September 25, 2023

Atomic Habits: September

I probably should save this for next week, considering September isn't over yet, but I never actually wrote a post about this at the beginning of the month. I really wasn't sure how this was going to play out and I didn't want to make a big deal about it.

I know I've mentioned the book "Atomic Habits" several times already, but that is what prompted this whole "mission" (I'm not sure what to call it; basically, I want to change some habits, both good and bad). The book idea is simple: adding new good habits and breaking bad ones.

However, it is super helpful for figuring out a plan on HOW to do that. (I'm going to add a few Amazon links to products I have; in full disclosure, they are affiliate links which just means that if you should use the link to purchase, then I may get a commission. I'm not trying to push them; they are just products I have and find helpful.)

First, here is a link to the book "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. I listened to the audiobook first, and found it so helpful that I borrowed the Kindle book as well. The audiobook is really well done, if you prefer to listen rather than read. And it's not super long. (Actually, if you sign up for the free Audible "Premium Plus" trial on Amazon, you get to choose a book for free--and you can keep it! Even if you cancel the after the trial. I think that's how I got it.)

Several readers suggested the book Atomic Habits to me years ago, and I bought the audiobook with some Amazon credits I had--I just never got around to listening to it. When I saw the title "Atomic Habits" I immediately thought "huge"--I pictured an atomic bomb! But I learned that it's actually meant to be the complete opposite: "atomic" meaning minuscule, the size of an atom. Atomic habits are tiny little changes that eventually add up to big results.

"Here's how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you'll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you're done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you'll decline nearly down to zero."  --James Clear, Atomic Habits

An example that helped me visualize this was to look at calories. If you eat 1% more calories than you burn every day, then you will gain a noticeable amount of weight over the course of a year. But if you eat 1% fewer calories than you burn, you'll lose weight. And either way, the change is so small that you barely notice it on a day to day basis. 

According to Atomic Habits, to build new habits, there are four "laws":

The Four Laws of Behavior Change are a simple set of rules we can use to build better habits. They are (1) make it obvious, (2) make it attractive, (3) make it easy, and (4) make it satisfying.

Each of those has key points that help you make a plan for implementing habits. I won't get into all of them (that's what the book is for), but here are a few that really helped me this month.

1) Make it obvious- I used what Clear calls habit stacking, which is where you follow one habit with another so that the first is basically a cue for the next. (I'll get into my own examples below.)

2) Make it attractive- I didn't make use of this one yet.

3) Make it easy- I used the "Two minute rule" and this was the biggest factor for me this month. The two-minute rule is simple: Downscale habits until they can be done in two minutes or less. (Again, I'll write my own examples below.)

4) Make it satisfying- I chose to use reinforcement, which means to give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit. I also chose to use a habit tracker, which is satisfying because you can see the progress on a chart.

First, I'll show you my habit tracker with the items I chose to work on this month:

Prior to reading Atomic Habits, I tried using trackers dozens of times and never got anywhere with them because I didn't make the habits "atomic". For example, I wrote "Read for 2 minutes" this month; two minutes might as well be nothing! Considering the two minute rule, however, the habit is doable. And eventually, the two+ minutes per day will lead to finishing books.

So, yes--this list of habits looks long. However, only a few of them take longer than two minutes. Here is how they played out for me:

1. Run around the block first thing in the morning.

Jerry was getting home from work right as I was getting home from my run, so he took a series of pictures--I'm wearing a headlamp, which is what the red light is from. I think the picture looks kind of cool!

I took any sort of preconceived running goal and threw it out the window. The sole purpose of putting this on my list was to get in the habit of running in the morning. Before reading the book, I would have written "Run 3 miles"--and then I'd procrastinate and quit shortly after. However, I chose "run around the block" because it's SO SHORT and I can be done with it before I even have time to change my mind.

Immediately after waking up, I change into my running clothes. Then I strap on my Garmin and Joey's leash (he LOVES this new running habit, by the way) and we head outside. We run one loop. Around my block is 0.41 miles, which is what we did for the first week. The second week, I decided to circle two blocks because it only adds 0.1 miles, making it a total of 0.52. (However, a couple of times I've only done one block; I don't ever want to hate it, so if I don't feel like doing more, I'm cool with that.)

The run takes a grand total of 4-6 minutes. And since I do it immediately after waking up, I don't even have time to think about it or talk myself out of it before I go. It's been 25 days now and I've run around the block every single morning. Without procrastinating. Without feeling like I should have done more. Without feeling like it doesn't really count because it's "only" half a mile.

