Mini-Habits by Stephen Guise: Book Review

It’s pretty much only coincidence that two of my three book reviews so far are by the same author. Only pretty much, because books that really stick with me (enough to get a review) are rare, and Stephen Guise has written two that have really stuck with me. They are both short. That helps. They are both immensely practical. That helps too. They both took my world and turned it very gently on its head, rummaged in its pockets, and took out all the useless bits to show me why I was wrong. That helps the most.

My first book review for Guise was for the second and most recent work of his I’d read, How to Be an Imperfectionist. Being the second book, it builds upon the previous book, Mini-Habits, about which I will now shut up introducing and get on with reviewing.

The Idea

The idea is very, very simple. Easy enough for anyone, literally, anyone, to understand. A mini-habit is a habit of doing something every day that is very small. For instance, 1 pushup a day. Read 2 pages of a book a day. Things like that.

Guise introduces the idea and then goes on to say why it works. He talks about motivation vs willpower, how waiting until you feel like doing something is the TOTAL WRONG WAY TO DO ANYTHING, and how by using such a small goal, you will hit your target every day, and most of the time, you will overachieve it. You’re on the floor having done 1 pushup, might as well do more, right? And then you’ve done 10. The key though is not to have secret goals, like, I will do 1 pushup a day, but it must actually turn into 50, and then you have the same block against doing the 1 since it isn’t actually 1, it’s 50.

It’s fascinating to read about motivation as well. He cites several studies over the years on the way motivation works in the brain, and let me tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Motivation fails too often to make it a good instigator of anything. Cue willpower.

Like I talked about in my review of his next book, the key is to create a positive cycle or streak of successes. Can everyone read 2 pages a day? If you’re reading this blog post, then yes, you can. It’s a stupidly simple goal. So you do that. And rather than focusing on how you want to turn that into reading 2 books a day, you focus on how you’re creating a habit of reading anything at all, every day. Every day is the key. You do something every day and it becomes a habit. You don’t have to think about it. And then you can start hitting bigger goals much more easily since you’ve got that foot in the door.

(Also, apparently, 21 days to implement something as a habit is a myth. It can range from 14 to over a hundred days, if I recall correctly, depending on the habit and the person.)

My Thoughts

When I first read the book a couple of years ago, and first had my world gently mugged, I did my mini-habits very carefully. I don’t remember what they were. I think they were fitness related, so I think I did his one push up a day for a while. But I was just beginning to work overseas, and I secretly wanted more, and what with all that and not being very aware of ownership of my own head at that point, I stopped mini-habits for quite some time.

Until this year, actually. When I came home to get better, had several breakdowns and epiphanies to boot, I found and read How to Be an Imperfectionist (HTBAI), which reminded me of Mini-Habits.

I immediately picked it up again, especially after reading in HTBAI how anxiety is often a result of perfectionism, and how mini-habits punches that in the face daily. Small victories which create a perpetual positive cycle, in a too-brief summation.

My mini-habits are currently; write 50 words, read 1 chapter in the Bible, read 2 pages of a book, exercise for 5 min, and meditate for 10 min. Technically, the meditation should be much shorter, but I’ve had a streak on for over a hundred days and it IS a habit now. I guess I should take it off the list and add it to the list that includes brushing my teeth every day. It’s now just something I do. That’s the goal with all of these.

In Practice

Let’s say you want to write more, which is my major goal for this year. During NaNo, the daily goal must be at least 1667 words or you won’t hit 50k by the end. I’ve done it three years in a row, so I know I can do it. Therefore I thought I must do it every day. I gave myself a little more leeway and went for 1000/day, but after the intensity of November, and the inevitable weeklong writing break I gave myself (which turned into two weeks, then three…) I realized it wasn’t working. 1000 was just too much.

I decided to use his goal of 50 words/day. Because I’m just starting out, I’m counting journaling, blogging, and fiction writing.

So far, I have done it with no problem for about a month, since I arbitrarily decided to start on January 1st (not super arbitrary, and that did happen to be the starting day for the cool habit tracker I printed out, so…).

