Changing habits can be tough. But with micro-habits, you can build up momentum to achieve your biggest goals.
A new year has just begun! That means, once the hangover lets up, a time for reflection and planning for the future.
So how did you do with last years’ goals?
If you feel like you failed, do not fear. Help has arrived.
Big goals can be great if they light up your heart and make you want to 10x your life (thanks, Grant Cardone).
Big goals without a plan to achieve them, however, stay that way—just goals. Another year will go by and those unmet goals will still be waiting.
Whether you are reaching for a weight loss goal, a financial milestone, or anything in between, healthy habits are what make the difference. Habits like walking your dog daily, journaling every night before bed, or drinking a glass of lemon water first thing in the morning.
At work, that includes practices like not letting email take over your day, keeping the paper clutter under control, and reading books and journals to continually grow your mind.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
– William Durant, Pulitzer-Prize Winning Historian & Philosopher
But changing your habits in order to meet your goals is no small feat. That’s where micro-habits come in.
What is a Micro-Habit?
Micro-habits are tiny habits that make it harder to fail. A micro-habit is a small habit that you can complete quickly and easily but brings big change over time. Micro-habits make overwhelming goals and tasks manageable. Pleasant even.
A health habit could be to work out for an hour every day. But that may feel far too overwhelming to fit into your current schedule. It can also be hard to stick to when you are not used to working out. Set that goal and you may end up feeling even more exhausted and lasting less than a week.
But what if, instead, you decide to exercise for just 4 minutes a day. Set your timer and go all out for 4 minutes. Then get dressed and move on with your day. A 4-minute workout could be a micro-habit that leads to you feeling better and getting in more movement throughout your day while not overwhelming your current body state and schedule.
A great work micro-habit could be to switch your phone on airplane mode for 60-minute blocks throughout the day to focus on the task at hand distraction free. Or scheduling a weekly email subscription review to cut the email clutter. You can use a tool like Unroll.Me to review and clear.
When you finish your day and you have followed through on your micro-habits, you feel successful. This primes your brain for greater motivation and makes you want to continue towards your goals.
Filling your day with small changes cuts down on excuses. Micro-habits give you a blueprint to get from point A, where you are now, to point B, where you want to go and who you want to become. Micro-habits start with minimal motivation and effort but lead to more. Once you see some success you begin to crave it.
Let’s say that your goal is to read a book a month. Your current habit is to not read at all. The micro-habit you can add could be to just read one page per day.
If you have a fifty-page book and you only read a page a day, it will take you fifty days but you will still get through the book.
One-page per day alone may not get you to your one book per month goal. But, you will form the habit and likely start reading more. The great thing about micro-habits is once you have one established, they often multiply.
With the reading example, you may start reading two pages per night, then three pages, and so on. Plus you may even love it so much that you start reading a page or two while you are waiting for an appointment or at other times of the day.
Bad habits can build on each other. Not managing anger and stress, for instance, can lead to overeating, which can then lead to staying in front of the tv and sitting on the couch, not wanting to interact with anyone ever.
But good habits can build on each other too. Positive micro-habits add up to help you reach all your goals with far less effort. Replace a bad habit with a positive micro-habit and begin to see your life change. It is about the momentum.
Not only could one great habit multiply itself, but it can also lead to adding another great habit. An “add-on” habit. Maybe reading that one page a day inspires you to take a course. You spend ten minutes a day on the course which inspires you to implement something else helpful in your life.
Do you see how this can build?
It’s like the power of compound interest but with your habits. Compounding habits.
Here are some tips to implement micro-habits and make them work for you aka the path of least resistance…
Decide What You Want To Change
What are some habits you want to form or goals you want to meet and why? Once you have this down—I recommend writing it out old school with pen and paper—think about how you could use a daily micro habit to eventually meet that goal.
What is the easiest way you can get there with daily consistency?
Author James Clear applies Newton’s Law of Motion to habits and productivity, writing, “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. When it comes to being productive, this means one thing: the most important thing is to find a way to get started. Once you get started, it is much easier to stay in motion.”
Micro-habits can help you change your health, your relationships, your level of presence and joy. Everything you experience in your life can change just by getting started. But do not try to start with too many at once. Like mentioned earlier they tend to build and multiply which is great. But better to start by focusing on just a few and then build up your momentum gradually. You are more likely to stick with the process this way.
Make sure as you are working towards a goal that it is truly what you want. This clarity can make all the difference. What area of your life needs improving the most right now or what area could you start with that would most positively affect all the other areas?
Know That 5-10 Minutes Matters
It is easy to think that you can accomplish nothing in five to ten minutes, but you would be surprised. Set a timer and spend that time completely focused on your goal. On your micro-habit.
No time to exercise? Maybe you make daily excuses about why you cannot fit getting healthier into your day. Remember the 4-minute workout we talked about earlier? 4-minute Tabata workouts consist of 20-seconds of hard intensity and then a 10-second break, repeated for four full minutes. As long as you are cleared for exercise by your doctor—these workouts are tough—they can be very effective and give you an energy boost for the whole day. This makes you want to fit in more movement whenever you can.
You could also spend just ten minutes in the morning preparing a quick healthy snack to take to work so you do not resort to the vending machine later.
Set a timer for just ten minutes a day to focus on a single drawer or space. Could you manage that? It is hard to make excuses about just taking 5-10 minutes to complete a single task, but, daily, that 5-10 minutes creates change.
No idea where your money is going? Download a tracking app and commit just a few minutes at the end of the day to adding in all your receipts from that day.
Small changes can be life changes. Believe in the process.
If overcomplicating things has not worked for you, try simplifying.
Create The Right Triggers
There are negative, interruptive triggers, like those notifications that pop up on your phone and derail your productive work session.
But we can also create positive triggers. In this case, a trigger is a type of micro-habit that is something you do to remind yourself to start your desired habit. It could be putting your running shoes by the bed so you see them and remember to exercise in the morning. If your shoes are right there waiting, it will be harder for you to make an excuse to not fit in a super quick workout.
You could set an alarm so you remember to take one minute to breathe deeper on your lunch break. You could hang your dog’s leash on the doorknob before bed so you cannot get out of the house without a reminder to circle around the block with your pet.
Micro-habits are much easier to implement than bigger habits but it still helps to have a reminder to make sure you do them consistently. You know that sticky note you put on your mirror to remind you to do something? If you left it there for a long time, your brain probably started to ignore it.
Play around with triggers and micro-habits to find the ones that work for you, the ones that do not get ignored. Once a habit is formed it doesn’t take effort to remember it.
When was the last time you put a reminder on your phone to brush your teeth? Probably never because the habit is already formed and it takes little to no effort. You just do it.
All of these things help you to form routines. And the routines we form can make or break us. They can give us the results we want or leave us disappointed at the end of a year accomplishing little. Let this be the time where you make some changes. Micro-changes. Lay a foundation for both your short and long-term success.
James Clear puts it this way,
“The real reason that habits matter is because each action that you take is like a vote for the person that you want to become.”
How will you vote this year and beyond?