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Creativity thrives not just on inspiration but on the steady accumulation of small, deliberate actions. Yet, many creatives find themselves challenged by the need to maintain a consistent practice. The key to overcoming this challenge lies in building a foundation of sustainable habits and practices that support incremental progress and ongoing creativity.

This week, I’m thrilled and honored to welcome special guest James Clear, a celebrated author, blogger, and thought leader. His book, Atomic Habits, has transformed the lives of millions with its practical approach to habit formation and improvement. James brings a wealth of knowledge on how small changes can lead to remarkable results, making his expertise invaluable for those seeking to build a resilient and effective creative practice.

In this episode, we dive into James’ journey, from his early days as a blogger to the phenomenal success of his book. We discuss the challenges he faced, the strategies he employed to maintain consistency in his creative work, and how he manages the balance between professional demands and personal life. We also dive into the impact of Atomic Habits, the evolution of his creative practice, and his disciplined approach to writing and creativity.

Tune in as we explore the important role of consistency in creative projects, the power of honing one’s craft for long-term success, and the profound impact of aligning your work with your values and goals.

Topics Covered

  • James' journey from blogger to bestselling author
  • The foundational principles of Atomic Habits
  • Strategies for maintaining consistency in creative work
  • The role of small, deliberate actions in achieving long-term success
  • Balancing professional demands with personal life
  • The impact of habit formation on creative practice
  • The evolution of James' writing and creative processes
  • Overcoming challenges in habit-building and creativity
  • The importance of aligning creative work with personal values
  • Practical tips for developing a sustainable creative practice

⏱︎ Time Stamps

00:00 • Welcome to the Zen Habits Podcast with James Clear

00:36 • Introducing James Clear: The man behind Atomic Habits

03:42 • Reflecting on connections and the impact of Scott Dinsmore

05:27 • James Clear's journey: From blogging to bestselling author

07:09 • The unforeseen challenges and rewards of bestselling success

10:45 • Adapting to fame: Balancing interviews, speaking engagements, and family life

13:51 • James Clear's creative process and the evolution of his work

19:03 • The intricacies of writing and launching Atomic Habits

24:15 • The lonely journey of writing a book

24:59 • Editing challenges and achieving brevity

26:32 • The creative process and filtering ideas

27:24 • Overcoming the slog of book writing

31:03 • The vision that drives excellence

35:00 • Embracing feedback and overcoming fear

40:31 • Advice for aspiring creators

45:31 • The joy of fatherhood and lifestyle choices

📄 Transcript


Welcome to the Zen Habits podcast, where we dive into how to work with uncertainty, resistance, and fear around our meaningful work. This is for anyone who wants to create an impact in the world and cares deeply enough to do the work. I'm your host, Leo Babauta, creator of the Zen Habits blog.

Hello everybody. I am really honored to be joined by a very successful author and someone I've known for a while now, although I haven't talked to him in close to a decade. His name is James Clear, and he's the author of the best-selling book "Atomic Habits." I think most of you have already heard of him, but if you haven't, I'll tell you a little bit about him.

He's a writer and a keynote speaker focused on habits, decision making, and continuous improvement. His book "Atomic Habits" sold over 15 million copies worldwide. It's been translated into more than 60 languages and was the number one best-selling book of 2021 and 2023 on Amazon, as well as the number one audiobook on Audible.

It's an incredibly successful book. You see it in every bookstore. And he's just done so well for himself. James is also a regular speaker at Fortune 500 companies, and his work has been featured in publications such as Time Magazine, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CBS This Morning, and Today Show Australia.

He is a Masterclass instructor, along with the world's top experts like Serena Williams, Neil Gaiman, and Gordon Ramsey. He has a popular newsletter called 3-2-1, which he talks about in this podcast episode, just following my introduction here, with more than 3 million subscribers.

He is someone who doesn't just research and report on the research of others but actually tries out these concepts for himself, experimenting with building better habits as an entrepreneur, writer, and weightlifter.

In the end, his talks end up being one part storytelling, one part academic research, and one part personal experiment, forming a colorful blend of inspirational stories, academic science, and hard-earned wisdom.

Okay, so that's the introduction of James, in case you needed him introduced. But I also want to say that the podcast, which I've just finished recording, that you're about to listen to is incredibly valuable. He gives so much wisdom, tips, and really valuable insights into what it takes to actually create a valuable, bestselling book, what it's like on the other side of that kind of success, what it's like to deal with all of the difficult parts of it.

We take a deep look into a bestselling author, his journey to get there, and what life is like now with kids. You're going to love this interview. I certainly did. Please give it a listen.

All right. Well, welcome, everybody. And welcome to my honored guest, James Clear. James, awesome to have you on here.


Yeah. Hey, Leo. Great to talk to you. And thanks for the opportunity.