My first real snag came yesterday. I spent all day out of my house. Sure, I had my small notebook, but I was also feeling crappy and didn’t bother writing in it. I got home around eleven, way past my comfortable bedtime (hello, youngsters), and was so knackered I nearly, nearly gave it up. But I didn’t want to have that blank space in my tracker (I need external accountability to get me to do things, and streaks of check marks help a lot*), so I pulled out my iPad and journaled. I could have spent just about two minutes doing it and written 50 words, but I stayed there for 10 minutes recapping my day, and hey presto, I did my habit. I x-ed off my day. I kept up the streak, and my habit tracker is fat and full and happy.

That’s why it works. No matter what kind of hellish day you’ve had, at the end of it, you can grab your iPad or phone and write 50 words. You can flip over on your bed and do a pushup, you can pull that book over and read 2 pages. That’s the key and the beauty of a mini-habit.

I encourage anyone who’s ever struggled with resolutions or goal-setting or good habit forming to read it and try it out.

Let me know how it goes!



*See Gretchen Rubin‘s book The Four Tendencies to learn what kind of habit maker you are. It’s a great tie-in to making mini-habits and a fun read too.

How To Be An Imperfectionist by Stephen Guise: Book Review

How to Be an Imperfectionist. The title alone catches the eye.

Many people, myself included, struggle with being a perfectionist. But we don’t struggle hard enough to get over it. I’ve read a lot of self-improvement books over the years, and sometimes they’ll mention how perfectionism is the enemy of success and so on, but NO book has addressed how to overcome it as thoroughly or as practically as Stephen Guise‘s latest.

Guise’s books are, above all, practical. How to Be an Imperfectionist gives the reader a lot of information; in the first section, Guise outlines what perfectionism really is, including the various studies over the years on how it affects us. In the second section, Guise goes over how to be an imperfectionist in the five areas people are usually a perfectionist in. The final chapter is the application guide, where he revisits every technique and tip in an easy to access manner. One chapter to sum everything up. It’s great because it means you don’t have to keep going back to each section to pick out the tips.

The reason I loved this book so much was how practical it was. I’m going to keep saying this. A lot of books are feel-good, motivating type books that do get me to jump up and start working, but those books rarely have any sticking power. They don’t keep me thinking long after my initial jump of joy has come back down to earth. This book has sticking power.

Are You a Perfectionist?

“Life is not a one-way, single-lane road. It’s a sprawling, free-for-all field. […] The assumption of the perfectionist is that there is a golden path and that no other way will suffice.”

I can’t work out now, I’m tired. I don’t have my gym clothes. People will laugh. I can’t publish a book. I’ve never done it before. It’s not even that good. It’s too similar to that other book. No one will read it. I don’t know how to market. I don’t want to travel for book signings.

Sound familiar? We always assume we don’t do something we want to do because the circumstances aren’t right, or whatever other fear is present. We assume there’s a right (perfect) way for us to do something, and we often won’t even try anything else. But like Guise says above, it’s a free-for-all. No one is you. No one has lived your life. And there is no perfect path. There’s just the field, and the flag at the other end. How you get there, and how long you take, doesn’t matter.

Perils of Inaction

“Unequivocally, the worst choice is inaction. Perfectionists often choose inaction because, with an infinite number of possible paths, finding the perfect one is difficult to figure out.”

This sounds a lot like choice paralysis (analysis paralysis), the inability to decide when faced with too many options. There are great studies out there about flavors of chips and jams and brands of toothpaste, but I’m sure you’ve felt this at some point. Maybe it was when picking a major, or your first job, or an internship, or even something like what book to read first, what TV show to watch first. We assume that gathering more information to make a more informed choice makes us more logical and successful, and up to a point that’s true. You shouldn’t buy a car without some research. But too much deliberation means you will never take the action, and for the fledgling novelist or gym-hopeful, inaction just means time you aren’t working on your dream.

Choice paralysis is often caused by our perception of opportunity cost, meaning the cost of following one particular course of action over all others. As in, if I make the choice to buy this car, I am making the choice NOT to buy all the other cars, and often that can feel heavy. Guilt-ridden. Especially when the cars are very nearly identical in so many ways.

