How are those New Year’s resolutions going?
Not so well? Don’t worry!
Two facts to consider:
- By February, 80% of New Year’s resolutions have failed
- Only 7% of people manage to keep their resolutions all year
Even if you are not one for setting New Year’s resolutions, you will have at some point tried to start a new habit – whether it’s to study more, start a new exercise regime, meditate or return to an old hobby. You may have experienced that burst of energy and great feeling of achievement as you start to implement that new habit. This is often swiftly followed by a host of difficult thoughts, feelings and behaviours when you inevitably run out of steam and watch the new habit disappear completely.
In these moments we start to think there must be something wrong with us- we are too weak, lazy or undisciplined to succeed. We might feel guilty, frustrated and ashamed and revert to unhelpful behaviours – procrastinating, withdrawing, avoiding.
Yes that’s me! What’s wrong with me?!
It’s not that there is something wrong with you. However there may be something wrong with your strategy.
When most of us try to make lasting change, we over-rely on two things – motivation and will power. Unfortunately, whilst these are fantastic things to have, they are not fail-safe strategies. Motivation is based on how you feel which changes all the time and cannot be just ‘switched on’ on demand. Will power is reliable and can be strengthened but it is a finite resource; most people don’t know how to use it and drain their resources quickly; what psychologists call Ego-depletion. For example, you spend all day resisting sugar in an effort to eat healthily only to go home and eat every sweet treat you can get your hands on!
So what is an alternative strategy?
The most effective, fail- safe strategy I have ever come across is that of ‘Mini Habits’. A mini habit is a very small positive behaviour that you force yourself to do every day. When I say small, I mean ‘stupid small’ or ‘too small to fail.’ For example – instead of setting out to do 50 sit ups a day, ‘Mini Habits’ would reduce that to just one sit up a day. Instead of setting out to read a chapter of a book every day, ‘Mini Habits’ would turn that into just one page. A target of 20 minutes yoga would be turned into just one yoga pose. All you have to do is meet this tiny daily requirement every single day.
What is the point in that?!
The point is to work with your brain and not against it. The more often we perform an action the more it becomes physically wired to our brain. A whopping 46% of our daily behaviour is automatic. Being on autopilot like this helps us conserve energy. So when we try to implement a new behaviour our brains will resist it so as to save energy – a clever survival technique not so well suited to making big changes in our lives. This is what happens when we sit down at our desk to complete some work or set out to do a thirty minute workout and we just can’t bring ourselves to do it.
What a mini habit does is to reduce this ‘resistance’ to an absolute minimum so as to create consistent daily success. The goal here is not volume, but automaticity (think about the habits you already do on autopilot – brushing your teeth, tying your laces), in other words the new habit becomes second nature/automatic because it is so easy to achieve. What you will find is that once you start to perform this tiny action every day you will inevitably do more than the minimum daily requirement as the habit gets lodged in your brain and resistance melts away.
Still not convinced?
Mini Habits was a concept developed by Stephen Guise. His book is one of the most highly reviewed out there in its genre and it is only 115 pages long. Check out these links to delve into the world of ‘Mini Habits’ further.