Atomic Habits: Big things from small changes

The book Atomic Habits by James Clear gives a clear and concise way to, as he puts it, get remarkable results from tiny changes. One of the key points of this book is just small or atomic improvements can create massive powerful change. “If you can just get 1 percent better each day, you’ll end up with results that are nearly 37 times better after one year.” (Clear, 2018, p. 16). This is illustrated in the graph below from Clear’s book

One thing to remember is that change doesn’t just happen, and it doesn’t come easy, but you can set yourself up for success. As Clear talks about in both his book and in the video below, to form a habit, “the four stages are noticing, wanting, doing, and liking.”

How does this apply to science teaching though?

This applies to everyone in every aspect of life. People always want to improve themselves and it always helps to have encouragement! One important factor to remind students is that progress takes work! Things don’t just change overnight. They may look that way but that happened due to slowly building progress that eventually hit a tipping point. Showing a graph like below may help students understand that it really does take time to make a difference, but once you’re there, results skyrocket.

This graph is very useful for showing people in a basic way why they may feel disappointed after starting a new habit.

Another of the many interesting points made in the book is the effect of the environment. People do things because they have the resources to do so. So if you set your students up for success in the classroom, then they are way more likely to succeed. This can include things like making sure resources are visible so students know what they have access to or creating an open environment that encourages questions and curiosity. Also, your identity and your actions coincide. Therefore, if you want to change your actions without changing your identity, it won’t be lasting change. If you want to be better at science, then strive to be a scientist.

Atomic Habits is a great resource for anyone, especially teachers and students, to improve who they are and how they do things.


  1. Evan,
    I think it was really powerful how you ended your blog post about striving to be a scientist if you want to be better at science. I think incorporating that identity within our students should be a big point we make with our students. What sorts of things will you put into place so your students engage in actions or tasks scientist engage in (the processes), thereby affirming their identity of being scientists when they are in the classroom? Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Thank you! One way I plan to help students feel like they’re scientists is by calling them scientists. I know it’s small but I think it can make a big difference. Also, I feel that the whole inquiry has a very scientific feeling where they have to ask a question, figure out how to answer it, then go through the process of collecting data to answer that question.

  2. Hi Evan! I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I think you did an amazing job at being concise and really showed how important it can be if teachers incorporate Atomic Habits principles into our classrooms. I loved the emphasis that you put on making sure that students understood that there is such a thing as the “valley of disappointment.” I definitely have felt that way before and I know it would have helped hearing that message instead of feeling defeated. How do you think you would approach a student that was feeling like they were seeing any improvements? Would you start off your class by showing the James Clear video that you incorporated here?

    • Thank you! Yeah, I think being clear with the whole idea of progress and what it really looks like can help make things more realistic. If I had a student that felt bad about not seeing the improvement I would start by just talking to them and try and find the little improvements that they’ve made. The video may be a bit much for someone just feeling down about it and I think some positive reinforcement and someone telling them “you’re doing the right thing!” is a big step in the right direction!

  3. Hi Evan,

    Thanks for sharing! I love that you included the two graphs showing really important concepts from the book. I think that the 1% better everyday figure is especially powerful because it shows how when you don’t do something, you just sort of level of and decrease steadily in to your way of life. But when you do begin to do something, the results can compound in a great way. This would be an amazing thing to hang up in your classroom as well as the “valley of disappointment” figure. I know many students (including myself!) have experienced this valley of disappointment upon beginning a new endeavor. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you! Yes, I think being clear about what progress looks like vs what people tend to think it looks like can help set things up in a more realistic way. Especially with something like science and chemistry, it’s not easy, so understanding the outline to the path to improvement is essential!

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