Think about all the times you set the goal of creating a new habit. Start a diet, exercise, meditate, read more books or any other habit. You started well. You started with enthusiasm. You did what needed to be done. But after a few days you realized that you ended up abandoning your plans and returned to the old lifestyle without actually implementing the desired habit.
Why do we have this difficulty implementing new habits? Better, healthier habits that help us grow professionally, learn new things?
You wonder: Was it lack of willpower? Was it lack of discipline? Is there something wrong with me?
There is probably nothing wrong with you or your willpower. Perhaps what was missing was just being clear about your life plan and choosing a strategy that was most likely to work.
Today’s Arata Academy Summary is about Stephen Guise’s book “Mini Habits.” The main idea of the book is that we can’t implement the habits we want because the goals we set are often too big. If the habit to be created is too large, it will be difficult and we will eventually abandon everything. By creating mini habits, you will finally be able to implement your plans.
1. Mini-habits are small and simple to implement. Therefore, it will be impossible to fail.
A mini-habit is a very small positive behavior that will be repeated from time to time. The mini habit is a smaller version of a new habit you want to create.
For example, if you want to read more, instead of deciding to read one book a week, you will be in the habit of reading only two pages a day. If you want to get fit, instead of doing fifty pushups, you only do one pushup.
You may now be thinking that just reading two pages a day or doing a single push up is not enough to achieve your goals. Keep paying attention as we explain the logic of this strategy.
For now, just knowing that the simpler the action, the easier it will be to keep the habit and the greater the chances of success in the long run. Let’s explain now why, by first understanding how our brain works.
2. Our brain loves efficiency and wants to avoid stress.
A habit is simply something that a person usually does repeatedly. And a study by Duke University mentions that approximately forty-five percent of our behavior comes from acquired habits.
Human beings are creatures of habit by a simple evolutionary explanation. Our brain loves efficiency. The less energy you use every day, the more likely you are to survive. And when you constantly repeat behavior, your brain learns to automate the process and that saves you effort.
It is more efficient to do something automatically than to think and make decisions all the time. When you make a decision too quickly, it probably happens out of habit.
The problem is that it is not easy to program which habits we want to install and which habits we want to remove from our lives. You might think it would be great to be able to change habits instantly, but that’s not possible. The way the brain installs habits is through constant repetition over a long period of time.
When we stop to reflect for a moment, we can understand that it would actually be harmful to be able to change habits instantly. Our brain is stable and our habitual behavior changes slowly. And this is very good, because it brings consistency in our lives and the way we live in society.
In addition to needing a long period of time repeating the action we wish to make into habit, there is another obstacle to overcome. We need to overcome resistance, because as we are intentionally creating a new habit, the brain will perceive the effort and will resist. Therefore, we need to create reward mechanisms to make the effort worthwhile.
3. It is no use just giving orders: it is necessary to execute the orders.
In order to be able to explain the findings of neuroscience in a simple way, think that you have a conscious part of the brain that gives orders … and an unconscious part of the brain that executes the orders.
The conscious part of your brain is the prefrontal cortex, which is located behind the forehead. This part is responsible for managing your choices. The prefrontal cortex is conscious because it understands the consequences of its actions. It is the part of the brain that takes care of smart choices. The function is to give orders.
In the unconscious part of your brain, you have basal ganglia that recognize and repeat patterns. Therefore, the basal ganglia play a central role in shaping habits and learning procedures. It is the part of your brain that takes care of the automatic repetition of behaviors. The function is to execute the orders.
Habits are achieved by teamwork, involving both the part that is responsible for intelligent choices and the part that takes care of automatic repetitions.
The challenge we have is that the part that takes care of automatic repetitions is quite consistent and will tend to repeat only the old behaviors. And therefore it will present resistance to perform new habits. There is a resistance to change.
Therefore, the key to success in establishing a habit is to teach the rest of the brain to like what the prefrontal cortex wants.
Let’s now understand how you can manipulate your own brain to start liking the changes you want to make in your life. To do this, you now need to pay close attention to understand a distinction between two closely related concepts: willpower and motivation.
