“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”
Colin Powell (American Statesman)
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Aristotle (Greek Philosopher)
“Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
Vince Lombardi (American Football Player)
Everyone has their own collection of habits.
Bad ones (what you call your vices) that might include biting your nails when you’re nervous, an 8pm soda and chips habit on the couch, or hitting the snooze button 8 times every morning.
And then there are good habits, that you’ve intentionally built into your life to make you better, in an area of your life that you’re focusing on growth in, such as meditating and exercising every day.
The goal, of course, is to have an abundance of good ones and replace the bad ones.
Successful people boast their good habits as being transformational to their productivity and their health.
Tim Ferriss does the same 5 habits every morning to start his day: he makes his bed, meditates, does push-ups, hydrates, and journals.
He started these habits because other leaders were doing them and seeing results in mood and productivity in their days.
He set each one as a goal, and every morning intentionally chose to do one of them each day until it became a habit, or an automatic behavior.
Now he gets up and does these 5 things every day without thinking about them.
Creating good habits and breaking bad ones will create efficiency in your life and allow you to focus on higher level tasks that will push you forward to your goals.
A full habit consists of a trigger, a routine, and a reward.
It’s a behavior that is learned and repeated until it becomes automatic.
A practical example of this habit loop would be getting in your car after work and driving home.
You’ve probably noticed that if you drive the same route home from work, over and over again for months and months, you will start to do it automatically.
In this example, the trigger would be getting off work, the routine would be driving your usual route home, and the reward would be arriving home successfully.
A mini-habit is just like a full habit except the routine is much smaller, or is merely a portion of a full routine.
If a full habit is flossing all of your teeth before bed, a mini-habit is flossing just one tooth.
If a full habit is going to the gym after work to perform 30 sets of exercises, a mini-habit is going to the gym to perform just 1 set of exercises.
Studies show that mini-habits are not only easier to create and follow, but can quickly lead to full habits.
The key is to slowly grow your mini-habits into full habits.
After a few days of flossing 1 tooth, floss 2 teeth, then 3, then your top teeth, then all your teeth.
After a few 1-set exercise sessions, move up to 2 sets, then 4 sets, then 8, and so on.
You are much more likely to stick to a goal through creating and expanding on a mini-habit, than you are by trying to implement a full habit all at once.
Habit stacking — adding one habit or mini-habit onto another already established habit — has become like trend spotting, where it’s the thing to do for people who want to make life improvements and get better.
Why Creating Good Habits Make You More Productive
Habits make you more efficient by making your brain more efficient.
When you first learn something, or do something new for the first time, it takes more energy in your brain to do it.
Each time to repeat the task or behavior, the brain starts to organize around it, and it takes less and less energy to perform the task or behavior.
The brain’s job is to be as efficient as possible. And so, as you form a new habit, your brain looks to make it more automatic over time, taking less brain energy to accomplish and freeing up the brain’s resources for more important learning and growth.
The reason it’s not as easy as it sounds is because in the beginning, it takes a lot of effort and brain energy to do.
Psychology, Health, and Medicine studied habit formation and found that while initially learning a new habit took a lot of mental effort, as the habit practice continued, that effort was reduced and keeping the habit became easier.
The daily repetition of the act over time requires less mental energy as the brain organizes to allow it to run on autopilot.
The British Journal of General Practice studied the psychology of habit formation and reported that “Habit-formation advice is ultimately simple — repeat an action consistently in the same context.”
This study identified 3 phases to habit-formation:
1. The initiation phase — where you select the new behavior.
2. The learning phase — where you create “automaticity” by repeating the pattern.
3. The stability phase — where the habit is formed and little effort is required to continue it.
During the stability phase is when the behavior actually starts to become a habit, which takes an average of 66 days to reach according to the European Journal of Social Psychology.
So, while the process is simple, initial effort to make change doesn’t guarantee it will be easy.
New habits serve 2 purposes: they challenge you to grow, and they make you more efficient.
The efficiency doesn’t happen until the stability phase, though.
So, having a system in place to develop success habits and move through those phases easier will set you up for greater success.
How to Create Successful Mini-Habits
Creating habits helps you grow.
Without growth, you’re miserable.
And, one reason people don’t reach their goals is because they don’t create habits to systemize their day.
The process of forming a habit is simple.
But, lots of people fail at breaking bad habits and creating new ones.
