Skip to content

Tiny changes for good habits: How atomic habits can massively impact your baby’s potty success

make tiny habit changes

Hello hello - we are going to continue with part two of our exploration of James’ Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, and how it relates to elimination communication and potty learning success. In case you missed part one it is here.

Last time we talked about how focusing on the goal of being “diaper-free” can actually sabotage your efforts at...being diaper-free! Instead, we must focus on (and love) the process, which always, always, always results in a more positive and successful elimination communication experience.

This is how I have managed to potty all five of my babies from birth, and wrap up the process by the time they are walking...without having to potty train them.

Today I’m going to share some very specific concepts from James’ book that you can insert into your potty practice, immediately, that will help your process - your system of EC - run much more smoothly.

As we defined last week, an atomic habit is:

“a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do, but also the source of incredible power; a component of a system of growth” (page 27).

Essentially, we are going to look at a few ways to insert some atomic habits into your life. Feel free to apply them to EC first, and then use these wherever you’d like to make a permanent, positive change in your day to day routines and activities.

Now let’s apply a few concepts from James’ book to elimination communication! Because if you don’t immerse yourself into a repeatable, predictable process, you very well may get frustrated or fall off the wagon with happens...let’s prevent that.

Ritualize the beginning of the process

When you change the very first tiny step of a process, you are more likely to follow through with the activity.

The habit you want to cultivate is not the whole is only that very first tiny step that you want to cultivate and repeat. This magically makes the whole activity happen!

Two examples I shared last week from my personal life included:

  1. Putting my shoes and gym clothes on and getting in the car
  2. Unrolling my yoga mat and opening my computer

These two “atomic habits” enabled my goals of “going to the gym 3x a week” and “doing yoga twice a week” to actually happen. They are the tiny things that precede the activity that start a chain of events that make my “system” of maintaining a healthy body ACTUALLY HAPPEN.

Instead of focusing on the giant and elusive goal of working out 3x a week or doing yoga 2x a week, I am ONLY focusing on a tiny habit at the beginning of the PROCESS to make it all happen.

We can apply that to EC by focusing on small habits (that take less than two minutes) that can be inserted either based on time and location, or based on existing habits.

Implementation Intention

Implementation intention is quite the mouthful, but basically it is a plan you make beforehand about when and where you will act. This pairs a new habit with a particular time and location.

For example:

When [situation] occurs, I will perform [response].

James adds, “Consider when you are most likely to be successful. Don’t ask yourself to do a habit when you’re likely to be occupied with something else.”

We can apply this very easily to EC by using the 4 Easy Catches.

  1. When baby wakes up, I will potty her (specifically, I will hold her over the sink or set her on the mini potty or big toilet).
  2. When baby is finished eating, I will potty him.
  3. When baby is bearing down with that poop face (or hiding and getting super quiet to poop in the corner), I will potty him.
  4. When I change baby’s diaper, I will offer the potty to her.

I want you to take a moment to list out or think about what situations or events already occur during your day, and to write down a list of “When X, I’ll do Y” implementation intentions.

This helps to stimulate your new habit (pottying the baby) by using things that are already happening in your day to day life.

James says, “People who make a specific plan for when and where to perform a new habit are more likely to follow through.”

Then, when your “X” happens, do your “Y” without having to make a decision! This creates a habit, which is a core aspect of your EC process, which will absolutely cause the whole endeavor to be a success.

Habit Stacking

Just like we did with implementation intention, “habit stacking” pairs a new habit NOT with a particular time and location, but with a current habit.

All you need to do is choose “a current habit that you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top of it.”

Here’s an example for those of you starting EC with a baby that you’ve already been bathing once a day before bedtime:

  • After I bathe my baby, I will set her on the potty for a minute or two.
  • After she is on the potty for a few minutes, I will put oil on her body.
  • After I put oil on her body, I will put her pajamas on her.
  • After I put her pajamas on her, I will nurse her to sleep.

The new habit - pottying the baby after bath and before bed - is stacked inside of several pre-existing habits.

Some more examples:

After I get my baby from her bed after a nap (something you already do), I will first offer the potty instead of nursing her first (inserting a new habit before your usual habit of nursing baby first).

When I see my baby bear down or push, I will say “wait” and bring him to the potty instead of ignoring it.

When I see my baby signal (perhaps by crawling toward me or the bathroom, or starting to cry with no other plausible reason), I will offer the potty instead of cuddling, redirecting, or soothing her to pee into her diaper!

When I change my baby’s diaper, I will offer the potty before putting a new diaper on.

The habit-stacking formula is:

“After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”

Give this one a try - brainstorm a list of your current daily habits or activities - the ones you do every single day like clockwork - and insert “take to the bathroom [then put on the potty, etc.]” or “remove diaper [then hold over sink, etc.]” as the very next step.

Friction and efficiency

So, now that you have a few options for when to insert this new habit of taking baby to the potty, based on time and location or on existing habits and routines, let’s quickly discuss making this all more efficient by removing “friction.”

Friction is stuff that messes up our efforts at doing things. It is stuff that gets in the way.

This new habit of simply taking baby to the bathroom or holding baby in position should take no longer than two minutes to be sustainable - so when you get the trigger, do it!

Reduce friction by using EC-friendly clothing and diaper back-ups or undies, and also by having the appropriate potty for your age and size of baby (a great resource is

Make potty time efficient and quick and it will be repeatable, rewarding, and enjoyable!

Motivation is overrated - environment often matters much much more!

If you have a young toddler who is walking already and is peeing a little wherever he is, whenever he chooses - it’s not that he’s not motivated, it’s probably that he is experiencing friction in his environment.

