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Start Small: Drop Your Resolutions for Micro-Habits

Start Small: Drop Your Resolutions for Micro-Habits
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Well. It’s January 20th. And if you were on the same New Year’s Resolution wagon as I was, then well…you’ve already fallen off. Or rather, the axle broke, the oxen ran away, and Dan died of dysentery. Let’s run a few from my list, shall we?

  • Journal before bed.
    Last Captain’s Log was Star Date January 5th.
  • Exercise 3 times a week.
    Nope. Didn’t even make it to week 2.
  • Read 1 book a week.
    Still only 15 pages into Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.
  • Eat sensible portions of Ben & Jerry’s instead of the entire pint in one sitting.
    That only lasted until January 17.
  • Ditch the scale.
    Considering I haven’t bought a new scale, nor have I dug through the trash to find the scale I threw away…I’m going to count this one as a win!

As each resolution fell away, that sense of defeat snowballed until my list of 10 resolutions was a list of 9 failures (still counting that “ditch the scale” as a win). I was scooping a spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s into my mouth when I came across an Instagram story a friend of mine shared about adopting “micro habits” instead of resolutions. Okay. Interest piqued. A few Google clicks later, I’m feeling seen by BJ Fogg at NPR talking about "tiny habits."

So, what is a micro habit?

A micro habit is a small behavior you want to adopt in your life that only takes a small amount of time and doesn’t cause pain, strain, or bad feelings.

The idea is to start small, so you can start at all. Especially given the past year we’ve had, motivation comes at a premium. The pressure I put on myself with these big resolutions made them feel daunting, and I found the most difficult part was simply to begin: to open my journal, to lace up my running shoes.

You see, as a writer, my mind turned journaling something bigger than it needed to be—instead of just jotting down a few sentences about my day, I was attempting to find some great insight from my experiences that I could turn into a poem or essay. Exercising wasn’t just a 30-minute trail run—it was an hour-and-a-half after work: change into running gear, drive to the trail, warm up, actually jog, cool down and stretch, drive home, shower.

And pushing myself to suddenly do all of these things all at once—well—what did I expect?

Micro habits have allowed me to shift my mindset.

Rather than these big goals that require me to find an extra 2-3 hours a day to accomplish them all and stay on track, micro habits feel manageable and easy to fit into my day.

At the end of an exhausting day at work, it would feel like a herculean effort to push myself to go for a trail run when all I really wanted was to get home—but just knocking out a quick 5 push-ups? Well, I can do that right now. Sure, 5 push-ups isn’t much. But it’s better than the nothing I’d be doing when I bailed on my trail run. And maybe as I’m doing the 5th push-up, I’d think, “How about another quick 10?”

Micro habits serve as a place to start, to feel a sense of accomplishment every time I check one off my daily list. And as the new habit becomes ingrained in my daily life, then I can build on it. Maybe instead of a baseline of 5 push-ups, it’s 10.

What are some examples of micro habits?

When deciding on what micro habits you want to start incorporating into your life, keep these things in mind:

  • A micro habit should only take a few minutes tops to accomplish. Actually, if you can do them in 30 seconds or less, even better!
  • A micro habit should be something you want to add to your routine—not something you should add to your routine. If you’re still in the mindset of “I should be doing this,” then even that small task will require a bit of your precious willpower. And we only have so much willpower throughout the day after all.
  • A micro habit shouldn’t create pain, strain, or bad feelings. You don’t want your brain to associate a habit with negative feelings. This is straight Pavlovian. We’re conditioning ourselves to love these new habits we’re adopting, so we’re more excited and apt to do them more often.
  • Only work on adopting 3-5 micro habits at a time. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean to go overboard trying to do too much at once. Only adopt 3-5 at a time. And as they become ingrained into your life, feel free to build on one of them, or decide to add another.

So with these things in mind, what does my list of micro habits look like?

  • Read 1 page a day.
    If I just read only 1 page every day, that’s 365 pages a year. That’s a novel and then some.
  • Take 5 minutes a day to just be bored.
    Leave my phone in another room. Sit by myself, and just…be bored. I know most people would think of this as meditating, and maybe it is. But thinking of this as “meditating” made it something I felt like I should do instead of want to do.
  • Wear better socks.
    I mean, I wear socks every single day. I work for a sock company. I have a drawer full of the best compression socks I could possibly own: merino wool, awesome designs, and help me feel better after sitting at a desk for 8 hours. I could even wear my sport compression socks in case I decide I want to go for a run after work. They're great for work and running!
  • Do 5 push-ups and/or 5 sit ups.
    I can do these at home. At the office. Wherever. It’ll take 15 seconds, and I won’t even be winded. Let’s go!
  • Take 1 dish to the sink, 1 piece of trash to the bin, and/or 1 piece of laundry to the hamper.
    All the time spent at home lately and all the take-out we’ve been ordered to support our favorite local restaurants—it’s easy to let things pile up a bit. Doing just 1 thing a day to keep my home a bit tidier will keep my brain feeling a bit tidier as well.
So that’s what I’m working on right now. What are you working on? If you’re looking for more examples of micro habits you might want to adopt, check out this great piece on TinyHabits.com. And may you have the best 2021. You deserve it. We all deserve it.

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