It’s a month into the New Year and I’m happy to report that my first quarter goals are on track! But it has nothing to do with my amazingly strong willpower (don’t have any of that!) or an abundance of free time (also missing!). I owe my success so far solely to learning to harness the power of tiny habits.
One of the first books I read in 2019 on my way to my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal was Mini Habits for Weight Loss by Stephen Guise. Yes, I’m like thousands of Americans carrying around the extra weight I’d love to find any good weight loss programs which can help me lose the unnecessary weight forever, and I used an Amazon credit to pick up this book for super cheap. And it transformed the way I think about developing good habits.
Now, over the past few years, I’ve settled into a lifestyle rhythm of creating habit chains to start and end my day. These chains help me get all the little nagging stuff in life like laundry and meal planning done consistently without thought…leaving my brain free for creativity and intense focus on various projects like that next book I’m writing.
Your brain really is amazing. It controls the functioning of nearly every other part of your body and its systems. But so often we seem to invest more time in our bodies than we do in our brain and nervous system. Here you can additional reading for more about the brain health.
The brain has a wonderful plasticity, continually creating new connections and pathways in the maze of neurons that bundled together create our ability to think, reason, remember and react to new challenges, information and experiences. Most of these changes occur naturally, beneath the level of our conscious mind, at the subconscious and unconscious level. A substantial body of research has revealed that we can indeed influence and improve the way our brains function on many levels. Several factors contribute to how the brain alters and adapts as we age. We can encourage positive changes by using some of the same strategies we depend on for our physical health, while adding on activities designed for brain health.
But there were still habits I wished to develop. I could always muscle through a few weeks with the help of check boxes on a chart and rewards, but getting motivated to exercise and eat better and even clean my house regularly was an uphill battle mostly waged between my ears.
Enter the revolutionary idea of mini habits. The basic premise is to lower the brain’s resistance to a point that it’s virtually impossible NOT to do the thing.
Instead of exercising, I’m just going to do one push up. Or I’m going to put on my exercise clothes or shoes. That’s it.
Instead of dieting or eating according to a nutrition plan like tracking all those extra servings of fruits and vegetables, I’m going to eat one piece of fruit today. Or I’m going to make a single swap of one menu item for something a bit healthier.
Today I will write ten words. I will clean the kitchen sink after supper. I will take the stairs after lunch or park further away from the door to the store. I will save one dollar into a jar. I will read one page of a non-fiction book. (The possibilities are endless, but the author stressed the importance of picking no more than 4 mini habits to add in order to avoid the feeling of overwhelm.)
Here’s the secret power: A mini habit is just one tiny thing that’s so small I’m guaranteed success. But a crazy thing happens when I’m in the middle of doing that one thing. While I’m down here doing my one push up, maybe I’ll do another one or nine…and then roll over and do a few sit-ups. I don’t *have* to be an overachiever since I already did my one push-up and can be done for the day guilt-free, but success tends to breed success and consistency matters more than intensity.
One healthy food choice gradually changes my body’s cravings and sneaks up on my body’s innate predisposition to protect me from starvation during typical “diets” by messing with my metabolism. As long as I eat my one piece of fruit, I can eat whatever else I want…but over time my tastes change and one healthy choice becomes three.
I started out in January tracking a handful of these mini habits. Honestly, I didn’t succeed every day due to life…and forgetting I even had decided to adopt the habits. But more and more they are fitting into the natural rhythms of my day and the cumulative results are adding up to a saner, balanced approach to lifestyle change.
All because I’m learning to harness the power of tiny habits
What about you? What habit do you wish you could develop? Is there a way to break it down to an impossible-to-fail level so you could experience the motivation that comes from success?