When starting a new exercise routine, learning a new skill, or developing a daily writing habit, be wary of big starting requirements (i.e., exercising for 60 minutes, practicing for 2 hours, writing 5,000 words).
Massive action requires motivation, and the more motivation you need to act, the more likely you’ll make excuses to avoid doing it (you’ll always either be “too tired” or “too busy”).
But what if you made the requirement for a desired habit so small that there was no excuse to skip it?
What if you leveraged the power of mini-habits?
A mini-habit is a “stupid small” behavior change that generates big results. To create a mini-habit, scale back the action you want to take until you think, “This requirement is a joke. No matter how tired I get I’ll still be able to do this.” Author Stephen Guise says, “I encourage you to frequently remind yourself of the absurdity of not being able to meet your mini habit requirement(s).”
If you want to journal every night before going to sleep, make the minimum requirement ‘one word.’ No matter how tired you are at the end of a long day, you can always pull out your bedside journal and write one word of gratitude.
Table of Contents
Personal development blogger Stephen Guise offers a self-improvement program that promises to be “too small to fail.” A “mini habit” is a positive behavior that you perform in its smallest component until it becomes second nature. An exercise program becomes one push-up; a reading goal becomes one sentence. The willpower you need to succeed falls to zero. Guise guarantees that repetition and repeated success can turn any mini habit into a new lifelong pattern. His concept is beautiful in its simplicity. We recommend Guise’s advice to anyone who wants to make a positive change, even if you read just one sentence at a sitting.
- Take one small step every day to initiate a lifelong positive habit.
- People form habits over time through repeated behaviors.
- A mini habit is the smallest possible iteration of a positive habit, like one push-up.
- A mini habit is “too small to fail” because it requires only a tiny bit of willpower, and you quickly accumulate a record of success.
- When your motivation for an activity is high, you don’t need much willpower. When your motivation is low, you need a lot of willpower, which most people don’t have.
- Decouple motivation from action; instead, rely on just a little willpower to form small habits.
- Mini habits work because they deplete little of your willpower reserve.
- On the mini-habit plan, you divide your goals into “stupid small” but effective actions.
- The mini-habit rules are: don’t cheat, be glad when you succeed, give yourself rewards, stay with your new routine, and drop back and go smaller if it gets hard.
- Also, enjoy the ease of your new small steps, recognize why they work, and don’t set bigger goals – just repeat your new mini habit a few extra times.
Mini-Habit Power #1: Post-movement motivation
After you write one word in your journal, there is a good chance you’ll find the motivation to write two words, then three, then four. Why? It’s basic physics. An object in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by another force (Newton’s first law of motion). Start a micro action, then get out of your way and let physics take over!
Guise created an equation to explain this phenomenon: One small step + Desired behavior = High probability of further steps.
Mini-Habit Power #2: Less effort, same result
Building a habit is like riding a bike up a hill. It takes work to get up the hill, but when you reach the top, you can use gravity to roll down the hill effortlessly.
It takes work to build a habit (18 to 254 days of effort, depending on the habit and the person), but once engrained, it becomes automatic and effortless. In fact, it becomes hard NOT to execute the habit.
- Try not brushing your teeth in the morning…
- Try not having a shower in the morning…
- Try not saying your usual greeting when you answer the phone.
If you fail to execute a familiar routine when it’s cue is present (the cue for nighttime journaling can be getting into bed), you’ll experience discomfort (the brain craves consistency).
Little known secret: The urge to execute a familiar habit comes from consistency, not quantity.
“It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.” – Anthony Robbins
When you scale back a habit requirement, you reach the top of the ‘habit hill’ in approximately the same time as you would have with a harder requirement; it’s like retrofitting your bike with a mini-motor to get up the hill without breaking a sweat.
Mini-Habit Commandment: Be happy with the minimum
Never set the intention to do one push-up but be disappointed when you don’t do more – your mind can detect manipulation and will resist your mini-goals if they aren’t your actual goal.
The key to building a mini-habit is to be genuinely satisfied with your mini accomplishments (do the minimum and be ready to walk away). Bonus reps are optional, not an obligation.
When you give yourself the option to do more, you activate a sense of autonomy, which is a powerful intrinsic motivator. Often, you’ll want to do more and have days when you do 20x the minimum just because you feel like it.
