Research, as well as common sense and personal experience, is showing us that small steps get us to far away places. The key is to consistently take those small steps in the same direction. Building a big, life-changing habit is difficult: it’s hard to keep the willpower going long enough to see change.
But building a tiny habit? That’s doable. BJ Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford, has done extensive research this very topic. The Fogg Method uses the effectiveness of tiny, specific habits to create big changes in behaviour.
Here are 25 tiny habits you could add into your life. They don’t seem like much, but if you practice them regularly, they can change your energy level, your fitness, your relationships, your work, your community, and your environment… in big ways.
Tiny Habits for Better Physical Health
1. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. We often don’t get enough water in our systems, and get so busy throughout the day that we don’t think about stopping to replenish our supply. Or we replenish with soda or coffee or tea but not water. Trigger yourself by leaving a big glass out on the counter or table. Or do what I do, and get a big travel mug with a lid. At night, I fill it up with a lot of ice and a bit of water, and in the morning it’s waiting for me: a nice, cool cup of water. Flush the toxins, kick-start your system, wake yourself up.
2. Park as far away as you can from the door. Fight the effects of a sedentary lifestyle by getting more steps into your day whenever you can. In fact, simple things like a longer stroll from the car to the door might be more effective than a vigorous work-out at counteracting the effects of long hours at a desk.
3. Eat raw fruit or vegetables with every meal. Think: a green side salad, a slice of melon, some berries, a few carrot sticks and cucumber slices. Not only will you get more nutrients in, you will also be getting in more fibre and potentially helping your body lose weight, retain energy, and decrease hunger.
4. Stand up and stretch every hour, on the hour. Trigger yourself with a beep on your phone or watch (do people still wear those?) or computer. Sitting for extended time periods is a bad idea for both your body and your brain. You need a mental and physical break, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Just stop, when your on-the-hour beep sounds at you. Stand up where you are, reach over your head, take a deep breath, touch your toes, roll your shoulders.
5. Carry a small bag of nuts or beef jerky everywhere you go. Something protein-rich will help stave off hunger as well as keeping you from getting to that ravenous point when you’ll eat anything in sight, no matter what the calorie count is. Getting a little more protein in your diet can help boost your metabolism and build your muscle, as well.
Tiny Habits for Better Mental Health
1. Ask open-ended questions. Instead of throwing out questions just so you can insert your own opinion, ask bigger, better questions. Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple Yes or No. Try questions that start with “What do you think about…?” and “How would you….?” or “What is your experience with…?” Then listen to the answers with the attitude that you are here to learn. Having an open perspective and initiating deeper conversations will help you to relate with others, cultivate empathy, keep your own problems in perspective, make new friends, and learn new ways of approaching life. Imagine the wisdom you would gain in five or ten years if you just have one of these conversations every week.
2. Keep a tray of art supplies out on your table/desk/shelf. Don’t force or even expect yourself to clock in a certain number of minutes or productions. Just keep them out, in reach, so that when you feel like doodling around with something artistic, it is effortless. Bonus points: switch the art medium out every week or month (pastels, crayons, watercolours, ink, clay, play dough, carving knife & wood block).
3. Sit in silence for a few minutes every day. We don’t have to call this meditation, because that might be a little too intimidating. You don’t have to sit cross-legged. You don’t have to close your eyes. You don’t have to be Zen-like in anyway. Your brain can be flying a hundred miles an hour, but don’t say or do anything. Just sit, comfortably, and breathe for a few minutes.
4. Jot down everything on your mind for a few minutes at the end of the day. This is a brain dump in the easiest way possible. It’s not a big deal like a daily journal or to-do list or planner might feel. Keep a simple notebook by the bed, and give yourself a few minutes to pour out everything that’s on your mind before you go to sleep. Don’t edit. Let it all out, in any format, in any order. It doesn’t have to make sense, even to you. Studies show that this type of writing can reduce anxiety and depression. Alternative: use a voice recorder and simply talk, in unedited stream-of-consciousness style, for a few minutes into your recorder.
5. Repeat a personal mantra to yourself when you hit stress points. Make it something simple to remember that calms you and reminds you of the important things in life. This is a simple way to retrain your brain and tell it how to respond to stress. Instead of letting stressful points send you into a panicked mode, you pull out your mantra and tell your brain that it’s going ot be okay. A few of my favourites: This too shall pass. I am stronger than I think. I can learn what I need to learn when I need to learn it. I’ve handled worse than this. I am not alone. There is freedom here. When I take responsibility, I take power.
Tiny Habits for Better Productivity and Work
1. Pretend to be your hero. When you’re faced with a challenging situation, an intimidating project, a new career leap, an important meeting, think about a hero in your industry or career. Then ask yourself what this person would do in your situation. How would she handle it? Would he be intimidated? Fearful? Or confident and calm? Now imagine yourself doing exactly what you think your would do. This helps to clarify what the right actions are for you by removing the self-doubt and negative self-talk that can bog you down in uncertainty.
