Why Mini Habits Is the Greatest Personal Development Strategy Ever

Tremendous forest fires have started from a flame this small, just as tremendous accomplishments have begun from one small decision to take one small initial step.

Mini habits start small, but they don’t stop there!

Yeah, it’s a bold claim, but it’s true. I’ve explained the power of mini habits in various ways on this blog and in the book itself, but this is going to be the clearest, most precise explanation yet of why this is the greatest personal development strategy in existence.

Part 1: The Strategy Equation

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Your strategies determine whether you experience success or failure, whether you win or lose, and whether you get real results or continue wishing for them. Most people don’t know or understand the basic strategy equation. Society overemphasizes one part of the equation so much that we’re typically blinded to the other part. Here’s the equation.

Strategy’s Success Rate = Effectiveness x Implementability

The value of a strategy is a function of how effective it is and how well (or if) it can be implemented. Put even simpler: does it work and can it be done? Here are some extreme examples to demonstrate the point. If your goal is to move an elephant onto a spot one mile away, you could employ many different strategies, but these two wouldn’t work, for completely different reasons.

  1. Play a song for the elephant. This strategy has 100% implementability because nothing is going to stop you from playing guitar to serenade the elephant. It won’t, however, do anything to move the elephant because the elephant wouldn’t even know you want it to move. Though it might move (if your song is that bad), there’s no chance it would move to the right place. Thus, it has an effectiveness of 0%. When you multiply 100% x 0%, you get 0%, which means the strategy is worthless for accomplishing the goal. You can definitely do it, but it’s ineffective for your goal.
  2. Carry the elephant on your back to the spot. This strategy has 100% effectiveness. If you can get the elephant on your back and move it yourself, you’ll be fully assured of accomplishing the task. Elephants weigh roughly 6,000 pounds, however, and humans aren’t that strong, meaning the implementability of this strategy is 0%. When you calculate the strategy’s success rate, you get 0% again. If you could do it, it would work, but you can’t do it.

A strategy will never work if the action has no effect on the goal or if the action is impossible to do. This truth is obvious to us, because nobody would even consider carrying an elephant on their back or playing a song to move the elephant a mile away. It becomes less obvious when strategies have mixed scores of effectiveness and implementability. We don’t always consider the full equation (or we think we do, but our calculations are off). Here’s a real life example of mine (and you might relate, as this is a very common goal).

The Goal: Exercise Consistently

The first strategy I tried for consistent exercise was the “normal” one, the default strategy of mankind—Aim high and get motivated! Set your sights to the moon and throw everything you have at this goal. Don’t settle for less! Get motivated! Want it more! Watch those motivational videos on youtube! EMOTIONS! This is your LIFE! You can do anything! Yahoo! Woot! Yes! Blech.

Aim High and Get Motivated Effectiveness: 94%

We’re talking about extreme exercise here! Let’s get ripped in 90 days with P90X, okay? Or I could plan to exercise for 2 hours every day. Could you imagine how jacked I’d be if I did that? Nice! With an effectiveness score of 94%, this is looking attractive and motivating.

Aim High and Get Motivated Implementability: 14%

Oh, what? 14%? That… sucks. Here’s what happened: When I tried to do P90X (a 90 day program), I only did it for 30 days, and skipped some of those days. When I tried to go to the gym consistently, I typically only made it for 2 weeks before quitting. I wanted that 94% effectiveness so much, but I struggled for 10 years with horrid implementability. I figured it was my fault for not wanting it enough because I didn’t understand the fundamental equation of strategy.

Aim High and Get Motivated Total Strategy success rate = 94% effectiveness x 14% implementability = 13.2% Success Rate

Ouch. That makes sense. In those 10 years, I didn’t get far. And while I’m estimating these numbers, 13.2% success is awfully close to what studies have shown for typical goal achievement! In my upcoming book, Mini Habits for Weight Loss, I discuss the success rate of people trying to lose weight. One study found after one year, 20% of people kept off 10% weight loss (longer term, that success rate drops).1 Another study found that all resolutions have about a 19% success rate after two years, regardless of the goal.2 Both of these are likely higher than the actual, real world success rate.

In late 2012, I started a fitness mini habit. I began aiming for one push-up per day, which was a very different strategy. Let’s see how it measures up.

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One Push-up Effectiveness: 42%

I’m not delusional. I know that doing one push-up won’t bring the same results as an extreme workout, but it will bring greater short-term results than expected. On several occasions, my one push-up grew to full workouts. Thus, I think 42% effectiveness is fair.

One Push-up Implementability: 99%

Nothing is 100% implementable, because you could always choose not to do it or forget about it, even if it’s as easy as one push-up. Regardless, a mini habit is as implementable as it gets. While society focuses on effectiveness, a mini habit is focused on maximizing implementability.

One Push-up Total Strategy Success Rate = 42% x 99% = 41.6% Success Rate

Though it easily surpasses the first strategy, 41.6% seems a bit low for a supposed superstar strategy. It surely seems way too low to me because I changed my life with this strategy in multiple areas. My one push-up became a full-time gym habit that rivaled the extreme workouts I targeted early on. Something is missing, isn’t it?

Of course, I forgot to calculate the bonus modifiers! A mini habit is special because of its superior implementability. With 99% implementability, remarkable consistency is not only possible, but probable! This means habit formation and its associated decreased resistance will come. The real formula for a strategy’s success rate isn’t as simple as I first suggested.

