On a recent afternoon, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, a bestselling book about behavior change, sat down with Arianna Huffington in Thrive Global’s New York office for a fireside chat. Clear talks about self-improvement in a way that is immediately actionable: His advice is simple, practical, and instills a sense of calm. The audience took notes feverishly, nodded along, and even recorded bits of the conversation to watch again in moments of insecurity (or maybe that was only me). 

Later that night, I posted to my Instagram some of my favorite of Clear’s soundbites from the conversation (like “You don’t rise to the occasion of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems”), and thought about why his comments felt so contagious, and why I was still thinking about his words hours later. It’s partially because he offers something we all hunger for: a sustainable way to achieve our ambitions. His theories around building habits mirror what we at Thrive call Microsteps, which are the small, yet meaningful actions that help you fulfill a goal, a science-backed change to your life that is too small to fail.

He illustrated the power of Microsteps with a story about a guy named Mitch, one of Clear’s readers. Mitch wanted to lose weight, and knew that to do so, he’d need to build a habit around exercising. So for the first six weeks of his weight-loss journey, he’d get in the car, drive to the gym, and spend only five minutes inside. Five minutes! Some people in the audience laughed at this part of the story, because five minutes at the gym sounds somewhat ridiculous. But in response to our amusement, Clear said, “It sounds silly. But what you realize is that he was mastering the art of showing up. He was becoming the type of person that went to the gym four days a week, even if it was only for five minutes.” Mitch ultimately lost 100 pounds. 

“We’re so focused on optimizing that we don’t give ourselves permission to show up, even if it’s just in a small way,” Clear continued. “But if you can’t become the type of person who goes to the gym for five minutes, four days a week, you have no raw material to work with. There’s nothing to optimize.” 

For more inspiration and practical advice from the fireside, watch the full video.

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  • Alexandra Hayes

    Content Director, Product & Brand, at Thrive

    Alexandra Hayes is a Content Director, Product & Brand, at Thrive. Prior to joining Thrive, she was a middle school reading teacher in Canarsie, Brooklyn.