Who among us isn’t counting on exercising more, launching a regular meditation practice, or finally writing the Great American Novel this year?
The statistics for the success of New Year’s resolutions are grim: 92% of them fail, and yet many of us continue to make the same ones year after year. Gym membership spikes between 33% and 50% in January, with 80% of the New Year’s resolution crowd back home on the couch by the second week of February.
But rather than beating ourselves up for a lack of motivation—which research has shown is actually unreliable for effecting long-term change—why not try a different approach this year?
Instead of setting big, often unrealistic goals, we can commit to tiny daily habits that are easily achievable and can be built upon. As Stephen Guise writes in Mini Habits: Small Habits, Bigger Results, executing ‘stupidly small’ actions that take 30 seconds or less (like doing just one push-up or writing 50 words per day) sets you up for an easy win and boosts your confidence that you’re able to make positive life changes.
Setting the hurdle to overcome your initial internal resistance embarrassingly low capitalizes on it being easier to act to motivate rather than motivate to act. Once you start doing your one push-up or writing 50 words, most of the time you will want to keep going, thereby exceeding your goal. But even on the days you only meet it, you still will have reinforced the habit. And it turns out that doing a little bit every day has more impact than doing a lot once in a while: consistency reinforces neural pathways, gradually creating an automatic behavior pattern.
To optimize your chances of success, behavioral researcher BJ Fogg recommends associating mini habits with an ‘anchor’—an existing behavior, often part of the morning or evening ritual. For example, ‘after I wash my face in the morning, I will take a vitamin’ or ‘before I go to bed, I will set out my workout clothes.’
Lastly, reward yourself for accomplishing your mini habits—with Xs on a wall calendar (Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘don’t break the chain‘ technique); by using an app or desktop software (suggestions below); or, as Fogg proposes, with a small shout of ‘awesome.’
What awesomeness will you create this year?
Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life
Robert Maurer’s One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way
As seen on Ripe & Ready