Written by Hailey Chang & Christian Sextl, originally published on Knowmads Hanoi
First things first. We all know how difficult it is to start a new habit, like working out every day, maintaining a regular meditation or yoga practice, or learning a new musical instrument. Just think of the last time we came up with a list of New Year’s resolutions and how long it actually lasted (like, 3 days?!).
The thing is, once we fell short of the list of glamorous goals we made, we felt like a failure and judged ourselves, believing that we’ll never accomplish anything ever again.
What most people don’t know is: it’s not our fault that we “failed”, and it’s not because we’re lazy, either.
The real reason why we didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve was because we used a wrong strategy that works against the brain, not with it, and that we chronically underestimate how much willpower a 30-minute workout requires. Not only that, we even hopelessly overestimate how much willpower, energy, self-control and motivation we have available each day (yes, scientists found that we only have a limited amount of willpower each day, and it recharges overnight).
When we think about doing a 30-workout, the brain imagines it as a mountain of workload. The brain fails to assume the real effort accurately. Only when we get on the floor and do the first push-up, the brain realizes that it’s actually much less difficult than anticipated.
So…now what? Are we just going to sit there feeling hopeless about how our brain works? Of course not! This is when a useful method – mini habits – comes into play. Establishing a mini-version of the habit we want to adopt has a much higher chance of success because it works with the brain, not against it.
Wow, now we’re talking. How does it work? Instead of doing a 30-minute workout everyday, you only do one push-up. Instead of 20 minutes of meditation daily, you only meditate for one minute. The trick is: when you are on the floor and doing the push-up, you will realize that it’s not so awful, but actually feels good. Chances are that you will just keep doing a few more, and maybe even the full 30 minutes! Same with meditation: when you are sitting on the cushion doing your one-minute meditation, it’s very likely that you start to enjoy it and will just keep sitting and meditating.
If instead of the full version, you tell yourself to stick to the mini-version, you will always be able to get it done even when you come home late and feel dead-tired. One minute of meditation or one push-up is always possible, but just by achieving it, you give yourself more confidence and reassurance to go on the next day. If you continue doing the second, the third, or the tenth push-ups, you over-exceed your goals and you feel great about yourself!
Take myself for example – I never succeeded in maintaining my meditation routine until I adopted it as a mini habit more than a year ago. Since then, I’ve been meditating for at least one minute a day, sometimes 20 minutes or an hour.
One important thing to keep in mind is to commit to doing it every single day, and be satisfied if you’ve achieved the tiny goal. You can even use apps such as Coach.me to help you keep track of your habits.
Now that we set things straight, what mini habits are you adopting today? 🙂