Over time, you will look back at your total action (the minimum action you take on bad days plus bonus action you take on good days) and see it adds up to a significant result. By embracing mini-habits, you will accomplish more than you would have with a hard initial goal, with a much higher probability of success.
“Be the person with embarrassing goals and impressive results instead of one of the many people with impressive goals and embarrassing results.” – Stephen Guise
No matter how determined or sincere you are, making life changes is hard. You may intend to exercise for an hour a day, but intention without action is pointless. Human beings have a tendency to overestimate their self-discipline. That leads to a disconnection between objectives and results. People commonly set ambitious self-improvement goals, only to fail and feel guilty and discouraged. Failing is not your fault. The blame lies with most popular self-improvement strategies. No matter how many times you try a flawed strategy, you arrive at the same disappointing result.
“To make changes last, you need to stop fighting against your brain.”
Instead, decide that you’re better off taking a step, even a small step, than staying in the same place. Taking one small step daily leads you in the right direction and sets you on your way to developing a lifelong habit. The small step requires little willpower, but its results are enormous.
“Be the person with embarrassing goals and impressive results instead of one of the many people with impressive goals and embarrassing results.”
The mini-habit model of behavior modification focuses on adopting positive behaviors, one small increment at a time. It doesn’t effectively break active bad habits, such as alcohol abuse. But it can help you negate passive bad habits, such as laziness or procrastination, by giving you new ways to focus your energy on making a positive change.
A Personal Experience
Stephen Guise had never been able to force himself to exercise regularly. On December 28, 2012, faced with another new year, he decided not to resolve to work out more often, knowing his dismal success rate. He decided, instead, to exercise for 30 minutes, but he couldn’t get himself to even start. No amount of upbeat music, visualization or self-admonishment got him off the couch. The idea of having to work out every day to attain his fitness goals was simply too overwhelming.
“Mini habits are low-willpower Trojan horses that can leverage their easy access into the brains control room into big results.”
Once he understood that barrier, he negotiated a compromise with himself. He decided to do just one push-up a day. A single push-up was such an easy goal he did it almost without thinking. Then, he decided to do another one and then a few more. Next, he told himself to do just one pull-up. He did that, and then he did a few more. Once he started, Guise continued to set easy goals and to exceed them by just a few repetitions at a time until he completed 20 minutes of exercise. This marked the beginning of “The One Push-up Challenge.”
“Smart willpower management is key to personal development as smart money management is key to financial success.”
Guise resolved to do a push-up daily, and after a short time, he felt stronger. That push-up quickly became a habit. By June, he added visits to the gym; within months, exercise became part of his routine. He wondered why he had succeeded with this approach after failing with so many others.
Why Mini Habits Work
A mini habit is a positive routine you develop in its smallest form – a desired behavior broken down to a “stupid small” component. If your goal is 100 push-ups a day, the mini habit is one push-up a day. Because the step is “too small to fail,” and takes an almost infinitesimal amount of willpower, you’ll build success day after day. Soon, you’ll start to feel good about your achievement; that creates a positive feedback loop that motivates you to continue. Almost before you realize it, the mini habit becomes part of your routine.
“With the right knowledge and strategy for change, what previously seemed impossible becomes rather straightforward and possible.”
A research study at Duke University concluded that habits make up 45% of human behavior. People form habits over time through repeated actions. The brain develops neural pathways, conduits that carry messages from one area of the brain to another. Repeating a behavior strengthens the pathway associated with that activity. For example, if you shower when you wake up, waking up will trigger an electrical charge in the associated neural pathway and you’ll step into the shower without consciously deciding to do so. Once a behavior becomes a habit, the corresponding neural pathway becomes stronger.
“Theres almost no situation that will cause a complete failure to meet your mini habits, but there are many scenarios where youll find yourself exceeding your mini habits.”
The subconscious brain – the basal ganglia – efficiently automates repeated behaviors to help you navigate the world with less effort. The prefrontal cortex, the conscious brain, handles decision–making and understands long-term benefits and consequences. It uses more energy than the automated basal ganglia.
“Starting small and removing the pressure of expectations is the recipe were using for success and it works well, so we want to keep it as long as possible.”