We were chatting just a little before we pressed record here, but you and I have met once in person. We were introduced, actually, I think it was like a decade ago at World Domination Summit (WDS) in Portland. We were introduced by a mutual friend who's no longer with us, Scott Dinsmore. I don't know if you remember him introducing us.


Yeah. Yeah. I can remember where we were at. Scott was such a great guy. I always say, like, the world needs more Scott Dinsmores. You know, it's obviously a shame for anyone to pass away young, but he was contributing so much, you know, he was doing so much and providing so much positive energy to the world and helping people.

I think about that a lot because Scott and I, probably around the time that you and I met, Leo, Scott and I were doing a monthly call together and I learned a lot from him. I always think for my own career, you know, like what could have been for Scott over the last decade or two decades or whatever, you know, and like the biggest advantage I have is that I got these years, you know, that I got this time that he didn't have.

So anyway, hopefully, you can make the most of it. And it's just, you know, a reminder to try to love the people that you're around while you're around them and to make the most of the opportunity that you have. But I definitely miss him. He was a really positive force in the world.


Yeah, I agree with everything you just said. And thank you for sharing that. Yeah, Scott was a good friend of mine, and I remember how excited he was for us to meet. He was like, “Oh, you have to meet James. He's amazing.” And he started talking you up and everything he said was true.


That was so Scott though. He was excited to introduce everybody, you know, he'd like make you feel like a million bucks. That was such a great quality.


Oh, thanks for taking a minute to remember him. Okay. Well, you know, since we met a decade ago, stuff has happened in your life, in your career. I remember when your book came out, and I was so excited because I knew what a good person you are and how passionate you are about this, how much you really care. The book came out, and I'm like, “That's an amazing title. I know the book is going to be great.” I think my name might actually be in it.


Oh yeah, I'm sure you're in it. You were a huge inspiration for me. Not only with habits, because you were like kind of the OG habits blogger, but also just with getting started. You know, I don't know what year you started, but you were a couple of years before 2007.


Yeah. 2007.


Okay. So that makes sense because right around 2008 to 2010 is when I started getting these ideas of, “Hey, maybe I'll write and put my stuff out there.” You were one of the, there were three people that I was looking at when I kind of got started as an entrepreneur in 2010. It was you, Chris Gilbo, and Trey Ratcliffe, who was a photographer. I was really into photography at the time. Anyway, but yeah, so your fingerprints are all over my work.


Amazing. I'm still waiting for my royalty checks, but no, I'm just kidding. So I love that. Thank you for that acknowledgment. But I remember when it came out, and I was so excited for you. Then I saw it everywhere, and I'm just like, "Oh my god, this book has really taken off." I was just blown away by how much that really resonated with people.

I'd love to hear from you just what that's been like as an author to see this book, your baby, go out there and then actually resonate with a lot of people and be spread so widely and have an impact.


Yeah, the journey of "Atomic Habits" has been, you know, it's been a wild five years since the book has come out. It's a lot of different things at once. On the one hand, it's obviously incredibly gratifying. It's the best possible outcome that you could hope for. As a writer, you don't have to write a book. You could just write in a diary or write a journal.

But the reason people write books is because they hope they'll be read. They hope that they'll spread the ideas around and that they'll be useful and helpful to people. That's the best part of it, hearing from readers who have found it useful or feeling like, you know what? I was able to contribute something to my little corner of the universe. It feels good to contribute and to be useful. That part of it has been great.

There are also lots of things that you have to manage with it. There have been plenty of growing pains, so to speak. Again, it's like the best possible outcome, but I've had to get so much better at saying no to things. There are more opportunities. I feel like I'm kind of a slow learner in that regard. I'm always like six months behind what I should be saying no to. So that part's been interesting.

There are some things that are just a natural consequence of the scale of the book. Once millions of people are reading it, I can't answer the emails anymore. I used to, for the first 10,000 people that signed up to my newsletter, I sent each of them a message. I'd be getting like, you know, 30 people would subscribe a day or something. I would send out 30 emails and say, “Hey, thanks for joining. I'm excited to have you here.”

Then you get over 10,000, it's hard to do that anymore, but I could still respond to any email that I was sent. So I did that for a while. But then you get into hundreds of thousands of subscribers or millions of books sold. That starts to get too much. So you're like, well, I can't just spend all day answering emails. So now I'll put that on auto-responder.

Part of me doesn't want to do those things because I feel like I'm losing a little bit of a connection with the audience. I don't feel like my antenna for what is resonating with people is quite as strong of a signal as it used to be. But there are natural consequences, the growing pains of it.

And then, of course, the last thing I'll just mention here is it's unbelievable the doors that a book can open. Things that have nothing to do with books or people that you were never expecting to reach will find it and reach out to you about something.

There are obvious things like a speaking engagement or they want to partner with you on a product. But then there's also just totally random stuff like a volunteer organization that you never would have gotten involved with, but now you're part of their silent raffle, or you're speaking at their event, or whatever.

