It’s that time of the year again where many of us start making New Year Resolutions with hopes for the future. In the past, most of those resolutions involved dusting off the old treadmill, joining a gym, or eating less junk food. Those trends are gradually being phased out. Now with the challenging year behind us, new research reveals that we are moving away from traditional resolutions and moving towards more practical resolutions.
Studies show that at least 71% of Americans will focus on learning new life skills. The latest trends in New Year resolutions include saving money for retirement (62%) and learning a new skill (50%). Other resolutions are learning how to budget money, paying down debt, spending more time with family, traveling more, and having a more positive outlook on life.
Reflecting on such a stressful year, it makes sense that most Americans are approaching the New Year differently. Implementing practical New Year resolutions can make a positive impact on our daily lives. It is also true that most of us fail to achieve our New Year Resolutions with a massive failure rate of over 80%. This is because it’s difficult to create new, sustainable habits.
The brief vigor of New Year holidays is met with the remorse of disappointment as the second week of February approaches and we realize we’ve done nothing. In most cases, our resolutions are either too vague or too difficult to accomplish because it requires a lot of ability. Big goals require big motivation. The more motivation you need to complete an action, the more excuses you make to avoid completing it.
But what if you set small, attainable goals instead? These goals give you satisfaction right away and are so easy to implement that there is no excuse to skip them. I propose writing down your list of resolutions, but instead of trying to achieve them right off the bat, break them down into mini-habits.
Based on the book, Mini-Habits, by Stephen Guise, a mini-habit is a small behavioral change that has the potential to generate big results. To create a mini-habit, scale back its difficulty until you realize, “This is such a trivial goal. It doesn’t matter how tired or busy I get, I can always complete it.” For example, if you want to start a gratitude journal, then commit to writing just a single word. No matter how tired you are at the end of the day, you can always write a single word of gratitude.
Mini-Habit Power #1: Post-Movement Motivation
After you’ve written that one word in the journal, you will build up momentum to write more. This is because the momentum of progress can see you through to the very end. In physics, we call it Newton’s first law of motion. An object in motion stays that way until acted upon by an outside force. When you start a mini-action, your brain will keep going unless an outside force intervenes.
If you want to break it down into an equation, here’s what it would look like:
One tiny step + desired reward = high chances of following through.
So, start with taking a tiny step and then let physics take over.
Mini-Habit Power #2: Less Effort, Same Result
Learning a new habit is like cycling up a steep hill. You need energy and effort to get the bike up the hill, but once you reach the top, it takes little effort to go down the hill. By applying the same logic, it takes work to build a habit, but once it is ingrained, it becomes effortless and automatic. It becomes harder to NOT execute the habit based on muscle memory alone.
The habit loop consists of four stages:
First is the cue. The cue signals your brain to execute a behavior. It is a small bit of information that translates into reward. The human brain is always analyzing our environment for hints of actions that result in reward. A cue indicates that reward is close, which stimulates cravings. Cravings are an essential component of the habit loop and form the basis of motivation behind every habit. If we don’t crave reward, we have no reason to complete any objective related to that reward.
The third step in the habit loop is response. It can be a thought or an actual action. If a particular action requires more physical or mental effort than your craving for it, then you won’t take the steps to complete that action. On the flip side, if that response doesn’t take a lot of physical or mental effort, then you will do that action.
Finally, the response always leads to reward – it’s the end-goal of the habit loop. We chase rewards because it activates special pathways in our brain that make us feel good. The cue initiates the steps leading to a reward. The craving is about wanting the reward. The response is about obtaining the reward.
When you achieve a habit through muscle memory, it allows you to reach the “habit hill” a lot faster and with less resistance. It is like adding a tiny motor to your bike so you get up the hill without sweating bullets.
The Power Of A Mini-Habit: Being Happy By Doing Little
The key requirement of building a habit is to learn to be happy with your accomplishments, no matter how small. Learn to be satisfied with doing the bare minimum and then just walk away. If it is physically (or psychologically) impossible for you to do more than one push-up, then don’t be disappointed when you don’t do more. Remember, your brain is seeking a new reward and can detect fraudulent goals from a mile away! It will resist your mini-goals if they don’t resemble the actual goal.
By giving yourself choice in the matter, you create a sense of autonomy and control. This behavioral system acts like a strong intrinsic motivator. There will be times when you only do one push-up, but there will also be times when you can do much more. Log those results into a diary. Over time, when you look back at the total amount of push-ups you have completed, you will find that they add up to a significant amount.
Mini-habits let you achieve more than would have been possible with a harder goal that has a lower 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.