If you’re like most people who struggle to make changes and make them a habit, then you’re always on the lookout for a better way to achieve your goals. But it seems like you’re setting yourself up for disappointment each time.
In this article I am going to show you how you can make the changes you want to make before the end of the year by using micro-habits and how to make micro-habits stick. Micro-habits combine the power of habits and minimal resistance, so you have a greater chance of succeeding in making the changes you desire.
A habit is ‘a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up’. Often a habit is learned and automatic and it requires intentionality to interrupt the automatic pattern.
When setting a new habit, we often struggle to embed it because it is too big. Ideally to be successful at changing a habit we need to focus on the micro-habits that make up the habit.
A micro-habit is a habit that is so small, intuitively they feel like they should be successful automatically because they offer minimal resistance.
The benefits of micro-habits are that they are easier to start, easier to sustain, require less energy and are relatively painless because they use nudge theory i.e., small changes vs a potentially traumatic big change. In addition to these benefits micro-habits keep you motivated because you are almost always achieving and building self-belief in your capacity to achieve your goals!
The good news is, you can set up any micro-habit for success with just three simple steps:
Because micro-habits are small, it’s easy to think you can create a whole slew of them to fix your situation all at once. After all, they’re just small changes, right?
The problem is that even small changes can add up, especially when you have a whole big, long list of them. So rather than getting caught up trying to remake yourself entirely, pick just one micro habit to establish. Then don’t allow yourself to pick up another one until the first is already well-established.
Which one should you choose if you do have a long list? Ideally, the one that will have the biggest impact and by that I mean the one that underpins or connects with the others. For example, if you’re looking to increase your impact at work, you need to increase your awareness of those around you. To do that you need to be well rested, organised and manage your time well. If you are sleeping well and eating healthily, then perhaps your goal needs to be time management related. Your micro goal could be to allow 15 minutes between meetings to focus on the next meeting and ensure you have all of what you need so that you can focus on the other meeting participants. Or perhaps you need to allow 2hrs a day in your diary for work that has to be done by you. So, choose one that you think will make the biggest impact. And see what you notice.
To do this, look at what you’re trying to establish. See if there is another habit you already have in place to which you can link this new micro habit. For example, suppose you want to start reading the newspapers before you start work each day. You could connect it to the already established routine in place for having your morning coffee. Having your morning coffee then becomes a trigger for the new micro habit (reading the newspaper), and so it becomes easy to remember to do it.
You might have to get a little bit creative to do this. If you’re not sure what to connect it with, ask yourself questions such as: What time of day do you want to perform this micro habit? Is there something else I do at that time every day? Is this micro habit somehow related to something I’m already doing regularly? Can I somehow link it to something else entirely but still see some alignment in my mind?
Following on from the previous example, you may choose to block out the 2hrs in your morning because that is when you’re most productive. However, you might find most of your meetings are in the morning so then you need to choose a time where you are more likely to have a 2hr block of time and consider how you will be able to get yourself in the zone for the 2hr block you have set yourself.
‘What gets scheduled, gets done’. Even a small habit like drinking more water is established by simply setting a timer on your phone to remind you to drink every hour. Use your calendar, your timer, even a post-it note on a physical calendar hanging on your wall to remind yourself that you have set aside time just for this micro habit.
From the previous example, block out the time in your diary and really consider meeting requests that come in during that period. Usually if people can see your availability they will try work with it. Remember, if you have other people who manage your diary, let them know what you’re doing too so they can support you in achieving your goal.
With these steps, any micro habit can be very easily set up for success. If you’re still flagging after all this, perhaps you need to break the habit down even more or think of a small reward you can use to encourage yourself to perform this particular micro habit. Sometimes, encouragement and broader support is all we need.
Now that you have had success scheduling your new habit and it is working well with the trigger you linked it to. It’s easy to think that it’ll just take care of itself going forward, right? Wrong!
Now comes the hard part – making the new micro-habits stick. How do you make changing habits that last? Read on for some tips that will help keep you on track indefinitely:
Keep the habit front and centre by scheduling reminders on your phone. Decide a specific time in your day, week or month when you want to this habit so that it is scheduled and reminds you to do it. You can also use a low-tech option of a paper diary, post-in note or be sure to put somewhere where you can see it, for example, “water – 1pm” if your new habit is to drink more water.
If your new habit isn’t time-based, then find other ways to integrate this habit into who you are. Start with “if-then” statements. Something along the lines of “If it’s Tuesday, then today I’m taking the bus and walking the rest of the way to work,” reminds you of that small habit to walk to work more often. By paying attention to how you speak to yourself, you start to rewire the old thought patterns and make your new micro habit a more natural part of your life.
With the previous example, if I don’t use my 2hrs wisely, then I will land up missing my favourite TV program because I will have to work later; throwing my commute out with my after-work activities.
Remember, these are supposed to be micro-habits, not major ones. So don’t get caught up in trying to make grand sweeping changes. Instead, focus on the small things that you can easily build into your existing routine. The reason we’re focusing on micro-habits is so that you don’t suffer from the ‘what the hell effect’, which is when the changes keep getting over-ridden, so we give up completely.
With the previously example, if meeting still get put in your 2hr block, don’t give up. Perhaps you need different times on different days to give it a greater chance of success. Take the learnings and make adjustments so you can achieve your habit.
If your goal is to drink more water, then stop buying soda and juice. If you want to walk more, don’t park near the building. By removing the old way, all you have left is your new way. Think about what needs to disappear out of your life to make your new micro-habits a success.
By creating a record of your accomplishments you’ll not only stay more motivated, but you’ll have a solid idea of your progress – and can keep on track for your goals. This process works particularly well with micro-habits, mostly because they’re so small that your progress is almost unconscious from the start, so it’s doubly important to keep track. After all, if you don’t know where you’ve been, then how do you know you’re still on the right path to where you want to go?
If you're looking for a simple way to track your new habits, download my monthly habit tracker for October, November and December.
So, there you have it, a quick and easy 5-step process for making your habits stick.
By using these tips, you’ll stay on track to make that habit a daily part of your life. Now there’s just one thing left for you to do – take action! So go ahead and decide on which micro-habit you are going to focus on first. And do it today, because the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be able to reap the benefits of the change.
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