The Magic of Mini Habits

So, what is a mini habit? Stephen Guise, the creator of the mini habit concept, describes mini habits as stupid small versions of a habit you want to develop. Stephen was struggling to exercise. He felt overwhelmed by the prospect of working out for 30-minutes. A half-hour workout seemed as intimidating to him as climbing Mount Everest. He couldn’t get motivated, and he didn’t have enough willpower to work out. Frustrated, he decided to think outside the box. His solution was the One Push-up workout. He was able to overcome his reluctance by shrinking the workout to a single push-up. After he completed the push-up, he was able to do more, and before he knew it, he had finished an entire workout.  

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He had stumbled upon a concept that would revolutionize his life and millions of others. He wrote about his One Push-up Challenge, and it struck a chord with his readers, who also struggled to exercise. Later he would write his bestselling book, Mini Habits, and other publications that would incorporate this idea. He has used the concept of Mini Habits to develop a whole host of good habits. He has been able to use the strategy of mini habits to write on days when he felt exhausted and was suffering from a headache by challenging himself to write 50 words every day. Usually, his 50 words would expand to a thousand words or more, even on his worst days. He says the only time he has ever failed to perform a mini habit was when he forgot to do it. When you combine mini habits with action triggers, which will be discussed later, you will have a paring of behavior strategies that will make forming good habits virtually foolproof. Mini habits operate on the same principle of shrinking the commitment. Mini habits miniaturize the desired behavior we want to develop to silly small proportions. They are so tiny that we can develop three or four habits at a time and meet our daily commitments in less than 20-minutes. The size of mini habits is laughable, but their results are anything but.  

Mini habits are designed to be ridiculously easy. Its creator recognizes that Newton’s First Law applies to psychology as much as it does to physics. Newton’s First Law, sometimes referred to as the Law of Inertia states, an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an external force. We resist new behaviors the way an object resists a change in state. Our existing routines flow, they have momentum on their side. The biggest disadvantage that a new habit has it that inertia is working against it. Fortunately, mini habits are so easy to do that they don’t require much energy to overcome inertia. The willpower cost of mini habits is almost non-existent. A mini habit is the smallest of nudges – but that slight shove is all that is needed to put Newton’s First Law in our corner. Momentum becomes our ally instead of our enemy. We go from unstartable to unstoppable.

Mini habits are so small that our mind doesn’t put up any resistance to starting. Once in motion, we can do as much or as little as we want. Since the behavior is something we are motivated to develop, chances are we’ll want to do more than the minimum. Mini habits are unambitious by designAmbition, like perfectionismis the enemy of progress. When we are too ambitious, we’ll often do nothing – like the person afraid to make a mistake. We will convince ourselves that if we cannot do everything, we won’t do anything. We will pick back up tomorrow. We always think tomorrow we will have more time, willpower, and motivation.  Good is not the enemy. Inaction is.

People confuse ambition with action. Big goals are lovely, but we don’t rise to the level of our aspirations, we fall to the level of our standards. Mini habits are our minimum standards, but they are only a minimum. Mini habits are ridged and flexible in strategic places. Mini habits are inflexible in terms of the minimum requirement but flexible in how much you decide to do after that. Mini habits miniaturize subjective fatigue, so we don’t need much motivation or willpower to get started. They are jumping-off points.

Mini habits are the absolute best way to develop a new habit. When combined with action triggers, they are almost foolproof. There are benefits to even doing the minimum because anything we do everyday matters. Behaviors that become habit shape our character. Every action requires some level of willpower or motivation to do. We know that willpower is more reliable and can be built like a muscle. Each time we execute a mini habit, we’ll develop our willpower muscle a little bit, and expand our comfort zone.

Our developing willpower muscle will allow us to exercise more self-control in unrelated areas. This is a huge secondary benefit of mini habits. Even though the willpower cost of mini habits is small, nothing remains small when it is repeated. All habits are consequential, regardless of size. Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal says, “A short practice that you do every day is better than a long practice you keep putting off to tomorrow.”  Think of a mini habit as a metaphorical spark. Every time we perform a mini habit, our goal is to ignite whatever motivation is available to continue past the initial commitment. We want to avoid the mistake of becoming too ambitious with our mini requirement. In the beginning, we need to keep our daily commitment laughably small. We must be satisfied with doing the minimum. On an exhausting day, we need to recognize that fulfilling our mini habit commitment is a meaningful victory. We are reinforcing the habit, building our willpower, increasing our awareness, and improving our self-esteem.

When we start a fire, we are taught to use tiny, easily combustible twigs. The routines connected with mini habits are those tiny twigs that we hope will ignite sticks and logs. When you get too ambitious with your mini requirement, it is like trying to start a fire using a spark and a log. In case you have never tried this approach, it isn’t very successful. If we start out trying to light a log, we better have copious amounts of willpower and motivation – much more than the average person. This approach will only work for a small percentage of people.

The mini habits approach can work for anyone. Mini habits must be so small that on your most trying days, you could still meet the requirement, so the habit doesn’t die. Repetition is the creator of habits; inconsistency is their destroyer. If you have a lot of willpower and motivation, that’s fantastic. Mini habits will still provide the necessary spark you need. It will get you started, motivation will determine how much farther you go.

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