A couple of years ago I signed up for a UDEMY class called Mini Habits Mastery by author Stephen Guise. Udemy is a website where people from all over the world can take or instruct classes of a variety of subjects: from starting a business to personal development, from how to make a website to how to sell Amazon Kindle books for a living, from how to become a writer to how to play the piano, from how to sing like a pro to how to deliver a presentation, and so on. It took me about three days to finish the course (pretty fast because I was excited about it), the format of the course was 10-20 minute videos for each module, each module covering a different subject or adding value to the last one(around 38 slides with visual presentations) and I remember feeling like my brain had just been re-wired. It was my first time ever taking a Udemy class and I was blown away by the excellent quality of the course (keep in mind not all courses will deliver the same quality, good thing is you can check their customer reviews before hand). I am currently not using this approach to setting daily habits, I am scheduling my tasks a head and following through with them, but I have tried in the past and if you are struggling with making good daily habits stick, I invite you to check out this review I am making of the course, since I highly recommend it:
MINI HABITS MASTERY by Stephen Guise
Basically the course dictates that one of the main reasons why people fail to form a good habit (i.e working out, reading, writing, meditating, etc) is because they tend to aim so big that they overthink things, let their inner voice get on their ways and eventually become inconsistent. For example, if your goal is to lose 20 lbs and you have already lost 5 by working out daily for one hour, and suddenly you do not feel like working out for an hour anymore because of the physical and MENTAL struggle, you then decide to give yourself a day off, which then turns into a week off and so on. That is where the term “mini habits” comes in. The course instructor recommends us to aim for mini habits, meaning daily habits so “stupidly” small you cannot fail, and if after completing your mini habit you want to do more, you can. An example would be to only workout for 5 minutes per day, instead of one hour (the author´s exact example is to only do one pushup, but I think this may be overdoing the easiness!).. This would be the requirement, once you are done with the 5 minutes you are done for the day, if you wish. This minimum requirement can vary depending on the person. It may sound silly at first, but as you experiment with this idea you will find out how many opportunities we loose because of our own minds.
Obviously as time goes by we are going to want to do more than the minimum requirement (those 5 minute workouts). In my case I have realized that I have failed in the past in losing weight for two main reasons:
1- Not having the willpower to even get out of bed, get dressed and head over to my home gym which is downstairs.
2- While at the home gym ready to begin my workout, after the first 5 minutes go by I realize I still have like 40 minutes left to go so I talk my self out of it and just quit or feel the temptation to quit, and then feel guilty afterwards. It is more of a mental game than a physical one, ironically!
The first reason is strongly tied with the second one, because the second one is what I am thinking about while I am contemplating getting out of bed. Having 5 minutes to workout as a goal, I can easily get dressed, go to my gym, workout and come back upstairs in a 10 minute window. Just knowing THAT makes any prior level of resistance disappear, I mean in 10 minutes I will be back to watch some TV and have some breakfast right? In the end it is all about having discipline to do the work on a daily basis, so good habits can be formed. Motivation is not the key. This is also stressed in the course I took, explaining that some people fail because they rely on motivation which is an emotion of the moment and also temporary, so once it goes away with time we are left with no habit and no more motivation. However with will power to just get out of bed and do those 5 minutes of working out which should be easy to all of us, it is so simple we should be able to do it for the next 6 months easily, turning the whole process of getting changed and going to the gym with the “5 minute mentality” a habit, and eventually once at the gym expand our comfort zones at our own pace. Just think about it, once you have done 5 minutes of working out, you can stop and go live the rest of your day, take a break and do some more, read a book while taking a break and then do some more, and so on. You do not have the pressure on your shoulders anymore because anything else you do after those first 5 minutes is “bonus” reps. I encourage everyone trying to get fit to try this out. I remember the first day I tried this, after I was done with the 5 minutes (I was doing an Insanity 50 minute video, from Beach Body), I couldn’t stand the idea of stopping there. I just kept on going knowing that anything else was extra bonus points, besides 5 minutes was so easy for me, especially since I was already used to working out. I kept contemplating the idea of stopping every 10 minutes and without even noticing it, I went on to do the whole workout, a personal record for me.
This can apply to other good and bad habits, not just working out at the gym. Another good habit that you might want to develop is to have an organized room or office. If you are currently a mess you can start out by simply putting 1 item where it belongs, and then call it a day for that task, that way you will always have that task and should automatically feel the urge to put 2 items and more where they belong. You have to make sure you repeat the same easy task every single day/week at the same time, so it becomes a habit. We might not be feeling at our best at points of the day (say at around 8PM after coming back from work), so going into the gym thinking to do an hour long workout may be stressful for some, 5 minutes of workout in your own living room sounds more doable. The initial resistance that we feel to begin a task is the main barrier to getting things done, once past that it is just one less step to take. Just remember it has to be a stupidly small task, the moment you start feeling some resistance you take it even lower. Remember, you cannot fail, every day is a win, naturally we will begin to expand our comfort zone! You will automatically (and without noticing) begin to develop new habits that will stick for good. Do not set daily goals that you could fail at, even if there is a tiny chance of failing, you scale down and make sure there is no way you can fail at it.
