Part 2 : 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 my previous post, I shared some ideas I’ve learned from James Clear about developing Atomic Habits, those small changes in our life that can have big, long-term results.

I’m going to share his four rules for developing habits below. But, as a testimonial that this works, I’ll share a few new habits I’ve developed in the last couple years that, while not perfectly implemented, have really helped my quality of life.

First, I created a morning routine, a little script of things I do every morning to get ready for the day and to have a smooth transition into the workday. The script includes: Get up, hit the bathroom, put on my clothes, make the coffee, take vitamins, feed the cat, have a personal time of reflection, journaling, prayer and meditation, have some breakfast, chat with my wife, then go downstairs to the home office to start the workday. By stacking all these habits together in a sequence, I’m much more likely to get them done – particularly the ones I can forget like taking my vitamins.

Notice that taking a shower isn’t apart of my morning routine, that’s part of my evening routine, as is putting out my clothes for the next day. Also, exercise for me is something I put at the end of the workday.

Another habit I am developing is to make coffee in the evening and setting the self-brew timer. I love the smell of coffee wafting to the bedroom when I’m waking up. The aroma motivates me to get up and it also saves a few minutes when I’m in my morning routine. But I am not consistently remembering to do this in the evening. I need to create a specific cue in my evening routine to make this habit stick. Maybe when I turn off the tv or device to get ready for bed, the first thing I will do is go set up the coffee maker.

A new habit I started four months ago is saying no to constant snacking, and eating just three meals a day and an evening snack at 8:45 pm. I have a group of friends that encourage me in this routine, and it is really helping me get to a healthier weight. I also write it as a daily accomplishment in my journal every morning, so it motivates me to keep the streak going.

So, here are Clear’s Four Rules for creating new habits.


Make the habit something very obvious to you. If you want to remember to exercise, schedule it in your calendar with a pop-up reminder on your smart phone. Also, set out your workout clothes and shoes the evening before and put them in a place you will see. If you want to eat more fruit and fewer salty snacks, put the fruit out on the kitchen counter, and put the chips on a high shelf in a cabinet, hidden away from direct sight.


When something seems fun and rewarding, we are much more likely to stick with it. One example from Clear’s book was a village that encouraged good handwashing techniques by giving out a wonderfully fragrant hand soap. The aroma made people WANT to wash their hands. Another tactic is to promise yourself a reward AFTER you’ve down a less than rewarding task.


If there’s something you want to do, but it’s intimidating or overwhelming, maybe it’s too big. Think about reducing the habit down to more manageable size. For instance, my wife and I are committed to walking throughout the winter, and recently there was a day when it was really cold outside. We admitted that neither of us really wanted to walk that day, so we made fulfilling the commitment a little easier. We agreed, “we will just put on our cold weather gear and walk out the door. That’s the only commitment we have to make.” Sure enough, once we got outside, we were warm enough and ended up having a good walk.

Another example: If you want to read more, don’t start by saying “I need to read a book a week.” Instead, you might say, “I will read five minutes a day after I finish dinner.” You are much more likely to fulfill the small commitment, get the positive feedback from keeping your small commitment, and on many days, you will end up reading far longer than five minutes.


It is easy to start and maintain new habits when you get some immediate feedback. Creating a habit tracker (like a chart with boxes to check, or inputting daily running # in on your calendar) can provide positive feedback every time you complete the activity. You can also pair a less desirable habit with an activity that you really enjoy. For example, take out the trash and tidy up the kitchen right before you turn on the device to watch a favorite streaming show.

As we wrap up, just remember the most important idea here – small habits, over time, bring big results. Further, if you begin to add one habit now, and then when that new habit is strong, start adding another habit, it is better than trying to adopt several resolutions all at once.

So, don’t wait for the next New Year’s Day to adopt a slew of resolutions that won’t stick. Instead, pick just one positive habit, and look for ways to — Make it Obvious, Make it Attractive, Make it Easy and/or Make it Satisfying.

Today is a great day to begin making something big happen – simply by starting a new TINY habit.

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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.