Having trouble creating good habits? Maybe you need to start smaller.
We’ve all tried to set goals for ourselves, maybe to exercise an hour a day or prepare healthier foods for our family, only to have our plans derailed by a hungry infant, a fussy toddler, or the sudden onset of a stomach bug.
How can we start a new habit in the face of the chaos that children bring?
I’ve found that I can still make progress (and preserve my sanity) using “mini habits.” I learned about these in the book Mini Habits, by Stephen Guise. Guise encourages us to make tiny goals, not big ones.
Why does this work?
It’s easy to get yourself to do one tiny thing.
Once you’re already doing that tiny thing, there’s a good chance you’ll do extra.
Even if you stop with one tiny thing, you’re still building a healthy habit.
Guise recommends looking at the habit you want to establish and then coming up with a “much smaller version of a new habit you want to form,” like one push-up instead of working out half an hour a day. Write down your mini habit. If you use what Guise calls a “stupid small” goal, you can meet it even on a day when you’ve used up almost all your willpower.
I want to develop a habit of writing five days a week, so I have a mini-goal of writing one word a day. Even on a day when I run from child to child delivering medicine, I can take one minute to work on a blog post or a story.
If you’re working on a habit of eating more fruits and vegetables, a mini-goal could be eating one baby carrot a day. While you eat one, you’ll probably eat another one or two, since you have the carrots out already. You can set carrots out for the kids, too. And voila, you’ve done more than your goal.
The author is careful to point our that this strategy works well for creating new, healthy habits. It isn’t the way to address issues like addiction or abuse.
Track your success
Choose a way to keep track of the days you meet your mini goal. You can use a habit tracking app on your phone, a chart with sticker stars (because when was the last time someone recognized you the way our kids get rewarded?), a spreadsheet—anything that works for you.
I’m putting check marks on my big monthly calendar. I look at the calendar anyway, and grabbing a pen takes next to no mental energy. That way, when I look over appointments and to-dos, I’ll also see what I’ve accomplished and be encouraged to keep going instead of thinking about what I haven’t done.
Chances are, you did more than the mini habit at least some of the time. Give yourself an extra pat on the back! Do not, repeat, NOT increase the size of your mini-habit for a long time, and if you do, make sure it is still a “stupid small” goal.
Remember, you’ve met your goal even if you don’t do anything extra!
Choose a reward for each time you meet your daily goal, anything from writing a smiley face on your calendar to having a solo dance party. You’ll think of the reward when you think of your mini habit, which will make it even easier to do your mini habit, and rewards “restore our willpower” (in Guise’s words). As a result, completing your mini habit leaves you with more energy instead of less!
If you hit a day when you’re so tired or sick that you have trouble getting yourself to do even your mini habit, Guise recommends that you break it down even smaller. For example, you could get yourself to just walk into the kitchen. Then you could open the fridge. Then you could open the drawer that has the carrots. (And so on.)
What do you do if you’re traveling? Get creative. I just took a trip without my laptop. I met my goal by using email on my tablet to work on a draft of this blog post. I also worked on titles for the book I’m writing and read about slang from the 1930’s (research for my next project). These mini habits are the elephant’s eyebrows!
Here are some links to help you create your own mini habits:
Stephen Guise has examples of mini habits, habit tracking options, and rewards on his website.
I recommend reading the book Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results.
It’s available in Spanish from the library.
If your goal is to read more books, try this podcast from Read Aloud Revival.
Jennifer suggests ideas to start small for healthy eating here.
Jane has found ways to encourage the habit of gratitude.