Mini Habits—Eight Small Steps To Big Change
Step 1: Choose Your Mini Habits & Habit Plan
There is a willpower cost for having to do a certain number of things every day. Two or three mini habits will be the sweet spot for many people.
My rule of thumb is to minify my desired habit until it sounds stupid. When something sounds “stupid small,” your brain sees it as nonthreatening. These are examples that sound stupid small to most people: One push-up a day? You're joking! Get rid of one possession every day? Worthless! Write 50 words a day? You'll never publish anything!
Step 2：use the why drill on each mini habit
If you try to change based on another person or society's opinion, I think you know what will happen, but I'll say it anyway—massive internal resistance.
Drills drill. That's what they do. And I call the following the “why drill” because the simple question “why?” is the best way to drill down to the core of anything.
Once you've listed your habits, identify why you want them. But don't stop there. Ask why again. Continue to ask why until it becomes circular and repetitive, which means that you've found the core. Honest answers are absolutely necessary for this to work, so dig deep. There will be more than one answer to these questions, so try to pick the most relevant ones.
Step 3：define your habit cues
The two common habit cues are time-based and activity-based.
In a time-based cue, you'll say, “I'm going to exercise MWF at 3 PM.”
In an activity-based cue, you'll say, “I'm going to exercise MWF 30 minutes after I take my last bite at lunch.”
What is important is that you choose, and choose firmly. Not making a decision here is a big mistake, but before you lock down your choice, there is one more option that might surprise you. It is my preferred choice for all of my current mini habits. Freedom-based, Non-specific Habit Cues (General Mini Habits)
I write at any and all times of day—whatever fits my schedule best.
The additional pressure to perform the task on time increases willpower cost.
Note: I'm not saying that non-specific cues are always better; they're better for some people and some habits. Each habit should be decided on individually.
Step 4：creat your reward plan
It sounds lame to look at checks and feel good, but my brain knows exactly what each of those marks means.
My rule of thumb is to keep myself happy while doing this. I know when I'm nearing burnout, and that’s when I'll take a rewarding break.
Step 5：write everything down
Writing something down instantly elevates it above all of your other thoughts.
I recommend that you check off your success before you go to sleep. If you check off your task early in the day, the sense of completion might make you feel less motivated to do “bonus reps.” Also, it's a good habit to check it off before bed so that you don't forget.
Another option is a yearly “at a glance” calendar if you're just going to be checking off days. And a smart budget move is to print one of the many free printable calendars you'll find online (tip: simply print out your Gmail calendar).
Physically making a check mark makes your success feel more tangible than digital tracking does. Additionally, if you put it in a prominent place where you'll see it often, it's going to make you mindful of your mini habits, your progress, and your success. Don't underestimate the impact of this!
Step 6：think small
We're giving ourselves low-willpower tasks, but with high frequency. It takes very little willpower to do one push-up (perhaps just a sliver more than you'd think though—starting something truly is the hardest part, especially in regards to willpower).
Over time, this frequent repetition of forcing ourselves to perform achievable tasks makes our willpower stronger. It’s practice.
How can this practice of doing seemingly meaningless quantities of work pay off with real results? There are two ways that it pays off.
A. Mini Habits Bonus Reps: Seeing yourself take action is more inspiring and motivating than anything else.
Habits—once you're fully motivated to do something, you don't need willpower.
Mini habits aren't anti-motivational, they generate motivation. I failed with getting motivated first for ten years, so I'm very familiar with it and slightly grumpy about it. Whenever I do any mini habit, I almost always do more.
B. The Mini Habits Safety Net (developing actual mini habits):
I know the biggest hurdle for some people is going to be patience.
You don't want to be the person writing 50 words a day—you want to catapult yourself into 4,000 words a day and get to your dreams as fast as possible. I have good news for you. If you can write 4,000 words a day, do it. With mini habits, there is no upper limit. Knock yourself out and overwork yourself. As long as you can meet your mini requirement the next day too, you're fine.
With my 50 word goal, I have written more than 5,000 words in one day. This is so important to understand, because with the wrong mindset, someone could think that a small goal could hold them back. At some point, that spark is going to become a small flame, and later we'll all be roasting marshmallows over the giant bonfire, telling stories of yore.
Step7：meet your schedule&drop high expectations
Expectations are a tricky thing in life. It's helpful to have generally high expectations for yourself, because it increases your ceiling. In other words, if you don't believe you can be in good shape, you never will be (as shown in the self-efficacy study). It's not that belief increases your ability to do things—it increases your willingness to try. If you never try to get in good shape, it's not going to happen!
Refuse bigger targets—you can do more with smaller ones.
Step 8:watch for signs of habit,but be careful not to jump the gun
Signs that it's habit:
•No resistance: it feels easier to do the behavior than not to do it.
•Identity: you now identify with the behavior and would feel completely confident saying, “I read books,” or “I'm a writer.”
• Mindless action: you'll engage in the behavior without making an executive decision. You won't think, Ok, I've decided to go to the gym. You'll just gather your things and go because it's Tuesday, or because it feels like it's time.
