Lifestyle building with mini habits – and how to beat your internal resistance
I hope everyone had a good start of the new year. Since it’s the last day of January, I dare asking how are all your new year’s resolutions going?
This time last year, I had a bullet-pointed list of things to do for the year ahead. As far as tasks, responsibilities are concerned, we’re all busy making sure that the expectations are met, while we forget about our lifestyle changing promises. To get in shape, to stop procrastinating, to quit smoking or get more sleep… you know your shortcomings.
Looking back on 2017, while I was busy ticking off my task list (thankfully, all went to plan) my life changing actions kept lagging behind. Then I read a book (Stephen Guise: Mini habits) about how to create good habits by repeating the same actions every single day. We are what we repeatedly do, every day (not just some random days). The main reason why we all fail in our resolutions is that we enter the year with big intentions, but no strategy whatsoever as to how to execute them all.
So, this year, I will keep my focus on the strategy, rather than the ultimate end goal in mind – which, often seems so distant that it just feels unachievable. The strategy is to break down the big tasks to ‘stupid small’ steps. So incredibly small that skipping a day would seem absurd. Think of one push-up, or reading two pages of a book… Climbing the stairs instead of taking the lift. Drink and extra glass of water, every day. These actions are stupidly small, so anyone can do that, at the same time, they are relative to the individual. A small step for you could be a giant leap for me. Whatever your goal is, think of a mini action and keep repeating it every day. If it sounds ridiculously easy to do, your strategy is off to a good start. As we established already, when your mini habit is small enough, it would be bizarre to skip a day. No matter how tired you are, or where in the world you are, you can still do one push-up a day.
Once you get started (and let’s picture that: you get down on the floor, kneel down on your mat, and put your body in the position) you will most probably end up doing 5-10 push-ups, which is far better than one. Having said that, if you stop at doing just one, then even one is better than none 🙂 Next day you might do more, and if not, no big deal – as long as you already completed the mini requirement. One is fine to begin with, and you can increase the challenge over time, however, never change the mini requirement: it must always be labelled as just ‘one push-up a day’.
It takes between 90-120 days until a repeated action sinks down to a habit level, that is, when the action is operated by the subconscious mind. We don’t think about brushing out teeth, or taking a shower before leaving the house, as it’s all automatic; it’s part of our morning habit. Habits are built by consistency, and mini-habits are built by using a small amount of willpower to force ourselves to do something.
Case studies have proven that using our willpower can drain our energies out during the day, practically speaking, the more willpower we use, the more exhausted we will feel. And when the time for ‘action’ comes, an exhausted person will more likely to fall back in choosing a bad habit over a positive action.
If you want a successful strategy, try think of a small action that doesn’t require much of your willpower, so you can regularly keep at it, day after day; every single day. As Mark Twain said “the secret of getting ahead is getting started”. Starting the activity reduces internal resistance. Beating the internal resistance (that little voice which says: it’s fine, I will do it tomorrow) is the first and biggest hurdle. Once we pass that resistance stage, our brain will note that the doing the action wasn’t actually hard at all.
The reality is that it doesn’t take a lot of willpower to do one push-up or come up with a couple of ideas. This strategy is pretty clever in fact, and helped me to read the book I was wishing to read before, or exercise for some 30 mins, every day. And if it worked for me, it will work for you too.
Happy habit building for 2018 and if you struggle with your new habits, don’t forget to read the book