Consistent baby steps get you where you want to go.
Like most people, I have both good and bad habits. On the plus side, I floss and brush, put items away when I'm done with them, turn off lights, and never leave clothes on the floor.
Unfortunately, I also eat out too often, exercise too rarely, don't save enough money, and occasionally binge on carbs.
My good habits come easily, probably drummed in by my mother or natural to my personality (I have a need for order). The bad habits continue to flourish because of laziness, greed, and lots of excuses:
"I'm too tired to cook."
"We're in a hurry; it's faster to go out than to cook."
"I deserve a treat."
"I got a work out when I deep-cleaned the house yesterday, so I don't need to exercise now."
"It's way too hot (or cold, muggy, rainy, etc.) to take a walk today."
"It's not realistic to give up sweets forever."
"I'll just buy this one thing now and save more next month."
"I save more money than most people...more than nothing, anyway."
I'd like to change these habits and eat more healthfully, exercise regularly, lose weight, stay out of debt, and build savings. I make plans and resolutions, but I don't keep them.
Maybe you can relate. Your good and bad habits may be different from mine, but whatever your weaknesses, you feel stuck in them. You know some changes would improve your life, but you keep failing to make them.
Being stuck like this makes me feel I can never change. Not a joyful thought! But is it true? Can't I have more control over myself?
Too Small to Fail
Leo Babauta says that change is easier when you take small steps. It's hard to tell yourself you're too tired or too busy if your daily habit is tiny. Stephen Guise says that the most effective new habits are "too small to fail."
When you do a tiny habit every day, you enjoy immediate success, find it easy to exceed your goal, and continuously move forward. You control your behavior by completing a very simple task, and over time this practice creates new, better habits.
You know huge sudden changes tend to fail. Remember those "whole new you" plans that last less than a week? (Believe me, I've done it too!) Take smaller steps. Choose just two or three tiny changes to start, and allow those to become firm habits before you try more.
Don't try to be impressive; just be consistent.
Improve fitness by making one of these a daily habit:
- Jog in place, dance, or do stretches for one minute. (I know, one minute sounds ridiculous. So what's stopping you from doing it right now?)
- Do one push up or pull up. (You'll probably do more, but you don't have to. Just do the habit every day.)
- Park at the far end of the lot and speed walk to your destination.
- Walk or run up and down one flight of stairs.
- Walk once around the block.
- Put on your gym clothes and go to the gym. (Actually working out exceeds your goal, so you'll probably hit this one out of the park.)
Improve your diet by practicing one of these habits every day:
- Eat one fresh (whole, unprocessed) vegetable.
- Eat one fresh (whole, unprocessed) fruit.
- Drink one glass of water before every snack and meal.
- Use a smaller plate.
- When you snack, put one serving into a bowl (instead of eating out of the bag).
- At a restaurant, ask them to remove the bread basket.
- At a restaurant, split the entrée.
Declutter by adding one of these daily behaviors:
- Make your bed.
- Empty and clean the kitchen sink.
- Toss or donate one item.
- Deal with today's mail -- recycle, file, or pay as necessary.
- Completely clear and clean one counter or tabletop. Keep it that way.
- Hang or fold and put away clean clothes; put dirty clothes in a hamper.
- Clear your email inbox (reply/take action, delete, unsubscribe). If you've neglected this for a while, start by deleting everything more than one month old.
Save money by doing one of these every day:
- Reduce impulse buys. Keep a dated wish list for anything that isn't food, gas, or toiletries. Wait three days, then decide if you still want the item.
- Reduce a spending habit and deposit the savings. For example, at Starbucks order a tall instead of a venti.
- Put $1.00 in a jar; deposit to savings every month.
- If you smoke or drink, wait longer (even 5 or 10 minutes) before lighting your next cigarette or buying another round.
Be more productive at work:
- Decide on the one thing you need to accomplish today.
- Delete email alerts, and check email only two or three specific times a day.
- Stand up, walk, and stretch for one minute every hour.
- Ask one customer how you could serve her better.
- Call or email one new sales or networking lead.
Eat more home-prepared meals:
- Keep bags of pre-washed leafy greens in the fridge.
- Spend 5 minutes chopping vegetables for later use.
- Keep a bowl with fresh seasonal fruits, washed and ready to eat.
- Always cook twice as much rice, pasta, or quinoa to save for later use.
- Keep the fixings for 5 Ingredient Chili on hand.
- Perfect one method for cooking eggs.
- Get a magnetic grocery list pad and use it.
- When cooking, clean as you go.
Improve your outlook on life:
- Write down one thing you're thankful for.
- Connect with one friend.
- Help one person.
- Smile or laugh for 10 seconds (this triggers the release of serotonin and endorphins in your brain).
- Hug one person.
- Get outside in the sunshine for one minute.
- Pray or meditate for one minute.
Take one step at a time, and in a week or two you'll be in a different place. A year from now, you'll be so glad you started a tiny habit today!