The power of mini habits

I realized four years ago that I needed to de-stress if I wanted to heal my pain.

And this is what happened…

There was always something addictive about having so much going on. So many people were relying on me. And I became highly skilled at finding tiny pockets of time to squeeze in extra little jobs.

I ran like a well-oiled machine. I was fast and efficient and never missed a thing.

The only downside was that I wasn’t a well-oiled machine. I had crippling back pain!

It was my body’s way of screaming at me to slow down.

After many failed attempts at de-stressing, I finally figured out how to transition from racing through life to living like a peaceful monk.

I’m just kidding about the peaceful Monk…. But these days I’m much calmer and no longer suffering from back pain.

I’ve been on a 4-year journey to calmness.

And I’m still on this journey.

How did I do it?

Because I was balancing so many things, the idea of suddenly pulling on the breaks to slow down seemed impossible.

I needed to ease into it.

And this is when I discovered ‘mini habits’.

What are mini habits?

According to Stephen Guise, author of ‘Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results’, a mini habit is a very small positive behaviour that you force yourself to do every day; it’s “too small to fail”.

A mini habit is the smallest version of what you wish you could do.

Even when we’re feeling tired, in a slump and have physical pain doing a mini habit still seems possible.

Mini habits must be tiny and impossible to fail

Choosing a tiny (impossible to fail) goal, means we are almost certainly going to achieve it.

When I was in pain, I felt hopeless. My biggest achievement was getting through the day without crying, but mini-goals gave me regular achievements.

When we achieve something, no matter how small, we feel a tiny buzz of proudness. Which has the power to propel us through the day.

Even though I was in physical pain; I started having 5 seconds of freezing water in my morning shower. A mini habit that I knew would increase endorphins or the feel-good hormones.

I left the shower thinking if I can do that… I can do anything.

How can mini habits settle your nervous system?

It has been scientifically proven that certain things settle our nervous system.

The more mini habits we create around settling our nervous system the sooner our pain will start to ease.

Although I desperately wanted to be meditating like a Monk I always got fidgety after a couple of minutes. But once I made the habit to meditate for only 1 minute it became doable.

And guess what? After making it to 1 minute, I often found myself staying for longer.

These days I’ve worked up to 15 minutes. My mind is still busy, but I’ve learnt to sit with it.

How can mini habits get you moving again?

Before living with back pain, I loved to run and dance.

But over time as the pain got worse, I started to put my favourite activities got put on hold.

One of the keys to recovering from a mind-body condition is to get back to physical activity.

This is a great place to start a mini habit.

For me, it was the mini habit of running 1 minute on the treadmill.

What’s the smallest thing you could do to get back into your physical activity (despite the pain)?

Maybe it’s watching 5 minutes of salsa on YouTube each day whilst you sway side to side in the chair.

Doing this will fire up your pre-pain neural pathways. And we can gradually build up from there.

How can mini habits bring you more joy?

I used to be a bit of a stress head mum. I was nagging and snapping at the kids more than I wanted to.

Introducing the mini habit of sharing our favourite part of the day with each other at dinner, gave me the chance to reset and show up as the Mum I knew I wanted to be.

What would put a smile on your face? How can you make this into a mini habit?

How can mini habits help you connect to your identity?

My personal identity became a thing of the past as I dealt with back pain. I found I didn’t have time, or couldn’t do the things I loved anymore.

Taking the Gallup Clifton Strengths personality assessment helped me figure out what my natural strengths are.

When we use our natural strengths we feel stronger. And in many cases, we slip into the state of flow when time seems to fly.

I discovered I had the strength called ‘Learner’. When I was on maternity leave I started a mini habit to watch one ted talk a day.

What do you love to do? What activities make time fly?

Now choose a mini habit to match.

How can mini habits fit into a busy life?

Most of us that have physical pain also have busy lives. Mini habits easily tag onto things you are already doing that don’t take up any extra time.

In fact… for best results when introducing new habits, it helps to join new habits to old habits.

I bet you rarely forget to brush your teeth.

What new habit could you link to brushing your teeth?

Why should mini habits be limited?

I know you are ambitious and want to be the best at mini habits. But I suggest only picking 1-3 mini habits at a time.

It has got to be easy so that we don’t fail.

When I started I had just 1 mini habit and gradually built up to 3.

I keep the same mini habits in place for at least 30 days. When the habit becomes automatic I add in one more habit.

Why is it best to track mini habits?

What gets measured gets done.

One of the keys to mini habits is to have a very simple tracking system. It must show that you either did the mini habit or you did not. There is no “almost did it”.

Attached is the example that I use but a simple search in google will help you find other examples.

Why is it ok if mini habits fail?

I’ve introduced mini habits in the past and as days went by, I noticed that I wasn’t doing my mini habit.

If this happens you have options:

  1. Make the goal even easier by making it smaller
  2. Change the habit to something you do in the mornings (if you forget you still have the whole day to do it)
  3. Ask yourself why you have the mini habit and what is stopping you from starting. Review your answers and see if you have chosen the right mini habit
  4. Remove the mini habit and change for something you will do (no need to feel guilty)

My list of mini habits

Here is a list of the mini habits I have developed over the past four years. These are just for inspiration.

The key is to find your own mini habits that will either bring you more joy, get you moving again or settle your nervous system.

  1. Make my bed as soon as I wake up
  2. Drink a glass of water before breakfast
  3. Wake up before the kids
  4. Always wake at the same time
  5. 10 minutes of yoga before breakfast
  6. 10 minutes meditation after yoga
  7. Fresh air and natural daylight for one hour every day
  8. Intentionally hug the kids once a day
  9. Ask at breakfast what the kids are looking forward to
  10. Exercise at least 10 minutes daily
  11. A hot shower followed by a freezing shower
  12. Write my intentions in the shower steam
  13. Yoga ‘Nidra’ after lunch (amazing meditation to relieve stress)
  14. Ask at dinner “What’s the best part about your day”
  15. Change the lights in the house in the evening to create a calm atmosphere
  16. Light an incense stick at 6 pm
  17. On days I have a busy mind, I journal before bed
  18. 10 minute guided sleep meditation from YouTube

And Finally

The key is to find your own mini habits that will either bring you more joy, get you moving again or settle your nervous system.

I know you probably feel you don’t have time to do any of this. Or your current situation is far worse than mine.

Maybe it is.

So just pick one habit at a time that works for you and gradually build up.

It’s taken me four years to get to this point and my list will continue to evolve to suit my life.

The first step for you is to make a shift one mini habit at a time.

What mini habit can you start today?

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