SIX BENIFITS OF MINI HABITS:
Reduce our subjective fatigue.
Have a low willpower cost.
Allow us to overcome inertia.
Form more quickly.
1) MINI HABITS REDUCE OUR SUBJECTIVE FATIGUE
Have you ever procrastinated starting a project because you felt overwhelmed? If you have, you’ve been the victim of subjective fatigue. Beginning a task carries the full weight of the commitment. Our mind looks ahead and calculates the work, which causes us to feel exhausted before we even begin. What we think is laziness is often exhaustion. Mini habits kill procrastination because they carry almost no subjective fatigue.
Another cognitive bias that prevents us from starting is the spotlight effect. Whenever we step outside our comfort zone, our mind magnifies the difficulty of the task. Like subjective fatigue, we feel overwhelmed. Mini habits are so easy to do; they don’t raise any cognitive red flags.
Mini habits circumnavigate these mental roadblocks to starting. Once we start, we can base our decision to continue on the task’s actual difficulty instead of a distorted version of it.
2) MINI HABITS HAVE A LOW WILLPOWER COST
A new habit has a hard time competing with our existing habits. In a sports analogy, our current habits are veteran weightlifters. Our fledgling habits are novice lifters. In this analogy, the willpower cost of the habit is the weight lifted. The novice cannot hope to lift the same amount of weight as the veteran. The rookie needs to start light. The biggest mistake the beginner can make is starting too heavy and developing lousy form.
Mini habits recognize that any new routine is going to take time to develop. We must get our reps in. After we have established a solid foundation, we can build on it. We are often told that we should never try to develop more than one habit at a time. This is excellent advice.
The biggest mistake we can make about our willpower is placing too many simultaneous demands on it. The cognitive reserve we draw from to exert self-control is limited. Fortunately, with mini habits, this singular focus is unnecessary.
Most of us want to develop multiple new habits. It takes a lot of self-control to focus on just one and ignore the others. The low willpower cost of mini habits means you can build multiple habits at once. They are so small we can create three or four at a time.
3) MINI HABITS ALLOW US TO OVERCOME INERTIA
If you have ever pushed a car, you know putting it into motion requires the greatest effort. Once in motion, it takes much less energy to keep it moving. Big changes are like trying to push a car up a mountain. It makes it almost impossible to build momentum. Mini habits flatten the hill, reducing the force required to put the vehicle in motion and make building momentum a breeze.
4) MINI HABITS BUILD SELF-EFFICACY
Self-efficacy isn’t a term you often hear in everyday conversation, but it is frequently used by behavioral psychologists. Self-efficacy is our belief in meeting a challenge, overcoming an obstacle, or completing a task. It is our belief in our personal effectiveness.
Mini habits are small, so you might think that they won’t develop your self-confidence as much as bigger ones, but that is the type of thinking we want to avoid. It is a trap. Mini habits are small, but their cumulative effects aren’t. Mini habits are designed to be too small to fail. Every time you perform one, it will be another small win; and don’t forget, you’ll usually have enough motivation to do more.
Being too ambitious, looking for quick results isn’t a sound approach. In football, it is risky to attempt a long-forward pass. Big commitments are like those long pass attempts. They can get you down the field faster, but they are more likely to result in an incompletion or an interception.
When a quarterback suffers an interception, it can result in a 14-point swing. A scoring opportunity is squandered for his team while simultaneously putting points on the scoreboard for the opposing team. Instead of building momentum and enhancing his self-confidence, he has eroded it.
If you have failed to develop habits in the past, you know it can erode your confidence and make you feel like a failure. You can feel helpless, which is a leading cause of depression. The progress that mini habits allow us to make, on the other hand, builds our self-efficacy. Even if all we do is fulfill the minimum requirement, we have proven that we will make good on our promises.
When a quarterback suffers an interception, his coach will often build his confidence with short passes. Mini habits are those short-completions that will build up your self-esteem. A mini habit might not seem like much, but it is infinitely better than nothing. A one-yard gain is better than an incompletion. And like a short pass, it has the potential of becoming a big gain.
5) MINI HABITS BUILD WILLPOWER
Willpower is often described as a muscle. Mini habits force us to exercise our willpower muscle daily, gradually building it up. A study by Professor Roy Baumeister demonstrated that students that exercised willpower to improve their posture for two weeks demonstrated marked improvement in other measures of self-control.[i] Another study showed that two months of regular exercise enhanced study participants’ overall self-control in unrelated areas.
