A Powerful and Sustainable Way to Achieve Growth & Positive Change Through Small and Concrete Actions
We believe in a realistic method of approaching change: achieving big changes by chipping away at them little by little through short and quick actions. We call these actions microhabits.
How would you like to wake up refreshed after a good night's sleep, with plenty of time for your morning routine? How would you like to have more energy during your workouts because you've been eating well and have been consistent with exercise? What about feeling satisfied and productive at the end of each day, knowing you made the most out of your time? What does your day look like right now? Are you happy with your routines? When’s the last time you thought carefully and deliberately about your daily activities?
One aspect of turning thoughts about deliberate change into actions is not trying to change everything at once. That would be an insurmountable mountain to climb. We don't believe in extreme schedules and extreme diets. They're just not sustainable.
We believe in a realistic method of approaching change: achieving big changes by chipping away at them little by little through short and quick actions. We call these actions microhabits. The microhabits approach can help you change aspects of your life you’re unsatisfied with. These microhabits work because they take hard effortful, herculean lifts, and turn them into tiny, relatively effortless routines that anyone can handle.
Microhabits are the bricks that make up a solid Foundation of Growth. Taken in total, these interrelated and mutually reinforcing habits form a lattice-like system for achieving big, meaningful changes to the your life.
Are you ready to begin? Jump down to start digging into the 50+ examples we've compiled for you. Let's go.
How to Use This Guide
First, a word of caution. Don’t try to implement all the microhabits immediately. Again, overhauling your lifestyle and range of behaviors wholesale will not only seem daunting, but can create a massive psychological obstacle to getting started. That would totally defeat the purpose of pursuing microhabits in the first place.
Next, focus on the areas that you think need the most help first, or use a strategy like “start small” (just do 1) or “Pick your Five” (the five microhabits you commit to doing every day). The aim here is to get started and give the approach a try. Experimentation will help you get into the habit of doing your microhabits. If you need help, take our free Foundation of Growth Assessment to see which area you might benefit the most from. You'll receive a score that identifies potential growth areas across Diet, Fitness, Sleep, Mind, and Relationships.
A final note: be compassionate to yourself. What sometimes overwhelms people is the negative pressure from thinking that they HAVE TO do a microhabit every single day. Sometimes, life just gets in the way. Whether it is travel or family obligations, you’ll have moments when you forget or just can't get yourself to stick to your microhabit. Don’t beat yourself up if that happens. The last thing you want to do is associate negative emotional feelings with these helpful microhabits. Understand that you'll have some misses, but brush it off lightly and get back to doing them!
Once you've completed your microhabits for a few weeks, we suggest riding the bicycle a little faster to make the transition from micro to macro. For this, accountability is required. Track your behavior. Track. Track. And track some more. The adage “what gets measured gets done” is very much applicable here. You have to record your habits in order to see how well you’re sticking with things, and if you aren’t, where you are falling short and have to adjust.
There are many ways to record and track such as Evernote, the Productive app, or a simple notebook. There are automated data collection methods such as Fitbit, Apple Watches, and the like that are extremely useful as well. Additionally, apps such as Way of Life and various free calendar apps can help you schedule automated reminders. This kind of “cognitive offloading” can help you stick with the microhabit by taking away the burden of remembering and using the reminders to cue you to action.
Alternatively, you can turn microhabits into a social game with a small group or with a friend. This is one of the reasons why Fitbit is so successful in helping people to stick with exercise activities. With others watching and providing gentle prods and the element of peer pressure, it’s much more difficult to slack off! Microhabits work great for this because the habits themselves can be turned into one-line exhortations (one pushup!) and can serve as rallying cries for groups of friends who are seeking to improve their own behaviors bit by bit, little by little.
Below, you will find a number of microhabit ideas developed by the Grove Ave team. These are by no means a final list. In fact, as you get familiar with the microhabit concept, you will find yourself brainstorming and creating your own microhabits. These microhabits are divided into the Five Elements of the Foundations of Growth.
We'll continue to add new microhabits as we experiment and test them. Sign up for our newsletter to receive updates when we add new ones.
We'll also look to you to share your microhabits with us. Shoot us a note and tell us about microhabits that have worked well for you. Be sure to check out our framework for building your own microhabit.
