My books teach people how to form habits, but they don’t say much about what to do after that happens.
It’s a strange place to be. You’ve struggled for years to do certain things, and suddenly, these once-elusive behaviors are second nature. It feels great, but what do you do next?
- Do you pursue more habits? Maybe.
- Do you continue with your current habits? If you have to ask, they probably aren’t habits yet.
- Do you build a sand castle on the beach to celebrate? Seems nice. Do it.
I started my mini habits about three years ago in fitness (one push-up per day), reading (2 pages per day), and writing (50 words per day). They evolved into big, life-changing habits.
What I Did After Mini Habits Changed My Life
I stayed the course.
Present day, I continue to work out and write almost daily, and read more often than I ever did before. But over the last year or so, I haven’t created any new mini habits. Shocking, isn’t it, for the guy who can’t ever stop talking about them?
Here’s why: the whole point of habit formation is to shape your life the way you want it… and my mini habits have already done that! Success! Who’s to say I need more?
“Freedom means you are unobstructed in living your life as you choose. Anything less is a form of slavery.”
~ Wayne Dyer
My mini habit behaviors have all reached a point of satisfaction, where I can say I don’t (currently) feel a pressing need to do more or less of them.
Because my initial mini habits were in foundational areas, I’m mostly pleased with how I spend my time. I’m not in a hurry to rack up 20 more mini habits so that I can play six instruments, speak four languages, and be unusually good at juggling chainsaws.
Just recently, I’ve started one new mini habit. Yes, just one! I’m doing one minute (untimed) of meditation per day.
My first mini habit experience was doing one push-up per day, and it became consistent exercise, which has unbelievable benefits. So I know from experience that one small habit is enough to make a life-altering difference!
If you’ve been practicing mini habits for a while and are itching to add more to your life, please pause that thought for a moment and consider this.
Embracing Life’s Limits Is Surprisingly Rewarding
Most people who read my books come from traditional “get motivated and reach for the stars” thinking (the stupid mindset society teaches us). I can see this mindset easily in one of the most common questions I receive about the mini habits strategy. People always want to know the MAXIMUM number of mini habits they can do successfully at a time. It’s a good and valid question, but it betrays one’s desire to get as much accomplished simultaneously as possible. And even when I say “four maximum,” some people will rebel and try to do 10+ mini habits at a time.
Having multiple mini habits is fine to an extent–I had tremendous and life-changing success with three mini habits just as I did with one–but it isn’t always necessary or ideal to push your limits.
Bad news: Our days and lives have a saturation point in regards to habit development. Sorry. You really can’t do it all, because even if it seems possible to do everything and you tried, you would be so sleep deprived and exhausted that you’d hate life. To give you an example, my exercise habit is quite strong now, and I’ll exercise for over three hours on some days. While it’s easy for me to choose to do that now, it absolutely DRAINS me for the rest of the day, making it extremely difficult to do other “productive” tasks I’d love to do.
Habits Can Drain You, Too
You have to ask yourself… is your dream day to work out for 3 hours, cook three from-scratch meals, write 3,000 words, read half of a book, tend to your hydroponic garden, and 35 other things before you collapse in bed from lack of energy? That might be an epic single day, but is that the lifestyle you’re after? Not for me! On the days I work out for three hours, I’m more than happy to watch a little “too much TV” and not do as much as I would on another day.
The key idea is this: Developing good habits may save you the psychic energy from having to decide to execute them, but the behaviors themselves will still use up a lot of other energy (creative energy, physical energy, mental energy, and time).
The misconception about habits is that once they’re formed, they’re automatic and easy. That only applies to the decision-making aspect of a habit. Exercise takes up considerably more energy from me than it did prior to being a habit, because I actually do it now!
World class ice skaters, weight lifters, chefs, entrepreneurs, and gymnasts would probably love to do other things, but they concentrate on their profession instead. They know it takes almost all of their focus and effort to be great at what they do… and that’s ONE activity in ONE category. A typical human life has multiple categories of interest—finances, relationships, family, personal growth, health, career, hobbies, etc—each with their own set of potential pursuits. As I wrote about earlier, it’s not realistic to be able to balance all of these areas and opportunities equally.
Why haven’t I undertaken new sets of mini habits? Because if I were to pursue additional mini habit sets, they may very well cut into the time and energy I allocate towards things like writing and working out. I definitely have room for more pursuits in my life, but I don’t intend to “fill up” my life to the brim. Breathing room is a very, very good thing! I will only add something to my life after careful consideration, because a cluttered schedule is just as bad as a cluttered mind or home.
Is it just me, or do you get the impression that for many people, life is about accomplishing as much as possible? It’s exhausting just to think about that. Even if you genuinely want to do everything and so would in theory enjoy running around like a crazy robot, you must consider how your use of time and energy will affect your happiness and sanity. That said, I think some people are built to handle or even thrive in that sort of lifestyle, but most of us certainly aren’t (even though we try).
Because of my freedom and flexibility, in the last month I was able to go scuba diving, submarining, and dog sledding, all for the first time. Here’s a picture of me and the sled dogs from last week (Skagway, Alaska).
Some self-help articles make you feel like a fool for not pursuing 17 things at a time. They haven’t thought it through. Those ideas are not based in reality. Yes, life is precious and every day matters. But life is a marathon for most of us, meaning we can pick and choose when we want to sprint, when we want to maintain speed, and when we want to jog at a leisurely pace. That concept applies to every pursuit of life, every day we live, and life as a whole.
Maybe you’re at a point in your life where you want to develop several new hobbies. Mini habits could help you do that. Maybe, like me, you want to develop even greater stability and success in current habits—in that case, adding more mini habits would not help your cause.
Mini Habits Conclusion
While I’ve been speaking generally, I must clarify that not all mini habits are equal. An exercise mini habit is a big, valuable investment in your health and well-being because it will probably develop into a full-fledged exercise habit. That will boost your overall energy levels, but it’s also going to cost you a lot of time and energy on the days that you exercise hard. I’m all but useless on days I exercise for 2-3 hours. Investing in eating mini habits, as talked about in depth in Mini Habits for Weight Loss, would only be a long-term BOOST to your energy (from eating better foods), but their short-term difficulty and energy cost could be greater than most. Practicing a musical instrument will take up its own unique blend of time and creative energy.
While I want to continue writing and exercising as I have been, I realize that adding a meditation mini habit will only benefit those pursuits and not cost me any energy. That’s the sort of analysis you need to do when deciding whether or not to add new mini habits to your life. Your plan for the number and type of mini habits you pursue in the long term should be based on how they fit into your desired lifestyle right now and in the near future.
If you want to try new mini habits, honestly consider if you have the time and energy for them to expand.
One of the biggest mistakes we make is not that we don’t do enough, it’s that we try to do so much that we don’t do anything of significance. When in doubt, do fewer things, and do them better.
(photo by x1klima)