Mini Habits

Its not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives its what we do consistently

The principle of ‘Mini-Habits’ taken from Stephen Guise

The basic premise is break down all the usual barriers to starting a new positive habit by making it (the goal) incredibly small.  Want to get fit – do 1 pushup a day.  In other words its a much smaller version of a new habit you want to form (maybe doing 100 pushups a day)  

(This works for starting good habits and is not generally applicable to stopping bad habits – such as addiction)

When you invest in yourself in key areas like fitness and learning, you tend to do it in other areas too.

Mini-habits might be a good place to start as you explore this site – where acquiring knowledge forms a key part of your wellness journey.  So, a mini-habit might be to read one page a day (no (or very little) will power required) – “stupid” small steps as the book describes. The benefit from a system like this is

  • There is a good chance you will do ‘bonus reps’ – i.e. in this example, read more pages
  • It creates routine – which as you will see is the real ‘key’ to success
  • Constant success – it’s very difficult not to read one page, so you always hit your goal

The power of small consistent changes cannot be underestimated.  Reading just five minutes per day would probably see you consume 11 or so 50,000 word books per year!

There is no set duration for forming a new habit, range varies according to you, your task and your environment.  Creating the habit of drinking a glass of water when you wake up being easier to start than a new exercise regime for example.

Repetition is the language of the subconscious brain – the two keys to habit change are repetition and reward.

Willpower beats Motivation

We need either motivation or willpower to start a new habit.  Motivation is unreliable because its based on how you feel – and that’s fluid and unpredictable.  The act of performing a habit, on the other hand, is emotionless.

Willpower is reliable and can be strengthened and willpower strategies can be scheduled.  Habits are not formed from general plans – it needs to be specific and ‘calendared’

According to Guise there are five main causes of willpower depletion –

  • Effort
  • Perceived difficulty
  • Negative affect
  • Subjective fatigue and
  • Blood glucose levels

Without exploring each in any detail (you can enjoy the book for that) you can probably already see that mini-habits by their very construct do not deplete willpower

Mini-habits keep you inside your comfort zone, which while at first may seem counter intuitive it beats the ‘whatever it takes to succeed’ strategy.  Mini-habits set the ball in motion so to speak and once you are in motion as we all know you are less likely to stop

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the many things we want to achieve – and exploring improving your overall wellness might well spawn this sense of ‘how will I fit it all in’, or ‘where do I start?’.  The concept of mini-habits allows you to start several new behaviors as using mini-habits you can start with goals that are so small and willpower efficient. This site is designed with this concept in mind – these are all aspects of improving your well being that can be started as mini-habits – I am not suggesting you start all at once and there are of course many more

  • Improve your sleep by turning off all gadgets an hour before sleep
  • Drink a glass of water when you wake up
  • Stand on one foot when you brush your teeth
  • Start meditating using Headspace and spend as little as ten minutes a day to start this great habit
  • Read one page a day – ‘The Daily Stoic’ being a great starting place  
  • Write down one thing you are grateful for each day
  • Do one pushup or sit up or mini exercise of your choice
  • Squat when you go to the toilet in the morning

Mini-habits increase your self efficacy and give you autonomy.  Your belief in your ability to influence an outcome and ensuring your subconscious does not feel controlled by your plans means you are more likely to form a habit (the strongest behavioural foundation you can have) and maintain intrinsic motivation by keeping it fun.

Getting Started

  • Choose your mini-habit and habit plan.
    • Be specific – drink more water does not work as well as drink one glass of water on waking
    • Write it down, ensure that its ‘stupid small’
  • Use the ‘why drill’ on each habit
    • The reason should be intrinsic rather than extrinsic – in other words knowing you want to meditate to lower your blood pressure and improve your sense of mindfulness will work better than because it’s what successful people do, or my peers will perceive me in a different way
  • Define your habit cues
    • For example a fixed time of day or before/after another activity you do
  • Create a reward plan
    • A nice coffee after meditation or reading a page in the morning.  Celebrate your successes
  • Write everything down
    • Use a giant calendar or journal.  
    • Digital tracking (phone): or Productive. HabitBull, Loop or Habit Streak
  • Meet your schedule – you must stick to your new habit.  The mini-habit must be so small that there is no way you can create habits not to do it
  • Be careful with over achievement

And a couple of reminders to close with

  • Never cheat
  • Be happy with all progress
  • Don’t be afraid to back off and go smaller