Creating Incremental and Lasting Change – The power of tiny

Is our obsession with consumption merely a symptom of our desire for change? After all, buying a new shirt is easier than giving up smoking, coffee, or any one of a dozen other things which people regularly attempt.

Lasting change, at a character level, is difficult to achieve, and all the self help books in the world will not help, if we don’t put the effort in.

Turning over a new leaf, I believe my Mum called it, usually referring to a new semester at school in which perhaps I could finally live up to my potential, rather than “highly intelligent but easily distracted” or “capable of so much more” which appeared regularly on my report cards.

It’s galling to admit that if I were to be grading my life since leaving school, I would be writing the same sorts of things.

I credit the book Tiny Habits for finally enabling me to implement small changes and tweaks to my routine that have stuck. It’s working. I tend to be a person who, when they decide to embark on, let’s say, an exercise regime, I do so with full enthusiasm but can wind up burning out very quickly.

And it’s not just exercise, it’s a change of diet, a change in habits – anything really. I’m quite sure that after Anne, Change may be my other middle name. I am always working on some part of myself and sometimes several at once. Which is exhausting and can lead to a feeling of failure quite regularly.

Now however, I have several new tiny habits, some are rather personal but to give you an example or two, here are some:

I love yoga, I have a mat in my office which is supposed to remind me to practice regularly. Instead, for the last few months, I have been walking around it, silently saying “should”, which is like driving a nail into my failure button. I simply couldn’t seem to commit to a twenty minute practice.

With my new tiny habit, all I have to do is commit to five minutes. I always have five minutes, anyone does, which of course, once I’m on the mat, might extend longer but the thing is, I only have to do five to keep my commitment to myself and my yoga practice. Five minutes of yoga is enough to open every channel in my blood stream and seriously stretch some tension out. Five minutes of Yoga is amazing, and now I’m back practicing Yoga, which has a lot of knock on positive effects in my daily life.

Tiny habits are brilliant for the perfectionist, as they create a series of tiny, perfect completions every day. If you are a person who is hard on yourself ☝️give this method a go.

I have a few weights. A kettle bell, medicine ball, dumbbells, that sort of thing. I love weights but it’s been awhile and I never seem to get back into it properly. A week here or there and then long stretches in between. Five minutes of weights may seem like nothing. It’s not. I don’t muck around so it’s a significant heart pumping, smile inducing little boost. And I’m getting stronger. Similar to my experience with yoga, some days I go a little longer and add a few more reps, but I only have to fill in five minutes to collect my brownie point and fulfil my commitment to myself. Cue dopamine droplet and a feeling of momentum and achievement. Even for something so small it feels great. I did what I said I would. Boom, moving on.

Running. I’ve fallen out of the habit of running and been instead taking long walks. Which I really enjoy but I like my heart to be working a bit harder. My base line is 5k and that is where I start when I come back to it.

But a 5km route is a tad daunting and a little exhausting right out of the gates – so I’ve been putting it off. After the book I told myself I can just run to the bottom of the road. It’s a 1km commitment every day. Totally easy. Totally doable, so I do it.

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The danger of course, is that I never increase my distance or time commitments in these areas and end up being “less than” I could be. Take it a bit too easy in other words.

I’ve thought about that too, but the thing is, I already run past the 1km mark some mornings and up to 3km just because it feels good. I know it won’t be long before I’m running much further than that. Because I enjoy it.

Humans are chemically wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Heady, addictive Dopamine is our reward every time we achieve. And that is just one chemical bonus. There are also the endorphins which we receive from the exercise, and a whole host of other small upticks to increase our motivation once we begin, we just have to begin.

Exercise is supposed to be energising not a complete flogging of the body. This has taken me some time to grasp. My ego has always gotten in the road of my pursuits in exercise. Higher, faster, longer, harder. If it doesn’t hurt then it hasn’t done anything. Not anymore! Pulling up after a gentle run and continuing to stride with the blood flowing and a grin on my face is highly enjoyable. I don’t feel like I need to battle on down the road. Or aim for a 10km or longer race anymore.

What about if exercise isn’t your thing?

Create something – anything (cooking, writing, sewing etc) every day. Creativity is the antidote to consumption.

Drink a healthy smoothie every day

Meditate for 5 minutes

Make the bed

Clean something every day

Declutter an area even if it just one shelf, every day

Give yourself a high five in the mirror every morning – have you heard of this habit by Mel Robbins? It’s great, simple, and although it feels silly at the beginning it is the best way to turn your inner critic into an inner cheerleader.

