Creating Atomic Habits (Part 1)

By Jim LaDoux
Creating new habits can be a challenging task, but with the right guidance and mindset, you can successfully achieve it. A book many people have found helpful in learning how to change habits is James Clear's Atomic Habits. As a leader or a coach, consider how the information below can help people you interact with create new habits that help them be more grateful, more focused, more fit, and more productive.

1 | Small "atomic" habits lead to big change

Clear explains that implementing "atomic habits," or small improvements in one's behavior, creates a ripple effect of transformation in people's lives. Performing one good behavior, such as a morning exercise routine, may lead to a change in one's eating habits, or work routine.  Good habit often spark the creation of more good behaviors, that lead to a cycle of ongoing transformation. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, reinforces the concept that a core habit can can trigger a chain reaction that encourages individuals to change other habits.

2 | Three types of habits

Clear identifies three types of habits which include: 
  1. Goal-Driven Habits - behaviors you do in order to achieve a specific goal. 
  2. System-Driven Habits - behaviors that focus on the systems, or processes, that will get you to your goal, This might include eating and exercise habits, studying to prepare for an exam, or curating content for a book, podcast, or presentation. Author Nir Eyal suggests that people fail to develop habits because they fail to focus on the processes and the importance of  consistently repeating processes over a period of time.
  3. Identity-Driven Habits - behaviors we perform because they match our beliefs about who we are-in other words, our identity. For example, if you believe you're a good student, you have a good study routine. If you imagine yourself as thin, you eat, exercise, and act differently.

3 | Identity dictates behavior

One question that a coach may ask during a session could be, "How do you identify yourself when it comes to changing habits?" This question helps individuals understand their mindset and connect what they do with who they are. By identifying oneself in new, more helpful ways, people can more readily live into an identify that reflects their preferred future. 
  • When I identify myself as thin and athletic, I find myself eating less and exercising more.
  • When I identify myself as a thought-leader or content creator, I reorient my schedule and priorities differently, and seek out mentors who stretch my imaginations.
  • When I identify myself as a life-long student, I find myself reading as least one book a week, watching more MasterClasses, and viewing SkillShare courses.
  • If I identify myself as a change-agent within my organization, I find myself challenging assumptions, engaging in crucial conversations, questioning norms and practices, suggesting new ways to move forward, and asking who else needs to be at the table.

4 | Recognize the 4 stages for how habits form

By understanding the four stages, individuals can better navigate their thought processes when it comes to creating new habits, and use it to their advantage.
  1. The cue is what triggers the brain to notice an opportunity for a reward. A cue can be a smell, a sound, an event, an interaction, or anything else that triggers a desire, also known as a craving. 
  2. The craving is the emotional relevance attached to a certain cue that's connect to a change in your physical or emotional state. Your desire to satisfy this craving is what prompts you to act. 
  3. The response is the behavior or habit you perform to elicit the change you desire. Your brain prompts you to take actions it believes will create the feeling of satisfaction.
  4. The Reward is the positive outcome that comes from completing the action. 


As a leader or coach, consider how your current habits help or hinder your ideal day, life, and preferred future. What are the cues and cravings that help you model and lead change for others? How do you envision helping people embed better habits that are more fully aligned with their values, callings, and dreams?


  1. What kinds of goals for you aim for? 
  2. What kinds of goals are you helping clients with?
  3. How audacious are these goals for you and/or your clients?
  4. When have changes in your identity changed how you behave?
  5. Share an example of when you've seen a person rethink their identity.
  6. List a few of your goal-driven habits.
  7. List a few of your system-driven habits.
  8. What are some cues you'd like to create for yourself?  Your clients?
  9. What types of rewards motivate you?
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