4. You cannot trust your motivation as it fluctuates.
When you force yourself to do something new, there will be resistance. And to overcome resistance you can use motivation and willpower. These are similar concepts, but there is a problem with relying on motivation.
Motivation is very unreliable when we try to strengthen a habit because motivation fluctuates a lot. Motivation is based on how you feel. This is why you start your new habit well when you have motivation. And that is also why you abandon that attempt to create the new habit, because that day, or that week, or that whole month you no longer have the same motivation.
Several events in our lives can undermine our motivation: an event, a trip, the weather, missing the bus, energy levels, a bad day, physical discomfort. There will be times in your life when you consciously even prefer not to be motivated.
Unlike motivation, willpower is a skill we can learn and develop and is extremely reliable. It is like a muscle that you can train to be strengthened.
The problem with motivation is that if you are not motivated, you simply will not do what needs to be done. On the other hand, when you use willpower to your advantage, you can do what you need even on days when you have no motivation.
Research in the field of psychology has found that will is not an unlimited resource. Therefore, it is wrong to say that a person only has to have inner strength and invoke the powers of that willpower to do anything.
What we know today is that willpower can be diminished or depleted by some factors.
Some of the factors that deplete willpower are:
– the actual effort required by the activity;
– the difficulty and fatigue we perceive from the activity;
– unpleasant emotions.
Think of willpower as your smartphone battery. It starts the day charged, but it runs out throughout the day each time it is used. Because of this, in addition to avoiding relying on motivation, we also need to make sure that our willpower is not exhausted. And we will do that with the mini habits strategy.
5. When you use mini habits, you can rely on your willpower.
The problem with trying to create habits using motivation is that motivation fluctuates and is therefore unreliable. And the problem with trying to build habits using willpower is that it will run out.
So the solution is for you to adopt a strategy that avoids the exhaustion of willpower. And this is done by choosing such small, effortless habits that are enjoyable.
This is why you should set the habit of doing a single pushup a day instead of fifty. This is why your habit will be to read only two pages instead of reading the entire book.
These mini habits are so small and harmless that they will not represent effort, fatigue or difficulty. And they don’t bring unpleasant emotions. On the contrary, you will feel good about doing your job. And this is the repetition necessary to create a new habit.
Another advantage of the mini-habits strategy is that these small goals will serve to stimulate you to do more and more. One day you may feel motivated to do ten pushups; or maybe fifty instead of one. If so, it will be a welcome surprise. But your goal will remain just one pushup.
Speaking of that, at the end of this Arata Academy Summary I will alert you to the most common mistake of anyone trying to implement this strategy.
6. You do not have to leave your comfort zone. You need to expand your comfort zone.
Imagine your comfort zone as a circle within which you feel comfortable and protected. This circle represents the habits you have today. The part of your brain that takes care of repetitions is happy within the circle.
However, your brain planner has other goals in mind and wants to learn new things, create better habits and get exposed to new challenges. The different experiences are all out of your comfort zone. And the mistake of many people is that they believe they need to get out of the comfort zone to achieve these goals.
When you set too ambitious goals, you jump out of the comfort zone and after a while you risk feeling bad, overwhelmed, inadequate. And as a result, you fail to achieve the desired results and blame yourself. I have already explained in detail the problem of leaving the comfort zone in episode 116 of the Hello! Seiiti Arata series.
Instead of leaving the comfort zone, you first need to develop yourself. You need to grow to expand your comfort zone. To do so, you must gradually grow by moving the edges of your comfort zone in the desired direction, widening the circle further and further. And this is done slowly and consistently until you form your new habits.
This way you gain more confidence and feel good. Whenever you meet your goal, however small, you realize that you have the ability to achieve results. And may keep improving in the next steps. This is exactly what will help you overcome fear, doubt and procrastination.
7. To install new habits, you need to follow a clear eight step methodology.
Step One: Choose Your Mini Habit
Begin by making a list of the habits you would like to incorporate into your life at some point. It is possible to work two or three habits at a time, but I recommend you first start with just one habit.