Strategy’s Success Rate = Effectiveness x Implementability (If Implementability > 90, Add Habit + Overachievement + Behavior Upgrade Bonuses)

The Superiority of Habit-Development

The world overemphasizes effectiveness over implementability. This is such a mistake that it’s laughable. On a common sense level, it makes sense to consider if you can do something before you focus on how effective it will be (think of carrying the elephant on your back). Nevertheless, this is an innate struggle for humans. Multiple studies show that we chronically overestimate our abilities, willpower, and self-control. Once you recognize and adjust to this, brace yourself, because your life will rapidly change for the better.

Effectiveness cannot exceed 100%. If something is 100% effective, it’s the best it can be. But if implementability of a behavior is at a high level, it means that you can apply its associated rate of effectiveness repeatedly, and this repetition is exponentially powerful. Have you heard the old adage that “practice makes perfect?” Whatever we do something consistently, we learn patterns, shift skills and control to the subconscious, and develop new habits. A habit is superior to any other behavior for three reasons.

  1. Habits require less energy to activate. Habits are often mindless, but even when they are not, they are the behaviors we resist doing the least, which means less energy spent on deciding.
  2. Habits are easier to get yourself to do. Habits are your subconscious mind’s natural preference. Anytime you feel resistance, it’s basically a disagreement between what you feel like doing (subconscious) and what you’d like to do (conscious).
  3. Habits are the single best foundation for further steps forward. When my one push-up a day chewed away my general resistance to exercising over a period of 6 months, I jumped to going to the gym, where I’ve been going consistently for 2.5 years now.

This isn’t an opinion. This isn’t “my take” on goals and behavior. This is the way the human brain operates. Society’s focus on effectiveness over implementability is a blatant misunderstanding of how human behavior works. Now, let’s recalculate the one push-up implementability score with the bonus modifiers.

One Push-up Implementability: 99% (+ 60% Habit Bonus + 20% Overachievement Bonus + 40% Behavior Upgrade Bonus) = 219% Modified Implementability Score

One Push-up TRUE Strategy Success Rate = 42% x 219%  = 92% Success Rate

From feedback I’ve received, 92% more closely mirrors the success rate and superior results of people who try mini habits. The formula is laid out this way to show you why it’s difficult to see the true success rate of different strategies.

The Average (Incorrect) Perspective

Since people overestimate what they can do and underestimate the power of small, consistent actions, their calculations look very different from reality. The average person sees these two strategies like this.

Aim High and Get Motivated Total Strategy Perceived Success Rate = 94% effectiveness x 90% implementability (severely overestimated)  = 84.6% Perceived Success Rate (vs Actual 13.2% Success Rate)

One Push-up Total Strategy Perceived Success Rate = 3% effectiveness (severely underestimated) x 99% implementability (unaware of habit bonuses) = 3% Perceived Success Rate (vs Actual 92% Success Rate)

This is why you never hear people talk about their goal of one push-up a day. It’s not even considered because they want results so badly that all they care about is the baseline effectiveness of their plan. They aim for the greatest results and assume that they’ll be able to do “whatever it takes” to implement the plan and get those results. This is why most people fail most of the time to reach their goals.

The first reason why Mini Habits (book, course) is the greatest personal development strategy ever is because it leverages the power of consistency by design. This gives people a much higher rate of success for reaching their goals.

Part 2: Momentum, Motivation, and Bonus Reps

As if the superior success rate weren’t enough, there’s more to love about the mini habits method. The major fault people see in such a strategy is the concept of “wasted motivation.”

Wasted motivation is the idea that you don’t take advantage of your true potential. On a day that you’re able to do 150 push-ups, why would you aim for only one? If you only did one, that would waste all of your potential to do more. With a mini habit, however, you will never be held back.

Mini Habits Can’t Hold You Back

Would you ever blame a spark for holding back an inferno?

Would you ever blame a drop of water in the ocean for not being the entire thing? Of course not, because smaller parts make the whole and a house divided cannot stand.

Sparks make fire and drops make oceans. In the same way, 50 words of writing makes a book, one push-up makes fitness, and two pages read makes a book read. These are parts of the whole, and they can be stacked.

Mini Habits Change Your Direction (Momentum)

What are you doing right now? If you’re sitting, then you have momentum in that direction. It’s likely that you’ll be sitting in the next moment.

Whatever you’ve just done is the best predictor of what you’ll do next.

This means that your massive goals to conquer the world are ultimately less impactful on your behavior than what you’re currently doing. This is the struggle of many people who want to do one thing but act another way. Mini Habits convert your dreams into daily direction shifts. They make big goals actionable in the here and now. Once you change direction, you’re more likely to continue in that direction than to change directions again.

Mini Habits (Ironically) Supercharge Your Motivation

By having a mini habit in an area, you’re guaranteeing consistency, but you’re also giving yourself many opportunities to overachieve. An important part of this strategy is what I call “bonus reps,” which is anything you decide to do over your daily target amount. Since our motivation fluctuates daily, the mini habits model allows us to maximize whatever amount of motivation we have. It isn’t based on reaching a goal, it’s based on the reality of each day. What other strategy adapts to you on a daily basis? None that I’ve ever heard of!

Autonomy is the sense that you’re in control of your life. Self-efficacy is the belief that the actions you take make an impact. Both of these are smothered with typical goals, and both of them are increased with mini habits. With the freedom to do how much you want after you minimal requirement, you’ll feel in control (autonomy). By seeing the impact of daily action, you’ll begin to believe that your choices and actions can really make a difference in your life.

All of this serves to supercharge your motivation. When you make daily progress and overachieve on many days, you’ll start seeing real results that can compound. Tasting success is one of the most powerful motivators in the world, and mini habits ensure that you taste it every day.

By combining world class consistency with opportunistic overachievement for short- and long-term progress, mini habits is the world’s greatest strategy for personal growth.

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