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 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.)
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.
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.