Cover image of Mini Habits bookI recently read the book Mini Habits by Stephen Guise, and during the past couple of weeks I’ve put into practice the principles I learned there.*

The premise of this book is that mini habits—small, daily activities that should not take more than 5 minutes at a time each—are the steps to getting toward some of our bigger goals. Stephen Guise calls these “too small to fail.” His argument is that consistent success in meeting these mini habits energizes us and  supports the larger changes we want to make. Science backs him up on this (see this Huffington Post article).

One of Guise’s examples is his mini habit of one push-up a day. Instead of making, say, an ambitious New Year’s resolution like “I’m going to run a 5K every week” or “I’m going to work out at the gym three times a week,” Guise made his goal one push-up a day. His point is that although 1 pushup a day is not going to bulk up some muscle, it paved the way for him eventually to get to the gym three times a week.

The key, he says, is not to rely on motivation. Guise writes on his website

When I decided to start exercising consistently 10 years ago, this is what actually happened:

  1. I tried “getting motivated.” It worked sometimes.
  2. I tried setting audacious big goals. I almost always failed them.
  3. I tried to make changes last. They didn’t.

Like most people who try to change and fail, I assumed that I was the problem.

Then one afternoon—after another failed attempt to get motivated to exercise—I (accidentally) started my first mini habit. I initially committed to do one push-up, and it turned into a full workout. I was shocked. This “stupid idea” wasn’t supposed to work. I was shocked again when my success with this strategy continued for months (and to this day). I had to consider that maybe I wasn’t the problem in those 10 years of mediocre results. Maybe it was my prior strategies that were ineffective, despite being oft-repeated as “the way to change” in countless books and blogs.

My mini habitsScreen shot of my Android phone with Habit Bull mini habits

To start slow, I set four daily mini habits:

  1. Walk through one 80s song
  2. Meditate 5 minutes
  3. Do one situp
  4. Write 50 words

Guise recommends writing these mini habits on a large wall calendar. But because my phone houses pretty much everything I need, I investigated his resources list and found Habit Bull. It’s very simple: I typed in my four mini goals, identified the days of the week I wanted to accomplish them, and then chose the widget to display them on my screen (shown at right is my actual Moto X screen; I used the app Easy Screenshot). Voilà.

I have a 95% success rate so far at completing these daily habits.

I also realized in the midst of this experiment that my strategy for copy-editing really long, practically unreadable academic journal articles—using the Pomodoro technique (again using an Android app for a timer, ClearFocus) of 25-minute chunks of solid, concentrated effort followed by 5-minute breaks—basically strings together work-based mini habits to complete a specific project. So I already had some mini habit mindset going; now I am applying it to other parts of life.

At this point, I’ve never walked through only one song. Once I’ve got my shoes on and my music playing, I tend to walk for 1-2 miles each day (about 6 to 10 80s New Wave/punk songs). And I’ve rarely written only 50 words; that’s a short paragraph, and I’m more verbose than that! And while I’m on the floor doing one sit-up, I may as well do five. Getting started when I know my goal is “walk 2 miles”? Sometimes pretty hard in the midst of a busy day. But getting started when I know I can stop after “Blitzkreig Bop” and still count it as success?—much easier.

But Guise’s point is that even if I did not overachieve these habits, it’s okay: checking off these small wins boost my confidence as well as my motivation. This pattern of action and reward is part of what will keep these habits going and growing.

*I don’t do any affiliate marketing, so I don’t make money off the book or your clicking the link.


Mini Habits