2. Do a 5-minute daily review at your desk at the end of the day. Before you leave work, or from your desk at home before you wrap things up for the day (or night!), take five minutes. Write down what you accomplished in a quick, bulleted list. Write down what you didn’t accomplish that you had hoped to, and what stopped you. Don’t beat yourself up for your failures, just notice, if you can, what caused you to get off track. And notice how much you did accomplish. This type of review is a way to help your brain focus on the positive (I did accomplish something today) and will help you to become more aware of the things that tend to derail you or distract you from productive work.
3. Turn off all notifications for at least one long block of work time every day. Our brains are not adept at switching from one task to another. The single ding of an email notification or text, even if it’s about something completely unimportant, can cause you to lose up to 40% of your work time. Is it really worth it? Maybe if you have infinite time at your disposal… But we all know that you don’t. So do yourself and your career a favor, and silence all the dings and chirps for at least one long block of time (2 – 4 hours).
4. Respond to all invitations and opportunities with “I’ll check my calendar.” Stop the knee-jerk response that you give, whether it is negative or positive. Maybe you’re too quick to say no (I am). Or maybe you’re a people-pleaser and you’re too quick to say yes, and find yourself over-booked and overwhelmed. Give yourself time to evaluate each opportunity by simply making it your practice not to answer right away. Instead, say, “I’ll check my calendar and let you know.” Then, when you have a little time, check your calendar, your priorities, and determine what you can fit it in.
5. Spend 5 minutes a day thinking about the process you will take that will get you to your career goals. This is the right kind of positive visualization. Visualizing the end result doesn’t usually help you get there. But visualizing yourself doing the steps you will take to reach your end goal can help you to actually follow-through on those steps when it is time.
Tiny Habits for Better Relationships
1. Call, text, or email one friend or family member a day. Staying in touch has never been easier, but it’s all too easy to only connect with the people we see at work or the ones who just won’t stop showing up in our Facebook feed. Reach out a little further than that to stay connected with the friends and family members you value. It only takes a few minutes to invest in a relationship, with the result that you have a strong network of people around you, both near and far.
2. Write a thank you note every week. This can be an exercise solely for you: write a thank-you note to someone who’s passed on but impacted your life, and tell them all the things you wish you could say in person. Or write a note of thanks to someone who is or was part of your life and send it to that person. Cultivating gratitude helps to lessen the fear in your life. How much better would your life be if you had trained yourself to be appreciative instead of afraid?
3. End your night with a word of thanks or encouragement. This is the kind of simple habit that can make or break a lifelong relationship. Before you roll over and go to sleep, let your significant other know you accept and value him or her. You don’t have to be elaborate: “I love being with you,” or “Thanks for being there for me,” sends the right message. If you’re not in a relationship, give yourself a word of thanks or encouragement. Sounds silly? Maybe. But it can help build your confidence and keep you from letting one bad day spiral into depression.
4. Pause before you answer or respond to people. Train yourself to listen well, by giving yourself time to think up your response in that pause, not while the other person is talking. This not only shows that you value what the other person is saying (which communicates acceptance and respect) but it also gives you time to weigh your attitude and words. In a high-tension situation or stressful conversation, a simple five-second pause might be what keeps you from blowing up and ruining a relationship you value.
5. Give yourself a time out. Life happens. You’re going to hit points when you feel stressed, frustrated, angry, or impatient. That’s okay, because if you can give yourself a time-out then you can keep things in perspective. You can’t expect yourself to be a non-emotional robot, but you can train yourself to take a five-minute break from humanity when things are getting to you. Walk around the block, lock yourself in the bathroom, take a quick drive with the windows down and the music blaring. Find the “time-out chair” that works for you, and use it.
Tiny Habits for a Better Community and Environment
1. Take a short walk around the block with a trash bag and pick up litter. This weekly or daily ritual will help you to be more aware of how you treat your daily environment, and you never know the effect it can have on others. Sometimes just one person taking the time to make something better can spark others to take better care of things, as well.
2. Stop and say hi to your neighbours. Make it a habit to do a little more than a nod or smile. It takes just a moment, whenever you see them out, to walk over and say hello. Create a friendlier community and help the people around you get plugged in, too. Some of my best friends are neighbours who were willing to lean over the fence and chat for a minute. Now they’re the ones calling to see if I need anything when they run to the store, or offering to babysit my kids if I’m not feeling well.
3. Borrow before you buy for big purchases. It’s not always possible, but why not try it? Save money and help the environment. Make it a habit to borrow first, try it out, and see if it’s what you really need/want/must have. Then try to buy used before you buy new. Obviously this won’t apply to every big purchase… but it will apply to a lot.
4. Set aside money for giving. It can be a small amount. Really. Five dollars can make a big difference to somebody. Out of every pay check, or every month’s total income, put aside a small bit for giving. It has to be no-strings-attached, and anonymous is the way to go whenever possible. Help out your neighbours. Donate to a charity. Buy that homeless guy a meal. We are all part of the same human family.
5. Keep your bike out where you can see it. No, you don’t have to use it… Just put it out there, in front of you, where you can eyeball it. Every day, when you run to the car and hop in. Wait, you don’t have a bike? Hmmm. Maybe call up a neighbour and see if you can borrow one.