Tiny habits have changed my life.
I started exploring the concept of tiny habits as a teenager with the “simple” decision of ending my showers with cold water. I kept that up for over a decade.
In 2017 I took my interest in habits to the next level and begun to realize just how important and valuable good habits can be.
I wrote this to tell you my story in the hope that I can inspire you and encourage you to create tiny habits of your own.
I’d been struggling with my exercise routine for awhile. The problem was that it didn’t exist. My hours in front of a computer each day were broken up by the occasional walk to the bathroom or kitchen. I’d long been convinced of the benefits of consistent exercise, but being convinced just wasn’t enough.
During a flight home I sat next to a woman who appeared to be in her mid to late forties. Over the course of our conversation the topic of health came up. I discovered she was older than she looked yet healthier than most folks far younger, myself included. We talked about exercise and the importance of doing something, which was much better than doing nothing.
That conversation stuck with me.
A few days later, I came across several “30 Day Pushup Challenge” videos on YouTube based on the idea of doing 100 pushups per day. I felt inspired to try the challenge – after all, I could see results in as early as 30 days!
There was a problem, though. I could barely complete a single pushup. 100 per day wasn’t going to happen.
I was still inspired, though, so I decided I’d try something else. I decided I would do 4 sets of pushups per day, starting with just 1 pushup at a time.
And so I began.
I used an app called Productive to track my progress and got to work. I set reminders on my phone and completed my 4 sets throughout the day.
I started on October 2, 2017. I haven’t missed a single day since.
In the beginning, my friends laughed. After all, what difference would 4 pushups a day make?
After a few weeks, though, the number of pushups per set began to increase. Soon, I was at 3, then 5.
As of this writing, over a year later, I’m averaging 100+ pushups per day.
This story would have been a great personal success if that’s all that had happened. But it turned out pushups were just the beginning.
Inspired by the progress I’d made, I started to experiment with different habits. At first, I tried too hard. I chose habits like “Write for an hour a day” that I just wasn’t able to keep up. Then I reminded myself why the pushup habit had worked – I had started ridiculously small. I stopped the habits that weren’t working and tried smaller ones.
Over time, I expanded and refined my list of habits to over 20, moving beyond health to family, work, and personal growth.
While some habits made a big difference quickly, most changes were imperceptibly small. It’s only as I look back months and years later that I notice the compounded effects
I’ve learned that tiny habits, laughably or even embarrassingly tiny habits, can make a big difference over time.
Now, every chance I get I encourage the folks I meet to start a tiny habit. Tiny habits have made a big difference in my life and I know they can in yours too.
What is a Tiny Habit?
A habit is something that you do regularly, often without thinking about it.
We run our lives on habits. The food we eat, the shows we watch, the games we play, the way we get out of bed each day, and the things we say.
For our purposes, a tiny habit is something we start for a reason.
To create momentum.
In a day or even a week, a tiny habit will make little if any noticeable difference.
But after a year? Or 3 years? It starts to really add up.
For a habit to be considered a “tiny habit” it needs to be:
- Simple – Ideally, “No equipment needed”. A habit that you can complete whether you’re at home, at school, at work, or on vacation.
- Fast – It should take no more than 5 minutes to complete. Ever.
Simple and fast is important because you’ll have days where you definitely don’t feel like doing much of anything or days where you’re so busy you just didn’t have the time.
If it’s simple and fast, you’ll be able to make the time to do it anyway, even if it’s the last thing you do before bed.
A good rule to follow is that the habits you pick should feel “too easy” to you, like they’re too simple.
The power in the habit, though, comes from you doing it again, and again, and again, day after day after day.
Let’s look at an example: “Take a picture of your food each day”.
This habit is ridiculously easy and you can use it as a way of encouraging you to think about what you eat, without feeling like you’re forced to do anything.
As the months went by I found myself making better choices about the food I ate, without really thinking about it. Because I chose a habit that encouraged me to be aware and made it easy to do so (“just take a picture”) I was able to be aware and that nudged me to make tiny, positive choices about the food I ate over time.
Building Block Habits
Some habits you create will become “building blocks” for other habits.
In my case, doing four sets of pushups a day meant that I would check the habit tracking app on my iPhone at least four times a day. That meant that I was also seeing and remembering my other habits at least four times each day.
Once you’re on a roll with a few key habits you’ll naturally want to keep going.
I now track more than 20 habits a day. If I’ve finished 19 of them, many of which I’m now doing anyway, it becomes easy to finish the last habit or two.
Alright, now it’s your turn.
There are a lot of great habits to choose from and ultimately you’ll pick the habits that work best for you.
I want to inspire you with a few ideas for tiny habits that have worked for me.
These are my personal favorites. These are the habits that I’ve experimented with and that I stuck with (there are quite a few I tried that I didn’t keep up!).
It’s Your Turn
Choose one new habit to start. If you’re undecided, start with pushups.
Track your progress. If you’ve got an iPhone, I suggest you use the App called Productive. On Android, check out HabitHub.
Or, just use a tiny notebook you can carry with you.
And tell me how you do! Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.