•You don't worry about it: starting out, you might worry about missing a day or quitting early, but when a behavior is habit, you know that you'll be doing it unless there's an emergency.
• Normalization: habits are non-emotional. You're not going to be excited that “you're really doing it!” once it is habit. When a behavior makes the transition to normalcy, it's habit.
•It's boring: good habits are not exciting, they're just good for you. You'll be more excited about life because of your habits, but don't expect it with the behavior itself.
If you’re not overachieving right away, don’t worry. My writing mini habit caught fire right away, but it wasn’t until the 57th day that I saw consistently significant overachievement in my reading mini habit. Some mini habit sparks will take longer to ignite than others. It mostly depends on your interest level in the habit and your perceived difficulty in continuing beyond your initial target.
If you overachieve, that's great. If not? That's still great. Not just ok, but great. We celebrate all progress, because it's not easy to change your brain. But then again, it is kind of easy to do it this way, isn't it? Compared to wrestling with some massive goal and running on willpower fumes, this is a relative cakewalk with better results.
Eight mini habit rules
1. Never, Ever Cheat
the first,most common way to cheat is to give yourself a mini habit such as one push-up per day,but secretly require that you do more than the single push-up.
It doesn't matter that your goal is small. You're training your brain for success and building up a smaller version of what you hope to accomplish someday (and depending on your eagerness, someday could be very soon!).
Expect little and you'll have the hunger to do more.
2. Be Happy With All Progress
Being happy with small progress is different from having low standards. There's a quote by Bruce Lee that sums it up: “Be happy, but never satisfied.”
Mini habits are pretty simple brain trick at the core, but also a life philosophy that values starting, letting action precede motivation, and believing that small steps can accumulate into giant leaps forward. When you complete a mini habit, it means your mini man is dancing—cheer him on, because he's starting your personal growth party! Celebrate all progress.
3. Reward Yourself Often, Especially After a Mini Habit
When you complete a Mini Habit and reward yourself—whether it's with food, a fun night out, or a monologue in the mirror about how amazing you are—your reward is going to pay you back by encouraging you to perform your mini habit again.
A perfect behavior would reward you now and later. Since most healthy behaviors (like gnawing on raw broccoli) offer limited reward now and greater long-term rewards, it's helpful to attach some form of encouragement to the activity in the early stages. Later, when you notice how great you look and feel, you can assume it's from the broccoli and smile.
Starting is the hardest part, both in the moment and in the early days of habit-building. Initially, you will see limited results. After a hard workout you will feel sore, but look in the mirror and see no change. After eating broccoli, you will feel about the same. After writing on day one, you will not have a full book. But when you do these things over the long haul, you can end up with a fit and healthy body and several full-length novels.
4. Stay Level-headed
The difference between winners and losers is that the losers quit when things get boring and monotonous. It's not about motivation, it's about leveraging and conserving your willpower to form lifelong good habits.
The calm mindset is the best mindset for building habits because it's steady and predictable. You may get excited as you make progress, but don't let that excitement become your basis for taking action. This shift to a reliance on motivation/emotions is what foils many personal development plans!
5. If You Feel Strong Resistance, Back Off & Go Smaller
Let's picture it. You're sitting down, and you want to exercise, but you really don't feel like it. There's intense resistance. What do you do? In this scenario, you don't want to wrestle your brain if you can coax it into doing things your way. Suggest progressively smaller and smaller tasks until the resistance you feel is minimal.
If you think this strategy sounds absolutely, completely ridiculous and stupid, it's because you think you can do more. Your pride is telling you that you're better than having to break tasks down into small steps. But every giant accomplishment is made of very small steps anyway, and to take them one at a time like this is not weak, but precise. Before I did the first push-up of the One Push-up Challenge, I felt “above” doing it. I thought that one push-up was worthless (because it's about like clapping my hands as far as exercise goes). But when it helped me exercise for 30 minutes, it changed my mind. So try this out, and see for yourself how you can be nearly unstoppable with this strategy.
6. Remind Yourself How Easy This Is
When you look at your mini task and feel resistance, you're probably not thinking about how easy it is. When I was a month into my mini habits, I felt strong resistance to reading my two pages late one night. I was thinking of how much I had read the day before, and assumed that I needed to replicate that. I had to remind myself that the requirement was still just two pages.
Mini habits make you believe that adding healthy behaviors is easy. Even if you're skeptical now, you'll have no choice but to believe when it starts happening.
7. Never Think A Step Is Too Small
Every big project is made of small steps just like every organism is made from microscopic cells.taking small steps keeps you in control over your brain.
8. Put Extra Energy and Ambition Toward Bonus Reps, Not A Bigger Requirement
If you're anxious to make big progress, pour that energy into your bonus reps. Bigger requirements look good on paper, but only action counts. Be the person with embarrassing goals and impressive results instead of one of the many people with impressive goals and embarrassing results.
There’s a quote in The New Radicals’ song, You Get What You Give, that says, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
Guise S. Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results. 2013.