There are lots of things like that that are really fun and interesting that happen as a byproduct of the book. I'll see a picture from a reader in India, or I gave a speech in Dubai or Australia, and I'm like, “This started as a blog. I was just blogging, and now all of a sudden, someone in India is reading these ideas.” It's amazing. That part of it is always kind of surprising to me, and the scale and reach of it is still somewhat stunning in some ways.


I want to get to habits and things that you would share with people who are in the early stages. But before we get there, I have some follow-up questions because that was just so interesting. I think the reason why I'm interested in this is because there are people who want to create something like a book, and they don't know that much about what it's like on the other side of success like you've had. So I really appreciate you sharing that.

So I have a few follow-up questions from what you just shared. The first one is about, you mentioned speaking engagements, and I'm wondering, is your life a lot of speaking engagements and media appearances and travel? What's it like lately?


I try. I think it could be if I really wanted it to be. I try to limit it. My little running joke is that I say I want to do one speech a month. But that's just because it's a very good problem to have, again, but it's never been that. It's been, you know, three years ago I did 60 talks, last year I did 40. This year I'm shooting for 25 to 30. So I'm getting better at limiting it. There's still a lot.

Before I had kids, being on the road wasn't as big of a deal. But now I don't have nearly the appetite to travel like that. Before I had kids, I could stretch them out and turn them into trips and make it something fun. Now it's just harder to do that.


How old are your kids?


They're very young, three and one.


Oh wow, keeping you busy.


Yeah. It's just tough to juggle the heavy travel schedule with that. Honestly, I'm not interested in it. I want to be with them. So anyway, the talks are definitely part of it.

Interviews and media appearances were a huge part of the first two years of the book. I had 75 interviews come out on launch day. I had done those in the three months prior to the book coming out. By the time the book had been out for six months, I was closer to 200 interviews that I had done. Even now, I've done between 250 and 300 over the last five years since the book has come out.

That's a lot of time, and I think it was worth it to kind of get the book established. Now, though, I treat it much differently. For the last two years, all the requests come in, we put everybody on a waitlist, and then we say, “Listen, I do interviews two weeks a year, and we'll email you when the next interview block comes up, and we'll get them scheduled.”

I just blocked off two weeks each year for the last three years, and I did all the interviews then. The rest of the time, I wasn't doing any, and that worked pretty well. But I actually think I'm moving into a new phase right now where I probably, like, this will probably be one of the last interviews I do for a while.


Oh wow, I'm honored.


I'm not saying I'll never do it again, but I am saying not right now. While the kids are young, I want to protect my time. I think I'm probably entering a phase where I'm just not going to be able to do them as much.


Got it. Got it.


Yeah, anyway, I don't know. I think you could do a lot of that if you wanted. All these different platforms and podcasts, everybody needs content, but at some point, it's just how do you want to be spending your time?


Well, I count myself lucky then that you are doing this interview. Cool.

You talked about this next phase of your life. You've got young kids. You've kind of done all of the interviews and speaking and travel. Is there anything that you're seeing as next for you as a creator, or is this kind of a period of fallowness and let things lie for a little bit?


I like having a creative practice. Since the book came out in 2018, let me give a little bit of a creative arc for me, what my creative practice has looked like.


That's amazing. Yeah.


I started out as an entrepreneur in 2010. I tried creating a couple of different products. They didn't really go anywhere. I tried a couple of different websites. They didn't really stick. Then eventually, I kind of fumbled my way into starting in 2012. Up until that point, I was basically just taking freelance gigs and trying to make ends meet. I moved back into my parents' basement for 11 months at one point and lived there. So I was just trying to figure it out.

From 2012 to 2015, I had moved back out on my own. I was starting to get some traction with, and really the creative practice that launched my career was that I wrote a new article every Monday and Thursday. I did that for the first three years. It was really that twice-a-week writing practice that got me established and got the email list growing.

By 2015, I had a pretty sizable email list, and so publishers and agents were interested. Conversations were starting. “Have you thought about writing a book? What do you want to do here?”

I actually had never intended to be an author. I just wanted to be an entrepreneur. But it did seem like that was the next step. I had some friends who were a couple of years ahead of me and had been authors, and I don't know, it sort of felt right. So I signed the book deal for "Atomic Habits" in late 2015. The next three years, I spent writing the book.

Then the book came out in 2018, and starting in 2019, the book was starting to take off, and I didn't have as much time for all the reasons that we just mentioned, interviews, speaking, and so on. So I was like, “I don't think I can keep up this twice-a-week writing schedule. I don't know that I can manage that creative habit and all the other demands.”

So I had this little question, and sometimes I like to play with this kind of thought experiment, not just for the example I'm about to give but also other areas of life, which is the question I asked myself at the time: “All right, I can't write twice a week anymore because those articles usually took, the shortest I ever did one in was eight hours. They usually took about 20 hours per. So I just don't have 40 hours a week to put into writing these.”

