5 Lessons You Can Apply to Yourself and Clients From Atomic Habits

For the past two years, I’ve got into reading on a kindle. I buy most books from Kindle, highlight passages and make notes, and if I really enjoy them, I buy a physical copy. I buy a physical copy so I can go through the act of turning a page and making notes with a pen. I find a physical copy allows me to think deeper about the contents of the book and improve my comprehension.

One of the few books I’ve read in 2020 that I’ve bought on Kindle and as a physical book is James Clear’s Atomic Habits. I’ve watched with great awe at James’ growth. His blog is one I consistently go back to for advice on habit and lifestyle change and improvement.

James is someone who seems to have the ability to produce consistently great work. His book is, in my opinion, excellent and I think there is a lot personal trainers can take from it for both themselves and their clients.

It’s a book that teaches you how to build habits and remove ones you don’t want. Your success as a personal trainer will be largely driven by your ability to focus on habits and small decisions that help your business grow, help your client base feel understood and help you manage your time to focus on the right things. Atomic Habits, if actioned properly, will help you do that.


Here are 5 big lessons I’ve taken James’ book:


The Ice Cube Analogy

I’ve used this part of the book numerous times when thinking about the work I do personally and when helping my clients.

The analogy goes as follows:

An ice cube is sitting in a room that is sitting at -5 degrees celsius. At -4 degrees, nothing happens. It’s still the same ice cube. At -3, -2 and -1 still nothing happens, but then it gets to 0 and it starts to melt.

It could be easy to say nothing happens between -5 and 0, but actually, work was being done to bring the temperature to a high enough point where it starts to melt the ice cube.

For You: A lot of the work you’ll do will feel like it’s getting you nowhere. Using marketing as an example – you can put up 20 posts and have nothing to show for them in terms of clients gained, but work is being done that you can’t see. We’ve heard from loads of trainers who have consistently put in the work on somewhere like social media and received an enquiry from someone who has never liked or commented on a single post.

The same thing applies to trainers who work in commercial gyms or gyms that involve member contact. You might spend months chatting to people, learning names, taking classes and being helpful and then suddenly, your hard work pays off and some of those members ask about personal training.

Keep trying to raise the temperature so that ice cube gets to the melting point.

For Your Clients: We know it takes longer than 4 weeks to get results, but your clients don’t. This analogy can serve as a nice explanation for how to combat frustrations with lack or slow progress. If they keep showing up and making changes to the way they eat, results will happen. They just take time.


The Importance of Environment

The importance of your environment cannot be understated and Atomic Habits continuously reminds us that it’s an important part of good habit development. What’s one of the first things you do when you wake up? If it’s checking your phone (like many of the rest of us), you’ll know how much environment matters. If your phone wasn’t on your bedside table, you would be a lot less likely to check it instantly. But because it’s there, you’ve got a built-in habit that encourages you to look at it without even realising it.

For You: Does anyone else find it near on impossible to get focussed work done if your phone is sitting right next to you? Even with notifications off, I still get pulled into checking it, texting someone or even just picking it up. Try putting your phone away or on airplane mode when you’re trying to work on something that needs focus. You’ll get a lot more out of that online course you’re working on if you don’t get distracted every two minutes by your phone.

For Your Clients: I’m sure you’ve experienced how high your calorie intake goes when you turn up at family members’ homes on Christmas and New Years and they’ve got Pringles, Celebrations and other highly palatable food sitting waiting to be eaten. Encouraging your clients to recalibrate their environment is a smart step to aiding their behaviour change. If they normally have crisps and sweets in easy to reach or see places, making a small change like putting them somewhere else will help. Out of sight is out of mind.


Motion vs Action

Let’s say you decide you want to start online coaching. You’re excited, you start drawing out plans for how it’ll work and how much potential money you’ll make, but you can’t quite decide on what platform you’ll use to run it. So, instead of getting started, you spend weeks deciding on which one you’ll use.

Motion is spending too much time reading reviews and procrastinating about what platform to use.

Action is deciding on one and getting started.

Motion is a necessary and important part, but As James says, “When you’re in motion, you’re planning and strategizing and learning. Those are all good things, but they don’t produce a result

For you: try to spend more of your time in action rather than motion. You’re searching for repetition and whatever you’re doing to be good enough, not perfect.

For your clients: try to narrow the gap between what your clients say they will do and what they actually do. You can help here by discussing ways they can make whatever it is they are doing more specific. For example, your client wants to increase their daily steps. Spend some time talking about when they’ll do them and what’s likely to get in their way of trying to do more.


The 2-Minute Rule

The 2-minute rule states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do”. You’ll have seen this in both yourself and your clients. You decide you want to read more in the morning, but that habit alone doesn’t stick as it’s not small enough. Your client says they want to start meditating at night. They do it for a week but trying to do 10 minutes per day becomes too draining.

As James says, “The idea is to make your habits feel as easy as possible to start. A new habit should not feel like a challenge

For you: Think about any habits you’ve recently tried to do more of. Maybe it was reading, meditating, journaling or doing a daily workout. Could you do it within 2 minutes? If not, consider how you could dial it down. “Read more in the morning” could become “read two pages first thing”. “Journal at night” could become “journal one sentence”

For your clients: The message to share is one of making any habits they want to do easier. Perhaps they want to “eat more vegetables” which could become “add vegetables to weekly shopping list” or “increase steps” could become “walk to the end of the driveway and back”.


Do an Annual Review

I’ve used this part of James’ work for 4 years as he’s been publishing his year review since 2013. It’s timely since this piece is being published in December and most year reviews happen at the end of one year or the start of the next.

I like it as it’s simple and, in my experience, effective. It gives you a chance to think back over your year and question things that went well, things that didn’t and go back over what you’ve learnt. It’s a chance to reflect and query how your life is going – something we don’t do enough of.

James tallies up his habits for blogs published, workouts put in, new places visited and a few other things and then asks three questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn?

For you: plan in an hour or two to do this over at some point over the next month. I like doing it between Christmas and New Year as it’s typically a period with more free time and fewer work demands.

For your clients: encourage them to try this themselves for their lives or you could also do it just for their exercise and nutrition.


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