- Cut one unhealthy item from your diet today. Avoid empty calories from sugar-based items such as candy or soda. Commit to dropping one item from your diet, starting immediately. Make sure you eliminate it from cupboards and other areas around the house where the sight of it might tempt you to reintroduce it to your diet;keeping items out of reach or out of sight is a good and easy-to-use self-control tool.
- Replace an unhealthy item from your diet for a healthy one. It is hard to maintain deprivation as a long-term strategy. To replace the feeling of nourishment, consider swapping food items out for healthier ones. Examples of possible replacement items: hard candy = raisins, chips = carrots, cheese dip = hummus, ice cream = greek yogurt with fruit, candy bar = oatmeal.
- Eat one handful of something green every day. If you find yourself eating mostly starch, meats, and dairy, start small by adding just a handful of something green to your daily diet. An easy option is a box of pre-washed baby spinach or mixed greens. Every day, just throw a handful along with whatever you're eating. You'll barely notice it but it'll get you in the habit of eating more plants. Other green handful options: broccoli, arugula, kale, swiss chard, and bok choy.
- Write down what you ate. Whether it's in the evening before bed or the next morning, take a couple minutes to jot down everything you ate for each meal and snacks. No need to count calories or write down servings. Just keep a list of what you ate and keep on doing it. This will get you in the habit of reflecting on your eating habits and also make you more aware of what you are putting into your body. If you want ideas on how to expand your diet in a healthy way, check out this article on Dr. Michael Greger's Daily Dozen.
- Eat a serving of fruit in the morning. Even if you're in a rush and limited in time or not feeling hungry at all, commit to eating a single serving of fruit in the morning. This will not only supply you with energy, fiber, and vitamins, but it will get you in the habit of consuming something fresh and nutritious. Ideas for quick morning fruit: apple, banana, clementine, peach, pear, apricot. If you can take a moment to cut up some fruit: honeydew, kiwifruit, avocado, orange, grapefruit, papaya, cantaloupe. Alternatively, dried fruits such as raisins, apricots, peaches, and cranberries, are excellent sources of nutrition and keep for a long time. See more dried fruit examples.
- Drink half a glass of water in the morning. If you can drink more, great. If you normally go straight for coffee, condition yourself to finish at least half a glass of water before you drink anything else. Hydration impacts the body in a big way. Get yourself used to the act of drinking water and see if you can gradually increase your water intake throughout the day. If you want to experiment with flavors, consider electrolyte tablets like Nuun All Day, which helps you retain water while giving you vitamins.
- Fill up a bottle of water the night before and keep it on your nightstand so that you can drink some of it when you wake up. By making it really easy to get the hydration you need, you take away any excuse not to do it. This microhabit also helps those who are inclined to hit the snooze button by adding a short motor-skill intensive step to the wake up routine.
- When you want another glass of booze, have a glass of water. Break through the urge to have one more glass of wine, another beer, another shot, by replacing alcohol with water. First, set your initial limit, and when you hit the limit, change to water. This reduces the challenge to stop drinking by allowing yourself to continue to drink, just something other than alcohol–which is particularly helpful whenever you’re in a social setting and everyone else is downing a beverage. Your future non-hungover self will thank you.
- When you get up to go to the bathroom at work, bring your water bottle and fill it up at the fountain. This is a three for one special: you get to stretch, walk a bit, AND get your necessary hydration. Why would anyone choose to stare at a screen for hours straight? Give your eyes a break too. You don’t necessarily need eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day, but being well-hydrated is associated with better mood and skin, among other positive benefits.
- Bring a bag of homemade snacks to work. It’s getting close to the end of the day and the craving hits you. The only thing available to fill your craving? The dreaded vending machine full of unhealthy choices. Skip the vending machine. Reach into your bag of goodies instead, replacing those almost-stale potato chips with some almonds or grapes. Other examples of easily packable foodstuffs: an apple, a hardboiled egg, Greek yogurt, clementines, trail mix of nuts and chocolate. You can go even further and create more complicated snack items -- the key is to bring something to work that you’ll actually enjoy! If you won’t enjoy eating it, chances are you’ll default to the tastier but less healthy option at your disposal.
