Part 1: How To Develop Small, But Powerful Habits

This post is part of Hans’ focus on Leadership 360, a holistic approach that encourages you to develop your inner leadership capacity so that you can lead the external work of Career Connected Learning more effectively. Leaders need to continuously pursue personal renewal and growth as they provide servant leadership in their families, workplace and communities.

In January of each year, like many of us, I spend time thinking about what I want the coming year to look like and how it might be better. I stopped calling them resolutions a few years ago; I try to make them more specific, measurable, and time-bound, so I call them goals instead.

But still, the week or two at the end of December leading into January is actually a little troublesome when it comes to setting goals. For me, during these weeks things have quieted down a little bit and I have more margin in my life and daily schedule. Therefore, it feels like I’ve got all kinds of energy to make changes in my life.

So, on January 1, it is easy for me to write down a slew of goals and action items, and then assign a due date to get them all completed by April 1!

The problem is that, a week later, regular life comes roaring back with the press of all my previous responsibilities. So, before I know it, those goals are really hurting; maybe they’ve even been completely forgotten.

Enter – Atomic Habits

Achieving any kind of important goal is almost always the results of consistent, small steps. This is especially important when it comes to a personal goal like – lose 10 pounds, get more sleep at night, spend time journaling, and meditating in the morning, spend more time with my spouse or children, etc.

“Atomic Habits” is a term coined by author James Clear who wrote an excellent book by the same name. You can think about the descriptor “Atomic” in two ways.

First, atoms are incredibly small units of matter, and as Clear explains, you should focus on implementing small habits into your daily life or weekly routines. Big, specific goals for work and personal life have their place, but we need to recognize that the small habits (the things we do every day, every week, every month, etc.) these lead to the success we are seeking.

And also, in the same way that atoms are the basis for nuclear power and nuclear weapons, atoms harness tremendous energy. Small habits harness tremendous power in our lives. One activity, like walking for 45 minutes, done just on one day, has little impact. But combine that activity for many days, weeks and months, and it builds significant health benefits into your life.

Also, I’ve noticed that developing one small habit successfully starts to builds more confidence and excitement as I consider working on other habits.

Of course, positive habits have power, and negative habits also exert negative results – draining us of energy and often exploding into problems with work and relationships. Throughout the book, Clear lays out four strategies to implement new habits, and four strategies to eliminate bad habits. I’m going to summarize these in my next post.

But in the meantime, if you want to get Atomic Habits by James Clear, it is widely available, and I enjoyed “reading” it the first time on the Audible app.

Send me a note to [email protected], if you want to share some of your insights about developing new habits or unlearning negative ones.

Hans Meeder is President of the National Center for College and Career Transitions (NC3T) ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools. These strategies help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.