Micro-habits can reduce stress, improve efficiency and make you feel better. So why are they not taught or planned into most people’s lives?
This article examines
- What are micro-habits
- How to define your own micro-habits
- Useful micro-habits to adopt
- examining business operations in terms of micro-habits
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What are micro-habits
Firstly what is a habit
Wikipedia defines a habit as:
A habit (or wont) is a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.
Habit formation is the process by which a behaviour, through regular repetition, becomes automatic or habitual.
This process of habit formation can be slow. Lally et al. (2010) found the average time for participants to [develop a habit] was 66 days with a range of 18–254 days.
As the habit is forming, it can be analysed in three parts: the cue, the behaviour, and the reward.
So what is a micro-habit?
Micro-habits or mini-habits are small habits which are easy to adopt.
A micro-habit is something tiny that is readily achievable.
Most good habits are difficult to adopt, like doing 30 minutes of exercise every day with a view to shedding some weight. Motivation and life tend to get in the way of habits. Micro-habits tend to be small enough they can still be adopted and your excuse not to do them therefore also dissipates.
Why are habits good?
Well as a habit is seen to be in three parts: cue, behaviour and reward, the bit I really like is the reward part.
Cue: You see something or an event occurs, then this triggers a habit.
Behaviour: The action you carry out when the cue has occurred
Reward: Your brain releases chemicals in your brain as a treat. I previously discussed Motivation and Rewards in another article, click here to open it up.
Habits can be bad as well as good. So we want to focus on positive habits and developing them. We start with micro-habits with a view to achieving large goals (macro-goals).
How do you eat an Elephant?
How do you eat an Elephant? One bite at a time.
The origins of this expression are indistinct but fun to watch people explore. The one that made me smile the most was the Shel Silverstein poem
- Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail.
For me the most important thing that micro-habits provide is a starting point. Something achievable when everything else seems impossible.
Whilst the arguments for actually eating an elephant are thoroughly examined
- It’d go off before you’d finish it
- Massive indigestion from eating too much
- You’d get bored eating the same food over and over
The point is for some people mini wins, rewards for small achievements, can help to work towards very large achievements.
As St. Francis of Assissi is attributed with saying “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
How to define your own micro-habits
Start with your challenge
The easiest thing to do is identify a challenge or something that is stressing you out. These always seem to spring up the greatest “it can’t be done” scenarios.
The common challenges I’ve faced are: I’m too
Then come the supporting challenges of
- I’ve no time
- The place is always untidy
- I haven’t enough money
So how do you deal with them as they are all too massive to solve in one fell swoop.
Break it down
Identifying my challenge
So take anyone of the challenges and review the actions that would be involved. Doesn’t matter if those actions are not going to happen, write them down on a piece of paper.
Let’s choose one as an example that I’ve worked through. “The place is always untidy.”
- Dishes to be washed
- Floors need cleaning
- Running out of stock in bathrooms
- Clothes all over the place
This also lead to the lines “I’m too tired” and “I’m too busy”
I had to put some micro-habits in to help myself. The challenge for me were the cue’s… to remember to do it. So here came the post-it notes.
Solving my challenge with micro-habits
On the dishwasher I put a small note, if dropping something off to the kitchen, straight into the dishwasher and not into a pile on the counter top. That I could manage. When it became a micro-habit I saved hours and hours on cleaning up dishes. If I forgot, I put the post it note back.
Saturday morning, I said to myself, right 20 minutes of cleaning. All I got to do is 20 minutes and I’ll run around. That’ll be my exercise, up and down the stairs a few times. Suddenly I was finding it disappointing if there was stock in the bathrooms.
Clothes all over the place was next. I put a laundry basket in the hall. If I take clothes off they have one of two homes. Wash basket or put away. My wife asked for a third category, worn once but doesn’t need a wash yet. It got folded into the system.
When the wash basket is filled it instantly goes down to the washing machine. Even if that’s in the middle of the night. I’m never stuck for clothes any more and the place is so much tidier.
