Everyone makes the same mistake when building new habits.
It’s the #1 reason they fail at making any change in their lives.
Do you make the mistake, too?
You start with a burst of motivation and enthusiasm. You don’t just perform the habit. You go above and beyond.
Instead of reading 1 chapter a day, you read 3 or 4.
Instead of meditating for 5 minutes, you meditate for 20.
That’s not the mistake, though.
The mistake is made when that motivation starts to fade.
You can’t sustain that stamina for long, so you take a break. You skip reading for a few days, then you get back at it. You read one chapter, and then you take a break. A couple days later, you start again.
One day, you’ll see the dust-covered book on your nightstand and realize it’s been a while since you’ve picked it up. You quit and forget about the new habit you tried to build.
The same pattern repeats itself until you believe you’re just a person who can’t stick to habits. A quitter.
The mistake is that we build habits around what we can do vs. what we actually will do.
I can exercise for 45 minutes a day. Will I?
Not a chance.
Motivation: A Cheap Version of Iron Man’s Armor
Motivation is like a cheap version of Iron Man’s armor.
It makes you invincible. Your habit is a 50 lb. weight and with motivation, you can lift it with ease.
But in a few weeks, your iron armor malfunctions. It starts to break, and you can’t lift that 50lb. weight anymore.
So, you set it down, i.e., you take a break from your habit. That’s when the habit cycle we just talked about begins.
You weren’t built to carry 50 lbs. from the get-go. Carrying such a weight requires training.
The same goes for habits.
You aren’t used to sitting down for an hour a day to write. Unless you glue yourself to a chair and lock yourself out of all fun apps, you’re likely to get distracted every 5 minutes, reverting to your old habits of watching TV or scrolling through social media.
We live by the words “Go big or go home.”
You are physically capable of sitting for an hour. Trying to start with anything less is an insult to your abilities.
It’s your mind who’s a lazy potato and says “Nah, I don’t think so.” every time you try to build these habits.
You train your mind with microhabits.
A Habit But Smaller
Microhabits are fun-size habits. They are the building blocks of your full-sized habit.
If your habit was a chocolate bar, microhabits are the smaller squares it’s made up of.
To eat the chocolate, you can eat as many squares as you want. Yet, there is a minimum requirement of at least one square.
Let’s translate that into an actual habit.
You want to run 5 blocks every morning. You are not that fit and 5 blocks is enough to turn your face red and implode your lungs.
So, you make the smart decision and set the microhabit to 1 block.
When your motivation is high, you run 2 blocks, but when your motivation is low you run one.
After a week or so, you upscale your microhabit to 2 blocks. Now when your motivation is high, you run 3 blocks, but when you aren’t feeling like it, you suffice with 2.
Like that, you gradually increase your endurance to 5 blocks.
You keep pushing your limit, but not so much that the activity isn’t sustainable.
“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.” – Louis Sachar
Setting The Right Microhabits
Microhabits aren’t just smaller versions of your habits. They are strategically set training blocks meant to prepare you to maintain the full-blown habit you want to develop.
The right microhabits will make doing your habit easier. The wrong microhabits will give you a false impression of progress.
Let me explain.
Say you’re trying to build the habit of writing a medium article every day. These posts should ideally be 800+ words long.
You could set a microhabit of writing journal entries every night.
But that’s a terrible microhabit.
- Journal entries are a different writing style than articles. They serve a different purpose and train a different skill.
- It’s not scalable. Microhabits are meant to grow and expand to become a full-sized habit. Once you’re in the habit of writing journal entries, how do you level up?
A better microhabit would be to write a 3-sentence paragraph related to your niche.
Or set a word count goal, for example, 300 words daily.
Once you’ve settled into that habit, you can turn up the challenge and start writing 400 words, then 500 words and so on.
The first step to setting the microhabit is to break your habit down into its simplest steps.
The writing example is simple, but not all habits can be measured numerically. What if your habit is to do face care at night?
Here are a few questions to help you set the right microhabits:
How do you start doing your habit?
To read a book, you first open the book. But simply opening a book is too easy. So, you pick up the book, open it and read a couple pages. That’s your microhabit.
To run, you first put on your running shoes and get out the door. Add running for 2 minutes and that could be your microhabit.
What is the bare minimum you’re satisfied with?
To take a cold shower, you first have to turn the water on. But does turning the water on count as taking a shower?
Your microhabit should be a big enough task that you feel like you made progress toward your habit.
If we go back to the running example, you can put your running shoes on, but unless you actually do some running, you won’t be proud of yourself.
When setting your microhabit, think of what counts as doing the habit. Make that your starting microhabit and build upon it.
Of course, don’t let the microhabit hold you back.
When you’re first starting out, your motivation will give you the drive to do two or three times your microhabit’s minimum. Do that.
Once that motivation fades, don’t quit. Lean back on your microhabit.
When To Upscale Your Microhabit
Microhabits are a starting point.
You have to keep moving forward to reach the finish line (The habit you want to build).
Move too quickly and you’ll fall. Move too slowly and you’ll be selling yourself short.
If the answer to the following questions is a yes, it’s time to scale up your microhabit.
- Is your microhabit too easy?
- Have you been consistent daily for 1 to 2 weeks?
Once you can answer yes to these questions, it’s time to turn up the difficulty.
Keep pushing yourself. Give yourself a challenge. Remember your microhabit is a step on the staircase, not the destination. Don’t stay on one step too long.
Goals = Sprint. Habits = Marathon.
Don’t approach your habits like you do your goals.
People start habits with the motto: go big or go home.
They want to create big changes and expect to be consistent right from the get-go.
Go big or go home can apply to goals. Not habits.
A habit is more like a marathon. You need to train for it.
Use microhabits to train for habits like you would train a muscle:
With small, repetitive and gradually harder exercises.