Participants engaged in less impulsive spending, better dietary habits, decreased alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine consumption, and spent fewer hours watching TV.[ii] This halo effect is the reason that exercise is often referred to as a keystone habit. Since our willpower draws from a single source, anything we do to strengthen our willpower in one area will improve it in other areas.
6) MINI HABITS FORM MORE QUICKLY
Most people mistakenly believe that it takes three weeks or thirty days to create a habit. Neither of which is true. There is no magical number of days. It is like that old Tootsie Pop commercial – how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? The world may never know, but we have a rough idea.
The latest research shows that the number of repetitions ranges from 18 to 254, with 66 days being the average number of days to form a habit.[iii] Why such a wide range? The number of days it takes to create a habit has a lot to do with its perceived difficulty. The lower the perceived difficulty of behavior, the fewer repetitions required to automate it.
Since the perceived difficulty of mini habits is so low, and they’re designed to be too small to fail, you should be able to quickly put together an unbroken chain of X’s in your habit tracker and automate the habit.
WHY YOU SHOULD GIVE MINI HABITS A TRY
”If you fail using a particular strategy more than a few times, you need to try another one. It doesn’t matter if it works for everyone else if it doesn’t work for you!” ― Stephen Guise, Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results
If you have struggled with forming good habits, I hope you’ll give mini habits a try. Perhaps your confidence is shaken by your past failures, like a quarterback that just threw an interception. Mini habits are the best way to restore your self-efficacy. One small win at a time; until you have an unbroken string of completions.
As the new behaviors become habits, you’ll become comfortable throwing the ball further down the field but avoid rushing your progress. If you aren’t connecting almost 100% of the time, you’ll want to shrink your daily commitment. Inconsistency will erode your confidence and kill the habit.
Mini habits don’t have to expand. Even if you consistently workout closer to a half-hour, you don’t have to increase your mini commitment to more than 5-minutes. If your commitment is more than you can do on your bad days, you will kill the habit. Doing a little is always better than doing nothing. Doing a little keeps the habit alive, increases self-efficacy improves your self-esteem, builds your willpower, and provides sustained motivation. That is a ton of benefits for a 5-minute commitment. Unleash the power of SMALL!
MINI HABIT EXAMPLES FOR WEIGHT LOSS
- Log one new food item or meal you eat each day.
- Weigh yourself each morning.
- Replace one processed snack with a piece of fruit.
- Replace a caloric beverage with flavored water or tea.
- Climb stairs for one minute.
- Jog in place for 30 seconds.
- Perform one minute of Kettlebell swings.
- Perform a set of pull-ups.
- Perform five repetitions of any exercise.
- Perform one set of push-ups.
- Walk one block.
- Put on your gym clothes.
- Drive to the gym.
Sleep & Recovery:
- Meditate for one minute.
- Turn off your electronics five minutes earlier.
- Go to bed five minutes earlier than usual.
Other Mini Habit Examples:
- Write 50 words.
- Read two pages.
- Write down one thing you are grateful for each morning.
- Clean a room for five minutes.
- Listen to an audiobook for five minutes.
- Write down one idea.
- Learn one new word.
- Take one action towards the accomplishment of a project.
- Brainstorm for five minutes.
- Add one uplifting song to your music playlist.
- Listen to a motivational video for five minutes.
Bonus Tip: Avoid meticulously tracking the completion of your initial commitment. For example, use a stopwatch to track your elapsed time, not a one-minute countdown timer. The alarm on a countdown timer could discourage you from doing more. The elapsed time on the stopwatch would allow you to see that you have completed the requirement without discouraging you from doing more.
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[i] Muraven, M. & R. F. Baumeister. Self-Regulation and Depletion of Limited Resources: Does Self-Control Resemble a Muscle? Psychological Bulletin. (2000). v 126, No. 2, 247-259 http:// psyserv06. psy.sbg.ac.at: 5916/ fetch/ PDF/ 10978569.
[ii] Oaten, M. & K. Cheng. Longitudinal gains in self-regulation from regular physical exercise. Br J Health Psychol. (Nov 2006). v 11( Pt 4), 717-33. http:// http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ PubMed/ 17032494
[iii] Benjamin Gardner, “Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice,” 2012 Dec; 62(605): 664–666. DOI: 10.3399/bjgp12X659466.