Or when choosing a major, meaning you are NOT choosing all the other majors (unless you double or triple up, which can lead to burnout and all kinds of other problems). Or when choosing to work out, you are choosing NOT to spend time with family, or writing your screenplay, or hanging out with friends, or playing video games, or literally anything else. The more options we have in our mind when making a choice, the more expensive the opportunity cost, and the more paralyzed we might feel.

It’s tough. I know it well. It can be damn near impossible to live that way.

The Solutions

Many of the solutions to perfectionism are a shift in mindset, Guise notes. I agree. More has been helped in my life by changing my outlook on life – pessimism to optimism, fixed to growth, controlled to controller, mindless to mindful – than by anything else. No class will make you smarter unless you believe you can get smarter. No doctor will heal you unless you believe you can be healed.

One of the main takeaways for me from the book was to “change what you care about,” as in, “don’t care about the results, care about the process,” and the tip I mentioned in another post, “don’t care so much about your anxious thoughts and feelings (let them be and don’t fight them).”

Other tips include; changing your expectations to generally high and specifically low. Meaning, overall you’re optimistic about your life and interactions but aren’t too chuffed about the outcome of a specific project, paper, or conversation.

One I love – what he calls lowering the bar – ties into his previous book, Mini-Habits. If you lower your bar for what you consider a success, you will have more success, which causes a positivity loop in the brain, leading you to more success, and so on.  A great cycle to be in.

Another solution is understanding chance and failure action; this took me by surprise, honestly. I’ve read probably hundreds of self-help books by now, and none of them have mentioned something like this. It’s so simple too, it almost makes me angry so many people are stumped by it. Chance vs failure means to reflect on something that went wrong and decide whether it was really up to you or not to determine the success. Got an F on a paper even though you worked your ass off? The grade was up to the teacher, not you. Wrote a book that flopped? The writing was up to you (congrats on getting it published, yay!), but the response was up to the public. Didn’t get the raise you wanted? It’s up to your boss.

Care about the process, not the results, especially when you aren’t in charge of them. Failure actions are actions that you do directly influence. Didn’t chat up the cute person at the cafe? Your fault. Misspelled a word? Your fault. Try another strategy next time. When you fail, you learn. Fail better next time. And the next. And keep failing forward.

Other tips deal with the need for approval, ruminating over the past, changing self-talk, and more. Seriously, this book covers all bases.

(There’s one particular tip that I’m going to go into in another post because I want to explore it fully and in relation to anxiety; the binary mindset. Wait for it!)

But I’ll say for now that changing how your mind works, including how you see failures and successes, makes a huge difference in what you do and produce. And that’s what most of us want, right?

We want to write that book, make that product, get fit, sell that idea, act in that thing…and perfectionism, in one of its many forms, stops us.

This book will help you overcome it. If you follow the advice. You can’t just read it and not do what it says. Medicine is for taking, not for looking at.

Please buy this book and read it, cover to cover and over again. I know too many people who need this book and its advice. I did. I still do. I read it only two weeks ago and I already need to reread it.

I hope you will read it. Honestly. If I could send this book to every person on the planet to read, I would.

If you do read it, let me know what you think!


*Quotes from How to Be an Imperfectionist by Stephen Guise. Stephen, if you ever read this, thank you for this book. You’ve quite likely saved my life.

See Also:

The Paradox of Choice

Diminishing Returns

The Pareto Principle


I desire…to feel good: Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte

I’m going to share with you how I want to feel. All my goals and dreams I make because I’m hoping they will make me feel a certain way. I’m going to share those desired feelings. And I’m going to share why I want to feel that way, and how I can do it. I like action plans. I get all giddy thinking about them.

This isn’t my first Desire Map. But this one I did right before I moved home and in the midst of crippling anxiety; it felt much more needed. It felt like a cool breath on my fevered brain.

If you haven’t checked the book out, do so. Now. Whether you like her style or not, you can’t argue with the technique. We all make goals. We all make resolutions. And we know they mostly don’t stick.

Danielle knew this too, and realized where we were all going wrong. We all make goals to feel a certain way, but most of our goals are results-oriented, not feeling-oriented.