So is there a way for me to send a newsletter each week but have it be much less work for me? Not even the same value for the readers, but could it even be better? If you just play that thought experiment and you're like, “Listen, if you could lay out all the universe of possibilities, if you could potentially imagine every possible outcome, I have to think there's something that you could do that would be both more valuable for the audience and much less time for you.” There's got to be some possibility out there.

So I started leaning my head against that problem. It took me about nine months to figure out a structure that I felt like "I don't know if this will do it, but it's at least worth trying." So what I came up with is 3-2-1, which is what the newsletter is now. So it's three short ideas from me, two quotes from other people, and one question for people to ponder and think about that week.

3-2-1 takes me about two hours to do each week. Now, there is more time that's baked into it because there's a lot of reading and research to find material and stuff. But it takes me about two hours to write it. I didn't have 40 hours to write, but I did have two. I could figure that out.

I don't know if it's actually a better value than the articles I was writing before, but I do know that a lot of people like it and that it's growing faster than the previous version of the newsletter that I was doing. So that may be a little bit of a signal.

For the last five years now, my creative practice has been writing 3-2-1. It comes out every Thursday. So far, I mean knock on wood, but so far, I haven't missed an issue in five years.

That creative practice, those two hours of writing each week. I would like to be able to do more. It's great to be able to do more in the weeks that I can. But even when I'm exhausted or tired, when I'm worn down from the demands of a newborn or when I've been traveling a lot from speaking, I can still get that issue out, and it does feel really nice to ship something.

So your question about is this kind of a fallow period or just a different time where maybe you're not creating stuff? I think I like having a creative practice like that. I like having something that I can ship and feel like, “You know what? Maybe I didn't do that much, but I did something small, and I did it as best as I could. I can feel good about how this week was spent, and then I can wake up next week and do the same thing.”

So I try to find things that are like that, that are little actions I can take each week or each day that feel like they'll accumulate on top of each other, that they'll continue to grow and stack in clever ways. 3-2-1 is my current answer to that.


Amazing. Thank you for sharing that. There's so much gold in that, so I just really appreciate that answer.

You talked about small habits that lead to these big impacts. I'm curious about the book, because that wasn't a small endeavor. Writing the book and launching it, can you talk about that creative process for you and what that was like, what you put into that?


Yeah, it was very difficult at certain periods. It was really hard. It's definitely the hardest I've ever worked on a project, and it was definitely the most difficult project that I have completed.

So I would say the first phase of writing the book, you could consider the gathering material stage. In my case, that didn't just mean reading stuff and taking notes. I would define the first three years of publishing the blog as gathering material. So I was publishing articles every Monday and Thursday, and each one was a potential idea to see if it would go over well or not.

By the time I got three or four years in, I had a couple of hundred ideas that I had tried, and I could look at that list and say, “Here are the 25 or 50 that seemed to resonate best with people. This seems to be my best stuff.” So I took that subset of my best ideas and said, “This is going to be my starting material for the book.”

I did run into a problem writing the book, which is when you publish on a blog, things can be kind of like a spider web. Each idea is like a little node in the web, and you can link to different topics, and they can all kind of connect to each other, and it can be sort of messy.

But a book isn't like that. A book is linear. You have to go from chapter one to chapter two to chapter three, which means you have to make choices. You have to pull all the nodes out of the web and then lay them down in a line.

The first year of writing the book was basically me trying to figure that out. It was trying to read all the best ideas that I had and then figure out where the gaps were, research those new gaps, and then try to get everything laid out in one cohesive line. I don't know how hard that sounds when I'm saying that sentence, but I can tell you in practice it was very hard for me to do. There are a bunch of things kind of happening at once.

Part of the problem is readers don't want to feel lost. So you need to be able to have a structure, the table of contents or the way the chapters progress, that provides a clear roadmap for people. They can look at the table of contents and be like, “Oh, I understand where this book is going to go,” and they feel like we're moving along. They don't feel lost along the journey.

But then the other problem is people won't read if they get bored. One of my principles for writing a book is you want to stack the best ideas up front. So a lot of that work in the first year was me trying to figure out, "Okay, what are my very best ideas? What are the three or four or five things that really sing when people read them? How can I arrange this book so that those are as early as possible in the outline?"

I would say that three of the big ideas that "Atomic Habits" hangs around are: (1) Getting 1% better each day. So this philosophy of continuous improvement and getting 1% better. (2) You don't rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. So focus on systems over goals. And then (3) every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. So it's this emphasis on how your habits shape your identity. All three of those ideas are in the first 35 pages of the book. They're all in the first 5,000 words.

My feeling was somebody should be able to, by the time somebody buys your book, they have already crossed so many thresholds. They've probably heard about it like 10 times or talked to a friend about it or whatever. They finally bought it on Amazon or went to the bookstore. It made it into their hands. It's probably sat on their desk or at their bedside table for a week or a month or six months. Then finally, eventually, they cracked it open. I'm like, man, if you have made it that far, I don't want you to have to wait to get the best stuff.

