Is Focusing On Atomic Habits Better Than Focusing On Your Goals?

atomic habits tomoe river paper planner

Atomic habits build character, grit, tenacity, and the determination to reach your goals.

Goals are wonderful, and I have been tracking mine since 2019. However, when I read Atomic Habits by James Clear in 2022, I was intrigued by the concept that life-long gains could come through tiny, incremental changes.

After all, I was a little exhausted. It had been a good marathon, but after focusing on one of my goals (a health-related one) for a year, and then switching to my book-writing goal, I realized I was losing focus on my health-related goal. So by focusing on my second goal (and one that felt more important), I began to lose ground on the one I had already reached.

This is why some people feel overwhelmed by goals and throw in the towel.

This is why some planners are marketed as “no goals” planners. Common words that attract people in this demographic are reflection, self-awareness, personal care, intention setting.

I would argue that it’s all how you view goals and life itself.

The book Atomic Habits offered me a more balanced way to design my future. I could focus on one habit, a really small habit, and only build on that with another habit once I mastered the first habit. That way, my life wouldn’t be so much goal-oriented, as character-oriented.

(But the character I was choosing for myself was still one that aligned with my personal wish list and desires for my life).

Deciding who want to be, James Clear’s research shows, and then aligning your actions with your identity, can save you from goal burnout.

Before you think I have anything against goals, I don’t. The goals I have are the goals the person I want to be would have. But the journey has become about the character I build as I pursue those goals. We all know life gets in the way, and the tenacity required to continue to stand by my goals is more valuable than the goal itself.

Let’s just pause and watch a clip from the movie True Spirit, my favorite movie.

Jessica Watson is a perfect example for me of how her goal shaped her character. I am an adult who has sabotaged my dreams numerous times, and I admire the tenacity and courage it took her to make the choices that she made even more than I admire her accomplishment.

This kid had something most 50 year olds do not.

(Some might call that naivete, but anything worth doing is scary, and really, why do anything at all?).

Jessica had to become focused on her goal at a very young age. She had to create a series of life-habits of discipline and self-sacrifice that will serve her well in any pursuit.

The Atomic Habits book came at a good time for me. My husband I had reached an incredible goal of paying off all our debt just four and a half years after we both graduated.

Only for circumstances outside our control to reverse much of our hard work.

This was devastating. I don’t think we understood how devastating for awhile. We both had worked 12 hour days for years.

Of course our financial goals are still important. But it’s even more important for me to be someone who is faithful with finances, who doesn’t. give. up. So that means, no matter how tough life gets financially, I’ll keeping designing and stacking atomic habits. I’ll keep giving. I’ll keep budgeting with my partner. I’ll keep having faith.

And I’ll keep balancing financial goals with things like family, spiritual life, and health.

So I’ll also keep stacking my health-related atomic habits, like going to yoga, taking my supplements, and focusing on foods that work for me.

And I’ll also keep writing every day in my tomoe river paper journal (exercising my writing muscle).

This is why my habit tracker is such an important part of my weekly layout, and my life map (made quite a few years ago now), is always there in my subconscious, always visible, always almost tangible.

atomic habits tomoe river paper

One thing I discovered while building atomic habits is that it forced me to focus on my health and self first. I couldn’t habitize anything if I was stressed out, distraught, distressed, or running in survival mode.

By looking at what I did to accomplish my first goal (get a strong spine and body), and putting those habits into my habit tracker, I regained the ground I lost and was able to maintain what was important to me as I began the journey to my next goal.

And by creating some financial habits (not pictured here), I was able to be at peace with my financial decisions.

Life became about balance. Not a generic balance. But balance about the values I held dear: marriage, entrepreneurship, creativity, curiosity, to name a few, and connection with myself and the people I loved.

Maybe when I grow up, I’ll be like Jessica Watson.


  1. Kathy Hettinga on August 5, 2023 at 8:06 am

    Love this!

  2. Laurie H on August 7, 2023 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you for the inspiration and practical examples.

    • Marisa Porter on August 7, 2023 at 4:33 pm

      You’re welcome! I’d love to know what your best or worst experience has been with goal tracking and habit tracking, and if you’ve found a way to get them to work together.

  3. Lori on August 8, 2023 at 4:06 pm

    I always love and learn from your blog posts.

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