High Five Friday: Creating Good Habits

minihabitsbookWhat I’m reading: Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise

Why I’m reading it:

One thing (among others) that home schooling your children uncovers about you is your own bad habits. In my case, my bad habits like procrastination, disorganization, staying up too late, failing to exercise, poor time management, eating junk food, and putting up with clutter became very, very apparent as I took on the task of educating three ADHD (poster) boys at home.

My method for dealing with my bad habits was usually along the lines of some herculean feat of willpower that brought temporary order to the chaos but only lasted several weeks before my willpower and motivation ran out. This cycle of trying to change and failing did nothing but make me feel like a failure, put me in a state of perpetual overwhelm, and cause me to become a super grouch.

In order to preserve my sanity, I tried a lot of different bad-habit-busting methods, but what seemed to work best for me was using the Two Minute Rule from David Allen’s Getting Things Done—if a task takes less than two minutes, do it right then.

You’d be amazed what you can accomplish in just two minutes—clear off the breakfast dishes, load the dishwasher, straighten the bookshelf, get the lessons out for the next day, pay a few bills in online banking, and so forth. The only problem was that this method didn’t actually change my poor habits, it just made them more manageable.

And then there was the additional problem of teaching my children productive, beneficial habits when I hadn’t overcome my own bad ones….

Quote for the day:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, it is a habit.”
–Archimides – Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, 4; Book I, 7

As Americans, we share a certain “Go big or go home” mentality. Ours is a culture that teaches us if we throw enough heroic effort (motivation, willpower, determination, exertion and usually money) at a problem, we will overcome it.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Research on how the brain operates points out that our willpower is limited and fluctuates according to a variety of factors such as how many decisions we’ve already had to make that day, how much sleep we got the night before, what time of day it is, and our blood sugar levels. So we only have a certain amount of willpower to begin with and, like money, it runs out as we spend it. The same could be said about motivation. We can be really charged up to accomplish something one day and totally unmotivated the next.

Studies also tell us that our brain naturally resists change, so any “Go big or go home” effort we make is going to encounter a lot of resistance, perhaps so much that we wind up going “small” and giving up. The truth is that big changes in our lives come only through small, consistent, incremental improvements. And that is what Mini Habits is all about—breaking big changes down into Fail-Proof increments small enough that there is hardly any resistance to doing them.

Here’s what the author Stephen Guise says:

You can succeed without the guilt, intimidation, and repeated failure associated with such strategies as “getting motivated,” New Year’s Resolutions, or even “just doing it.” In fact, you need to stop using those strategies if they aren’t giving you great results. They don’t work because they all require you to fight against your subconscious brain (a fight not easily won). It’s only when you start playing by your brain’s rules and taking your human limitations seriously–as mini habits show you how to do–that you can achieve lasting change.

So…What’s A Mini Habit?

A mini habit is a very small positive behavior that you force yourself to do every day; its “too small to fail” nature makes it weightless, deceptively powerful, and a superior habit-building strategy. You will have no choice but to believe in yourself when you’re always moving forward. The barrier to the first step is so low that even depressed or “stuck” people can find early success and begin to reverse their lives right away. And if you think one push-up a day is too small to matter, I’ve got one heck of a story for you!

I’ve used the Mini Habits strategy to get into the best shape of my life, read 10x more books, and write 4x as many words. It started from requiring one push-up from myself every day. How ridiculous is that? Not so ridiculous when you consider the science of the brain, habits, and willpower. The Mini Habits system works because it’s how our brains are designed to change.

I encourage you to read this book, not only for your own sake, but also to learn best practices for helping your children develop good habits.

Note: Mini Habits is a strategy to create permanent good habits. It will not necessarily help you break bad habits such as addictions, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, etc.

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