stay focused on work.

And I’m starting to think about people I can reach out to individually, through a text/voice message, so that I have some human interaction, even if it is still internet-dependent.

The social media conundrum is one that I may never fully solve. Part of me wants to be like some of my friends who just don’t have any social media.

But I know for sure that, whether I keep my social media accounts or not, I want to be a person who can stay focused and get good work done that makes this world better without getting distracted by my phone.

I also want to be the type of person who stays present to the people who are in the room with me instead of staring at my phone.

And since our beliefs about our identity affect the habits we form (and vice versa), another one of the things I liked best in Atomic Habits, we want to be working to build habits that move us toward the people we become.

Identity and Habits

I love when science backs up what we see in Scripture.

In Colossians (and Corinthians, and many other letters in the New Testament), Paul explains to his readers that, through Christ, they have been made into new people (identity) and they need to rid themselves of their old ways of living (habits) because they aren’t those people anymore (identity).

Identity really comes down to beliefs.

Clear Light Bulb Placed on Chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on

If I believe that I’m the type of person who wakes up early to work out and to write, my actions will start to reflect that.

If I want to become the type of person who stays focused on the people she’s talking to face-to-face, I’ll work to align my thoughts and actions to reflect that identity.

We don’t have to stay the same.

We aren’t stuck.

We always have a choice.

Now, according to my beliefs (which I strive to base on the Bible), those changes are far more possible and thorough through the power of God in our lives and the transformed identity that comes with receiving forgiveness for sins and being adopted into God’s family. (phew! that was a long sentence)

But even if you don’t share my beliefs, every person still always has a choice in how they live their lives.

Your environment and community affect your life, but you can even make changes to those two critical things. In fact, Clear recommends that you do, since environment and the actions of those around you definitely influence your habits.

But above all else, I think it’s important, like Clear recommends, to reflect regularly on your actions and whether or not they are moving you toward the person you become.

The great thing is, we don’t (and can’t, really) change all at once.

But over time, our little, seemingly insignificant choices make a world of difference.

Have you read this book?

What are your thoughts about making tiny changes that are consistent?

What other books have you read that have shifted your mindset about living a good and worthwhile life instead of just going with the flow?

Book talk is better when it’s a conversation, so leave your comments below!

2 thoughts on “The Power of the Tiny (Atomic Habits)

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