So my feeling is if somebody only reads one chapter of "Atomic Habits," it should be so good that you think, “Man, I have to tell somebody about this. I don't even need to finish the book. I got to tell you about it now.” Who knows if I actually hit that mark or not, but a lot of the work of the first year was trying to figure out how do I give people as much value as possible as quickly as possible.




After the framework is set, after you get the order down, now it comes down to a lot of the writing. I would say writing a book was, for me at least, a very different process than writing an article. If you write a blog post or a tweet or something like that and you send it out, you get feedback immediately.

Within, sometimes within a minute, but also almost always within an hour or so, you're getting emails to the inbox or people are responding, liking it, or commenting. That feedback is really addictive.

I can remember in the first three months of starting So I didn't have many subscribers. I started at zero, got maybe a thousand subscribers or something. I sent out an article. There wasn't much response.

But the next day, one guy emailed me and said, “I really enjoyed that.” That was enough. I can still remember that email sitting here now. That was enough to get me to show up again and do it the next day, to do it again on Thursday.

That feedback counts for a lot. When you're working on the book, you don't get any of it. You sit down, and the manuscript is a mess. You write for eight hours, then you go to sleep. You wake up the next day, and it's exactly the same. It's still a mess. Nobody saw it. Nobody gave you any feedback.

You can do that for a couple of days or a week or a month. Once you start getting six, seven, eight months in, you're like, “What am I doing?” It just feels like you're banging your head against the wall, not getting anywhere.

I did a couple of things. Eventually, I hired an outside editor to give me some feedback and just tell me what was good or bad about it. The lack of feedback was still a very difficult part of writing the book.

The last phase for what the book was like and how it was different than most of the writing I do is I didn't want to write a book that felt like it should have been shorter. A lot of books are like that, where people, you know, the classic “This book could have been a blog post” sort of thing.

The first draft of "Atomic Habits" was 700 pages. The finished version is 250. So I compressed it to one-third of what it started out as. My feeling was, if one out of every three things I say isn't any good, then I have a real problem.

What made it hard to write that is that I was repeating myself a lot. I was kind of saying the same thing in three or four different ways. So I had this 700-page manuscript, and it was a real slog to edit it down.

At one point, the framework of "Atomic Habits," what the book is built around, are these four laws of behavior change. That forms the main backbone of the book. For a while, I had a longer manuscript that had the four laws as part one and these five forces that drive behavior change as part two.

At some point, one of the editors I was working with said, “Listen, I think you need to merge these five forces into the four laws.” Once I got that piece of feedback, that was when the manuscript finally fell into place. It needed to be simplified.

I would describe my writing style and my business style as broad funnel, tight filter. Broad funnel, I'm going to explore a lot of ideas. I'm going to write and generate a lot of ideas. People might look at "Atomic Habits" and say, “Wow, there's so many great insights in here.” I would say you would never say that if you saw how many ideas I had to come up with to get those.

My strategy is to generate a thousand ideas, cut 950 of them, and then you only keep the best 50 that are there. It looks really polished at the end of it, but the process of generating that, you have to create a lot of junk along the way. That sounds fairly simple to say, but it can be kind of brutal to have to do it day after day.


Yeah. Okay, thanks for sharing all of that. Lots of value there as well. One thing I'm curious about, you described three different places where there was a slog. There was putting everything in order, all these spiderweb nodes into order, that took a year. Then doing all the writing, 700 pages without any feedback, sounded pretty hard. Then taking that and compressing it, you said, was really hard.

I'm wondering how you dealt with that kind of discouraging slog, how you kept yourself going to actually finish it.


It's funny. I had some stuff that I told myself at the time. One of my rewards, I told myself, “When I finish this book, I'm going to buy a leather jacket.” I don't know why I picked that because I don't even really care that much about clothes. But that was just something that I didn't have, and it sounded like some little reward I would give myself.

What's funny looking back on it is I kind of knew, even in the moment, that I didn't really care about the jacket. But it was just part of the story that I could tell myself. What's funny is, once the book was finished, I didn't even want to buy the jacket. The real reward was finishing the book.

I just mention that as a potentially useful psychological thing to do with yourself, to have a story about what you're going to reward yourself with.

The real answer, though, is that I was driven by this vision of what I thought the book could be or what I thought I could create. There was a gap between where I thought I could go and what I thought I could produce, and where I was right then, and I was driven to close that gap.

Sometimes the way that I think about it is, it's kind of like driving a car, and you can see a mountain in the distance. The valley in front of you is filled with fog, and you don't really know what the path is or how you're going to end up there. But you can see far enough ahead of you to know that you're progressing or making progress toward that.