If we can figure out how we want to feel (good = confident, safe, understood, heard, vital, driven, blooming, etc.), we can tailor goals and New Year’s resolutions to aim for that. Instead of “host a dinner party every week,” you turn that into “feel hospitable,” and realize you can get that feeling by taking food to a sick friend or inviting a small group over once a month. That way, you won’t look at your goal and see how you missed it, or see how it isn’t quite right but, hey, you wrote it, so you have to follow it…

Of course, there’s much more to it than that, but hopefully, you get the idea.

This has been life-changing for me – a perpetually happy and failure stricken goal-maker.

My Desired Feelings

Serene – calm, peaceful, and untroubled; tranquil. an expanse of clear sky or calm sea.”

Why? I chose this word over peaceful, over tranquil, because the idea of serenity runs deeper. Like joy that is deeper and steadier than happiness or bliss, serenity, to me, would be the ocean of my soul having a clear and free depth, no matter what troubles pass over. It does not mean I don’t get angry in the face of problems or don’t get boundlessly excited. It means that I can feel those things without them taking hold, and that no matter where I am in my day, in my feeling, in my energy, I can reach the clear blue sky overhead, the dark soothing depths below, and return whenever I need to. It’s an outlook, more than a feeling, but it’s an outlook I need to reach down to my soul.

How can I feel this way? Since I’m not there, I don’t know. The closest I’ve come to it is in certain moments in meditation or prayer, or certain times when everything in my life has been going right, and just for a moment, I look out the window at the sky and feel it. But I don’t have it in my grasp. It’s a fleeting thing, so I’m not sure if that’s really serenity or just peace.

Creative – “relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”

Why? I am always creating, but while I was a teacher, most of my creative energy went to where it was needed in my job; lesson planning, teaching when I had no lesson plan, fixing lesson plans in the middle of them when it wasn’t going the way I’d hoped, solving tiny, huge fights between students, figuring out how to deal with admin issues and coworker issues that crop up from moment to moment, and balancing all that with a life outside of teaching. Teachers don’t get paid enough for all the work we do. It’s utterly and completely exhausting, even on the best days.

I’m home now. I probably won’t be a teacher anymore. Multipod strikes again. Now my creative juices are flowing so much it’s all I can do to think of projects. I want to feel that I have time and energy for these ideas. I want to feel that I am making what I want, when I want, in the way I want. I want to feel that I’m writing all the time, and going somewhere with it.

How can I feel this way? Knitting. Writing. Planning in my bullet journal. Making my office pretty. Organizing my parents’ home. Paper crafting. Playing D&D.

Radiant – “sending out light; shining or glowing brightly. Emanating clearly, powerfully from someone or something; very intense or conspicuous.”

Why? This is one of my long-term feelings/goals. I want to be comfortable in myself. I want to be healed, so I can start helping others. I’ve tried helping others so much before without working on me at all, and that’s what this journey of healing is all about. But after the healing, I hope to share my story so that others can find hope. I want to be a light for hope, for inspiration, for living authentically and holistically. I want to share the Good News, the Best News, of my faith, my beliefs, and share love. I want people to look at me and feel happy. I want them to be around me and think I’m a comfortable person, a good listener, an honest soul. I want to emit that. I believe people do. I’ve met people who do – like an aroma, they exude positivity, or warmth, or joy, or even not so nice things. I want to be one of the good ones.

How can I feel this way? Start with me. Help me. Put on my oxygen mask first before helping others. It isn’t selfish. It’s the most selfless thing I can do in the long run if I want to help people.

Authentic – “of undisputed origin; genuine. (sincere) free from pretense or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings.”

Why? Part of my stress and anxiety problem has always been living inauthentically. Living the way other people want me to, living the way I think I should. Dressing how my friends do, or how work says I must, or how so and so says is most flattering for my figure. Believing and having a faith that doesn’t offend, that is in line with my family’s, that doesn’t make me stick out, but doesn’t make me doubt (but, oh, it has). Thinking how others think, in books or on TV.