If an action requires more physical or mental effort than he/she is willing to expend, baby won’t do it. Put the pieces of potty independence into place starting at walking - teaching pants down, pants up, mounting the potty - and use equipment that makes it physically easy for the baby to go independently (like a short potty).

Reduce his friction by putting him in easy clothing or no bottoms, or putting the potty nearby his play space. And, again, get the RIGHT potty or toilet seat reducer. I recommend my Mini Potty at and the Ginsey toilet seat reducer for the big toilet.

Pointing and Calling

If you’ve tried all this and you’re still not finding success, maybe you’re just lazy! I mean that in the nicest way possible. :)

Sometimes you just get lazy about EC (we all do, I do) and then feel guilty about it later.

Since I am not there with you to point out your laziness in person (LOL), I want you to begin pointing-and-calling to bring awareness to your thought process around pottying your baby.

Say out loud the action you’re thinking of taking (ie: I should really potty the baby since we just got out of the car) and say out loud what the outcome will be (ie: my baby will feel comfortable and dry).

Another example of the action you’re thinking of taking: I don’t want to potty her right now even though I know she has to go because I am tired! And the outcome: She is signaling to me and I know we will catch a pee if I get off my butt.

This creates awareness so you can change your habits.

Point at where the action is that you’re envisioning (or avoiding), say it out loud, and say the outcome out loud. This brings awareness to it. Then either do or don’t do it!

Those “fork in the road” moments

James adds that “many habits occur at decisive moments - choices that are like a fork in the road - and either send you in the direction of a productive day or an unproductive one.”

So, when you reach that fork, that moment when you could easily just set the baby down instead of taking her to the that ONE tiny habit...go to the bathroom and take the diaper off. The rest will happen, and the whole process will become a habit.

Whatcha gonna do today?

Alright! That’s it for our exploration of James’ book. Pick up a copy if you think you want to start applying his concepts to more areas of your life...especially postpartum exercise! 

And let me know, below, which current habit you’re going to stack a pottytunity after! Talk to you below….

xx Andrea


PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)

Andrea Olson

About Andrea Olson

I'm Andrea and I spend most of my time with my 6 children (all under 12 yo) and the rest of my time teaching other new parents how to do Elimination Communication with their 0-18 month babies. I love what I do and try to make a difference in one baby or parent's life every single day. (And I love, love, love, mango gelato.)


  1. Avatar Leslie Huber Bieser on December 28, 2019 at 4:00 am

    for accountability – I am going to offer a pottytunity upon waking, after mealtimes and upon changing, to sing or hum a fav tune to make it real; to talk through it including saying “wait” when baby bears down. No lazy bum excuses allowed:(. Am going to take baby when his toddler brother goes and when i go, may feel like a chore but what else is new.

    -By the by as of late baby age 11 months has been having more liquid-y poops – am trying oatmeal, bananas – any thoughts? extra fussy as if teething and has a slight cold :(
    -has anyone had success using a squatty potty with their 3 year old to get him to use the adult toilet
    -unrelated but seeking thoughts on when to introduce more raw veggies

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on January 8, 2020 at 2:32 am

      Those are great pottytunities to add in Leslie! As far as the poop changes it could be that he’s getting sick or is sensitive to a new food. You can try cutting them out, see if he improves. If he does, then just reintroduce one of them. See how that goes, if its fine then the next and see what happens. My guess would be the banana if there is a food sensitivity. And of course, talk to his doctor about your concerns.

      Some people use squatty potties as a stool at the toilet. It’s a little more convenient in small bathrooms because it wraps around the toilet. Depending on your kiddo’s height and toilet height, his feet may not touch it when he’s sitting down.

      I sort of loosely follow baby led weaning, the book is really worth getting! xx Andrea

  2. Avatar Kristine Da Prato on December 31, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    I’m going to offer the potty after she nurses. She’s a little over 3 weeks old now and I’ve been catching every wake up poop and pee in the morning, then usually the next poop/pee and then as the day goes on, I catch less and less. Listening to this episode made me realize that I can . easily add in the habit of giving her a pottytunity after I nurse her.

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on January 5, 2020 at 7:30 pm

      It sounds like you are doing an amazing job Kristine! I am so glad this helped you figure out a new pottytunity to add to your day. xx Andrea

  3. Avatar Halliday on January 1, 2020 at 7:51 am

    Hi Andrea! We’ve been getting pretty good at wake up pees and timing after that (our baby doesn’t give a lot of signals). Lately though her wake up pees often happen immediately, before I can even get her diaper off. Any suggestions?! Also, since we use timing which isn’t always spot on, we often have to wait for a while with her on the top hat potty (which we love!). Is this a bad habit because she’s on there for a while? I’m worried that even though we’re catching pees she might not be learning and we’re not actually communicating with her. Thanks for your help! She’s 20 weeks old by the way :)

    • Avatar Andrea Olson on January 8, 2020 at 2:36 am

      Hi! If baby is going that quickly after waking, you can try to get to her before she wakes. If that doesn’t work, or you don’t want to mess with her sleep, don’t stress! It’s okay to have her sit a bit on the potty. You just don’t want to have her sit for 15 minutes, around 5 minutes is good. If she hasn’t gone and you think she needs to just carry her around naked bottom for a few minutes and offer again. If you feel your timing offering is way off, do observation again. Things change pretty quickly with babies. xx Andrea

  4. Avatar Amber Jade on January 26, 2021 at 11:14 am

    Hi Andrea

    Im trying to find the montessori book you reccomend, what is the tital again?

    • Andrea Olson Andrea Olson on January 31, 2021 at 5:29 pm

      ‘Montessori from the Start Book’ is often the book I recommend.😊

Leave a Comment

Scroll To Top