That was basically how I stumbled through the process. I didn't even know what I needed to do or what would be required to finish the book. I couldn't tell you all the steps and just say, “Well, I'm going to follow this roadmap, and this will get me to a finished book.” But I could see the vision in my mind of what I wanted it to be. I could see where I was at and what the next step was. So I just kept taking the next step and kept progressing slowly that way.


I love that.


I also had a lot of feedback from the people that love me and that are in my life, my parents, my wife. They played a big role in it. None of them wrote the book, but they were there for me when I was writing it. I think that was helpful too. There were plenty of days where you just feel like you haven't really made any progress, but they were still there, and they still loved you. So you could show up again the next day.

The last thing I would say is working out. Exercise doesn't seem like it has anything to do with writing a book, but for me, there were a lot of days where you feel like, “Well, this book was a total mess, but at least I got a good workout in.” That made the day not feel like a waste. Sometimes having a day where you feel like, “Well, I didn't waste the day even though the book didn't move forward,” now you can show up again the next day and get back to work on it.


That's all amazing stuff. The first thing that you shared, the mountain, just having that in your vision, it really felt like you had this clear vision and a purpose. It wasn't so easy to get there. It wasn't clear how to get there, but you were committed to that. I'm wondering why that vision was so important to you that you were committed to moving through all of this slog. What did you really care about there?


At one point when I was writing the book, I told my wife, “I think this might need to be a book about all of behavior change.” She was like, “Okay, just slow down a little bit. I think you're expanding the scope a little too much.”

What I was trying to get at, is that I was trying to write the best book on habits that had been written. I think for most areas of life, let's say 98% of the things that you do, doing it just good enough is probably fine. You don't need to strive in that way for most things in life. It's probably fine.

But there are a few things that really are worth the effort, that really are important to you, whatever it is to you. Different people optimize for different things, but there are a couple of things in your life that probably are worth giving your best effort on.

For those few things, I feel like the only standard that makes any sense for me as a creator is to try to do it the best that it's ever been done. That doesn't mean that you'll actually hit that mark, but I think that's the only mark worth reaching for.

You'll never stumble into that result. You're never going to just be like, “Well, I wanted to write a book, and it just turned out that it was the best book on that topic.” That's never going to be an accident. You have to at least strive to reach that standard.

Honestly, I don't know if "Atomic Habits" hits that standard. Frankly, it's not for me to decide. It's up to the readers to decide whether it's the best book on habits or not. But I do know that I tried to make it the best. I know that I was striving and reaching for that. There was something very captivating about that standard and about that vision for me.

It's easier for me to get motivated about something that's that big. I would show up that day and be like, “How can I make this the best that's ever been done on this topic? What does that require? Where are all the holes? What have the previous books not done? What does the audience need that they haven't had addressed yet? What am I missing? What's a weak point for me that I haven't talked about yet?”

"What is the object of the reader's desire?" That's a big question. I came back to that a lot. The object of the reader's desire, for me, was to either build good habits or break bad ones. For every sentence, I could come back to that question as a test and say, “Does this sentence help people get closer to building good habits or breaking bad ones? If it does, then I'll keep it in the manuscript. If it doesn't, it needs to get cut.” Having that standard, that quality bar, whether I hit it or not, that was the thing that was motivating and driving me forward.


Amazing. You don't hear a lot of people talking about a standard that high. So to hear someone like you say that's what you were driven by, it's not for me either to say if you've achieved it, but you definitely could make a claim that you have.


The thing is, it kind of doesn't matter if it is or not. What matters is striving for it. What matters is not whether you win or lose. What matters is that you're reaching. That's what I wanted, and that was the project that made sense for me to do that on.

Again, I don't think it makes sense to do that in most areas of life. You probably only get, I mean, if you're lucky, you got 80 or 90, maybe 100 years on this Earth. You're a kid for some of it, and maybe your health is kind of failing for some of it.

If these big projects take a decade or something to do, how many of these do you get in your life? Five, six? You don't get that many times in your life when you can strive for something that big. This was one of mine. I feel like if I was going to spend the time on it, I wanted it to be as good as it could.


I love that. You've mentioned feedback a few times. What I've noticed in people that I'm talking to who are creating stuff in the early stages is that they are afraid of getting feedback. The good feedback is amazing, but they're like, “I don't want to put this out there because I might get criticized.”

Then perfectionism kicks in where they want to make it perfect so that it can never get criticized. I'm wondering for you, it sounds like you have a different relationship to feedback. I'm wondering if there's a mindset around feedback that has helped you or even a habit that's helped you to get over that.


There are definitely some mindsets that I try to hold or practice. I don't always get it right, but there are definitely some I try to keep in mind. One little saying that I remind myself of is you can choose the trade-off. You can either be ignored or you can be criticized.