- Do five push-ups, every single day. If you can do more, great. Commit to doing just five. It takes less than a minute. It may take less than 10 seconds for some. Get into the position, engage your core, and follow good form. Push-ups work your chest, back, and triceps muscles. It is a very effective exercise. Five may seem like a small and insignificant number, but think of it as a gateway to doing more. Five is a long way from zero, and it's halfway to doing double-digits. Bonus: add 1 more rep every week; cap it or go back down if it begins to feel like too much–in 4 months, you could be doing more than 20 push-ups a day!
- Park as far away from the door as possible. Most of the time we want to park as close to the door as possible. But think about it -- you just drove somewhere, which means that you were sitting on your butt the entire time. You have to get from the car to the door anyway, so you might as well walk a bit. Why? It turns out that we burn barely any more calories when sitting vs. standing, a knock against all those who think that their standing desk is helping them lose weight. The most calorie-burning activity that people can do at work? Walking.
- Take the stairs whenever possible. Same principle as parking: you have to get there anyway, so why not build some exercise into your route? Be reasonable about this: you probably don’t want to take the stairs when you have to go up ten flights, but one to five flights seems more than reasonable.
- Walk-and-talk: turn one-on-one meetings or phone conversations into exercise time. Same principle as stairs and parking, and now you can kill two birds with one stone: get some exercise in AND get your meeting done. The additional increase in circulation and heart-rate are good for fitness, and some additional research suggests that it might even be good for creativity!
- Pick one day a week to walk or bike to work. If you have shower facilities in your office or a gym near your office, this microhabit is even easier to keep. The night before, pack a change of clothes and some toiletries. Keeping an extra toiletry kit just for the gym makes this microhabit more tenable. If you’ve ever walked around London you definitely see people running to and from work with small backpacks that have a change of clothes. The general principle followed here is to make productive use of previously “dead” time, such as time spent in traffic. And if you use previously used your traffic time to catch up on podcasts, you can continue to do that.
- Always be ready for a workout. Always pack a change of gym clothes. This is a lot easier than you think it is: shoes, shorts (sometimes with built-in underwear, at least for men), and a t-shirt will get you through a good weight-lifting session. Buy dark colored or black sneakers / hiking shoes that you can get away with wearing at work -- something flexible enough to work out in that also wouldn’t look out of place in a more formal environment.
- 10 minutes before the start of the hour, get up, stretch, and walk around. Once an hour, stand up and stretch your back, legs, arms, and shoulders. Walk around for a minute: use the time to fill up your water bottle or go to the bathroom. The Apple Watch or other electronic devices such as Fitbits (and some apps) are great for reminding you not to sit too long! If you want to read a really good book on better posture and exercises for combatting long stretches at your desk, check out Deskbound by Kelly Starrett.
- Build a five minute stretching routine into the end of your weightlifting workout. Functional fitness requires flexibility, but we often ignore this aspect of our overall health. Even many experienced weightlifters and people who “look” physically fit may not be able to do basic things such as lift their arms to their shoulders behind their backs. Pick four stretches, for example, a shoulder stretch, a sitting hamstring stretch, hip flexor stretch, and chest stretch and do these at the end of your workout once all of your muscle groups have been activated. Do each for about 30 seconds and rotate between them. In five minutes you’ll have increased your flexibility, which you probably wouldn’t have done at all before. You can increase your flexibility even more by doing some introductory yoga classes or doing a 10-minute free yoga video on Youtube.
- Sit up straight at work, reminding yourself to do so every time you get an email from your boss! Sitting up straight not only stretches out your scrunched up back, neck, and shoulder muscles -- it also changes your body chemistry for the better. It decreases cortisol (hormone related to stress) and increases testosterone. If you don’t naturally have good posture, one potential reinforcing technique is to tie reminders to sit up straight to incoming email. I use the boss as an example (not all of us have bosses, or you might even be the boss!) so pick a cue that works for you. You might need to retrain your posture -- you can try devices like Lumo Tech’s Lumo Lift.
- Do 10 proper air squats every day. Air squats are performed without any weights. Squatting in general works a large group of muscles in your body and requires you to have proper mobility in your hips and ankles. If you are new to squatting, be sure to study the proper technique and take it slow. As you get more comfortable and better in your technique, add 1 more rep each week. For a good primer on proper squatting technique, check out this video.
