Photo credit: Alberto Andrei Rosu /

In the book “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones,” author James Clear shares useful strategies for self-improvement and explains them in a way that is both easy to understand and applicable to daily life. The bestselling author spoke at an APB Speakers event, shedding light on the topics of decision making, habits, and continuous improvement. As actors are called to continually grow in their craft, as well as gain special skills, Clear’s insights about formulating systems to achieve goals can be a valuable resource. 

Clear starts by stating, “If you were able to improve by 1% each day for an entire year, and those gains compound, you would end up 37 times better at the end of the year.” It’s the little choices and small habits that transform a person gradually, whether it be beneficial habits that uplift, or unhelpful ones that gradually erode. 

Here are Clear’s four stages of starting, and sticking to, good habits:


Many people mistake their lack of clarity for a lack of motivation. That is, there’s a tendency to believe that willpower is required to create a new habit. “If I just felt like writing, if I just felt like meditating, if I felt like working out, then I would do it,” Clear says. “But in fact [people] don’t have a plan for it, so they wake up each day thinking, ‘I wonder if I’ll feel motivated to write today? I wonder if I’ll feel motivated to work out today?’” Therefore, he encourages people to clearly state “when, where, and how” they want to implement their desired habit. He offers a brief exercise to help people notice what is likely to hold them back from creating the habits they want. Specifically, he asks people to envision six months from today, and to imagine that they’ve failed to achieve their most important goal. “Write the story of how it happened. What caused it to fail?” he says. Being able to see the obstacles that prevented you from making progress will better inform you as you create a “when, where, and how” habit-forming task list.


The physical environment significantly impacts the likelihood of establishing new habits and building momentum. Clear advises people to regard themselves as the architect of their environment, to empower themselves with their goals. “Design something to make your good behaviors easier and your bad behaviors harder,” he states. That might mean placing your guitar right in the middle of your living room or placing the book you want to read on top of your pillow in the morning so it invites you to pick it up later at night. He cautions, “I’ve never seen someone stick to positive habits in a consistent fashion in a negative environment.” 


It’s time to take action. At this point, Clear frankly says, “The important insight here, especially for habits, is that in the beginning the most important thing is just to shut up and put your reps in. Just make sure that you hone the skill.” Starting with easy objectives, gradually build up to moderate and then more difficult goals. Rather than focusing on the milestones or the achievement of the most challenging goals, he urges people to instead focus on the start line. “If you can optimize for the starting line—make it easy as possible to get started and get your reps in, often the outcome just comes as a natural result,” he insists. “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” 


People tend to repeat behaviors that they enjoy. Clear emphasizes, “You need to experience rewards along the way. If we don’t enjoy the experience along the way, we’re unlikely to stick with it.” For a sense of accomplishment and reward on a daily basis, he encourages people to create a habit tracker. He explains, “Get a wall calendar so you can see it every day of the year mapped out on it. And then any day that you do your task of writing jokes for 15 minutes, I want you to just put an ‘X’ on that day. And you’ll have a couple false starts here and there. But at some point you’re going to get a little bit of a chain going, right? You get four or five, six, seven, eight days in a row. And at that point, your only goal becomes: Dont break the chain. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad the jokes are; it doesn’t matter if it makes it into your material— just don’t break the chain.” 

Forging a new identity

By following the above four strategies and continuously gaining momentum in establishing beneficial habits, to some degree you can create a new identity. “The goal is not to read a book; the goal is to become a reader. The goal is not to write a book or write an article; it’s to become a writer,” he insists. He likens each action that a person takes to a vote for the kind of person they want to become. He says, “If you want to become someone new, then you can take a new action and begin to accumulate evidence for that identity, for that belief about yourself. And the more votes that you cast, the more likely you are to win the election. You don’t need to be unanimous; you don’t have to be perfect all the time. You just need to have the body of work.” In this way, true change is not centered on behavior or results, but rather on identity. 

For more of Clear’s insights, visit his website