You can either keep your work to yourself and not share it, and then it'll be ignored because it's not out in the world. Or you can share it and try to benefit other people and get the ideas out there, and you'll encounter some criticism. But those are your two options. Would you rather be ignored or would you rather be criticized? I would rather deal with some criticism and try to produce something that's useful.

I also generally, and this is just something I try to remind myself of when I have tough days and see criticism that I don't like or that starts to worm its way into your mind too much, or you're ruminating on it, which is critics can exist without creators. Creators can exist on their own. They can just make stuff, but the critics need something to criticize.

I would rather spend my time building stuff up than tearing things down. It's so much more fun to feed the creative energy and to build something than it is to destroy something. If I'm just looking at how do I want to be spending my life, I'd rather be spending my life creating things than consuming or criticizing them.

The other mindset that I have is fear can be a gas pedal or it can be a brake. Sometimes what you're describing, and I have felt it too, and many creators feel it, is you're worried about how the work will be received or you're worried about what the feedback will look like. So fear becomes this brake. It stops you from shipping the book.

In my case, what I try to practice is I want fear to be the gas pedal, not the brake. In other words, I'm terrified of how the audience will respond to it. I definitely want them to enjoy the work, but I am so scared of it that it motivates me to work harder and to make sure that the work is as good as it could possibly be. Because if I'm going to be putting it out there and a lot of people are going to be reading it, I want to make sure that it's worth their time. So the fear becomes an accelerant for doing better creative work or for achieving a higher standard rather than from talking myself out of putting it out there in the first place.

Those are just some mindsets that I have. More practically speaking, I have noticed that having a schedule for shipping has been a really helpful thing for me. For those first couple of years, it was writing a new article every Monday and Thursday. More recently, it's been shipping 3-2-1 every Thursday. But it's helpful for me to have a deadline, for me to have a schedule and say, “Listen, something's getting out on this day.” The little phrase that I try to keep in mind is reduce the scope but stick to the schedule.

Not every article that I wrote for those first three years, not every Monday and Thursday was the same word count. Sometimes I didn't have 2,000 good words in me. Maybe all I had was 800. But reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule. If the only great thing that you can write that day is a paragraph, then ship that paragraph.

I want to keep the quality bar high. I don't want to just be publishing a lot of words to publish a lot of words, but I also don't want to use perfectionism as an excuse for not publishing. The thing that I adjust is the scope. If I can only write one good sentence, then that's what's getting shipped, but something's getting out there. Those are some of my strategies for dealing with the resistance that you feel as a creator.


Yeah. One thing I'm really getting about you through all of these answers is just the commitment that you are. If I've committed to shipping on these days, that's happening, even if it's just one sentence. I just really appreciate the way that you show up with that kind of commitment in the world. It's an incredible model.


Thank you. It's interesting because sometimes I feel like I need to do a better job with that, but I think it's because the in-between days... Well, there are a couple of things going on. First, one lesson to take away from this is that writing is hard for everybody. There are no writers who are like, “Oh, it's just so easy to write.”

In a way, that is what makes the writing useful, is the fact that it is hard. Complaining about writing being hard is kind of like complaining about the weights being heavy at the gym. The reason that the weights make you stronger is because they weigh something. The reason that the writing improves your ideas and the quality of your thinking is because it requires you to think hard, and it's a little bit difficult to do.

It's actually the resistance provided either by the barbell or by the writing process that leads to the stronger outcome. That is something that I still feel now, even if I do a good job of shipping on a regular cadence.


I love that. Okay, well, I'd like to wrap up maybe with one or two more questions. One question is, there's a lot of people listening to this or watching this who were where you were more than a decade ago.

So if you could go back and give James Clear some advice, some tips, something that could really help them on this journey, anything other than what you've already shared, because you've shared a lot of really valuable stuff, anything else that you'd like to share?


Sure. A couple of things come to mind. The first is the topic that you write about is going to make an enormous difference in how large your potential audience is. Habits is a great topic because it applies to everybody. Usually, if you ask somebody, “Who's your book for?” and they say, “Everyone,” that's a terrible answer.

But in the case of habits, we all have habits. It's a universal topic, and there are other topics like that too, that have a universal appeal or a wide appeal. I didn't know that I was going to write about habits at the beginning. I wrote about a bunch of stuff early on.

So that would be my first piece of advice. Lay out a range of topics that you are genuinely fascinated by and interested in. You do need to be fascinated with it. You can't hack that. You can't just pick a popular topic that you don't care about. That's not a good recipe for long-term success. Whatever you are genuinely interested in, list out a range of topics like that and then start to explore.

I wrote about how to have better squat form in the gym. I wrote about the medical system in America. I wrote about habits and creativity. I wrote about decision-making and strategy. Eventually, what I realized was when I wrote about habits, that's when people said, “Oh, I want to hear more from you on that. That's really interesting.” When I wrote about the other stuff, they were kind of like, “Well, that's nice, but maybe keep it to yourself.”

