There is a lot of wisdom in the old advice to "start small". Stephen Guise has revolutionized this concept in his application of it to habit formation. After reading research on willpower by Baumiester & Tierney, he decided that willpower was the problem in his constant struggle to form positive life-changing habits. He decided to make willpower his ally by making his goals exceedingly small. Instead of working out for an hour at the gym everyday, Guise tried a one push-up challenge. He challenged himself to do only one push-up per day, with no secret goals of doing more. The clincher was that most often, he ended up doing more. And, in the end, after a significant amount of time passed, the habit evolved into a full-blown gym routine. He coined the term "mini-habits" to describe the abysmally humble goals and titled his book after this signature brand of micro habits.
Mini-habits is a short and accessible book describing the process, thinking, and method behind instituting minuscule habits such as adding one glass of water, eating one bite of an apple, changing into your workout clothes (not actually working out), flossing one tooth, throwing out one pair of socks and other seemingly ridiculously infinitesimal goals that pale in comparison to the common objectives such as eating clean, working out 6 days a week, flossing two times a day, or decluttering the entire house.
The logic stems from solid psychological and scientific research into the nature of habits. 40% of our activity is repeated from day to day. Therefore, habits drive much of our pursuits and not our higher executive functioning, but the basal ganglia at the base of the brain. This might be why you plop down on the couch and watch 4 hours of shows every night despite your best intention to start a habit of daily walking. Habits drive our daily actions. However, they are very good servants (if they serve you well) but very poor masters. Guise's thinking on willpower and habits naturally progresses from the question: if willpower is not on our side, then what is? His answer: make habit on your side. By making your goal exceptionally small, it is impossible to fail. Once the habit takes formation, the habit will run on its own and you will have an automatic action that is positive and like a reflex. He advises that you may eventually increase your mini-habit, for example, from one push-up to 10 or 20. But be careful to not do too much. You will talk yourself out of your next workout session or fruit salad if it is too large a goal.
My favorite quote from the book is, "Be the person with embarrassing goals and impressive results instead of one of the many people with impressive goals and embarrassing results.” This proverb rang remarkably true as I added three mini-habits these past few months as I read the book. I had a mini-habit of 2 minutes on the treadmill, 10 bicep curls, and one yoga posture a day. So far, I have formed habits of using the treadmill in the morning and lifting weights with the help of Stephen Guise's ideas on habit formation and willpower. Nonetheless, I did fail at my yoga posture mini-habit as I was seduced by the idea of larger sessions (30-60 minutes) or taking a yoga class at the studio, and instead talked myself out of the practice all together. Furthermore, I believe I should have heeded his advice of starting with 1-2 mini-habits at a time. In short, I believe I started too many mini-habits at once. I will revisit the yoga mini-habit of one posture in the future. For that reason, I will let my two successful mini-habits drive my morning workouts. To that end, my new mini-habits have served me well. I typically workout anywhere from 5-45 minutes each morning.
So if you are looking to make a positive change in your life, maybe it has nothing to do with scheduling hours at the gym or a four-day juice cleanse. Maybe you just need to start with that walk around the block and that slice of apple...it just might be a slice of heaven!
Thanks for sharing in my journey.
- Betty Lynn