- Charge your phone in an adjacent room, not your nightstand. How many times have you wanted and tried to go to bed, but instead scrolled endlessly on Buzzfeed, BoredPanda, imgur, or a social media platform like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Reddit? Take away the temptation to go on one of these bottomless-pit platforms and put your phone charger in another room. When you’re ready to go to bed, put your phone there so that you won’t be tempted to scroll through an endless amount of content that just wastes time and steals your hard-earned sleep time.
- Turn on blue light blockers for your computer and phone. So-called light pollution makes it harder and harder for people to fall asleep on time. Blue light is a feature of artificial sources of light, such as computer and smartphone screens, which interfere with your melatonin production from the pineal gland (a gland in the brain). Because of how many screens are incorporated into the modern American lifestyle, exposure to blue light is almost unavoidable. By looking at blue light sources while in bed, the brain receives a signal that it is still daylight outside, making it more and more difficult to actually fall asleep. Luckily, blue light blockers are now built into iOS (bottom pull up menu, same place where flashlight and timer live) and for your computer you can get the f.lux plug-in for both MacOS and Windows.
- Read a book right before bed. Novels or biographies are good choices. If you're reading off of a device, make sure the blue light is turned off (more details on this above). As you relax in bed with your book, reading can help you get drowsy and fall readily asleep. If your body is ready for it, just a few minutes of reading can get you feeling sleepy. If you're wired, reading for 30 minutes or an hour can do the trick.
- Put your alarm clock on the other side of the room. Make it harder to hit the snooze button by putting your alarm clock on the other side of the room. Better yet, install an app like SnapMeUp which forces you to take a picture in order to turn the alarm off. This makes it easier to resist the urge of falling back into bed since you’re already up and out of it!
- Tell yourself what time you are going to wake up in the morning before going to bed. This method won’t work if you’re exhausted, drunk, or otherwise deliriously sleep deprived, but such mental priming is recommended by Sleep.org and others.
- Set a bedtime and then be in bed 30 minutes beforehand. By being in bed before you actually have to be there, it gives you the opportunity to wind down and takes away any excuses for not going to bed on time (you’re already physically there). This method does not work as well when you have a TV or other electronic device in your room. You need to couple this microhabit with the microhabit of charging your phone in a different room and staying away from or modifying the settings on blue light emitting devices.
- Set out your clothes and pack your work bag before you go to bed. Have you ever stood in front of your closet or dresser and spent precious morning time struggling to decide what to wear? Has this behavior ever made you even more late than you already were? By laying out your clothes and packing your shoulder, work, or gym bag before bed, you eliminate the need to exert cognitive effort in the morning, conserving it for later in the day. You also greatly reduce the probability of forgetting something important by prepping the night before–trying to remember critical items while rushing out the door is a recipe for disaster!
- Reduce and reorganize your clothing to further minimize cognitive load. As a first step, get rid of everything you haven’t worn in the past year. Donate it to Goodwill or pack it up and send it to the attic so there are fewer non-viable choices (stuff you know you don’t want to wear) clogging up your clothing selection process. Then further simplify this process by organizing the clothes in your closet by type (pants, collared shirts, jackets) and subsequently organizing those sections by color (rainbow order, ROYGBIV) to make clothing identification faster. This microhabit takes a little bit of preparation and setup, but the returns are well worth it. You’ll have to spend some time doing the first set of organizing, but after that it becomes much easier to continue the habit. How many times have you been late because you couldn’t find the matching jacket and pants or the shirt you wanted to wear? No more morning mishaps. Having a system also makes it easier to organize your clothes after you do the laundry or when your dry cleaning gets returned; you no longer have to decide where to put things, since everything has its place, and you no longer have to search for things since you know where they are. Want a good book on this? Check out The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.
- Before you brush your teeth at night, take a vitamin. If you ever forget to take your daily vitamin, this will change that habit around. While most people take a vitamin in the morning, our mornings are usually rushed enough that sometimes the vitamin falls by the wayside. By coupling the vitamin with teeth brushing (which we probably do more regularly than taking the vitamin), we set up a cue and transfer the cognitive load from morning to evening.