Use the mini-habit system and rate how you feel at the end of a week: was it easy or did you feel fatigue? If necessary, redesign your plan to make the habit even smaller and simpler to accomplish.
Step Two: Clarify the Reasons for the Mini Habit
Clarify why you want these habits. You need to make sure you understand the real reasons why you want to establish these habits in your life.
What is the benefit for you in the short term? And in the long run? How does this also affect other people’s lives? How will your habit help you in implementing your life plan?
Step Three: Set Your Habit Triggers
You need to set a trigger signal to know when you need to start acting.
The most common triggers are based on time or activity. An example of a time trigger is to say that I will read two pages of the book every day at three o’clock in the afternoon. An example of an activity trigger is to say that I will read those two pages of the book after dinner.
Step Four: Create Your Rewards Plan
Define what your rewards will be immediately after overcoming your daily mini tasks.
When you reward yourself after achieving the goal, you will create a positive feedback loop. For example, I can allow myself to have my first cup of coffee of the day only after I perform my pushup.
Step Five: Write and Record Everything
It is important that you write your daily progress. This record gives you greater consistency, greater awareness and also prevents you from disrupting the chain of routine actions.
You can use a calendar, or digitally track your progress. There are several smartphone apps that you may find useful.
Step Six: Think Small
Thinking small ensures success in the strategy of mini habits. Remember that the intention is to create the habit and increase your comfort zone.
On the contrary, if you set big goals and try to jump out of the comfort zone, you will probably be overwhelmed and abandon all plans. It’s better to be small and consistent until you reach your goal than to want to be big and fast just to give up halfway.
Step Seven: Persevere and Eliminate High Expectations
Be very careful not to generate high expectations within your specific tasks. This can lead to disappointments that diminish your willpower.
Instead of high expectations about the amount of work, direct your expectations and energy with consistency and perseverance. Consistency is the most powerful tool for turning behaviors into habits.
Step Eight: Monitor Your Habit Signs
Look for signs that your behavior has already become a habit. Be patient and take your time.
Do not hurry. Do not abandon a task before it becomes a consolidated habit. If you start wanting to add new habits ahead of time, you risk losing everything. In addition to not being able to implement new habits, you can lose the habits you thought you had installed.
What are the signs that you have successfully established a habit?
– There is no resistance: it is easier to do the task than not to do it.
– Identification: You identify with the action. You can safely say “I am an athlete”, “I read books”, “I am a writer”.
– Execution will be automatic. You will not have to make the decision to perform the task as it happens naturally.
– The execution will not be emotional. Routine habits do not generate strong emotions of happiness or boredom. Obviously, you will be more excited about life because of your habits, but not because of the execution of the habit itself.
8. Avoid the common mistake of demanding too much of yourself
The essence of what you have just learned is that it will depend on your willpower to create your new habit. And you need to make the process sustainable by realizing how easy and achievable your task is.
So be careful! One of the most common ways to make a mistake in this strategy is to establish a mini-size habit and secretly want something big. If you have set the goal of doing one pushup a day but deep down you are looking to do ten, you are doing it wrong.
The bonus is always welcome, but remember that you will spend more willpower and it may hurt you further. If you would like to do beyond your stipulations, this is welcome, but not a requirement.
It is better to be a person with shameful goals and impressive results … than to be a person with awesome goals and shameful results.
Acquiring a habit is a process that involves forcing our brains to adapt and accept the changes in our daily lives. For this process to be successful, you need an efficient and intelligent strategy that preserves willpower.
With what you have learned here, you neutralize all excuses for procrastination, eliminate the fear of failure and increase your confidence because you can really put the plan into practice.
Even on difficult days, you will be able to fulfill your mini-habit and it will have tremendous value, which is long term consistency. This is how you push the boundaries of your comfort zone and become the person you always wanted to be.
And it will be even more powerful when you are using this strategy to put your life plan into practice. To access a special life planning class, I invite you to visit this link.