I’m an empath. I know how people feel, and can guess what they’re thinking. About me. And I’m an INFJ/HSP, so I care. Deeply. I would like to go through life making no waves, no one uncomfortable. The flipside is that I’m uncomfortable all the time. So no more. NO MORE, wrote the Doctor, and saved my soul.

I’ve lived wondering and caring what other people think for so long I barely know what I really like anymore. I doubt my choices, even ones I think I’m making in freedom. Do I really like this outfit, or does it just fit the image of what I think I want to be (free, cool, comfortable, hipster, edgy, whatever girl)? Do I really like this pattern, or does it just reinforce the idea people have of me that I like? Are these dumb questions? Like Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching, I have First Thoughts, Second Thoughts (watching those first thoughts), and Third Thoughts (watching the second thoughts think about the first thoughts). It’s terribly confusing. I would like to not feel that way.

I would like, very much, to live in a cabin in the woods for a month with no media, no people, no internet, no books, and get to know me for a while.

How can I feel this way? Maybe do the cabin thing. For a couple days though. I can’t bring enough food for a month. Make decisions without worrying so much. Just make it. If it’s the wrong outfit, buy another one. Make clear boundaries. This is me, mine. That is you, yours. You are not me. Your ideas are valid and great, and they are not mine. That’s okay.

Present – “existing or occurring now. (here) in, at, or to this place or position.”

Why? In high school, in college, I always lived for the future. After Korea, I was really present for a while figuring out how to live and teach. But then once it got old and I started a new dream of being a writer, again with the future living. It’s not comfortable. It creates tension, living in the present and being dissatisfied with it. Many people have this problem. I don’t think I’ve ever really lived in the moment. Not fully. Always one foot forward.

I want to be okay with my everyday. I want to feel that I’m living how I want RIGHT NOW and don’t have to look forward to tomorrow because I’m enjoying today.

I want to eat and taste my food without watching TV. I want to drink a cup of coffee and savor it, staring out the window, not chugging it to get through the morning. I want to do everything mindfully. Now I am journaling. Now I am with this friend. Now I am waiting.

How can I feel this way? Meditation has helped. Focusing on sensations or the breath really keeps the mind from jumping around all the various plans. Also, making the choice to do things mindfully has helped. Making the choice to eat sitting down at the table, instead of wherever.

Nourishment* – “provide with the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition. (cherish) protect and care for (someone) lovingly.”

Why? I want to feel cared for. By myself first, and by others. I’ve let people walk all over me, including myself. I’ve never invested in honesty about what hurts me or helps me. I’ve never been intentional with friendships or boundaries. I’ve never eaten well for longer than a few days. I’ve never exercised for longer than a few months since college. I’ve never cared about my mental health because I always thought I was fine. I’ve never known what it’s like to be cherished in a dating relationship. I’ve never fought for anyone, or against anyone. I want to be fought for, I want to fight, I want to live out my emotions.

I want to eat good food that comes from the earth, not a lab, and the closer it’s grown the better. I want to grow my own food so I see where it comes from. I want to connect with our earth in that way. I want to raise animals, to see the cycle of life. I want to stay away from toxicity; in media, in work, in politics, in friendships, in thoughts, in feelings, in desires, in absent-mindedness.

How can I feel this way? Eat local, visit farmer’s markets. Have clear boundaries with people. Date better. Accept better. Accept no mistreatment. State clearly what I need. Give others what they need, when I can give it freely.

(A note on this one – I originally had “nourished” on here, but that was too other-driven, meaning it sounded too dependent on others to give it to me. LaPorte makes a point of saying not to pick words or feelings that you can’t give yourself. Not “loved,” but “love” or “loving.” So I picked nourishment. I want to feel that that’s what I’m giving myself and that’s the state I’m in.)

For 2018, in my Season of Healing, these six words encompass how I want to feel. Six is a lot, but I worked through a lot of words and feelings before picking those, and those are what fit me right now. Those are the ones that make me say YES. Desired feelings can and should change. In six months I may have six new words, or just three old ones.

Either way, Desired Feelings give me, and could give you, a better direction to aim for this New Year’s season.

Happy New Season!


*Definitions in quotes from