If you’ve ever tried to create New Year’s resolutions, which are just new habits you want in your life, you know how few of those have actually become solid habits and realized successes in your life.
The majority of New Year’s habits never make it past the second week.
Successful habit formation requires more than just willpower.
You need a reason to change and a smart system to follow to set you up for success.
Here’s a 4-step formula to create mini-habits in your life…
1. Pick a habit that has meaning.
Don’t just create a habit just for the sake of doing something new.
Don’t just pick a habit because it’s trendy or because everyone else is doing it.
What works for some leaders, might not serve you to your goals.
Be intentional with your habits.
Sure, if you don’t floss, you should start, for all the proven health benefits it offers.
But, be more focused than that.
Create your mini-habits to align with full habits you want to establish that are aligned with your bigger goals.
Build habits that will reduce wasted time.
Build habits that will free up extra energy.
Build habits that will lead you to higher productivity, better health, and stronger relationships.
2. Keep it small and simple.
It’s tempting to go for the full habit and multiple ones on your list all at once.
Giving in to that temptation is the best way to sabotage the entire endeavour.
Focus on one thing.
Then, break it down into baby steps for that one thing.
This might feel tedious because you think you can just go for the whole thing and get the glory right away, but resist the urge.
Mini-habits work because they’re simple.
Simple goals have a higher chance of success than complicated ones.
If you want to do 10 push-ups a day, start with one.
When you do one, it’s a success.
Then, build on that each day until you’re up to that goal.
If you want to read more, instead of a chapter a day, start with one page.
Or, one paragraph.
And then, build on that each day.
Use the power of success in momentum to your advantage.
3. Master consistency by setting up triggers.
It’s easy to just say, “be consistent”.
Once it’s a habit, the consistency is a given.
Remember that it takes more effort at the beginning.
And, the consistency is where most people drop off.
Missing one day in your habit formation can derail your whole plan.
You need to have the mindset that consistency is non-negotiable.
You’re not going to miss just because it’s hard or because you don’t feel like it one day.
You act regardless of how you feel because you want the prize at the end.
This is the way to success.
One way to encourage consistency is to set up a trigger that prompts you to do the mini-habit each day.
If you get up and have coffee every morning without fail, that’s a habit.
So, add that as a trigger for your new mini-habit.
As you drink your coffee, you read one page of a book.
Or… after you drink your coffee, you do your one push-up.
Your brain will more easily adopt the new mini-habit program you’re setting for it by setting up a behavior cue from an already established habit.
This will make remembering to do your mini-habit easier right from the beginning and help you move through the initiation and learning phases faster and easier.
4. Reward your progress and your outcome.
People live in patterns.
We are what we repeatedly do.
And, what we repeatedly do, we typically just do more of.
So, changing those patterns isn’t easy.
Your brain — while it loves to learn new things and grow at all stages of life — will meet resistance from your previously ingrained patterns.
And, depending on your personality, you’ll be more or less resistant to change.
Know yourself so that you’re prepared to counter this resistance from the beginning.
Ways to improve your odds for success include setting up accountability and setting up rewards.
We are motivated by pain or pleasure… but usually pain.
The reason you set new habits in the first place is to decrease the pain of something undesirable and increase the odds of some desirable outcome.
You’re moving from pain to pleasure with your stackable mini-habits.
You should have someone to share your goals, challenges, and successes with to increase your odds of sticking with it.
You should also maximize the power of the built-in reward center in your brain.
The brain loves to have something to look forward to and loves reward.
Be intentional in setting up rewards for yourself, not just at the end, but along the way.
When you’ve completed your mini-habit for 3 days, how are you going to acknowledge and reward that?
It might just be sharing it with a friend and getting positive feedback.
What about a week?
What about when you accomplish the full habit fully?
Plan your rewards in advance, and make them big enough to stimulate you towards them.
And then, boldly celebrate and indulge in them.
Goal setting and habit formation are strategies for growth through mindset and behavior change that move you closer to the life you want to live. These are skills that are essential for growth on every level. If you’re not actively setting goals and forming new habits to push you further along on a consistent basis, you will become complacent, stagnant, and ultimately miserable. Setting up mini-habits that build into full habits, and celebrating those achievements, will set you up for consistent success and faster progress towards your goals. Creating one thing that you do daily with small, sustainable steps that you have confidence you can accomplish builds momentum in your life so you reach your goals and move closer to living your purpose.
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