- When you wash your face every night, change your pillowcase. Your pillowcase is dirty and you don’t know it because you can’t see it. All of the dirt, grime, oils, and dead skin on your face and in your scalp winds up on your pillow, and this detritus might be the cause of breakouts. Many people wash their face at night to prevent skin breakouts, but what if that treatment is counteracted by all the stuff on your pillowcase? While this microhabit takes a lot of pillowcases– which you can buy cheaply at Walmart or Amazon–this will improve your skin dramatically.
- Always make your bed in the morning. While this microhabit seems really rudimentary, it does one thing really well: it prevents you from going back to bed After all, who wants to mess up an already-made bed? You don’t have to even make it well–just throw the cover to completely cover the bed. At a minimum, it gets you out of bed, which reduces the chances of you falling back to sleep and hitting snooze again!
- End your morning shower with a 10-second blast of cold water. There’s scientific evidence that cold showers can make you more productive and healthy by releasing mood-boosting endorphins, opening up your skin pores, increasing your circulation rate, and jumpstarting your metabolism. But not many people can handle an entire shower in chilly water, nor do they actually want to. Cold showers might be dangerous for people with heart conditions, too. Instead of going all-out with a cold shower, try ending your shower with a 10-second blast.
- Turn on a social media blocker. Social media platforms spend millions of dollars each year to engineer systems that keep you on the platform. Think about that again: they are designed to tap into the innate features (and flaws) of human psychology to increase the likelihood that you’ll stay on the platform! These so-called bottomless pit platforms are just that: with the number of people in the world who are creating content, you could spend your entire day on the platform and not see all of the new stuff being generated. It’s simple math: # of content generators times amount of time generating content divided by your consumption rate. You just can’t keep up, and nor should you want to. While many of us use social media to keep up with the news, our friends, and also for work, the platforms can quickly take over your life. So use apps such as the Newsfeed Eradicator for Facebook (Chrome plug-in) or the nuclear option: Stayfocusd plug-in that will block entire sites. Stayfocusd is neat because it allows you to set a daily time allowance for yourself on these restricted sites. So you can wean yourself slowly off of your social media addiction by slowly setting less and less allowance time each day.
- Turn off all notifications on your phone, including texts and emails. Let people know that if they absolutely need to reach you, they can call you. This will decrease the number of times in a day that your phone distracts you. Be sure to turn off notifications for apps, especially news sites (do you really need that TechCrunch notification?), social media, and messenger apps.
- Respond to all meeting requests with “let me check my calendar.” Do all of your scheduling at once, once per day, so that you can properly deconflict and prioritize your time. By looking at your schedule holistically, it also shows you opportunities to change in-person meetings to phone calls, phone calls to emails, and other opportunities to downgrade time-wasting commitments so you can focus on what you really need to do: your job!
- Open emails once, and once they are opened, respond to them immediately. How many times have you glanced at an email notification, possibly multiple if you have an Apple Watch, phone, and computer, read the subject, read the first few lines, mulled over whether to respond, formulated a response in your head -- and then NOT responded? Think about how much precious time you’ve wasted only to have to re-read the email in order to properly respond later. Digital distractions abound and reply-procrastination only compounds these naturally occurring shiny objects. Some emails require more thoughtful responses, but others do not. Answer them right away!
- At the end of the work day, write down your to-do list for the following work day. Prepare for the next day by looking at the tasks you haven’t accomplished yet, scanning your calendar for what the following day looks like, integrating the two lists, and then prioritizing the tasks accordingly! When you come in the next day, don’t immediately open your email (resist the urge!), knock out the most important item on your list, and then check your email to see if you need to reprioritize.
- Commit to reading five pages of a book everyday. You can read before bed, after you get up in the morning, even while you’re in the bathroom! The key is to read those five pages and build the habit of reading. Before you know it, you’ll have finished reading War and Peace (yes, this example means that it’ll take you about a year to finish, but think about how many people never even picked it up to begin with!).
- Sit down and just start typing, don’t stop until you’ve written a paragraph. Is there a book or article in your head? Chances are, yes. Did you know 90% of Americans want to write a book but 97% of those who start never finish? Boost your chances of success by starting small. If you feel like stopping, don’t. Just keep writing. Eventually something will come out. And remember: you can always edit later. You’re not writing on a typewriter, after all.
