My mother told me, former procrastinators, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” A child puts more food on her plate than she can possibly eat. I still plan more for my week than I can do. I set ambitious goals I’m not able to reach in the time allotted.
My husband and I just read a small book that’s helping us make progress by putting tiny portions on our plates – Mini Habits by Stephen Guise.
For some people, going big with massive change works. Most of us benefit from an incremental approach. What are mini habits? Why do they work so well?
Guise’s original mini goals were do one push-up and write 50 words. He’s now physically fit and usually writes 2000 words a day. He says mini goals should be “stupid small.” When done, you’ve succeeded. You have the option of doing more, but no more is required. If you do 1-4 mini goals, it should take no more than 10 minutes all together. Do more if you like, but do not raise the goal.
His overly simple explanation about how our brain works regarding habits helps me see why this works. From his book:
- Doing a little bit every day has greater impact than doing a lot on one day. A little bit daily is enough to grow into a lifelong habit.
- The mini habits strategy is forcing yourself to take 1-4 strategic actions every day. These actions are too small to fail, too small to skip. The best habits are sourced straight from your life values.
- Guise thought he should do a 30 minute workout but inner resistance was huge. One push-up? His brain agreed.
- Repetition is the language of the subconscious brain. The subconscious loves efficiency so it prefers to act automatically.
- The goal in creating habits is to change your brain with repetition.
- A habit’s assigned neural pathway is triggered by a thought or cue. An electrical charge fires along the pathway and you have an urge to engage in the behavior. (Get up. Shower.) We want to create and strengthen specific neural pathways with repetition. Since new behaviors have no neural pathway, we have to manually override the typical behavior. The more you override, the more the “baby neural pathway” grows.
- The brain’s basal ganglia (seat of the subconscious) repeats patterns unless told otherwise. (Stay on the couch.) The pre frontal cortex (our “manager”) understands long-term benefits and consequences. It has the ability to override the basal ganglia. (Get up. Do one push-up.) You create habits by teaching the rest of the brain to like what the prefrontal cortex wants. Now Guise’s brain enjoys multiple push-ups.
- The basal ganglia doesn’t care to “defend” against small steps, only drastic changes. By changing slowly one step at a time, you’re playing by its rules.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made!
I’m reading two pages in two books daily.
What’s a habit you’d like to form? Identify one ridiculously small step you can take daily.