Contrary to common belief, the average time it takes to form a habit is not 21 to 30 days. Studies show it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit. The average person needs 66 days. You’ll know when a behavior becomes a habit when you experience a decrease in resistance. Instead of forcing yourself to meet your one push-up goal, for example, you’ll head to the gym without giving it much thought.
The Problem with Motivation
An inverse relationship connects motivation and willpower. When your motivation is high and you’re enthusiastic about something, you only need a little willpower to get going. When the initial buzz wears off or you must face a task you don’t want to do, your need for willpower rises. When an aspirational activity requires lots of willpower, you’re less likely to stick with it.
“You already have all the inspiration you need inside you, but it may be dormant. Awaken it with mini habits.”
You may be able to motivate yourself sometimes, but your motivation levels will rise and fall with your emotions. If you’re tired, sad or hungry, your motivation will drop. The short-term rewards of eating a healthy salad instead of a burger and fries are not enough to motivate you consistently. No amount of thinking about it will keep you on track. Unfortunately, most self-improvement programs rely on motivation to fuel sustained effort. Decoupling motivation from action – and relying on a little bit of willpower instead – opens many possibilities.
Studies show that human beings have only a limited supply of willpower. The five primary causes of weakening willpower or self-control – called “ego depletion” – are “effort, perceived difficulty, negative affect, subjective fatigue and blood glucose levels.”
“The difference between winners and losers is that the losers quit when things get boring and monotonous.”
Developing mini habits that overcome these obstacles can help you move ahead. A mini habit is such an easy task that you need only a little willpower to carry it out. Doing one push-up – even if you’re tired or hungry – requires minimal effort. At times when you have more energy, nothing stops you from doing more push-ups.
“Mini habits are designed for minimum willpower exertion and maximum momentum – the perfect scenario.”
The “perceived difficulty” of performing a mini habit is quite low. Mini goals drastically reduce perceived difficulty. Negative affect, or feeling bad about an experience, doesn’t pertain to mini habits, which add only positive feelings to your life.
Subjective fatigue is the emotion that arises when you don’t feel capable of accomplishing a task. Thinking about working out for half an hour makes you tired. Mini goals eliminate the subjective fatigue factor.
“Every giant accomplishment is made of small steps anyway and to take them one at a time like this is not weak, but precise.”
Actions requiring a lot of mental energy, such as forcing yourself to exercise or to resist chocolate, can deplete your willpower and reduce your glucose levels. Mini habits break goals down into manageable steps, which conserve glucose – your energy source.
An Eight-Step Plan
The eight steps in the mini-habit program are:
- “Choose your mini habits and habit plan” – Write a list of positive habits you’d like to have. Break each habit down into a stupid small step, the minimum possible action, such as sorting one email or saying thank you to one person a day. Try a mini habit for a week and evaluate the results. Then choose to either focus on that mini habit (the “Single Mini Plan”) or to accomplish multiple mini habits a day (the “Multiple Mini Plan”). If you have one primary goal, such as getting in shape, the Single Mini Plan will be the more effective approach.
- “Use the why drill on each mini habit” – Ask yourself why you want to instill a mini habit into your life, and delve deeply into the answer by asking the question more than once. Make sure that your mini habits align with your values.
- “Define your habit cues” – Habits are either “time-based” or “activity-based.” Identify which cue works for each new mini habit. Do you want to exercise at a specific time, such as nine every morning, or give yourself more flexibility, such as before dinner? If specific cues tax your willpower, assign yourself general cues, such as completing the mini habit before bedtime.
- “Create your reward plan” – Many habits don’t offer immediate rewards. Sculpting your abs, for example, takes time. Give yourself mini rewards to accompany your mini habits. For example, allow yourself a 10-minute power nap or watch a fun video as a reward for meeting your mini goal.
- “Write everything down” – Writing something down grants it importance. Visually track your mini habit success to reinforce your sense of accomplishment. Crossing your performance off on a calendar each day gives you a graphic representation of your progress. Several digital apps, such as Habit Streak Plan, can help you reinforce your mini habit by tracking your development.
- “Think small” – The advantage of mini habits is that repetition strengthens your willpower. Each task requires just a little willpower to complete and the frequency of repetition forms a habit over time. Once a habit is in place, you can build on it more easily. That’s why stupid small is powerful.