I don't have future plans for this. If I want to add more distance later, I will. If I don't, I'm fine with just doing one loop of the block. Doing the 0.52-mile loop every day for a year will add up to 189.8 miles! In the past year (not counting this month), I only ran 54.7 miles total.

I've implemented the "satisfying" part into this habit as well. Right after my run, I make a cup of tea and I do the Wordle and Connections (New York Times puzzle games). I *love* the puzzles and I look forward to doing them, but I only do them after my morning run. It feels like a reward.

2. Take vitamin D and B-12.

This is simple. I had frequently been forgetting to take them or I'd take them at random times each day. However, I use habit stacking to make this a habit. While my tea steeps, I take my vitamin D and B-12--I keep the bottle with my tea bags so that I see it and remember to take it.

3. Drink 64 oz. of water.

I used to aim for a gallon. And I was having such a hard time reaching that! I used to drink that much when I was running a lot of miles, but for the past few years, staying hydrated has been a struggle. So, I changed it to 64 oz.

On Amazon recently, I found some water bottles that we used to have years ago--I loved them, but we lost them at some point. So, I bought two new ones.

(These water bottles are fantastic! They are the size and shape of a standard disposable (16.9 oz) bottle. The plastic is very good quality, and the whole top of the bottle can be removed for cleaning or adding ice. I'm kind of a water bottle hoarder, but these are (hands down!) my very favorite ones. Here is the link to Amazon.)

The goal is to drink four of them throughout the day, so after I drink one, I refill it and put it in the fridge and pull the other one out. I like to add a packet of True Grapefruit (it's not sweetened or anything--it's just a tiny amount of crystalized grapefruit juice). Here is the link to the True Grapefruit on Amazon. I actually wrote a review/giveaway of these WAY back in 2012, and you can find that post here.)

4. Clean kitchen counters before bed.

This is just one little chore that I would always used to put off until morning. I always feel like the house is gross when the counters are dirty, so I just feel better when they are clean before I go to bed. I used habit stacking for this by doing them immediately after dinner.

5. Do 3 back stretches before bed.

After dealing with chronic pain from 2018-2022, my back had gotten SO STIFF. I was kind of stunned recently when I realized just how little flexibility I have. A lot of it is due to a messed up disc that has caused problems for as long as I can remember, but the new chronic pain made me avoid any movement at all that would aggravate it. Anyway, the point is, I want to have some flexibility. And if there is any chance that I can help the disc in my back through exercises/stretching, I am willing to do it.

I used to make a whole list of stretches and vow to do them every day; and then I'd quit after a day or two. This time, I chose the two-minute rule: three back stretches that I learned in physical therapy, done for 30 seconds each (with 10 seconds rest in between). Using the foam roller (especially this particular stretch) has actually helped tremendously! It took about a week to feel any difference, but I've definitely noticed an improvement.

As anyone who has a cat knows, this is what happens when you try to do any sort of exercise on the floor:

Pardon me, just let me put my butthole in your face while you do that.

Chick, Duck, and even Phoebe have to check out what I'm doing.

That stretch on the foam roller feels amazing, by the way. It was my favorite at physical therapy.

6. Take iron supplement.

I'm still working on building up my ferritin level, so I'm continuing my iron supplement. I always take this right before eating dinner so that it becomes a habit.

7. Journal one line.

I've always loved the "Five Year" or "One Line A Day" journals because they only take a minute or two. I have a Five Year Journal and I love it. I've actually bought it as a gift for a few people, too. If you're not familiar with a five-year journal, it's a really cool concept; there are 365 pages (one for each date), with lines divided into five sections. Each page is marked for the date, and each paragraph section is where you write for the current year (you just fill in the last two digits of the year and then circle the day of the week).

So during the first year, you write a brief entry--just a couple of sentences about your day or whatever--on the first section for each date. Then the following year, you go back to the beginning of the journal and write a new entry for that date in the spot below it. It's neat to see what you wrote the year prior, or the year before that--kind of like the "memories" notifications on Facebook. (Here is the Amazon link to the one that I have, but if you search "five year journal", there are several. I like this one--it's not too small, not too big, and the pages are thick.)

8. Read for 2 minutes.

Again, I use the two minute rule for this. Sometimes I just don't have time to read or I don't feel like reading, so I will literally just read for two minutes (well, I usually finish out the page, so maybe a little longer). Most of the time, I get caught up in the book and end up reading for 20-30 minutes. I'm still reading Demon Copperhead--it's SO good! I'm just a slow reader, which is why I haven't finished it yet.