- Write down your thoughts, even thoughts that seem small and trivial. They don't even have to be creative, original thoughts but could be a statement of fact, a quote from a book, or a new word you learned that day. Try to do this once a day with the goal being that you'll instinctively write down your thoughts several times a day. The act of writing can be a helpful form of meditation and self-reflection. Having a written record of your thoughts and observations can also come in handy when you try to recall ideas or tidbits of information later on. Some ideas on things to write down: something you've observed while walking outside, how you felt about a certain TV show or movie, things that annoy or bother you at that moment, a vacation you'd like to take, a dream you had, how you behaved in a certain situation, things you'd like to eat, how you might improve things at work.
- Install the Kindle app on your phone. Whenever you go to the bathroom for #2, or even #1, open up the Kindle app in lieu of Facebook or any other distraction apps you may typically open up. Read a few pages, no matter how little you may get through. This habit will add up over time and increase your amount of reading. Also do this when brushing your teeth or waiting at an appointment (you can set the Kindle app to read, or you can get Audible for your phone and get those pages read to you). Extreme tip: delete all apps that "distract" and just keep the bare minimum apps that are productive and good for growth.
- Keep track of your reading. Every 90 days, make a list of books you want to read. Hit up sources like our Growth Library, Ryan Holiday's reading list, or Tim Ferriss's podcast to get ideas on what to read, or ask your friends for recommendations. Keep another list of completed books where you track all the books you've read, including when you finished. This can be as simple as maintaining a running list on the Notebook app, or you can use Goodreads to find new books and keep a virtual library of finished reads that–as a bonus habit– you’ve rated and reviewed. By writing down a few notes down about the most valuable takeaway from the book, you’ll improve your recall and maintain the utility of having read the book in the first place. When you look back a year later, you'll be amazed.
- Commit to learning one small new thing each day. That new thing can be a skill or some research that will help you in your life or job. Best to set aside some time to do this, for example, if you want to learn how to code but don’t code in your day job, consider using something like Codecademy at a set time every day. If you learn one new thing each day, you’ll learn 365 new things in a year. Not too shabby.
- Whenever you’re leaving a family member or significant other, even if just for the day, don’t forget to say “I love you.” You never know what might happen in a day. There’s never any harm in telling your loved one how you really feel about them, but it is so easy to forget and take these people in your life for granted.
- Always send a thank you note to someone who spends time to meet with you. Thank you notes are even more powerful than in the past because so many people forget to send them. Relationships are valuable and should not be considered throw-away commodities. For added impact, consider sending a hand-written card or note as opposed to an email. People are much more likely to remember and hold on to a physical note, especially now that most communications occur electronically.
- Call a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in awhile each week. With how easy it is to stay in touch, we still often neglect relationships that are important to us. While technology does make the act of staying in touch easier, it doesn’t necessarily enable us to more easily remember to do so in the first place. We still might lack the motivation and will to initiate these important conversations. Getting in the habit of talking to friends and family deepens those relationships in the age of surface-level Facebook-only interactions (are all those people really your friends?). To reduce the cognitive burden, you can choose a specific time each week that typically works, like 8pm on a Sunday. We’ve set up a weekly Grove Ave google hangout so we get to talk to each other and maintain our group of friends and business partnership through something other than email and one-on-one exchanges. We know others who have established a standing WhatsApp group chat with their friend circle. Even people in different parts of the country can easily stay in touch this way.
- Start conversations with open-ended questions and then commit to listening. You can learn so much by actually listening to people. Learn to ask open-ended questions like “why do you feel that way” and let people talk before jumping in. By starting with open-ended questions you can get people to tell you how they really feel. If you’re not used to listening you’ll be surprised at how much people will tell you if only they were given the opportunity!
- Call people by their names (thank you, Dale Carnegie). Per Dale Carnegie: “Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” When you meet someone for the first time, repeat their name back to them. When you depart, repeat their name and tell them how nice it was to meet them. This will not only help you remember their name, but also create a warmer exchange.
- Find and say a daily affirmation. An affirmation is a statement of truth said in confidence. Start the day off right by texting your friends or saying out loud a positive phrase. Here are a few examples: “New day!” “New opportunities!” “Let’s go!” “I’m ready.” It sounds cheesy, but there’s published research that shows that an affirmation has some protective effects against stress. These short, self-affirmative statements likely serve as an emotional pick-you-up and as a short-term boost to get you going when you need it most: when you first wake up.