So you're looking for that overlap between what you're fascinated by and what the audience wants to hear from you on. Explore a range of topics. I think that's my first bit of advice because some topics have a much higher ceiling than others.

The second thing is it is important to have some kind of creative practice, some cadence for shipping. I don't think there's anything magical about me doing it twice a week in the beginning or once a week now or whatever.

The truth is the best schedule is the one that you can actually stick to. You should pick the cadence that feels right for you and your lifestyle. If you can do that and you ship consistently, you would be surprised what that can add up to in a year or two years or three years. The reality is most people don't stick with it for that long.

The little example I like to give is when I started out as a blogger. The month that I started, there was another guy who was running a really popular fitness site at the time, and I had zero subscribers or a thousand or whatever, and he had 20,000. So he was 20 times the size of me.

If you fast forward a couple of years later, maybe four years later, I was 20x the size of him. The reason is just because he stopped writing, and I kept writing. That's the only secret. His content was great. He was producing really good stuff, but he didn't stick with the habit.

You want to pick a cadence that you can stick to because that is actually how you end up winning in the long run. So explore topics, choose something that has a high upside or a big ceiling, figure out a cadence that works well for you and that you feel like you can stick to.

I don't know what I would do if I was starting over again right now. Sometimes I wonder, would I be a blogger, or would I be an Instagram influencer or a YouTuber or a podcaster or something? I don't know. Maybe I just got lucky with the timing on when I got started because I'm not really interested in those other platforms in the same way.

But that is another important thing to ask yourself, "What medium is right for my personality and for my content?" Some stuff just works better in different formats. Some formats may appeal to you more than others.

One thing is true about whatever you end up creating, which is you're always going to run into obstacles and difficulties. It's not easy to produce great content for years on end. You need to choose the format, the medium, the topic that feels best for you.

The person who feels like it's fun and who's genuinely interested in it, they'll stick with it. When things get a little bit hard, the person who kind of feels like it's a chore, and they don't really love producing the show, or they don't really love writing about that topic, as soon as it gets really hard, they're going to give up. You want to try to position yourself so that you're in a spot where you can stick with it.


Amazing. By the way, I could see you, if you were starting out these days, you'd be a TikToker for sure. Last question, and this one could be a quick one. I'm just curious. You're a dad now. How has that changed your life? How have these kids impacted you?


It's the best. I love it so much. It's the thing in my life that I never knew I wanted until I had it. I never knew I wanted it this badly until I had it. It's the best. I don't even know what else to say other than I'm so grateful for them and I'm so happy to be able to spend time with them.

I'm glad that I took the years before to set up the business so that I can have a lifestyle now where I get to see them so much. I just saw them 10 minutes before we started this interview, and I was hanging out with them at the kitchen table.

To be able to work, whatever it is I do for work, and spend so much time with them each day is the ultimate gift. I'm so happy that I made choices to build a business that was based around the lifestyle I wanted and not based around just money or career status or something else.

We all need money. There's nothing wrong with earning money, but I think it can be really easy to make choices that optimize for money and don't optimize for lifestyle. There aren't a ton of perfect answers out there, but there are a few that can give you both.

I tried really hard to figure out a set of choices and a style of business that could give me the lifestyle I wanted while taking care of my financial needs. I'm just glad that I have the time with them now.


Amazing. Well, I'm sure they're lucky to have you as a dad. Thanks for sharing everything you've shared today. This is incredibly valuable for anyone who's starting out or is somewhere along this journey. I just want to thank you for your time. I know it's limited, and it's been a gift. So thank you.


Thanks so much, Leo. Always a pleasure to talk.


If you haven't already, please subscribe to this podcast in your favorite podcast app. If you found this episode useful, please share this podcast with someone you know, who cares deeply. That would be really meaningful to me. And, if you'd like to dive deeper with me into this work, please check out the blog at or get in touch at [email protected].

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James' Bio & Resources

James Clear is a writer and keynote speaker focused on habits, decision making, and continuous improvement. His book, Atomic Habits, has sold over 15 million copies worldwide, has been translated into more than 60 languages and was the #1 best-selling book of 2021 and 2023 on Amazon and #1 audiobook on Audible.

James is a regular speaker at Fortune 500 companies and his work has been featured in publications such as Time magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and on CBS This Morning and Today Show Australia. He is a MasterClass instructor, alongside the world’s top experts such as Serena Williams, Neil Gaiman and Gordon Ramsay. His popular “3-2-1” email newsletter is sent out each week to more than 3 million subscribers.

James doesn’t merely report the research of others. He tries out the concepts for himself as he experiments with building better habits as an entrepreneur, writer, and weightlifter. In the end, his talks end up being one-part storytelling, one-part academic research, and one-part personal experiment, forming a colorful blend of inspirational stories, academic science, and hard-earned wisdom.

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Music: Salem Belladonna & Robrecht Dumarey

Editor: Justin Cruz

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