- “Meet your schedule and drop high expectations” – While having a positive belief in your capabilities is good, setting your expectations too high can hold you back. When you’ve exceeded your stupid small goal several days in a row, your expectations will naturally rise. You won’t be content with one push-up when you’ve done 25 every day. Resist the urge to increase the mini goal to match your elevated expectations. Feel good about your accomplishment and focus on consistency.
- “Watch for signs of habit, but be careful not to jump the gun” – Several signs will tell you that you’ve developed a positive habit. You’ll feel less resistance and perform the activity without much thought. The activity will become less emotional and more routine. You incorporate it into your identity, such as “I’m a writer” or “I’m a cyclist.”
“Eight Mini-Habit Rules”
Following the rules of the mini-habits program will keep you on track and ensure success:
- “Never, ever cheat” – Don’t treat your mini goal with false sincerity. If your mini habit is one push-up per day, don’t tell yourself you’re really going to do 25. Do the extra reps but don’t increase the number of your mini habits. Forming a positive habit is more important than your push-up count.
- “Be happy with all progress” – Cherish your wins, no matter how small. Embrace the program, take the first and subsequent step, and enjoy the journey.
- “Reward yourself often, especially after a mini habit” – You may feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete your mini habit even if the ultimate results are not immediate. Rewarding yourself creates a positive feedback loop that builds and sustains momentum.
- “Stay level-headed” – Once a habit becomes routine, performing it is less exciting. Revel in the knowledge that the positive activity is now part of who you are, and embrace the boredom.
- “If you feel strong resistance, back off and go smaller” – If you experience resistance to your mini habit, your step is not small enough. Your mini habit shouldn’t require willpower. If your goal is to eat one piece of fruit every day and you can’t make yourself do it, settle for one bite. Rethink your mini habit until you’ve broken the task down into the smallest possible step.
- “Remind yourself how easy this is” – Society encourages you to set high goals and motivate yourself to achieve them. But, if you embroil yourself in willpower battles, as most people do, you lose. Mini habits are easy. Set ridiculously manageable goals and rack up win after win. Soon, your subconscious will come to believe in your ability to incorporate the positive habit into your behavior.
- “Never think a step is too small” – Although mini habits are stupid small, they’re anything but stupid. They align with the workings of the human brain to develop positive patterns of behavior.
- “Put extra energy and ambition toward bonus reps, not a bigger requirement” – Resist the temptation to maximize your mini habits. Relish your new identity as an overachiever.
Stephen Guise, who started writing the Deep Existence blog in 2011, covers personal development strategies.
“Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results” is a self-help book written by Stephen Guise that focuses on the power of small, achievable habits in transforming our lives. The book offers a unique approach to habit formation that emphasizes the importance of setting realistic goals and creating sustainable habits. In this review, we will explore the key concepts, strengths, and weaknesses of the book, and provide an overall assessment of its effectiveness.
“Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results” is a self-help book that provides a practical guide to creating positive changes in your life through small, achievable habits. The author, Stephen Guise, argues that traditional habit-forming strategies often fail because they focus on big, ambitious goals that are difficult to maintain. Instead, he suggests that small, “mini habits” can be a more effective way to achieve lasting change.
The book is divided into three parts. Part one explores the reasons why traditional habit-forming strategies often fail, and why mini habits are a better approach. Part two provides a step-by-step guide to creating and maintaining mini habits, including how to set goals, track progress, and overcome obstacles. Part three offers practical examples of how to apply the principles of mini habits to various areas of your life, such as productivity, health, and relationships.
The book is divided into six parts:
- Part 1: introduces the concept of mini habits and why they work
- Part 2: explores the science behind habits, motivation, and willpower
- Part 3: shows how mini habits can help you overcome common challenges and obstacles
- Part 4: provides examples of mini habits for various areas of life, such as health, fitness, productivity, and happiness
- Part 5: reveals the benefits of mini habits beyond habit formation, such as increased mindfulness and creativity
- Part 6: guides you through the process of choosing, implementing, and rewarding your mini habits
Guise argues that mini habits are superior to other approaches for several reasons:
- Mini habits are based on willpower, not motivation. Motivation is unreliable and dependent on your feelings, which can change from moment to moment. Willpower is more stable and consistent, and can be used to override your emotions and impulses. However, willpower is also limited and depletes with use. Mini habits require very little willpower, so you can conserve it for other tasks and challenges.