- Express daily gratitude. It's so easy to forget the things we should be grateful for. Feeling grateful on a regular basis makes us mindful of the things we should be happy about in life. Looking on the bright side of things, setting aside some time to think about what we should be thankful for (e.g., our family, significant others, health) has been scientifically shown to increase our well-being and reduce depression.
- Schedule time for reflection. Before going to bed, reflect on your day for one minute. What went well? What things are you happy about? What went not-so-well? What things need to be improved on? As this microhabit becomes a macrohabit, you can also turn this into a more serious form of reflection, called mindfulness meditation. A few great apps are available that guide meditation; we like the free app Stop Think, and Breathe and the paid app Headspace. Even ten minutes a day can decrease the amount of stress you feel and improve your feeling of centeredness.
- Feel more compassionate towards others. We often blame others for their behavior when in fact their behavior is mostly dictated by their situation. Psychologists call this the fundamental attribution error. Think about how often, when you’re driving, you think that everyone else is driving erratically and you’re the only one driving safe and sanely. This is a classic attribution error situation. The next time you’re frustrated with someone, start by asking yourself, how would I behave if I were in their shoes?
- Compliment one person a day. Not only do we take the things we have for granted, we also take the people in our lives for granted. Because of the modern condition, we interact with many people only once. We may not ever meet them again, and so we don’t necessarily have an incentive to be especially nice. While incentive structures are set up one way, it doesn’t mean that we have to behave according to those structures. One way we can be nice to people is by committing to complimenting people daily. While people may not remember what you say, they almost always remember how you made them feel. There’s no better way of making someone feel good about themselves than with a truthful compliment.
- Throw something away or donate it. We are often tempted to buy things we don’t need or won’t ever use again. Remind yourself of how much stuff you already have by going into your closet or storage area and finding something to donate or throw away. Lots of organizations like Purple Heart donations will come to your house and pick up the item you want to donate. Start a small pile and have them come pick it up once a week or every two weeks. Making this a microhabit will help you focus on the important things in life–the people, the relationships, the experiences–rather than the material things that surround you.
How to Build Your Own Microhabits
Think of an area of your life that you'd like to work on. The Foundation of Growth provides a good starting point (Diet, Fitness, Sleep, Mind, and Relationships), but it's critical that you hone in on a specific challenge or bad habit that you'd like to address.
Here's an example: I spend too much time on Facebook, making it hard to spend time on more productive activities. (Mind)
Rather than doing something drastic like deleting your Facebook app (only to re-install it later and lapse into old habits later on), start with a dead simple activity. Each time you find yourself about to open up Facebook, open up your favorite note taking app and jot down a productive activity that you'd like to be doing instead. You don't have to do this more productive activity in place of using Facebook, but you need to take a minute to think about it and write it down. Afterwards, if you still want to, go on with your Facebook use.
Do this every single time, every day, and see what happens. Whether it works or not depends on the person, but at the least, you'll have developed a microhabit that challenges an existing behavior. For some, writing down the more productive activity may inspire you to do something else, like read a book or draw. For others, it may not curb the Facebook habit, but you'll have a nice long list of alternative behaviors to reflect on.
So here's the Build Your Own Microhabit framework in a nutshell:
- Identify a specific challenge or bad habit that you'd like to change.
- Think of the simplest activity that you can easily do over and over again. No matter how trivial it may seem, the most important aspect of it is that you can commit to doing it with little resistance.
- Track your progress. Give yourself a week to see how the microhabit has impacted you. Then give yourself a month to see if the microhabit has led to even greater changes.
Keep in mind that Microhabits are about experimentation and persistence. Don’t be discouraged if a microhabit doesn’t lead to anything significant. The most important thing is that you’re constantly trying and opening yourself to adopting new microhabits that can build over time.
Growth requires change. We designed the concept of microhabits to make the process of change less daunting. We believe that inaction and time wasted in overthinking the next step gets in the way of personal and professional growth. The way forward is to take one step and then to take another one. Microhabits are your small steps. Before you know it, you'll have traversed a continent or climbed a mountain. The transformation will be subtle and gradual as you continue your journey, but when you look back, you'll be startled by the changes.
Good luck, and may your microhabits bring about macro changes.