Atomic Habits: Patience with the Process

My Struggle with Patience

I have to admit, I’m not a patient person. I’m the kind of person who lines my arms with grocery bags just to be sure it’ll only be one trip from my car to my house. If I order something online, I check my mailbox everyday even though I know my package won’t show up for a week. When I take a shower I get in before the water has time to warm up, just because I don’t want to wait for it.

This impatience sometimes is good, it makes me think more efficiently, however, other times it is to my detriment. I’m a percussionist, I have been since fifth grade, so I’ve been doing it for a while at this point. When I started, I made progress quickly, moving from piece to piece thinking I was the best drummer in history. Then, the better I got, the slower progress became. I had to actually start working on my drumming outside of my class in order to improve. This quickly became very frustrating.

Mastering slow progression is the key to James Clear’s novel Atomic Habits. Throughout the book, Clear writes about the importance of making small improvements everyday in order to make large improvements over time.

Atomic habits are small incremental changes and improvements to one’s habits and systems that eventually make big changes in someone’s life.

A graphic representation of making small improvements everyday.

Clear writes that “habits are the compound interest of self-improvement” (p. 22). Like money that multiplies over time, so do habits and their effect on a person. Now, the issue with this is it takes a long time for progress to become apparent if it ever does at all.

As a budding physics teacher, not only do I need to work on improving my own patience with self-improvements, but I will need to instill this same patience in my students as they make their slow, but powerful educational journey.

Habits and Patience in the Classroom

The learning process at a high level, like drumming, is a slow process. Personally, high school was the first time I started struggling with education, I needed to start really paying attention in class and studying. I think this is true for many other students and probably true for my future students as physics can sometime be a tough subject to grasp.

Now, as a teacher, it is my job to make physics easy to grasp, but that does not mean it is my job to make it a quick process. This means that it is also my job as a teacher to instill the habit of patience in my students.

Clear’s first law of atomic habits is “make it obvious.” I plan on doing this by utilizing my students environment to help them become better learners. I will set my student’s desk in groups to encourage them to work in groups and grow as learners together. I also am going to set up a schedule in my class so that students know what work will be done that day and for homework. I also am going to place physics gadgets all over my room in order to catch my students’ attention and make them curious. These are all methods to “make the cues of good habits obvious in [my students’] environment” (p. 90)

The second law of atomic habits is “make it attractive.” This I can do by working on my students’ intrinsic motivation to become better learners. Notice, I didn’t say become smarter but become better learners. It’s important that students believe they have the capacity to learn, this is something I want to help my students with. I will do this by creating a culture of learners, by tapping into my students’ curiosity and following what they want to learn about.

For the second law, “make it easy,” I will do my best to reduce friction in my students’ educational lives. As Clear puts it, “create an environment where doing the right things is as easy as possible” (p. 158). This means getting rid of pointless busy work, and any and all things that would frustrate my students. I think I can achieve this by tapping into my memory of being a student. If I think something would have annoyed me as a student I will work to try and jazz those activities or lectures up a bit.

The final law of atomic habits is “make it satisfying.” This is all about the pay off of being in my class. I can work to make learning satisfying in my class by encouraging my students when they do well or engage in my class. Clear writes, “What is immediately rewarded is repeated” (p. 189). So I plan on immediately rewarding my students for having patience in my class and really working at becoming better learners.

This whole plan of mine is going to require patience on my part as well as my students. I don’t think it’s going to very clear to either me or them that they will be growing as learners. Well, it won’t be obvious from day to day. But what’s important is the overall growth, how have they changed from day one to the final day of class. I plan on using that as my motivation on a daily basis. I may not see their growth everyday, but if I stick to my plan, there will come a day where I see them bloom as scientists and learners.


  1. Tommy,
    I love that Continuous Improvement Cycle picture you have, I think the colors really help it pop out and be noticeable. It also reminded me of just the general way that we do science, about setting goals, doing experiments (assessments), reporting findings, and making decisions from that data. How do you plan to connect these Atomic Habits to your science classroom specifically?

  2. Hi Tommy,
    I enjoyed reading your insightful post about atomic habits. I found your introduction about your struggle with patience very relatable and I know your future students will be able to relate to it as well. In addition, I like how you outlined your plan for implementing the 4 laws of atomic habits into your physics classroom. As you noted, physics has concepts that may be difficult for your students to grasp so having a plan for when those difficulties arise will help mitigate them much more efficiently. Which of the atomic habits laws do you think will be the easiest and which do you think will be the most difficult to implement in your future classroom?

  3. Tommy, Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Atomic Habits! Great job on your title – I love the alliteration. Your personal connection about patience it very relatable! I, too, am impatient oftentimes and want to see results here and now. We must learn how to be patient in order to be successful teachers! The image you used to represent an overview of the continuous improvement cycle is a great visual. With the cycle, could one skip around or go back a step before continuing on? Say my class is on a time crunch, do you think skipping the “use results for decision making and improvements” could be skipped? Or is each part of the cycle vital?

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