- Mini habits are immune to failure. Most people set unrealistic or vague goals that are hard to measure and achieve. When they fail to meet their expectations, they feel discouraged and give up. Mini habits are so easy that you can always accomplish them, no matter what. This creates a positive feedback loop that reinforces your self-efficacy and motivation.
- Mini habits allow for bonus repetitions. Once you complete your mini habit, you can choose to do more if you feel like it. This is optional and not expected, so you don’t feel any pressure or obligation. However, often you will find that doing more is easier and more enjoyable than you thought. This way, you can exceed your goals without feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
- Mini habits promote learning and creativity. By doing something small every day, you expose yourself to new information and experiences that can spark new ideas and insights. You also avoid the boredom and stagnation that comes from repeating the same routine over and over. Mini habits encourage you to experiment and explore different possibilities and options.
- Mini habits align with your core values and interests. Many people try to adopt habits that they think they should have, but don’t really want or enjoy. This creates a conflict between their intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, which reduces their satisfaction and performance. Mini habits allow you to choose habits that match your personality and passions, which makes them more meaningful and rewarding.
- The Power of Small Wins: Guise emphasizes the importance of small, achievable goals in creating lasting habits. He argues that traditional goal-setting often sets us up for failure, as we tend to bite off more than we can chew. By focusing on small, incremental changes, we can build momentum and increase our chances of success.
- The Limits of Willpower: The book acknowledges the limitations of willpower and advocates for a more sustainable approach to habit formation. Guise suggests that relying solely on willpower can lead to burnout and frustration, and instead proposes a system that leverages the power of small habits to create lasting change.
- The Mini Habits System: Guise introduces the Mini Habits system, which consists of three components: the Trigger, the Routine, and the Reward. The Trigger is a cue that prompts the habit, the Routine is the behavior itself, and the Reward is the payoff we receive for completing the habit. Guise provides practical strategies for identifying and customizing these components to create effective mini habits.
- The Importance of Identity: The book highlights the significance of aligning our habits with our values and identity. Guise argues that when our habits reflect our desired self-image, we are more likely to stick to them and experience a sense of fulfillment.
- Actionable Strategies: The book is filled with practical strategies and techniques that readers can apply immediately. Guise provides concrete examples and exercises to help readers identify their mini habits, customize their routines, and celebrate their successes.
- Accessible Language: Guise’s writing style is clear, concise, and free of jargon, making the book accessible to a wide range of readers. The concepts are explained in an easy-to-understand manner, and the author uses relatable analogies to drive his points home.
- Focus on Sustainability: The book’s emphasis on sustainability sets it apart from other self-help books that advocate for radical changes. Guise recognizes that lasting change is not about making drastic transformations but rather about creating small, manageable habits that can be maintained over time.
- Empirical Research: The book is grounded in empirical research and draws on the latest findings in psychology and neuroscience. Guise cites studies and experts in the field to support his arguments, lending credibility to his approach.
- Lack of Depth: Some readers may find that the book’s focus on mini habits results in a lack of depth in certain areas. The book is not a comprehensive guide to habit formation, and some readers may require more detailed information on related topics like motivation, mindset, or time management.
- Overemphasis on Quantity: While the book’s emphasis on small habits is a strength, some readers may feel that it leads to an overemphasis on quantity over quality. Guise encourages readers to create multiple mini habits, which can be challenging for those who prefer a more focused approach.
- Limited Applicability: The book’s focus on mini habits may not be applicable to all areas of life. Some readers may find that the approach works well for developing healthy habits, such as exercise or meditation, but may not be as effective for other areas, like career development or relationships.
Overall, “Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results” is a practical and accessible guide to creating positive changes in your life through small, achievable habits. While it may not be suitable for everyone, the book provides clear, actionable advice that can be applied to a wide range of areas, from productivity to health and relationships. If you’re looking for a more approachable and less overwhelming approach to habit-forming, this book may be a good choice.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
I would recommend “Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results” to anyone looking for a practical and accessible guide to creating positive changes in their life. The book’s focus on small, achievable goals makes it more accessible and less overwhelming than traditional habit-forming strategies, and its emphasis on tracking progress increases accountability and motivation. However, readers looking for more scientific evidence to support the principles of mini habits may want to look elsewhere.