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Atomic Habits: An Extension Conversation About Moving Forward in the New Year


James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, was the subject of a recent Connect Extension Virtual Chat. The hour-long interaction stimulated participants to extend Clear’s lessons into vignettes describing their personal and professional experiences with habits. The recorded chat can be found here.

Atomic habits are intended to be small and easy to do-thus reinforcing their value by becoming a part of one’s identity. Multiple atomic habits can begin to influence systems in contrast to goals that are either accomplished or not—setting up potential failure rather than celebrating small successes. Participants identified habit tracking systems including calendaring, journaling and digital accountability tools to document progress. One participant uses hourly phone alarm reminders to note elapsed time and help assure focus.

Habit stacking develops momentum and reinforces the value of individual habits. Participants described the value in making good habits obvious and tied to pleasurable activities, or pairing a new atomic habit as a reward for accomplishing a work task.

New habits can be difficult to internalize and replicate. Participants were reluctant to declare failure if a single day’s good habit was missed. Don’t attempt too many new habits at the same time. Recognize that repetition leads atomic habits to become part of your identity. One great comment about identity: “I am a hiker”, not “I like to hike”.

Extension’s culture generates identities and associated habits….curiosity, learning, personal growth and the power of communities are some. There can be tension between tradition and future that creates multiple and sometimes competing identities. The tendency towards an outside selfless service focus can lead to reduced attention to self-care and associated work stresses or burnout.

How can we improve Extension’s habits towards greater effectiveness? Participants underscored getting out of our siloed living in our own micro-worlds, and instead focus on shared goals. It’s okay to stop and concentrate on our own welfare, too, so that we can be our best selves. Let’s give ourselves permission to “fail fast and forward”, learning as we go. Organizational leaders should expect accountability for goals shared by the organization.

Atomic habits can be thought of as home “renovation” rather than demolishing what exists and building an entirely new house. And renovation is a never-ending, ongoing process. Isolate distractions and celebrate small successes. None of us can solve Covid-19 by ourselves. Simplify and remember there are off switches.

One effective form of accountability for practicing habits is through relationships—a “success” partner that can be a friend, Peloton exercise partner, or your dog who needs a daily walk. Public and open promises help to ensure follow-up.

In summary, making atomic habits easy isn’t always easy! Approach new habit formation with optimism. The value of mutual support by interacting with today’s participants was revealing. Inspiration loves company so find ways to foster and share your progress. For more thoughts, check out, 29 ridiculously tiny habits that can completely change your life.

Photo Credit: Rose Hayden-Smith

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The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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