Also remember to reward yourself. The reward from reading a book is to become smarter in the long run and develop a reading habit that will open us many doors, the reward from working out is getting to that physical body you have always wanted, however these and other similar goals can take time to achieve, which is why it is also important to treat yourselves with immediate rewards as well, it could be a SMALL SNACK (as long as you do not use this reward all the time), watching a movie, turning on the TV (I use negative visualization and try to stop these daily luxuries that a lot of us have such as watching TV so I can use them as rewards), watching funny videos online and so on. Rewards are important because subconsciously we are creating an incentive for our habit formation, which makes it even more likely that resistance will be minimal. I encourage you to experiment with rewards, me personally I have not used them all that much, it is the concept of the small habit itself that has helped me the most out of the course.
You can set several mini habits per day, however it is recommended that we only have around 4-6 per day. I will get into details of my own personal “mini habits” that I am using on a different future post. Here is where I have to make an important distinction: SELF-DISCIPLINE is the most important factor of this project (saying you are going to read 50 pages of a book per day and actually doing it, a life standard for some) but IF things do not go as planned, go for Plan B (set yourself to read only 5 pages per day, because you cannot fail that way and in time you will want to read more). The idea is to find out if the resistance is too much early rather than late, so you can set the silly requirement. Do not wait until you fail (and stop the life project for months for instance) to set the silly requirement. We want to keep momentum on and keep on going forward.
WHAT IF I WANT TO GET RID OF BAD HABITS?
Now there are also BAD habits that we want to get rid of. Say you want to quit smoking, or quit biting your nails, or quit watching so much TV, or stop procrastinating all the time. In order to remove these bad habits, the author gives us a very important piece of advise. Right when you are about to engage in a bad habit, stop and say to yourself that ONLY FOR THAT SPECIFIC DAY you will not engage in that bad habit. You see when you want to do a bad habit (i.e binging), your first reaction is to say NO, and then feel miserable because of how bad the cravings are, and then project that into the future. You convince yourself that it is not worth suffering for the rest of the year when you do not even know if you will get to your goal. If you only think about making it through the DAY, you remove some of that future mental load and only focus of making a little effort today. You do not even think about tomorrow, just today. What happens is the next day you do the same thing, and then the next, and eventually you start building momentum. Just make sure you make it about today, and surviving today. Do not think about how you could suffer in the future. This is one of the only times in which I recommend thinking short term and not long term!
The course also suggests replacing bad habits with good habits. And gives us two methods to attempt this. Bad habits occur like this:
TRIGGER -> URGE -> BAD ACTION -> REWARD
Long story short, if you don´t want to binge on junk food, stop filling your house with junk food in the first place, remove the triggers for the bad habits. Write in a journal for a whole week identifying the potential triggers for your bad habits if you must. This is one method.
The second method is re-routing and taking an immediate different action, right when you are about to give into the bad habit. As soon as we see the trigger (A Nutella Jar in our kitchen) we take immediate action and get out of that spot and do something better instead (you walk over to the vegetable/yogurt/milk/fruit and treat yourself to that instead). Here is where we have to pay special attention. We will not get the reward that we got with the Nutella, in fact as we start out we might feel angry because we really wanted the Nutella, and that feeling will decrease our will power, which is why we have to choose a different reward, maybe non-food related such as to talk to a friend, buy yourself a new shirt, do something that makes you happy (that is not eating).
This is why I encourage people to be harder on themselves and to stop watching so much TV (a trigger of mine) and surfing on the internet on a daily basis, so they can use those activities as rewards for special occasions.
You can also try the principle of Addition Instead Of Subtraction, which says that instead of focusing on avoiding bad habits (such as eating junk food every day), focus on adding good and better habits (such as eating healthier meals). Using the eating example, instead of depriving yourself of the Nutella, eat it if you want, but make sure you also incorporate a salad or some lean meat or chicken in at least one of your meals, of course this is an extreme example. The more of the good you add, the less space there is for the bad. Focus on the good, and the bad will go away. The main thing that has helped me the most is the 5 minute approach, meaning to only have to workout 5 minutes per workout. This has made WONDERS for me because if when the 5 minutes are over I physically cannot go any further, I will know its not because of laziness but because I need rest, but between you and I, most of the times I always end up finishing the workout. As of writing this post I am currently using a Relaxed Approach (TDEE approach) to working out and weight loss, but if at some point I wish to come back to a more aggressive approach to weight loss, I will definitely use this technique. I will be using this 5 minute approach with other daily habits such as reading or writing, IF I am struggling at some point.
I encourage all of you to checkout the course “Mini Habit Mastery: The Scientific Way to Change Your Life” by Stephen Guise and Laura Avnaim. It has given me a new perspective on life and developing good habits. I will update on this to see how it helps me. Anyways, if you want to start applying this in your life, grab just one thing that you would like to change in your life (i.e working out every day), set a daily goal that is so simple it is impossible for you to fail (i.e do one push up, or workout for one minute), and do not feel drawn back if you want to do more than just that minimum requirement, in fact the more the better, just remember to keep that small requirement always so every day is a win for you.