Want to make a habit stick? Start small – atomic small

Habits expert on the power of small changes
Habits expert on the power of small changes 06:02

Author and habits expert James Clear says if you want to make big changes, first you have to think small. His new book, "Atomic Habits," zeroes in on the idea that small adjustments add up to larger changes over time.

He likened it to what happens when you shift the nose of an airplane by a few degrees. You won't notice the shift on the runway but a plane leaving Los Angeles bound for New York will actually end up in Washington D.C.  Same goes for habits. 

"I like to say habits are the compound interest of self-improvement," Clear told "CBS This Morning." Clear's popular blog gets two million visits a month. He's also a frequent speaker at Fortune 500 companies and his work is used by teams in the NFL, Major League Baseball, and NBA.    

He titled the book "Atomic Habit" because of three similarities he sees between atoms and habits. First, atom means small. Second, atoms are units within a larger system. And third, atomic can mean a source of immense power.  

"One of the core philosophies of the book is we do not rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems. So often we're ambitious and set these lofty goals for ourselves and we wonder why doesn't it work out. It's because we don't have a system behind it. We don't have the habits behind the goal," Clear said.

Tiny habits that lead to productivity 04:46

Whatever you want to accomplish, Clear says scale it down to the smallest unit you can, something that can be accomplished in a few minutes. Want to write a book? Start with one sentence. Want to read 30 books per year? Start with one page.

How long it takes to lock a habit in isn't so easy.

"The honest answer to how long it takes to build a habit is forever because once you stop doing it, it's no longer a habit. And you know, a lot of people, the implicit assumption behind the question is, 'How long do I need to work until it's easy?' But habits are not a finish line to be crossed. They're lifestyle to be lived."

Here are two excerpts from Clear's books: