I love tiny habits, don’t you? Easy wins. Things that can be checked off the list with minimum effort.
Don’t get me wrong, I love big goals too, those wonderful all-encompassing, life changers. I have made some monumental changes in my life by setting goals I didn’t think I could reach but going for it anyway. The place we are all striving towards…I don’t want to lose sight of that, but sometimes it is more realistic to break your goal down into smaller, and I mean much smaller items.
Why big goals can be unrealistic
Sometimes setting yourself big, beautiful goals is really just setting yourself up for a fall.
After that initial burst of inspiration and enthusiasm falls away, you find you are left with a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
Everything that had seemed so exciting suddenly feels like a burden, and worse than that, because you told yourself you could do this, you now feel like a failure.
This disappointment in our own selves leads us to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. We start to look at our goal and feel like we were crazy to even attempt it.
It’s no wonder we give up on things…
So how do we set ourselves realistic goals?
Setting yourself small, ridiculously easy goals is a great way to boost motivation because it is easy to complete and build upon. Setting micro-tasks, such as making the bed after you get up, means you have already accomplished something before your day has really begun. This starts you off on the right foot and gives you a feeling of achievement, however small.
It’s also a lesson in mindfulness. Some of the things we do, we tend to just do on autopilot and don’t even consider achievements. By being mindful of the many small habits which already make up your day you realise you are already much more productive than you thought.
Big goals vs small ones
Have you ever set yourself a fitness goal?
I have, countless times…I’m turning 40 next year (shhhh…) and have been telling myself for a good few years now that I need to get in shape. I would like to cruise into my 4th decade at the peak of my physical condition.
Invariably what happens is that I set myself targets, I decide that I will undertake a big, commitment heavy fitness challenge, eat only the most nutritious foods, drink plenty of water, cut down on the caffeine and alcohol, and exercise every day for 40 mins +
So what do you think happens? Do I stick to that?
Hell no I don’t, I’m human! I stick with it for a week maybe, I feel great, I wonder why I haven’t been doing this all along, I will ALWAYS strive to be in excellent health…
Then maybe I burn out, or I don’t stretch properly one day and wake up sore all over and think
“Well, I did work super hard yesterday…it wouldn’t hurt to take a day or two off…”
…and then it all goes downhill from there. Life happens. You still have to fit in all the other things and then your new fitness regime just sort of takes the back seat.
So what to do instead?
You have to have Herculean amounts of will power to go from 0-100 in one fell swoop. If you can decide to stick out a 12-week challenge and actually follow through with it, then more power you. And it does works for some… But if it doesn’t work for you then know that you are not alone.
So…instead of promising yourself that you will go to the gym for an hour 3 times a week, commit to doing 3 sit-ups each morning. That’s it.
Just 3. No pressure.
If you start small, you win. You feel positive about yourself, this builds your inner confidence stockpile and pushes you to want to do more.
Doing less can result in doing more
During lockdown, a couple of my friends and I started recording little fitness videos, only short – 30 seconds of planking or 20 lunges – that sort of thing, and sending them to each other as a challenge, last one to complete it sets the next challenge…
It was a bit of fun, but also invariably, I have found that after completing the challenge I was more predisposed to doing more exercise.
That’s the thing with mini habits, they are easy to build upon.
Mini habits can be created in all areas of your life. From personal development to business and everything in between. Wherever there are goals and targets to be met you can come up with a tiny version which you can claim as an easy win.
Related reading: 10 Tiny Steps Towards a BIG Life
Obviously the glaring problem with this is that we all strive to be the best in all areas of our lives, and there is very little point in minimising your commitments if what you create instead is a 1000 tiny habits you need to check off in a day, so the scaling down applies across the board. Don’t try and tackle all areas at once. Pick the one which is the most valid to you today and choose how you can turn an unfathomable goal into an achievable one.
If you are working on personal development, for example, there are 1000’s of ways you can go with that and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
Just start small: commit to 5 minutes of meditation each day or instead of deciding to read X amounts of book, just commit to reading a page a day. If you want to journal but can’t seem to find the time, write just one line or even one word that sums up your day. Pick one area to work on and stick with it.
If you want to revamp your home environment or have a good old declutter, start by just reducing by one item a day. Pick one thing each day or even week which no longer serves you. Before long you’ll start to get the swing of it and be decluttering with wild abandon.
If you want to be a better communicator, don’t suddenly start trying to write letters and emails to everyone in your contacts, or calling people all day long, just pick one person and start a conversation.
Breaking down tasks into chunks is the essence of good goal-setting ( and this applies to large goals too…set your long term intention and then break that down into small more achievable goals) This just takes that idea further and produces teeny-tiny habits that you can build upon. But smash the little goals and you have done half the work already.
Anchoring your habits
BJ Fogg hit upon an excellent workable solution for triggering the habits you are trying to develop. I don’t know about you, but I have long been guilty of creating lists of my daily habits, only to neglect to look at the list I made and thus, the habits stay unchecked.
Fogg suggests that by anchoring your new habit to a pre-existing one, you create a link in your mind between the two.
An example he gives in the video above is that he began doing a couple of push-ups every time he went to the bathroom:
After I… Take a pee
I will… Do 2 push ups
Over time he has added to that and increased the number of push-ups to the point where he is now doing about 70 a day! In his book, ‘Tiny habits the small changes that change everything‘ Fogg explains how to fit mini habits into your day, in order to achieve your goals in a rewarding way.
Habit stacking – S.J Scott
Feel Better in 5 – Dr Rangan Chatterjee
Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results – Stephen Guise
There is a time and a place for big goals… but you need to know when to push forward and flex those big-dreaming muscles, and when to be gentle on yourself to avoid setting yourself up for failure. In fact, even big goals should always be broken down into manageable chunks…
Setting small, defined, achievable goals can lead to much bigger and better results than you could possibly imagine – without the detrimental effect on your self-esteem.
So go easy on yourself today, and start small.