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Productivity

The Hidden Power of Mini Habits

Starting out with a new project like exercising can be fun. However, people sadly often overestimate their abilities to stick to their habits and fail after a short time!

Is there a way then to keep your long-term success high and stick to your resolutions? Mini Habits are the answer! Find out more about them in this post!


Have you ever been inspired to take up this one healthy or really cool project like doing sports, reading or learning a new language, only to fail to even stick to it for more than two weeks? Then you definitely are like me and probably millions of other people out there.

For me it has always been that way with the former two: I started out really strong and motivated the first week doing my daily 20 min workouts or reading 50 pages.

Then, however, life hit my schedule and I either couldn’t bring up the necessary amount of time or just didn’t feel like it. Another week or two and my habits have crumbled into pieces and were not pursued anymore for another few months.

Fact is, we only have a limited amount of time and mental energy available for our daily goals and tasks. Therefore, we want to spend it wisely or even trick ourselves into pursuing them almost automatically.

Now you likely wonder what special technique could achieve this, right? As you probably already managed to tell by the title, I want to show you the trick that enabled me to stick to my goals for several months already – Mini Habits!

As strange as it first sound, Mini Habits are about setting yourself low goals, embarrassingly low goals even – like reading one page a day, just doing 10 push-ups or practicing the piano for only 5min daily.

In the beginning it also seemed rather counterintuitive to me until I adapted it Mini Habits into my daily schedule. In order to see why they work so well, we first need to have a look at why the traditional approach often doesn’t work out.

The Mini Habit Logic

The Flawed Traditional Approach:

Whenever we see this really inspiring video of some amazing skill a person acquired, we often want to achieve the same results as soon as possible. Such a mindset however is way too focused on the outcome and is not at all dealing with the way to get there.

Consequently, we turn very impatient and overestimate our capabilities of investing time and training a certain skill. We in turn set our daily goals too high to achieve consistently.

We might power through them the first week but sooner or later life hits or we just don’t feel like it. Then we will miss out a day, then two, then a week. Ultimately, our new habit we wanted to form has shattered into pieces before it even came into existence.

Let me make this clearer with a small example for you: You’ve seen so many Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movies by now that you figure you might as well start changing your physique now.

You inform yourself, get even more hyped and take up the plan of hitting the gym at least one hour a day (which is by the way a bad plan as you should also allow yourself to recover).

The first three days work out great. On the fourth however you meet up with a friend and notice how you only have 45min left before the gym closes. That way you wouldn’t even achieve your set goal, you think. As your muscle ache is terrible anyway, you tell yourself to just call it a day and make up for it tomorrow!

The next day you work twice as hard and are really exhausted. That’s why you drop out the next two days as well. After an exhausting week you look in the mirror and notice that nothing has changed at all – that whole fitness thing has to be rigged!

You lost your initial motivation, training becomes even harder…after two weeks you will be never seen in the gym again.

Obviously, the problem lies in your motivation and mental energy which people tend to have different amounts of. I’m not saying you don’t have any willpower or that in general people cannot succeed with this strategy.

I’m however saying that you are likely overestimating your abilities and therefore make yourself prone to taking days off which basically is the death sentence for forming a fresh habit!

Winning with the Long-Term Approach:

This is exactly where Mini Habits come into play! We basically want to reduce friction between what we planned on doing and what we are actually doing as much as possible!

To make sure that we reach our goals every single day, we have to make them as easy as possible to a point where you basically cannot fail them! What exactly do I mean by that?

If you want to practice the piano, aim for 5min a day. If you’re learning a language aim for three new words a day. If you want to exercise begin with 10 push-ups a day.

Consequently, you’ll be able to stick to your goals for long enough to form a new habit that requires even less mental energy. Your base progress will accumulate over a longer period of time and eventually you will have reached what you aimed for. It’s all about patience!

Setting your goals to be low though, doesn’t mean that you can’t do more required. Actually, starting is often the most difficult thing about an activity. You’ll be amazed by how often you find yourself in a position where you are even willing to go on doing more than initially planned for.

And If you’re not feeling like it on a particular day, then just resort back to the mini version of your activity. No guilt has to be involved. Though I really want you to remember the importance of sticking to your Mini habits every single day! Only that way your habits will be kept alive.

After discovering the concept of Mini Habits a few months ago I slowly began incorporating them into my daily schedule. I was really surprised about what they suddenly enabled me to do.

I’ve been sticking to learning Spanish with Duolingo for 4 months now. I’ve been practicing the piano daily whenever it is available to me. Workouts are no problem anymore as I picked up an altered form of this crazy guy’s workout routine, following the advice of a friend of mine. And almost every night I’m finishing a chapter of a book.

What can I say, I love it! And before you try it out yourself – here’s some last advice I picked up over that period of time!

What else:

If you are starting out with your new mini habit and are still feeling resistance, then you have to reduce the friction even more! What do I mean by that? Basically, make it even easier for yourself to get started with it!

Place your gym mat or dumbbells next to your bed. Put your running wear on your bed. Print out the sheet music of the piece you want to learn. Put your phone away in the evening so that you are more likely to grab a book. Kill time by learning Spanish on your daily commute as I am doing it.

Do whatever reduces your internal resistance, even if it’s lying on your stomach waiting for the first push-up to happen.

If you have already implemented your Mini Habit into your daily routine and are seeking a little more challenge as you are getting bored, then it’s time to put the bar on your goals higher.

Watch out though, you also don’t want to overdo it here! Take mini steps here that don’t increase resistance to much.

This might include adding a little more weight to your dumbbells or reading 5 more pages a day. If that turns out to be too much, then just resort back to the original habit without feeling any guilt!

After all that is said, now it’s time to turn your low goals into high results!

Summary:

  • People often overestimate their ability to handle new habits and therefore fail
  • The embarrassingly low goals of Mini Habit get you started more easily and lead to the long-term formation of a new habit
  • Keep your internal friction as low as possible
  • Progress then automatically accumulates over time and with a little patience

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2 replies on “The Hidden Power of Mini Habits”

I totally agree with this method. It’s how I wrote three novels (250 words a day), and stuck to my Chinese-learning practice (2 new characters a day). I’ve done both every day for years now, and I can credit that to setting low goals for myself. Thanks for sharing!

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Hey Stuart,
thanks for your comment! It really inspires me to stick to my goals and habits even more than I already do. Also, awesome work you’re doing on your blog – keep it up!

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