9. Do one Duolingo lesson.

One of my New Year's goals was to build my vocabulary with one new word each week. I wasn't doing great with remembering to do that, so instead, I started using Duolingo to learn Spanish. I took four years of Spanish in high school, but I remembered very little. The Duolingo app is free and each lesson only takes a couple of minutes. Most of the time I end up doing three of them, but doing at least one a day has helped me learn a lot!

I feel like I'm about to the point of where I stopped learning in high school, and I've only done it for 140 days or so. This is one of those habits that really shows how improving just a tiny bit each day will eventually add up.

10. Floss before bed.

This one is just one of those things that only takes a minute, but I just don't want to do. I guess I just feel like it's not totally necessary because I floss after breakfast every day (I put chia seeds in my cereal, and they always get stuck in my teeth). However, it feels good to go to bed with a totally clean mouth, which includes flossing. I use the water flosser now, so it goes much more quickly. I use habit stacking for this. I change into pajamas, do my back stretches, brush my teeth, then floss before getting into bed. The whole thing takes five minutes or so.

Funny story: A couple of days ago, I dropped the ball to one of my earrings down the drain in the bathroom sink. I was super bummed, and even though it was really tiny and probably hopeless to retrieve it, Jerry wanted to try. So he unscrewed the pipe under the sink to look. And then I noticed a little seedling growing in the drain--it was from a chia seed! Hahahaha.

As you can see from my Habit Tracker, this is day 25 of doing these every. single. day. I can feel them becoming mindless habits! It's amazing how much of a difference reading the book has made--the "two minute rule" is invaluable to making these stick. I always have a tendency to get overzealous (in pretty much everything I do) and that's why it's so hard to stick to. Breaking these down into "atomic" size habits made them very doable--and actually enjoyable!

I'm only making a few changes for October's habits, but I'm keeping most of them the same until they truly become automatic and I do them without thinking (or having to check the tracker to make sure I did them).

You can find a ton of different habit trackers on Amazon (or free printable ones, I'm sure). The one that I have is no longer available, but here is the link to a similar one, as well as the pens/markers I use. I love these! The tip is firm like a pen, but they write like a marker and best of all--they don't bleed through the paper. I even use them in my five-year journal. The tracker has a section for weekly and monthly habits as well as the daily ones, but I haven't used those yet. I want to get the daily habits down first.


  1. Darn - I should have waited a few days before jumping in to buy that book from Amazon so I could have used the link ... It arrived yesterday and I'll start it today. I had been on hold at the library but was #86 on the list, so figured it's worth it. Thank you for sharing with this post - I appreciate you breaking it all down and showing us how it's helped you. I have been thinking of goals I want to break down because I often put too big of one and then just don't do it. Even just cleaning out the sink every night. It's small but then turns into empty the dishwasher, etc. What does that take - three minutes?

    When I think of the 30 pounds I want to lose, I think it's insurmountable (don't laugh given your achievement), but it all adds up even if a slow process. It just seems to keep increasing vs. decreasing.

  2. Thanks to your multiple recommendations for the book, I am reading it now! The habit stacker got a bit overwhelming so it's helpful to see how you did it, thanks.

    You might enjoy "the 5 second rule" by Mel Robbins. It's somewhat similar but a different take. I think it might go nicely with your Atomic Habits. The basic gist is that when you have the impulse to do something, you count down from 5 and then you just do it before you have time to argue with yourself. Your run around the block sounds like that.

    I've been doing the tiny goals for a few weeks now, mainly, stretching after my workout. Instead of doing the recommended 15 minutes, i do 2-3 minutes... which is a LOT more than zero! Likewise I do a quick ab workout on cardio days and instead of doing something hard, I do something easy bc it's a lot better than nothing!

  3. I haven't been receiving your posts in my email and I've been a bit swamped and haven't "tracked" them down. (I'm so punny.) So, I was ecstatic to see this one! Just what I needed. I love habit stacking. The biggest one is using the 30 minutes between when I take my thyroid medicine and when I can eat breakfast and take my other medications to meditate. Huge change with a simple hack.

  4. I am so excited for you! I LOVE Atomic Habits and I just started my own Habit Tracker yesterday! I feel like doing "it" the Atomic Habit way will really make things stick for the long run and I love hearing how well it's working for you. That gives me even more hope :D

  5. You're totally influencing me to want to try this! I desperately need to revamp some of my habits. There are so many good habits I want to get in to (like not scrolling my phone for hours once I lay in bed ugh) and reading more, keeping my kitchen tidier, folding laundry right away and not letting it pile up for weeks. Stuff like that! I love the idea of doing small goals!


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