As I was running out of stuff to do in my Saturday morning exercise routine, the floor washing was done before anyone else in the house was up.
Result of the process
I am far less stressed in my surroundings. All of what was “the place is always untidy” became managed. Me being me I now have raised the bar on what needs tidying but to be honest, they’ll become a micro-habit too.
When you have something that takes place very irregularly it’s hard to make it a habit. The point of micro-habits are that they frequently occur.
Putting micro-habits in place free’s time, teaches your brain to reward you and reduces stress. They can be unrewarding to start. You need to train your brain to keep doing them till you’re rewarded.
If the macro issue returns, or worse doesn’t really seem to change, you can question why you put the micro-habits in place. It is easy to fall back into old ways i.e. it is not a habit. Repetition is key. As the research interestingly shows the average is 66 times within 254 days. Don’t give up if it doesn’t seem to be working. You have to work on them for them to work for you.
Useful micro-habits to consider adopting
- Breakfast: Make yourself a healthy breakfast which is a “take out of the fridge” in batches for 3 or 4 days. Personally I use overnight oats as mine as its colourful, has fruit and makes me want to eat it. Even if it takes you till lunch to finish it, you’ve had breakfast.
- Make your bed. There is a video below from Admiral William McRaven. I watched it. Adopted the micro-habit of not going downstairs till the bed is made, providing my wife is not still in it 🙂
- Brush your teeth morning and night. Not only is this a starve the dentist approach but the lack of pain, not having to pay extra dentists bills and your colleagues and partners not having to suffer smelly breath is awesome.
- Before walking out the front door I perform the “spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch” check from the movie Nuns on the Run (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqXZ9YoRD50) I’ve adapted mine to my needs, keys, wallet, phone, security pass. That has saved me on more occasions.
- If I pick something up to tidy it, I don’t put it down again unless that’s its final resting place
I separate my inbox to a folder called AAA. Everyone I know gets straight into AAA with a forwarding rule. Everything else goes into the general inbox. Clearing out junk email is very very easy. The micro-habit is if you come across an email from someone you know you are going to regularly get from, they get a rule to transfer to the AAA folder. Massively stress reducing
I have a couple more which mean a lot to me
- I stop to say “thank you” before every meal because I frequently forget how lucky I am.
- Kiss the wife if I’m lucky enough to be sharing a meal with her.
- Before I settle “I love you” and a kiss good night.
Examining business operations in terms of micro-habits
As any employee
So much productivity can be lost of a day by being distracted by non-essential materials.
Always leave a bathroom as good as or better than you found it.
When you spot something more efficient that could be a micro-habit suggest and say it to your manager. If it helps everyone what’s to lose?
As an employee working with technology
Snippets in programming terms are amazing. One click and a block can repeat itself.
For desk bound workers email inboxes are lethal. A good folder based filing system will save hundreds of hours.
If you’re a computer programmer you need your keyboard. Learn to touch type. It’ll be painful to start but the rewards are enormous when you stick with it. This is your profession, like a pianist, you need to be able to read music and play without looking at your fingers. Practice a little every day for 66 working days.
Any good workman leaves his working area clean. A messy desktop is visually stressful. Just create a simple “Tidy” folder on your desktop and throw everything into it. When it has stressed you less then you can tidy your tidy folder.
If you use a network folder or program regularly create a shortcut to it. The hours saved in waiting for particular windows to open will mount up quickly.
PCs don’t have to be slow. All my PCs boot from completely turned off to totally usable in less than 30 seconds. A few inexpensive parts and you can have a massive amount of stress removed and a lot of time back.
As a manager
Encourage your staff to try find ways to speed things up. Gather their ideas once a month and put them in an email to the entire team. Everyone enjoys being recognised.
Perform a post-it note exercise annually or half yearly. They’re incredibly efficient at drawn out ideas and allowing people give real feedback. I’ll do an article up on this approach which works for brain storming ideas when stuck but is also excellent for small businesses to air difficulties.