Want to create change in your relationships? List (even if it is in your head) three things you appreciate about your loved one every day. Do something (or lots of things) thoughtful and kind for them, every day (without requiring anything in return).

Ring your parents, if you love them, often, one day they won’t be there.

Want to increase your general knowledge? Read one page of a book (this is obviously not my personal habit – stopping reading is my problem so I have to limit my reading rather than increasing it)

My tiny habits go on quite extensively, I’m a little addicted to the dopamine, but don’t overwhelm yourself at the start. Just begin with one thing that you want to change and give it the smallest time commitment possible. Something ridiculously achievable. Something that makes your snort at the stupidity of it. Then do it.

Having lots of tiny good habits fills out the day and crowds out the less healthy ways in which to spend my time. A caveat to this is of course, don’t go focusing on what you don’t want to do.

I once nearly crashed into a petrol bowser on my motorbike because I was looking for the one which said “unleaded” and forgot the old rule of “don’t look where you don’t want to go.

It is the same with creating change. If there is something you need to eradicate then looking at it all the time won’t make it disappear. Slim healthy people don’t fixate on chocolate cake, they think about green smoothies or they don’t think about food at all because they don’t feel a lack of it. Fake it till you make it but don’t fixate on smoking if what you want is to give it up. The thought will become increasingly difficult to avoid until there you are, cigarette in hand, puffing away and gloomily telling yourself you are a failure.

There is no failure of person. It is a system failure. A procedural failure. Look at your system, high five your inner friend and begin over.

Instead of fixating on smoking, try this, go for a five minute run, or swim, or just do ten squats, feel your lungs pump and think how grateful you are to have them. Think how toxic cigarette smoke is, how it poisons the body. How big companies are getting rich off flogging terrible products to addicts. Get mad. Bastards! Then turn your mind to something else that doesn’t remind you of smoking at all. A day a time. It worked for me this way and nothing else did, including nicotine replacements.

Try to add to your life, not delete, it just feels better and when we feel better, we automatically chase more of it. Let’s face it, we rarely stick to anything that doesn’t feel good, so why not use this bias to our advantage.

Don’t say “I’m not buying anything new for a year”. This may work as a resolution or it may not. Me being me, as soon as I create a line in the sand, my inner idiot crosses it, or wants to, badly. So to put myself out of my misery, instead of saying “no” I say “yes”.

For example, instead of creating a rule of not buying new clothes (which takes away fun), create a mission to wear a different outfit from an existing wardrobe, every day for a year (adds fun).

If you’re installing a ban on buying clothes, then chances are you have plenty already. Having to use these clothes in a different way every day, brings out the playful creative. It creates a positive challenge, that has you not only rifling through your wardrobe with purpose, but also your accessories and shoes. Everything becomes fresh and fun, yet you are effortlessly agreeing to the original maxim, which was to shop less.

If you feel you are consuming too much food – I have been there. Banning myself from anything doesn’t work long term. I have buckets of willpower but (as my early school reports suggest) I’m easily distracted. Instead of a negative rule of no more cream, or no more bread, or no more chocolate (fun stopper!) I am trying to crowd out the unhealthy options.

I created a rule of a glass of water every hour between 8am and 5pm. More water means less empty. I created the one green smoothie a day, the apple a day and other tweaks that actually say yes to eating, not no.

Increasing fibre and water works to decrease the available space to put chocolate biscuits and other crappy options. The focus shifts, eating this way feels better and gradually I come back into balance.

Give tiny habits a go and see if you can create a couple of new positive changes in your life. Other posts on change and habits are here and here 🦋

No time like the present 🎁

4 thoughts on “Creating Incremental and Lasting Change – The power of tiny

  1. All good stuff. I find the tiny habits work for me as well. A minimum of pushups and crunches every day. I often stick around for more. But making the bed? I just don’t get it. We let them air out all day.

    • There is a guy we pass by at the beach when we are there – he has his routine that he works through every morning, ignoring everyone as they walk around him. Getting it done. Another comes and just does the longest planks I have ever witnessed, I can go in for a swim and come out and he is still in position. Abs like rocks as you would imagine. We call him plank man and are a bit in awe of him. Both these guys have inspired me to just get it done. Don’t wait for motivation instead let routine and habit carry me into a healthier version. Far more reliable than motivation that’s for sure.

  2. I’m a great fan of tiny habits too. (I remember that BJ Fogg says the new habit only sticks if you actually want it to. ) Currently I’m using tiny habits to learn a script and for the first time in my life I’m succeeding 🙂

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