Change can feel hard.
The prospect of putting in the necessary work can make us feel tired, just thinking about it.
What we want for the future can seem a long way off from where we are now.
When you think about how you will get ‘there’ do you feel
excited, powerful and optimistic
alone, small, and overwhelmed?
Or a little bit of both, perhaps?
Every journey starts somewhere – with a first (small?) step, and then another – and I think it’s this first step, or first few steps, that can feel the hardest – often because we’re preoccupied with the overall size of the task rather than simply focusing on getting going.
I’m a fan of breaking big tasks down into smaller, bite-size chunks and recently one of my colleagues recommended a book to me on just this subject: ‘Mini Habits – smaller habits, bigger results’ by Stephen Guise. It’s a good read.
I like his approach of building better habits by creating a virtuous cycle of success by lowering our expectations on ourselves, reducing resistance, and thereby relieving some of the pressure and the likelihood of failure.
He talks about how the different parts of our brains work to form and repeat habits and debunks some of the widely-held views regarding how many days/repetitions it takes to build a new habit and says instead:
“Building a habit is like riding a bike up a steep incline that levels out, peaks, and goes down.
To start, you have to push with all the force your legs can muster.
It gets progressively easier after that, but you must keep pedaling until you reach the top of the hill or you’ll go backwards and lose your progress.”
He recommends overcoming resistance by starting small, with “stupid small” steps that are so small they’re “… too small to fail, and too small to skip for special occasions.”
He uses his own example of doing one push up per day and is living proof, he says, that what tends to happen is that some days, most days even, we”ll carry on and do more once we’ve started – but even if all we do is that bare minimum, this still counts as a success and we can feel good about it.
The ethos is about making it easier for ourselves to create forward momentum and keep going. He says (quite rightly) that “doing a little bit is infinitely bigger and better than doing nothing…”
This tallies with my beliefs, too, and the Confucius quote that I like:
“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”
Another great tip Guise gives us is to set our mini habits at a level that we can still manage on our worst or busiest days:
“… Don’t imagine the easiest days: imagine the hardest days.
If you can do something on the day you’re tired, stressed, and very busy, you can do it every day.”
I think this is great advice and much more likely to succeed than being over-optimistic as we so often are when we set ourselves tasks and goals.
He refers to tiredness as not just a physical barrier but a mental one, too, as a result of perceived difficulty and “subjective fatigue”. This latter phenomenon being the one I referred to at the start of this piece – feeling tired at merely the thought of what needs doing.
He advises not setting ourselves more than four mini habits at any one time – two or three at once being “… the sweet spot for many people.”. And doing and checking these regularly helps us be mindful, too.
Some of our mini habits might be daily, others weekly. I’m experimenting at the moment with setting different ones for myself for weekdays and weekends.
Guise’s “Eight Mini Habit Rules” make sound sense, too:
- Never, Ever Cheat (especially by secretly expecting ourselves to do more than the mini habit we have set)
- Be Happy With All Progress
- Reward Yourself Often, Especially After a Mini Habit
- Stay Level-headed
- If You Feel Strong Resistance, Back Off & Go Smaller
- Remind Yourself How Easy This Is
- Never Think a Step Is Too Small
- Put Extra Energy and Ambition Toward Bonus Reps, Not a Bigger Requirement.
If you’re looking for more inspiration, I recommend reading the book and/or looking at the mini habits ideas on Guise’s site.
I’m off, now, to read another of his books: ‘How to be
perfect an imperfectionist’…