Too busy for a new habit? Here's how a micro habit can help

Written by Anna Bartter

Feel too busy to tackle a new habit, but want to make a change? Here’s how a micro habit could be just what you’re after 

I don’t know about you, but everywhere I turn, someone’s telling me to start doing something differently. Be more organised! Learn a new skill! Get up earlier! Exercise more! It’s a lot.And with research showing it can take the average person up to 254 days to form a new habit (yep, that’s almost a whole year!), many of us are put off before we’ve even started.

If this feels like you, it might be time to consider a micro habit.      

Why do we need habits?

They’re good for our mental health

Productivity coach Juliet Landau-Pope maintains that habits are crucial to our wellbeing. “Habits are helpful as they provide us with structure and can reduce the pressure of having to make decisions every moment of the day. The actions we take on a daily basis form part of our routine, and without a routine life can become chaotic and overwhelming.”

So why can they feel so challenging?

But knowing habits good for us doesn’t make them any easier to form. In fact, it can even make them feel more challenging. Landau-Pope explains that “for most of us, contemplating a new habit can feel daunting. Giving up smoking, adopting a healthier diet, starting a new exercise regime – they all involve major shifts in what we do and how we view ourselves.”

This is where micro habits come in. According to life coach and therapist Marilyn Devonish, micro habits provide the manageability we crave: “Starting something new can be overwhelming when it already feels like you’ve got too much to do and not enough time. Convincing your brain to take on a big or new task, particularly when you’re feeling low, is a big ask for those who don’t feel motivated by the challenge.” 

What is a micro habit?

Put simply, a micro habit is a “small incremental step we can take to change how we are living our lives,” says psychologist Dr Laura Williams. 

And the really good news is exactly how small we’re talking. 

“The key to a micro habit must be that in can be completed in less than 30 seconds,” explains life coach and therapist Danny Greeves. “Anything longer is too long!”

How do they work?

Coach and therapist Marilyn Devonish has used micro habits for the last 30 years. She explains “micro habits allow you to flip the neurological switch and give you something easy to do.What often happens is you do the one small thing, realise it was pretty straightforward, and that leads you onto the next step.”

Greeves agrees, saying “the purpose of a micro habit is to build a small habit in such a way that it is almost impossible to fail. By making the habit commitment tiny – or micro – the ease with which you can do it consistently quickly builds confidence.”

The benefits of feeling confident about making small changes are two-fold: we get to revel in a feeling of success multiple times a day which keeps our motivation levels high, as we’re consistently feeling a hit of dopamine. “This makes the overall habit more enjoyable and fulfilling to work towards,” says Greeves, meaning we’re more likely to stick at it. 

How can we incorporate them into our daily routine? 

Habit stacking

The experts agree that the key here is what’s known as “habit stacking”.

Coach and mental wellbeing expert at The Mind Tribe Anji McGrandles explains: “One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify an existing habit you practise each day and then “stack” a new habit on top. For example, if you want to start journalling, try stacking this on top of your morning coffee routine or try a couple of minutes of breath work while brushing your teeth.”

Use your current routine

“In order to make a micro habit feel as seamless as possible,” says Greeves, “you need to find ways to fit it into your existing habits. By using an existing habit – like brushing your teeth in the morning – as an anchor, it gives you a trigger to perform the micro habit.”

Sounds pretty straightforward, and the good news is that micro habits are, by their very nature, super achievable. Greeves explains: “the purpose of a micro habit is to build a small habit in such a way that it is almost impossible to fail. By making the habit commitment tiny – or micro – the ease with which you can do it consistently quickly builds confidence.”

So it’s win-win!

Celebrate your success

Once you’ve succeeded in building a new micro-habit, it’s important to sit back and take stock of how far you’ve come.

“One important factor when it comes to succeeding with micro habits is to celebrate your success,” says Greeves. “In order to build confidence and consistency it’s vital that once you’ve completed a micro habit you celebrate in some small way, even a fist pump will do! This celebration releases the feel-good chemical dopamine and boosts your mood.”

Excuse me while I take 30 seconds to celebrate myself. High fives all round! 

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